Advice: Can you fall in love again?

Last updated 05:00 23/08/2012

Her husband is depressed and difficult to live with. Should she leave him, or try to stick it out for the sake of their child?

Send your questions to lifeandstyle@stuff.co.nz, and remember to include a nickname if you don't want to be identified.

This week's answer comes from Dr Rebecca Jorgensen. San Diego-based Dr Jorgensen is internationally regarded for her expertise in Emotionally Focused Therapy  - a practical, evidence-based approach that has a high success rate with couples. She is coming to New Zealand later this month to provide training in the technique for Relationships Aotearoa counsellors and others.

I am struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel with my husband. We have been married for about seven years and we have one child.  He is a great father to our son and tells me he loves me often.  However, he suffers from depression and has done so for many years.  He hid his depression from me when we first met and in fact managed to keep it hidden for the first four years we were together.  It has now gotten to the point where we find it difficult to communicate with each other. I do not like spending a lot of time with him as he seems very inward and unable to stay "with it". 

This has caused issues when he looks after our son as he doesn't listen to him either, which is frustrating for a young person. 

The biggest problem now is that I do not love him any more. I am no longer attracted to him and I feel very shallow for feeling this way.  I don't know what I can do to love him again and almost feel like I'm trying to for the sake of our son.

I'm also very frightened of the prospect of separating and how we would emotionally and financially deal with that, not to mention how we would look after our son, who is just about to start school.

Is it possible to fall in love again?

Depressed

It's a very good thing you are considering these important questions and recognise the complexity of the issues at hand for you and your young family. Reaching out for help is one of the best things you can do in your situation. So, I'm really glad you asked.

First, let me say that you are at a time (between five and seven years) many couples experience as difficult. It's one of the predictable rough spots in the life span of a committed relationship that couples who achieve long-term happy marriages must work though. And when one partner is fighting depression that makes this time even more difficult.

Most importantly, let me give you a resounding YES, it is possible to fall in love again.  Let me explain a little more.

Love is an emotional bond. We need experiences of closeness and emotional intimacy to keep the bond strong. When couples get in a pattern of emotional distance the feelings of being in love, close and committed begin to fade.

A pattern of emotional distancing can become established almost without us thinking about it.  Family demands put pressure on us to keep moving and we stop sharing at a more intimate level.  Or, like in your situation, if one partner is struggling with untreated depression, the depression shuts down emotional engagement. The depression, or emotional shut-down in one partner often triggers the other to respond by sharing less, avoiding more and becoming more task focused. Each partner avoids the painful emotion the distance and depression brings into the relationship.

Many couples develop a withdraw/withdraw pattern when one partner is depressed. Feelings of love get squelched under the pain of depression and emotional distancing.

So, what can you do? Here's five things:

1. Keep doing what you're doing here - breaking the silence and reaching out for professional help: Your husband's depression needs to be treated. It is a common and very treatable mental health condition. He has been struggling with it for far too long, as have you. Depression responds best to a combination of medical treatment and couple therapy. So try to get your husband to the doctor and find a good couples therapist. Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy provides the benefit of working on the couple relationship and curing depression at the same time. Which could mean your husband's depression gets cured and you get your feelings of being in love with him back with the same treatment.

 2. Learn more about love: Love is not a mystery anymore.  Research psychologists are writing about the science of love these days. I'd recommend information by Susan M. Johnson (author of Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for A  Lifetime of Love), and Daniel Siegel (Mindsight and Parenting From the Inside Out).

3. Think of your partner with compassion to start the love juices flowing again: You know that lonely and scared place inside of you? (You know it probably all too well.) That place you busy yourself to not think about. The one you tell yourself over and over, 'it doesn't matter' or 'forget it he just doesn't care.' The one you might tell a close friend about, but never your partner. Well, your partner has that place too. And as much as you need and want compassion, acceptance and understanding your partner does too. Consider his lonely and scared place with compassion, let the compassionate part of your heart have some room to breathe.

4. Share some positive thoughts of your partner with him about him, at least one a day, every day: The idea is to share something about him as a person, a character quality, not something he does. Which means you will have to get in touch with those positive feelings. Even if there are only distant memories left, get in touch with them and then let your partner know you think of him as having good qualities. Say "I was thinking about you today, about how _____ (eg. kind) you are and I just wanted to let you know." If you can't say that yet, share your positive thought through a smile with eye contact, a non-sexual touch or a kind deed. But be sure to build up to sharing your daily positive thought directly with words.

 5. Remember you are here to succeed in loving and being loved: You have what it takes inside of you. You felt the love before and with deeper emotional sharing the feelings can return. They may be locked behind walls of fear and protection but you have love and the longing to be loved. The more you remember it's in you to succeed, the easier it will become to take the risks towards reaching for love, sharing and compassion.

You can start turning it around and start enjoying more connection.  Remember to work at it every day. 

The good news is the pattern can be reversed and feelings of love can resurface and your relationship can be stronger and better than it ever was as you come through this difficult time together.

For more advice and information on counselling, visit Relationships Aotearoa online or join them on Facebook.

We'd love to hear your take on this week's issue. Before you comment below, though, remember that this is a real-life situation. This reader has bravely shared their personal life with you; please show them respect by refraining from hurtful or abusive comments.

 

- © Fairfax NZ News

21 comments
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Ejb   #1   05:55 am Aug 23 2012

I want to second the YES. My partner also has depression and although our situation is different from yours there was a time when I chose to stay with him and to let my feelings grow again till I was in love with him. And it has been wonderful and totally worth it. The biggest thing is to do something about it. You both deserve to love and be loved. Hope it all goes well.

Hayley   #2   08:39 am Aug 23 2012

I went through a similar situation myself. Together for 13 years, married for 7. In the end I felt that I was being unfair to my husband, to stay with him, out of a feeling of obligation and guilt. He deserved more and so did I. Love changes, you still love him but sometimes you need to leave him and be there for him in a different capacity and take care of you and your child. Be fair to everyone in this situation including yourself. If you dont, it will lead to bitterness and resentment - thats not good for anyone.

K   #3   08:40 am Aug 23 2012

Great advice. I have been depressed and know all too well how it can affect a relationship. Luckily my partner stuck it out with me, I got help and have now been off anti-depressants for about a year, and our relationship is stronger than ever. We are now into our 11th year together so hopefully this means we are really in it for the long haul. I do struggle to believe though that your husband managed to hide it from you for so long, esp. considering I never could. Maybe you just didn't notice. But even if he did, I hate to think of the internal battles he was fighting. It seems like in a way he tried to protect you from his depression, or was ashamed of what you might think of him, so I think you owe it to him to either give your relationship another shot, or even if you don't wish to stay together, encourage your husband to get some help for himself.

SS   #4   08:55 am Aug 23 2012

Follow the advice given, especially get some help. From the sounds of it there is plenty of hope for your relationship, but your own 'tank' is running on empty and is almost dry. Both you and your husband need some outside professional assistance to help you refill your tanks. It can be done. Huge respect to you for taking this first step in reaching out.

Bree   #5   09:35 am Aug 23 2012

Depression aside, he deliberately deceived you, and there are no guarantees that he will change his behaviour (why would he want to?). Therefore your relationship was not built on a solid foundation to begin with. Towards the end of my marriage to a guy similar to yours,I felt like I was 'flogging a dead horse'- nothing I did, attempts made, 'spoke' to him. And in that situation, and yours, it is ALL ABOUT HIM and always will be. Visualise how your life, and the life of your son will be one year from now, two years from now,five... ten, if you do/don't live separately from your husband.

Lori M   #6   09:44 am Aug 23 2012

My partner has depression, and I totally get the loss of love thing. I also stuck it out, but I finally issued an ultimatum - get help or I'm outta here! It took a bit for him to understand that his depression was bringing me down as well, and that was having an effect on our relationship. He went to the Dr, got the happy pills, had some counselling, and I have the man I fell in love with back again. We still have our bad days, and I know it will be something he always battles, but now, we talk about it, instead of brushing it under the carpet, and pretending its not there! My biggest piece of advice is to get help, and make sure you keep talking.

LW   #7   10:34 am Aug 23 2012

If your husband doesn't want treatment for depression (and any other associated illness/conditions) then there's not much you can do.

You say he's a great father but doesn't listen to his son. I'm not sure how the two dovetail. That's not a great father.

There are people and organisations willing to provide advice on marital separation. Google them. They're not hard to find.

You don't love him, you aren't attracted to him. You do an injustice to both of you. Why should he stay with someone who doesn't love him? Why should you?

Take a realistic look at the situation. If he isn't going to get treatment (and become again the man you DID fall in love with and may do so again), then leave him.

Currently there are three unhappy people living together (you can bet that your son is struggling with the current situation too). Make a change and create a chance for happiness.

Any yes, it is possible to love again. I left an abusive husband and had a further short-lived unsatisfying relationship before finding, and marrying, my soulmate. Five years on and its just like the first day we fell in love.

All the best.

Stephen   #8   12:04 pm Aug 23 2012

Some very usefull comments so far. To help balance them I just want to remind us all that there are no magic pills or people that will 'fix' us.

Seek help by all means but in the end we must take responsibility for our own situation. I was depressed years ago and had a beautiful girlfriend and we were together just over 3 years and would have married.

3 years and 7 years are crucial times in relationships- that is why it's called the '7 year itch'.

Anyway, she left, and was right to do that because she deserved to at least try to find happiness too.

If you do leave please do not feel guilty. I know there are many issues here that are beyond the scope of this post, but being one who has been the 'problem' I thought I'd comment.

Your post tells me you are a wonderful soul and deserve happiness. While others can be helpfull and well meaning, they can also be meddling. interfering and counter productive.

The answer lies within and you may have already decided what you will do but want folks like us to validate your decision.

If mum is not happy then kids are not happy by default. Don't forget that. You may have to 'force' change. Alot of people can become 'happy' in their misery. It becomes familiar to them and they can enjoy being victims and the attention it gets from 'nice' people.

Just remember that YOU matter and are the MOST important factor in this equation, not the least.

JGuest   #9   01:36 pm Aug 23 2012

I have struggled with depression since I was 12 years old. Only, I didn't know it had a name. Only when I was 21 and suicidal did I finally get the help I so desperately needed.

I have been with my partner since I was 19 (and depressed). He was 20 and struggling with boundaries. It was a bad combo. It's always been a bad combo.

I finally got real, proven results my second go around with depression (this time post-natal). Now, we've been together 12 years, married for 11. He feels stuck. He's always stuck by because he wanted me to get better. Because he loves me. But he isn't IN love with me and doesn't want to be with me. But he feels so stuck with responsibilities that he feels he can't leave.

To be honest, I want someone to want me. To love me despite depression and anxiety. But they have to actually WANT me.

You love your husband probably in the same capacity mine loves me. And you stick around for the same reasons mine does too.

It's not fair to YOU. Just as it's not fair to me. LOVE with all your heart, by for your child's sake, be honest. Be fair. Be real. You're setting the example he will lead for his entire life.

Be the big, strong grown up. See a counselor. Write your feelings down. TALK to your partner. There's this big belief that people with depression don't want boundaries or can't live with them. Most of the time, people in our lives shut us out.

Tell him. Tell him the truth. Your real, honest to the gut truth. See a counselor with him. See one by yourself. You get 6 free sessions through the family court. It's not a painful process. But please, if you don't love him, don't play pretend. It really hurts.

Kirstylb   #10   03:42 pm Aug 23 2012

Having been there (though without the child) I agree with the comments saying you need to seriously think about you and your child and whether you can be happy again with him. Like your husband, mine hid his depression, or hid how bad it was - constant lying about all sorts of things - and I was so enmeshed in the relationship and believing that this was how they were, I just couldn't see it.

We have now separated and are BOTH better for it. He now has to take responsibility for himself and even with some ups and downs has got there and is doing really well. I now have my self esteem back and can see the marriage for what it was.

I also must strongly disagree with Dr Jorgensen's comment about 'curing' his depression. This is giving false hope. Yes, it is quite possible with a combination of counseling, lifestyle changes (does he exercise much?) and maybe medication he can get it under control, but it doesn't mean it will be 'cured'.


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