A Husband’s Perspective on His Wife’s Depression

We have had so many e-mail us to ask about how we dealt with the depression Teri suffered from years ago, we decided to write this month’s Corners on it. It is important to remember that we are not doctors giving advice but believers sharing our experience. What I am writing in this Dad’s Corner is a result of what the Lord taught me through the years Teri struggled with times of depression. Depression was a part of her life off and on for about fifteen years. It was the worst when I worked long hours and traveled a great deal. Only in the last eight years has the Lord brought Teri out of those dark times. Not only was the depression something Teri had to cope with, but it obviously had an impact on the children and me as well.

When a wife is suffering with depression, it can be very difficult for the family. Depending on the age of the children, they may be aware of it and asking questions as to why Mommy is crying or sad. There don’t seem to be any easy answers. However, everyone is in agreement that they want Mommy happy again.

Working through issues in my mind was critical to developing a godly perspective on Teri’s depression. It was very easy to think about myself and not the pain Teri was suffering. I believe that was absolutely the first and most important step: that I would get my mind off of myself and focus on my wife’s and children’s needs. Isn’t that what we are really called to do as husbands and fathers? Isn’t that a perfect picture of the shepherd who is tenderly caring for an injured sheep?

I had to realize that God was not surprised by the situation. He had a plan for it. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:28-29). God desired to use my wife’s depression to conform me into the image of His Son Jesus Christ. It is interesting to note that the word “conform” is from the Greek word “morphe,” from which we get the word morph. His desire is to morph us into the image of Christ. Are we willing?

It may mean that there are “things” in my life that are hindering God’s conforming me into the image of Christ. I believe that God uses problems in a wife’s (and children’s) life to bring serious pressure to bear on a husband. As long as things are smooth sailing, we might not be willing to deal with areas that may be displeasing to the Lord. However, as the pain grows in my family, I become increasingly more willing to surrender what I might not previously have let go. I have now learned to use every serious difficulty that our family faces as motivation to cry out to God to examine my life and for Him to point out sin that He wants to eliminate. Pain in the family can become a wonderful stimulus to seek God’s will for change in my life.

I also saw my wife’s struggles as opportunities to show her my love. It is easy to love someone when she is pleasant and meeting my needs, but what about when her eyes are swollen from crying, and she isn’t much fun to be around? Maybe it isn’t too difficult for one or two days, but what about when it is longer than that? Truly, I could demonstrate that I meant my wedding vows by choosing to love Teri through better or worse. Whether my wife is discouraged all the time or just a few days a month, I must be understanding and love her as Christ loved the church. “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Ephesians 5:25). Those are not just nice-sounding words used to fill up an empty page; God commanded us husbands to live them out. I must choose to give of myself in whatever way God tells me to. “Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered” (1 Peter 3:7). So what does “according to knowledge” mean? Vine’s Expository Dictionary amplifies it as “to come to understand.” I needed to understand the struggles my wife was having. I needed to shoulder the load she was stumbling under.

When Teri was depressed, I had to learn how to listen. As I prayerfully listened I heard about things that I had not adequately dealt with, things that produce bitterness and hurt. Unresolved offenses are fertile ground for Satan to sow seeds of doubt and discouragement in a wife’s heart.

As I listened, I heard about areas of intense struggle with the children that she did not have answers for and that led to frustration. Again, they had to be dealt with as well. A dad may hear that his wife is discouraged because she is too busy while accomplishing too little. Dads often can be the cause of encouraging lots of activities for the children. This can be terribly draining to Mom of both energy and time, not to mention introducing many additional character problems with the children. We need to be prepared to encourage the elimination of unproductive use of time and be willing to help. It might mean doing the grocery shopping or cleaning house; whatever it takes, we should be prepared to do it as long as necessary. Although one caution is that I don’t believe it would have been good for Teri if she’d had nothing to do. Idleness gives Satan much opportunity for working in a person’s mind. A certain balance of work and rest is good, but having nothing to do is harmful.

One thing I learned was that doing the family budget was stressful for Teri. She had begun doing it to free up some of my time. However, it was adding to the pressure she was under and was actually hindering me from being financially responsible. I have found, and now believe, that it is good for the husband to manage the finances so he feels the financial pressure. I am freer with money than Teri is, and when she tracked the spending, it caused her to worry. However, if I have to manage it and see the bills, I’m more likely to be careful. I now handle the finances–not as efficiently as she did, but adequately and without her having the pressure.

