I suffer from depression, and my husband is being unsupportive and
dismissive. What can I do to bring us closer?

Dr. Barbara Greenberg, clinical psychologist

Dear Barbara, 

I am a middle-aged woman who suffered from depression in college, and I am struggling with it again post-pandemic. My husband, who I’ve been married to for many years, had an ex-wife who was severely depressed, and he is clearly nervous and uncomfortable when I mention how I am feeling. He is supportive in his way, but he has made light of me seeing a therapist and claims that my therapy is just making things worse. He has said many times that I should just get a hold of myself and “everything will be just fine.” He says he loves me but can’t deal with me when I am like this. In the meantime, he is spending a lot of time with the kids and appearing to avoid me. I feel that there is a gulf between us I can’t bridge and I am worried about our marriage.

Dear correspondent,

Thank you for writing to me. I have written about depression in marriages before, and it does sound as though your husband is threatened by the thought that you need help. If you feel that your husband has been avoiding you, then you are probably right. You have known him for many years and you are describing a significant change in behavior.

There are many reasons why a partner may withdraw in the face of depression. You said that your husband had an ex-wife who was severely depressed. Your own depression may be triggering for him. He may not have known how to deal with her depression and may be experiencing the same feelings of fear and uncertainty over what he could do to help. He may feel neglected or incompetent and frustrated. He may also be experiencing anger or overwhelming anxiety.

The problem is, almost no one is trained or taught how to deal with their partner’s depression. It can be terribly frightening. Perhaps you and your husband can go to therapy together and learn how to deal with your depression as a team. My hope is that you will become closer as you address the depression. Try to be patient and honest with each other during the process. As we all know, good marriages have ups and downs and require good communication. I wish you freedom from the depression and a stronger, closer marriage with your husband. Please stay in touch.

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