I believe my husband is depressed even though he won’t admit it. He admits to feeling different but not to the fact that this is a recurring thing. We’ve been struggling a lot. I’ve done my research best that I can on how to support him through this. We have a couples counseling session coming up but as of tonight I don’t know if we’ll make it. He doesn’t want to go. I’m exhausted and at my wits end as to what I can do. He says he loves me and that he doesn’t want to make me unhappy and that I’d be better off without him. I do my best to counter that and affirm my love and support for him but it’s like talking to a brick wall sometimes. He has also started drinking alcohol when he’s with his friends. He is a police officer and I know he deals with a lot of horrible things and has to work overtime. I don’t know what else to do and I fear that our marriage is over, and I fear he’ll never get the help he needs.
I’m sorry to hear that both you and your husband are struggling. We all want our homes and marriages to be harbors in the storm, but when they feel like they are the storm, it’s difficult to find rest. Of course, you are worried for your husband’s safety and the future of your marriage. These are very serious concerns, so let me share some ideas on what you can do.
While I’ve never met your husband, the fact that he’s a police officer may indicate that he is experiencing the effects of trauma. Many of the brave men and women who serve and protect our communities experience trauma in the aftermath of witnessing violence or fearing for their own safety. They can also experience secondary trauma from the loss or injury of their colleagues. They are brave and strong individuals, but they are also human and cannot be expected to live lives unaffected by these extreme situations.
Trauma often shows up as depression and substance abuse. These are common reactions to try and cope with unbearable pain. Of course, depression is complicated, and I don’t pretend to have all the answers without meeting directly with your husband. Therefore, it’s important for him to have an individual assessment from a licensed therapist or psychologist. Generally, police departments have resources to help officers receive assessment and treatment for trauma.
While couples work is important, it’s not going to be as effective if he is battling the unseen effects of trauma. It’s important for you to reassure him that you know this is not who he is and that you would like him to be his best self. Ask him if he is willing to speak to someone at work and get the necessary referrals to properly diagnose his condition.
I recognize that he has been resistant to getting help, but he may be resisting couples work because he doesn’t want to feel like more of a failure in your eyes. He probably already knows that he’s under functioning, but doesn’t know what else to do. If you suspect that he is suicidal or losing more of the functioning he needs to take care of himself and his family, there’s nothing wrong with you intervening and getting the appropriate help for him. Many people who are severely depressed or traumatized need advocacy and support to get that first appointment so they can start to get some traction.
I encourage you to start here with him. Even though there are other marital relationship dynamics that will need attention in the future, his safety and well-being are at risk. Isolating, drinking, and relationship struggles are all huge risk factors. If he chooses not to get any help for himself, it’s essential that you find support for yourself. You can spend all of your energy trying to drag him into healing that you end up wearing yourself out. If you have children, you need to be available for their needs. It’s unlikely they are getting much from him and you may be their only healthy connection.
There are 12-step support groups, individual counseling, and other resources available to help partners of those who are struggling with addiction, trauma, or depression. Please don’t let this isolate you further. It doesn’t mean you automatically have to end the relationship, but it does mean that you must end this pattern of isolation and disconnection.
You may have tried to be subtle or careful with him since he seems so sensitive and fragile right now. While I certainly encourage you to be kind, it’s also important to be clear and direct with him about your concerns for his well-being. Validate the struggle that he might be having as a police officer who regularly faces horrible things. Normalize it for him and let him know that he’s not weak or pathetic for struggling with it. It’s difficult for men to be open about our experiences, but it’s really the only way we heal. I hope he can feel your love and loyalty as you invite him to get the healing he deserves.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
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About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, host of the podcast, “From Crisis to Connection”, and creates online relationship courses. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.