I am a 27-year-old female mental health therapist. I have a history of depression. It looks like a dysthymic disorder most of the time with some severe episodes occurring every one to two years or so. I am married to someone who is very positive and carefree. Needless to say, marriage has been difficult for us and I am now considering leaving after 16 months. Because I come from a culture in which marriage and community are important, I am torn between that part of myself and the part that is immersed in a greater individualistic culture that values personal happiness and fulfillment.
My husband and I dated for almost two years before we broke up due to a general cooling/distancing between us after an emotional betrayal in which he invited his ex-girlfriend to live with him and failed to respond to my expression of concern of his naivety and lack of awareness of the importance of boundaries. Both of them were extremely respectful of the relationship and demonstrated appropriate boundaries with few exceptions, however I found it hard to respect and trust his judgment and fell out of love with him. I stayed with him because I was afraid of what my life would be like without him–he was always someone that could pull me out of my negativity and encourage me to live in the part of myself that was more optimistic, carefree, and happy. We eventually broke up because I felt it was the right thing to do, and I saw the relationship draining both of us of love and vitality.
Six months after we broke up, he confessed to me that he wanted a marriage and a life with me. He had started to go to church, become more involved in the community, changed his living situation, and demonstrated willingness and eagerness to create a life with me. The problem was that after a few months of break up depression, I had moved on, worked out some of my personal issues of self-worth, perfectionism, and had begun to build a life for myself. I was proud of myself and happy that I had overcome my self-doubt. I thought it was “perfect timing” and designed by God, providence, or fate that we had overcome on our own, the things that needed to be put aside in order for us to be together. In a way, it was a very spiritual and fulfilling reunion.
Our engagement and marriage were happy, but not without doubts. I thought about what I wanted out of marriage, and decided that it was more about building a life together in the community of our families and friends, and less about finding a soul mate. He was a “good enough” person. The safe choice. I ignored that fact that I had very little sexual, and intellectual attraction to him.
Over the last six months, I have become very depressed and concerned about my physical and intellectual repulsion I feel for him and his family members. Having given up an opportunity I worked hard for to obtain my Doctorate, moved into his house that I would never have picked for myself and is ridden with memories of his single life, sold my car to drive one he purchased from his sister that I never would have chosen for myself, and converted to his religious tradition, I feel resentful, and a deep loss of identity. I am starting to have self-deprecating thoughts about having put myself in this situation, ignoring my doubts, and being stuck now due to the cultural values that we are embedded in.
I recognize that I am deeply depressed, my family and community have recognized it as well (I am usually a very energetic, helpful, kind person, and now I am fatigued, irritated or tearful, and quiet most of the time). We have sex less than once every two months, and I often go into periods of silence around him in which I painfully ignore him. I have moments of optimism when we talk about how our future could be different, but these fade quickly when I realize that he has little desire to change any part of our situation other than wishing I was happier.
We have begun couples therapy and I find myself despairing and emotionally unavailable to the assigned exercises and homework. I am consumed with fantasies of how my life would be different if I were single again, I am flailing to keep up at work, I have given up important hobbies, and am numb to the hurt that I know I am causing to a wonderful, patient, good husband.
Of course it is too difficult for me to tell, but something about what you are saying is prompting me to offer an alternative explanation for what you are experiencing. Yes, it sounds like a depression, and I understand your concern about culture and not wanting to hurt a good man. But there are a few things you’re said that make me wonder if there is a self-defeating element to the depression. In other words, are things too good for you to accept?
You describe your good husband as wonderful, carefree and positive and your engagement and marriage as happy. You noted your reuniting was spiritual and fulfilling. Then, later, you say you are starting to have “self-deprecating thoughts about having put myself in this situation.” I realize I am taking this out of context, but you may be telling something that is closer to what is going on. The person you are describing as a mate seems to be a person worth being with, you have earned a Ph.D. at a very early age, and you are gainfully employed. In other words, there are many good things around you to be grateful for and happy about, but they do not seem to affect you. What I am suggesting is that your doubts may not be the concerns you did not honor. They may have been the seeds you planted in case you were feeling too good.
You also state in the beginning: “Because I come from a culture in which marriage and community are important, I am torn between that part of myself and the part that is immersed in a greater individualistic culture that values personal happiness and fulfillment.”
You state this as if they were opposites, as if they are at odds with one another. They need not be, but for some reason you have them as one or the other.
The possibility is that you are pulling out of a situation that is good. Why this is happening is unclear. Perhaps you feel unworthy. Perhaps it is the cultural value clash. But whatever is behind it may be more of a sabotage feeding the depression than the other way around. We tend to sabotage ourselves when we are ambivalent. The question then becomes what are you ambivalent about? Your husband? Your success? Your lack of assertiveness?
The things that led me to offer this perspective are that you are doing things to cause a rejection. You are silent rather than engaging, hold back sexually, and have not been assertive enough about your own needs in the relationship. Your resentment toward him sounds displaced. You may be angry with yourself for not being able to accept responsibility for your own well-being.
The couples counseling is good, but I think you will want to have some individual therapy to unravel what is underneath this. My concern is that the fantasies you have about your single life are just that. You may be sabotaging a good relationship that will be the cause of your lament in the future when other relationships fail to measure up.
Take what I am saying with a grain of salt and use it as a possibility to be ruled out. If you haven’t already you may also want to consider an evaluation for antidepressant medicine.
In any case learn everything you can about what brought these feelings on, how the relationship progressed to this point, and what your options are. My experience has been that couples should learn everything they can about what has happened. First it may be what helps them repair the relationship. Secondly, if they do split, it will be very helpful for both of them to navigate their next experience with intimacy.
Wishing you patience and peace,