The Costs and Blessings of Depression: Relationships

Depression cost me my marriage.

Having depression is hard on the best of relationships. It is reported that a person with long-term depression is nine times more likely to end their marriage in divorce than the average population. The very symptoms of depression – empty or sad feelings, diminished interest in activities, insomnia or hypersomnia, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness, and thoughts of death – do not make for a great partner.

Cracks in the relationship with my wife began to appear about a year after I was diagnosed with a severe, recurrent major depressive disorder. I was not recovering and she did not understand. She is a gregarious, fun-loving, always-on-the-move kind of person. She goes to bed late and gets up early for fear that something will happen without her involvement. The more she is surrounded by people, the more energetic she becomes. My depression was a real drag on life as she liked to live it.

As my depression turned from months into years, I saw the life and calling for which I had prepared slipping through my fingers and I was helpless to stop it. After awhile the master bedroom became my home. It was there that I took my meals, watched TV, and hid from everyone. After the family went to bed, I ventured out and stayed up all night. When my wife got up, I went to the office to work and be alone, came home and went back to our bedroom. The vicious cycle repeated itself day after day. It was not a very good recipe for a healthy marriage.

Intimacy – deep talking with one another every day – became nonexistent and romance was very infrequent. Fatigue was all-pervading, therefore I did not go anywhere with my wife or our children. On the rare occasions I felt like going somewhere, she did not want to go. We were living independent lives.

It is said that doctors and ministers make bad patients and I was a bad patient. The more the depression took a toll on me physically and mentally, the angrier I became. In her book, When Depression Hurts Your Relationship, Shannon Koakowski states men in particular express their depression outwardly. Alcoholism, drug abuse, aggressive behavior, having affairs, and/or shutting others out and withdrawing can be common. I certainly was the later. Conflict was common place and I did not handle it well. I was moody and irritable. I yelled and she cried. Communication failed. As hard as I tried I could not reach her, nor could I understand her.

It did not help that she refused to educate herself about my illness. On one occasion she slapped me in an effort to “bring you out of it.” When I asked her why she did that, she replied she saw it done that way on TV. I asked her to never do that again. She assured me she would not. The very next day she did it again. To this day she refuses to acknowledge her behavior was wrong. Even after my behavior improved, she was distant. During my last hospitalization, she came to see me once in a stay that lasted seven days.

I became so hopeless that I told my wife, “If not for the fear of going to hell, I would kill myself.” I lived with that feeling for over four-and-a-half years. Depression painted a profoundly black picture for my future and, by extension, the future of our family. So great was the uncertainty that my wife took a full-time job for the first time in our 22 year marriage. She was overwhelmed with the depth of my illness.

Two weeks before my final service at our church she announced that she was leaving me. She said, “You are too sick.” I begged her day after day to go to counseling with me, but it was too late; she was done. Before the month was gone she had filed for divorce. I saw it coming, but I was powerless to stop it. Two years have passed since that time. Our divorce was final in January of 2015. I attend a divorce recovery group. My friends and family are supportive.

There are no blessings in divorce, but I have learned a great many lessons.  First, I learned that I have a major depressive disorder and I must be proactive to stay stable. Medication alone will not keep me in recovery from depression. It took four hospitalizations, the loss of my career in professional ministry, and a failed marriage to finally face my mental illness. Since then I have gathered around me a strong support network. I attend a depression group twice weekly, a men’s Bible study, professional counseling, and I see a psychiatrist. Journaling and writing has become a great outlet for my thoughts and emotions.

Second, if I ever get into another relationship I will vet her thoroughly and expect her to do the same to me. In their book, Saving Your Second Marriage Before It Starts, Drs. Les and Leslie Parrot say, “Happily married couples will have:

  • healthy expectations of marriage
  • a realistic concept of love
  • a positive attitude and outlook toward life
  • the ability to communicate their feelings
  • an understanding and acceptance of their gender differences
  • the ability to make decision and settle arguments
  • a common spiritual foundation and goal

Third, I have set some goals for myself in my next relationship. I will not yell, yelling is belittling to the one receiving it. My standard will be to love my wife as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it, and I will not be satisfied until I meet that standard. She is a person made in the image and likeness of God; so precious that she was bought with a price – the atoning blood of Jesus; and I will treat her as such. I will expect nothing from her, but rather I will try to out-serve her. And, I will not sweat the small stuff. I have watched a friend emulate these practices in his second marriage and I am determined to do the same. If the Lord wills, I may get to practice in a second marriage the lessons I learned too late to save the first.