There could be other areas of responsibility that a wife has taken on that really should be her husband’s. When a wife is shouldering any extra load that God did not intend for her to, it can clearly lead to depression. Unfortunately, most wives will quickly step in to take over an area when the husband is not doing the job.

There are many things I don’t understand about women, and one in particular is the effect clutter has on them. I can be content with a closet so full it takes a week to find something in it! As long as the door is closed, I’m fine. Not so with most women. There is something about clutter that nags at a woman’s heart and will bring her down. I know that when I help Teri by building storage areas and weeding things out, she is unbelievably grateful. It is as if a big weight is lifted from her shoulders.

When she was struggling, I needed to understand that her choice of words might be less gracious than normal. I had to be prepared to be loving and accepting anyway. The situation would not have been improved if I became insensitive and offended because she was more direct now than at other times. Truly, we need to be men of understanding. Next, I believe that the husband needs to take full responsibility for his wife’s depression. “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body” (Ephesians 5:23). It was not my wife’s problem, but it was my problem. We are one, and if part of the union is hurting, we are both hurting. Unless I took full responsibility for my wife’s depression, I was not going to have the compassion that God desired for me to have, and I would not have been crying out to Him for direction. I believe that most of what Teri is sharing in her Mom’s Corner is a result of God answering our prayers. It was not a pamphlet we picked up somewhere, but our Lord hearing our cries to Him and slowly showing us new things.

Just after moving to Florida in 1980, I was extremely troubled and concerned for her. I was led to fast and pray about the situation. God is so good! In my heart, I felt strongly that He told me not to worry, but to be loving, patient, and supportive. I would have preferred a quick solution, but God had as much for me to learn as He did for Teri. One of the most critical things I did was closely maintain my walk with the Lord and do everything I could to encourage Teri in her walk. “The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him” (Psalms 28:7). Oh, how great our pride to ever think that we can get along without a close walk with the Lord. During times of depression the mind can play all sorts of games, and to focus on God and His truth is imperative. If we have neglected the Lord, we must repent and turn to Him. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Taking responsibility also will ensure that I am not being judgmental. It was easy to become impatient and critical. However, Teri would have given anything to be herself, and it was not a wrong choice she was making. If anyone could have just willed it differently she would have, but she couldn’t. “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). Again, God commanded me to love my wife as Christ loved the church.

Don’t be distracted by “non-issues.” Often when Teri felt bad, she would think some circumstance must be the cause. Most things were not really the cause of her feelings, but they would seem very monumental at the time. We would discuss it, and I, in typical male fashion, would come in and tell her how to fix it. Finally, it dawned on me that what she needed was someone to listen to her. I didn’t have to fix it, just listen! There were times when I would ask her, as she would begin to share a problem, “Honey, do you want me to listen or fix it?” That helped so much as I finally understood, at that moment, that all I needed to do was be sympathetic and listen to her. I think this was one of the most challenging lessons God had for me. To my shame, there are times now when I really just need to listen and not jump ahead to a solution. So much still to learn and so little time.

In our experience and that of people I’ve spoken to, there just doesn’t seem to be a “silver bullet.” Unfortunately, that is what we usually want. We need to be very cautious if one is proposed–a quick fix so we can get back on track and things can be normal again. Husbands, we must get our heart fixed on Christ, and be prepared that it could take a while. How long before our sovereign God says it is enough? Obviously, no one knows, but we need to set our expectations such that if it takes years, then we will minister in whatever way God calls us to during that time.

That is about all I could think of that God might have me share. Truly, it can be such an awful time for husbands and wives. I think the easiest to deal with was when the depression was mostly caused by my failures. Then, if I’m willing to humble myself, God is able to resolve the situation fairly quickly. However, God designed women the way they are for a purpose. Hormones are not a design flaw; our wives are perfect according to His plan. When the depression is physiological in nature, it might last a while, and we need to be the strong, faithful shepherd that God desires us to be. This won’t happen in our own strength, but it can happen when we are in full, complete dependence on the Lord Jesus Christ. He is our strength and our shield. All praise to Him.