My wife, Ashley and I have both dealt with bouts of anxiety and depression over the years. In our work with couples from all over the world, we’ve seen that millions of couples are suffering in silence over issues of mental health and the unnecessary stigmas that these issues often carry. It’s our goal to help these struggling couples find freedom and lasting solutions. We know from experience how discouraging and isolating you can feel when depression or anxiety strikes, but remember you’re not alone. You will get through this.
I’m not a psychiatrist, so I’m not going to get too clinical here, but I do want to be very practical. In my own marriage and in my work with many other marriages, I’ve seen that depression and anxiety impact men in a different way than it impacts women. My wife Ashley has some excellent resources to help wives who are struggling with these same issues. She also has a powerful devotional that is helpful for both men and women. It’s called “31 Verses and Prayers for the Anxious Mind and Heart,” and it’s worth checking out if you or your spouse are struggling.
As a quick point of clarification, I’m defining “depression” and “anxiety” in fairly broad terms. When I speak of depression, I’m referring to a prolonged season of discouragement causing a person’s default mood to be one of sadness and causing a person to have a general numbness and/or negativity toward life. When I speak of anxiety, I’m referring to an unnatural lack of peace and a persistent feeling of nervousness or dread.
Before I start sharing solutions for those who are currently struggling with these issues, let me give you a quick recap of how anxiety and depression have impacted my marriage:
*Ashley struggled with a four-year battle with anxiety and depression that was offset by postpartum depression after the birth of our first son. Through those early struggles, we learned to lean on each other, trust in God and relentlessly pursue healing. Ashley went to Christian counseling, read books, surrounded herself with encouraging influences, took a prescribed antidepressant, and prayed for healing. I did my part to reassure her during this struggle, and while I didn’t always have the right words, I quickly learned that my steady presence meant more to her than my words ever could. I reassured her often of my love for her and my commitment to her and how God would carry us through this storm (which He did).
*I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression in various forms through the years. I’m generally a positive, upbeat guy, but I’m also prone to bouts of intense discouragement and melancholy. Walking through tragedies with close friends and relatives as I tried to minister to them has created seasons of great sadness. My goal-oriented drive has set me up for a lot of discouragement over the years when life hasn’t worked out as I’d hoped. That discouragement, when left unchecked, can morph into seasons of depression. I’ve also had some medical issues which have created anxiety. I have a thyroid disorder which has negatively impacted my energy levels and caused my testosterone levels to plummet. I’ve actively sought the right treatments and medications to get my levels where they need to be, and I’m on the mend. But at my low points, I’ve had very little sex drive and performance anxiety related to sex stemming from low testosterone. For a guy in marriage ministry who writes and speaks on sex specifically, this often feels like a very intimate attack from Satan himself.
Since Ashley has the personal expertise and experience to address anxiety and depression in women, I’m going to focus on how it impacts men. Depression is like a fingerprint, it can look different for everybody. Despite its particular manifestations in each individual man, there seem to be some broad ways depression and anxiety impact men in general. Here are few of the warning signs:
Below are some warning signs that your husband might be struggling with anxiety and/or depression. I’ve been guilty of ALL of these at various points when I was struggling. Your husband might be battling with anxiety and/or depression if (in no particular order):
- He seems to have lost interest in things that once excited him.
- He is quick to react with anger and/or sadness, but slow to react with happiness or laughter.
- He often “zones out” and seems distant.
- He often escapes into distractions such as the internet.
- He becomes irrational, impatient and easily-irritable.
- He may increase food and/or alcohol intake as a means of coping.
- He becomes fixated on negative thoughts.
If you’re seeing any of these in your husband, please help him. You can’t “fix” him, but your love and presence in his life can be part of the solution God uses to bring him healing and restoration. I know it can feel overwhelming to know where to start, and maybe your husband is pushing you away as you try to help him, but don’t give up. Ultimately he has to decide that he needs help. You can’t make the decision for him, BUT you can point him in the right direction by doing the following things (in no particular order):
- Encourage him to talk to a counselor. Most men have a negative stigma about counseling. It’s a blow to our pride to admit we need it, and we convince ourselves that “shrinks” are a waste of time. The truth is a qualified counselor can provide a positive breakthrough. I’ve personally experienced the positive impact of a great Christian counselor. Keep encouraging your husband to give it a try.
- Pray for him. Prayer is powerful. God will use your prayers to change your situation, but He will also use your prayers to change your perspective. Pray for yourself as well. Pray for wisdom and strength. Keep praying. God is with you in this. God loves you and loves your husband. He will carry you through this and give you strength for the journey.
- Balance encouragement and tough love. Speak words of life and hope to your husband. Keep reassuring him and encouraging him, BUT there might also be moments when you need to give tough love. If your husband isn’t taking any steps toward getting help, there will be moments when you need to say things like, “I love you no matter what. I’m here for you no matter what, but I love you too much to allow you to keep living like this. God has a better plan for you and a better plan for our family. I’m not going anywhere, but I’m also not going to settle for this as the status quo. We are getting help. I’ll be with you every step of the way, but you need to take action. Let’s start with counseling. I’ll go with you if you’d like me to.”
- If you feel that your husband might be a risk for suicide, intervene immediately. Suicide has become a leading cause of death for men. While women attempt suicide more often, men die by suicide more often because of the violent means they typically choose (guns, etc.). I don’t tell you this to frighten you or make you paranoid, but it’s important to be aware of the reality that when a man isn’t himself, the sadness can lead him to make terrible choices he wouldn’t usually make. To his irrational way of thinking, suicide can seem like a way to end the suffering, and he might even tell himself his family would be better off without him. If you feel your husband might be at risk, please talk to a counselor or call one of the many suicide prevention hotlines to find solutions and steps to intervene.
I know that these moments can feel incredibly discouraging and isolating, but you will get through this. I can tell you from experience that we serve a God who will never leave you or forsake you. I pray that Christ, “The Prince of Peace,” would bring peace to your hearts and your homes as you trust Him in these moments of great struggle. You will get through this, and it will become a powerful part of your testimony some day.
For more tips and tools to help build your marriage and your faith, please check out the many resources available at xomarriage.com.