The Spouse’s Unique Role
Probably one of the more difficult questions we get is what the wife of a struggling man can do. The big challenge is understanding–and accepting–how differently the genders deal with stressful situations. Typically, women need to talk. Men don’t like to talk. But they need to talk. Especially to their wives.
Psalm 77 is a fascinating expository look at the symptoms of depression. Asaph says, “I am so troubled that I cannot speak.” There were a couple factors keeping me from opening up to even my wife. First, I was just so tired of crying. And even though my wife has seen me cry before, the intensity with which I would cry was embarassing. I didn’t want ANYONE to see me in that state. Second, I wasn’t sure what I needed to or should talk about. There was so much “noise” inside, I felt like I could hardly make sense of exactly what I was going through. Yes, I was sad. But it was more than that. And for a long time, there was no way I could fully explain it. I felt like I was going crazy.
Early on, my wife was a bit more assertive in trying to get me to talk. Nothing unreasonable, just an unfortunate disconnect in a very trying time. I explained to her that I just needed to “do my thing” (sort through my thoughts, get ahold of my emotions) and eventually open up. This was torture for her, but she learned to give me space. When she would see that far away stare on my face, she would gently say, “You don’t need to right now, but when you’re ready, we can talk about it.” She had become very familiar with these torturous trances I would go into. Sometimes I was digging the fire pit with Paul. Or watching the kids play in the water. Or searching the beach desperately hoping God would push him in. It was awful. She knew when I went there.
I knew it was hard on her and I tried my best to relieve her just as soon as I could. It really wasn’t until I started working with a good counselor that I began to embrace my desperate need to allow Brenna to help bear my burden. I had to consciously “practice” opening up to her. It took some time, but I was eventually able to greatly reduce HER hardship in waiting for me to allow her into my pain.
A concerned lady caught my wife after a service I had just spoken in. She knew her husband was struggling with something, he just wouldn’t talk about it. It would bother him to be asked about it. She came back that evening with an encouraging report. Her husband opened up some on their drive home that morning! Hearing my story from the pulpit gave this man some freedom to be vulnerable. Sometimes it just helps to hear another man talk about a deep emotional struggle. It’s too easy to feel like, it’s just me, I’m such a weakling!
But it’s not just you. And we’re all weaklings.
My wife has had to gently point out my irrational thoughts (another symptom of depression found in Psalm 77). Sometimes she’s had to just bite her tongue and wait for a better moment. Sometimes that better moment never came, but I still needed to hear it, and she had to endure my irrational response. It was so very hard for her.
She also helped convince me that I needed help and that I needed to take a sabbatical. Only one counselor of the four I worked with talked to my wife. Of course, it was the counselor who actually helped me. He knew it would be unlikely to get the full scope of my struggle from me. Brenna was honest. That was huge. My initial version was a bit sugar coated. The whole ugly picture was different. I was in a crisis.
So there’s some responsibility on both sides. The sufferer needs to understand how hard their struggle (especially their silence) is on their spouse. The supporter needs to be lovingly patient, but also take opportunities to gently speak truth. It takes much discernment. It’s a difficult road. But there’s hope.
In Christ, there’s ALWAYS hope.