By: Leslie Cane: I often hear from wives who are very sorry and sad to be separated from their husbands. They are not the ones who were unhappy in their marriages. And a separation is often the last thing that they want. Still, since they have been unable to change their husband’s mind, they are stuck trying to make the best of a confusing and painful situation.
But since most women are nurturers, most feel at least somewhat responsible for their husband’s pain and feelings during the separation, and this is true even if the husband was the one who initiated the separation itself. It’s very typical for their wives to worry about the husband’s well being – even over their own.
To reflect this, I might get a blog comment like: “I am convinced that one of the big reasons for our separation is the fact that my husband has been somewhat depressed and under a great deal of stress. He has been saying for months that he’s just not happy. Initially, I thought that this was limited to his work, but apparently, he thought this extended to our marriage because about three months ago he told me that he wasn’t happy with me either. I hesitated about the separation for many reasons, but the biggest reason was that I did not want to leave my husband alone. I worried that his depression would only get worse when he was by himself. I can’t completely tell if this turned out to be true because his behavior changes all of the time. I will see him one day and he will actually look happier than I’ve seen him for a long time. And then I’ll see him another day and I can tell that he’s carrying the weight of depression. It’s hard for me to try to help him when we’re living apart. I want so badly for him to be happy again. I will try to make jokes and cheer him up when we are together and this seems to work pretty well. But then I have to let him go home again and I have no idea how he’s going to fare after that. My kids say that he seems fine when they are with him. And, they are with him a lot. I’m just wondering what I can do to help make him happy while we are separated. I feel limited since we aren’t together all of the time.”
This has to be a very frustrating situation. I understand why this wife felt like she did. It’s very hard to see someone that you love struggle in this way. As wives, we are caregivers and we hurt when we see those we love hurt. I know that you must feel as if, at least to a certain extent, your hands are tied. At the same time, I have to tell you something that deep down, I suspect that you already know.
His happiness isn’t your responsibility. And, it is for the most part out of your control. (Now, if you think that he has serious depression that is a danger to himself, then that is another story and you should work with his doctor to get him the help that he needs.) But if we are talking about general unhappiness where he wishes his life were different or better, then it’s up to him to craft the life he wants. This is true when you are living together. And it also true when you are not. No one can “make” someone else happy. Sure, when you love someone you try to control the circumstances that you know might make it easier for them to be happy. You try to listen. You try to support. You try to make your household playful and fun. You try to make sure that you keep the stress levels down. But, you can still do all of this (and do it very well) and still have a spouse that is unhappy. In truth, this is not your fault and it can have nothing whatsoever to do with you or even with your marriage.
You can still attempt to control the stress level and the circumstances during your separation, but it sounds as if you are already doing that, by making jokes and trying to maintain a light attitude. I would also suggested seeing if you can get him into counseling. A good counselor truly can help people with unhappiness, stress, and depression. I know that it can be a challenge to get a husband to go to counseling. You might start by just asking him to go with you to support your own counseling. If he thinks that the sessions are going to be about you, he might be more likely to willingly participate. A good counselor can gradually bring him into the mix and address his issues without him necessarily feeling uncomfortable.
And the truth is, as much as we may love our husbands and want to help, we aren’t mental health counselors. Yes, we can support him and we can listen. We can suggest doing fun things together where we can laugh and forget our problems. We can encourage him to talk about what is bothering him just so that he can release it. But, we can’t “make” him be happy. We can help him identify the source of his unhappiness. We can be a sounding board and a source of support. But we can no more fix his happiness than he can fix ours. Everyone must find their own.
My husband and I were both going through a high level of career stress before our separation. And I’ll never believe that this didn’t contribute to our marital issues. That said, my marriage was helped when I was able to see that I needed to address some of my own issues. And my husband had to also address his own. But we approached this in very different ways. You can read more abut this process on my blog at http://isavedmymarriage.com
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