SOURCE: Taken from an article by Leslie Vernick
What to do when his depression is hurting you
Question: My husband and I have been married for 27 years. I have been reading your books and articles and they have been a blessing to me. Without going into great detail, my husband suffers from major depression.
He controls the finances, disregards my feelings and desires, lies constantly and can be emotionally and verbally abusive. There is–or was–a kind and honorable man in there, but I don’t see him much anymore, and living with the ” other guy” is wearing me down to nothing.
After facing financial ruin 5 years ago and managing to get out of debt by the grace of God and start over, he went behind my back to fund his “projects” and we are right back where we started. I have been an enabler who vacillates between keeping the peace and occasionally breaking down and yelling/ crying, but I am trying to change.
I just need to know…can I hold a depressed person accountable for these actions? His view of reality is skewed and I’ve tried so hard to be kind and supportive but I am so drained. I am afraid if he is forced to confront his behaviors he will be suicidal, but the stress of living this way is too much.
Also, how do I set boundaries on the spending? We have agreed on budgets, etc., but he ignores them. He promised me he would not put us in debt again, but he broke that promise in a big way, some of it behind my back, some of it while I begged him not to. What can I do to protect me and my son? He is not speaking to me today because I confronted him about some lies I just discovered regarding finances. I am scared of what he will do if I try to take this away from him, and don’t know that I can anyway.
Answer: You are struggling with several issues at once so I think it might be helpful to separate them a bit for greater clarity. The first is your husband’s depression. How long has he been depressed and is he getting any treatment for it? Does he have a doctor or counselor that he’s working with? If not why not? Depression is a treatable problem. Does he have any family history of bi-polar depression? His spending issues may indicate some mania. If so, be sure to mention this to his treatment provider.
Male depression typically manifests differently than female depression. A depressed woman tends to internalize her pain and blames herself. A depressed male usually externalizes his pain and blames others and circumstances. His externalized pain results in lashing out toward loved ones, sometimes leading to abusive incidents (either verbal and/or physical).
Although depression does rob an individual of his or her ability to think clearly, it does not rob them of all sense of reality or truth, nor does being depressed give him an excuse to sin or act in ways that injure those he says he loves, whether financially, relationally, physically or emotionally.
Sometimes it’s our compassion, sometimes it’s our fears, but It sounds like you’ve been giving your husband a get out jail free card when he sins against you or your family because you’re trying to be sensitive to his depression. The problem I see is that it’s not helping. Shielding your husband from the reality and consequences of his behavior is not helping him get better. It’s not helping him stop his abusive/deceitful behaviors, and it’s taking you to the edge of your own cliff where you are feeling like you can’t take much more. Therefore, let me suggest a different approach and it starts with asking God for wisdom because it’s scary to set boundaries and implement consequences when you’re not sure of what will happen next.
First, I want you to accept the very painful reality that the only person you can take full responsibility for is you (unless you have an infant in the home). Therefore, you need to get your own help to handle yourself in this situation. You acknowledged you are an enabler. Until you address why you keep enabling behavior that becomes destructive to you, to him and to your future, you will probably keep repeating it or will be too afraid to change it.
One thing you mentioned is your fear of him committing suicide. Yet you also indicated in your question that you just recently confronted his lying about finances and he didn’t threaten suicide, he just stopped speaking to you. Suicide is a real possibility with someone who is not only depressed, but has lost hope. But threatening suicide can also be used to manipulate others into doing what they want.
I hear you loud and clear that you are nearly at the end of your rope. Living with a depressed person definitely takes its toll on the rest of the family. That’s why it’s so crucial that you get your own support and help right now, not only to stop enabling his behaviors, but to stay healthy and strong yourself.
I’m going to give you a few things to think about – hopefully you will have the courage and strength to implement them. They will be crucial to your long term sanity as well as safety.
Tell someone what’s going on. Secrets are lethal and you need some support. You can share what’s happening without throwing your husband under the bus. Be wise who you share this with, but you need someone who can pray for you and perhaps be an advocate with you in talking with your husband. That might be another family member such as an adult child or one of his siblings, a good friend, or your pastor.
You must also start to exercise some stewardship over your life. You do not have power over your husband’s life although you do have considerable influence. Therefore, I want you to tell your husband that his depression is now affecting you and your marriage. You can say it lovingly like, “I need for you to get help now. You may be able to live with your depression but I can’t. You’re not behaving like the man you once were.”
You said in your question that somewhere inside of him there is a kind and honorable man but his negative emotions rule him and cloud his thinking and judgment. That can happen to all of us and sometimes it’s helpful when we have a grace-filled truth teller come along side of us to remind us who we are. Read the story in the Bible where Abigail had a heart-to-heart conversation with David after her husband refused to feed David and his men. David was humiliated and outraged. He vowed to kill every male in Nabal’s household. Boldly yet humbly, Abigail went to meet David with supplies of food. In their conversation, she reminded him who he was (the Lord’s anointed and the future king of Israel). This helped him to press pause on his destructive emotions of rage long enough to rethink his decision to kill all of Nabal’s men. (Read 1 Samuel 25: 29-35) for the story.)
In a similar way, I’d like you to try to have that kind of conversation with your husband. Humbly remind him who he is (a child of God, an honorable man, whatever good characteristics you know of him) and encourage him not to allow his depressed feelings to rule his heart or his decisions. Ask him to be willing to receive help to manage these depressed emotions so that he can be the person God wants him to be.
He may have all kinds of objections to getting outside help. Here is where you must stay strong and firm. His depression is not only causing him distress, it’s causing you distress. He is making poor decisions and these decisions affect you and your child. Affirm that you love him and want to see him get well and your marriage to thrive. If he agrees to see a doctor, or if he has one already, insist on going with him and report to the doctor the changes in him that you observe. For example, he doesn’t’ sleep well, he’s spending recklessly, he’s angry all the time, he is impulsive, etc. If he goes alone, he may minimize his symptoms or not recognize some of the things he does that are upsetting to you.
You don’t share whether or not you are employed, but at this time I would separate your finances and open a separate checking account with just your name on it exercising good stewardship over your finances. Since he has been irresponsible and deceitful with the finances, the consequences are that you are going to be in charge of family finances until he gets better. That may motivate him to get the help he needs as well as set some limits on his access to family money. Do not sign for loans or credit cards or home equity loans. This is not helpful to him or to you. This is where your enabling may need to be addressed so you don’t fall victim again.
It’s important that you realize that you are not only doing this for your protection, you are doing it for his. When you know someone is not making good decisions, you don’t give them unlimited access to things that could harm them or others. For example, if you had guns in the house you would remove them or make sure they were locked up. If you had a lot of prescription pills in the house, you would lock them up. Taking charge of the finances is not just for your protection, it’s for his. The shame that he feels for lying and failing again to appropriately manage money contributes to his feelings of worthlessness and feeds the cycle of depression and may lead to hopelessness – thinking he’ll never get better.
There is an excellent book I’d recommend you check out of your library called, How You can Survive When They’re Depressed: Living and Coping with Depression Fallout by Anne Sheffield. It will help you be a good steward of your own life as well as wisely set appropriate boundaries with your spouse.