When He's Down and Troubled..

O my God, my soul is in despair within me; Therefore I remember You from the land of the Jordan and the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.   (Psalm 42:5)   (Photo: Tetons)

Even before we were married, I knew Tim periodically struggled with depression. Still, I didn't really understand it. In the early years I had some kind of idea that I could fix it if I did just the right things. That didn't work out so well. But each episode would pass, and life would continue. Until the first big one. That time the depression seemed to go on endlessly. By then we had a couple of children and my life revolved around Tim and the children, making this time all the harder.

So often I wanted to ask an older woman what I should do in those times when Tim was down, seriously down. But no one else ever mentioned having a depressed husband. It was sort of embarrassing, I guess, and the church we went to at the time was good at covering over anything that might make one look less than ideal. Some of that reserve is good, as wives must always guard their words about their husbands. Yet, I still wish there had been someone to talk with.

My husband isn't the only man who deals with periodic melancholy, as the Puritans aptly put it. So recently Tim asked me to write what I've learned these past thirty-five years or so about loving a husband who sinks into the blues from time to time. (And of course, depression doesn't limit itself to men. But here I want to address it from a wife's perspective.)

1. Pray
I'm quite fond of the Carole King/James Taylor song from which I took the title of this piece ("You've Got a Friend".) Yet even though I can be a friend and encouragement to my husband when he struggles, I can't solve all his problems just by being there. But there is one who sticks closer than a brother. So I go to the Father and pray for my beloved. 

Here are a few scripture passages I sometimes pray through:
Romans 15: 13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Psalm 42 - all!
Psalm 130 - all! 
Lamentations 3 - all

Keep a notebook with scripture prayers to make it easy to find the ones you want to use.

2. Read John Piper's When the Darkness Will Not Lift.
I wrote about this little book about a year ago. You can download a free copy from the Desiring God website or buy a Kindle version. Nothing I've read compares with the helpfulness of this book. And at a mere 73 pages, it doesn't take long to read.

3. Remind him of truths about God.
With depression, one tends to view God with a warped mind. We don't view God accurately, and we tell lies to ourself about His goodness and mercy. Sure He loves others, just not me. One of the most useful things we can do to encourage a loved one dealing with depression is to remind them of the truth about God and His character.

Richard Baxter wrote a wonderful sermon on "The Cure of Melancholy and Overmuch Sorrow."
In a section called "Duties of Friends and Relatives of the Depressed," he includes this: "Often set before them the great truths of the gospel which are fittest to comfort them; and read them informing, comforting books; and live in a loving, cheerful manner with them."

3. Try to not fall yourself!
This is a tough one! Nothing is more natural than to respond in sympathy for your beloved by also becoming discouraged and losing hope. When his world isn't going right, neither is yours. But I can tell you that almost nothing is more counterproductive than this. Do anything you can to avoid falling into the pit with him. As Piper puts it, fight for joy yourself.

 Ecc. 4: 9, 10 Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.

4. Express your respect for and confidence in him
Don't let him debate with you on these things either. If he says, "But you don't understand. