Releasing the Grip - Charlie's response
The sad thing about anxiety and depression is not only does it change how you function and relate to other people, but it also causes the same change in those closest to you as well.
Reading through Abby's blog about how she had to change the way the family and our relationship functioned, reminded me that this change in her over the years contributed to deep hurts and resentments I experienced during our marriage.
You see, that functional change meant that Abby was no longer fully relaxed around me. When we would try and have some down time, she became less interactive and open. If we went out for an evening, she would comment and look concerned if I had more than 2 drinks. When we met as a group I would be acutely aware of changing reactions toward me and an increased anxiousness about how I was doing. If I got slightly (my perception) frustrated at home, she would shut it down quickly and withdraw from the conversation. As Abby shutdown in order to protect her emotional world, it would seem to me that it could be days on end where she would be quite distant and cold towards me.
I didn't understand where the fun, tactile, relaxed, interested and more robust Abby was. She didn't seem to make an effort with me and time together was strained. The sad reality was that Abby is all these things and more, but unbeknown to me, the years had worn her down and turned her into something she wasn't.
The hurt and rejection that I built up inside meant that I couldn't see that my behaviour had caused this, and therefore just saw a wife who was drifting slowly from me.
You see through my lens I was a pretty good husband and father. We led a Christian ministry together encouraging and reaching out to hundreds of people, praying together, serving together and leading together. I had financial integrity, I never lied, I could be fully trusted to be faithful. I hardly drank, didn't smoke or take illegal drugs, others spoke very well of me, and we had a number of mutual friends. I had convinced myself that I was actually quite a good deal! (and embarrassingly would tell Abby this!!)
Yes there were some bad days where I would withdraw and be quite sharp in our interactions, I knew that she had to take more of the load with various aspects of life at times, and I was starting to understand my anxiety and depression had some impact, but generally I thought all was ok.
And it was with this view, that seeing my wife remove herself more and more from me (to protect her emotions and keep being able to cope), was intensely painful, hugely rejecting, and made me nervous and unsure about how to approach her.
I too felt like I was on eggshells.
It was at this point that I completely understood the emotion behind guys who have unresolved issues in relationships, who feel massively rejected or are experiencing a huge change in their wives behaviour, wanting to leave.
Men struggle. And often don't know how to communicate it. Especially when it comes to mental health. Their wives have been dealing with their distancing, moods, anger and have had to adapt and change - especially when children are involved. This often turns their wife into more of a mother or a caregiver - neither of which they want to take on - and less of a intimate partner in whom they are growing in affection and bond. When this happens men often feel misunderstood, neglected, unloved and rejected. And if this is an ongoing reality, it can wear away at the soul and make you wonder whether, if that is how your wife feels, it would be better if you just left. It is a horrible cycle that leaves people who once had nothing but admiration and desire for the other person, hopeless and defeated.
I have an idea of how this must feel for a wife when a husband does leave; I have personally experienced this sort of devastation after years of devotion to a person in the past. And it can feel cruel. The feeling of "I have looked after you all this time, and this is how you repay me?" is often how the partner left behind feels.
And it is cruel. It is unfair. It is the difficulty of mental health issues in a relationship. And it is all too common when things are not addressed and dealt with.
Thankfully neither of us made the choice to leave. Both of us certainly felt it at times, but we made promises and, without unfaithfulness or abuse being a factor in our marriage, both of us were fiercely committed to what was said at our wedding to each other and to God. It is down to this, God's grace and the support of others, that we have managed to bring things back from the brink and move forward in our marriage.
It's not just some nicely crafted words at weddings that invite God, each other and the congregation to commit to the outworking of the marriage. It was designed that way, knowing that it would require this level of support for two broken people to forge the beauty of marriage that is intended for us.
I suppose the question is - have either of you had to change your behaviour in order to manage a spouses mental health, depression or anger issues? It may be that both of you are feeling hugely rejected, and the resulting behaviours (however right and needed), are causing a cycle of hurt and damage.
So if, as you read this, you relate to either of us, I would encourage you to explore this with your husband or wife.
For those who felt they have had to care for their spouse with anxiety and depression - we know that this is a challenging status quo to sustain. Be kind to yourself and get the support you need to enable you to keep loving your spouse.
And for those who feel how I felt towards Abby, maybe you need to explore the reasons behind it and be open to seeing that you may be a big factor in this. If each of you can approach this in the mindset of building your relationship, then there is hope and a more healthy relationship to be found.