“My situation is a little different. My wife is on anti-depressants and has been for years. She’s always had huge problems with anxiety and this latest pandemic has pushed her over the edge. She has completely shut down, emotionally.”
This, unfortunately, is not “a little different”. This is the story for roughly half the men I chat with. They love their wives to death. They desperately want to see her be happy. They want love and intimacy. They want validation from their wife. Problem: The wife is a mentally “broken” person. She has a very difficult time coping when life throws curveballs at her, and life sure has thrown A LOT of curveballs her way recently. As a result, she has shut down. She’s not interested in self-improvement, she’s not interested in getting help, she’s not interested in much of anything, really. She’s sure as shit not interested in being sexual with her husband. She just exists.
The husband is torn between his sense of honor, his vows of “in sickness and in health” and his very human need for love and companionship.
In short, he’s losing attraction to his wife. He’s lost respect for her. Coming home to her is a chore. Frankly, it’s one of the last things he wants to do. Being around his bride is a huge downer. Like most guys I talk to, reading “The Dead Bedroom Fix” has sent him down a path of very real self-improvement and introspection. He’s working on himself, big time, but his wife sure hasn’t followed suit. If anything, his wife is now more anxious than ever. Instead of the, “My man is way more awesome now, so I better shape my ass up and get with the program” response that he was hoping for, he gets a wife who is more despondent. She often says things like, “I know you’ll probably leave me. I saw that girl looking at you yesterday. I wouldn’t blame you if you left. I’m no good for you or for anybody.”
Women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with depression. For many women, the signs of depression begin after the onset of puberty. The hormonal fluctuations and all the major life changes that go along with the transition to womanhood are a potent recipe for higher levels of anxiety and depression. If puberty wasn’t enough of a smack upside the head for women, nature has this awesome monthly surprise called “PMS”. Many guys can testify to their wives being completely different humans when “Aunt Flo” pays her visit. If that wasn’t enough, pregnancy, post-partum depression, perimenopause, menopause… so many big hormonal surprises around every corner for women. It’s a wonder they ever leave the house!
These normal and healthy hormonal fluctuations don’t translate into full-fledged depression for most women, but it can be the tipping point for some and the building blocks for a life of anxiety and an inability to cope with real life problems.
Show me five women, and one of them will experience clinical depression in her life. Twenty-five percent… and I think that’s a conservative number, to be honest. Those are the reported cases. We know that approximately 25% of women aged 40 – 59 are taking antidepressant drugs, according to the CDC. That’s a staggering number of women on very serious mind-altering medications.
As far as the “big five” personality traits are concerned (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism), women typically rank higher in neuroticism. They are more likely to have negative thought. They are more apt to be nervous, sensitive, angry, and yes… depressed. Those who score high in trait neuroticism are much more emotionally reactive and vulnerable to stress. They don’t cope well, in other words.
Women… they tend to seek out security. A “rock”. A foundation of strength and dependability. If you poll women on what their needs are in life, “safety and security” rises above all else. How many women do we know that have set aside romantic feelings of love and lust in favor of the Provider who can take care of her and her kids? How many hot twenty-somethings do we see who marry the out-of-shape way-older millionaire guy? Hey… he can provide for her. He can give her all the stuff she wants. She never has to worry about paying bills or where her next meal is coming from. That is of HUGE importance to any woman, no matter what her social standing may be.
From what I can tell, when that feeling of “security” is threatened or is taken away in some manner… women who already display high levels of neuroticism go off the rails in a bad way. We see this again and again in young women who experience abandonment at a young age. They can develop full-blown Borderline Personality Disorder. Their life and future relationships with others are very difficult. They find it almost impossible to regulate their emotions. Their switch was flipped at an early age, and it takes a team of experts and medication to bring them back to a level of “normal” that is acceptable to society. These women often leave a trail of broken men and families in their wake.
If there’s one bit of advice I can give to men who find themselves with a woman who is experiencing depression, it is to LEAD. The wife’s need for safety and security is still paramount, even if they are on three different drugs and seeing a therapist.
What may be surprising to men is how important “tough love” can be in such cases. After all, you’re a guy who is losing attraction and respect for your partner. Your wife, whether you know it or not, can feel that right away. That just builds more animosity… more resentment… more anxiety. It takes a real man, a real PARTNER, to step up and say, “Things have to change. I love you and I’m going to help you become the best you possible… but you’re going to have to be willing to make the steps or else we can’t continue as a couple.” Sounds rough, but for many people caught in the spiral of severe anxiety and depression, that’s exactly what they need. A real smack upside the head. “What you’re doing is not working. I’ve been patient. I’ve been loving. Doing this work is the next logical step in our relationship. Get up. Work on you. Work on us. Let’s do this together. What do you say?”
Note that if you have a long history of Mr. Nice Guy behavior (no boundaries, spineless, hyper-agreeableness, “happy wife/happy life”, etc), your wife may very well call your bluff. “Oh yeah… or what? You’re going to divorce me?” Be ready for that question. If you’re willing to make that jump, then tell her. You can’t go on with a partner who is not willing to put in the work on her mental issues. She’s not doing HER job as partner. She’s letting the weight of her problems affect all of those around her. That’s not fair to you and your family.
You can’t save everyone. You can’t save your wife. She has to want to save herself. Sometimes it takes the potential loss of their partner to wake them up and set them on the right path towards real healing.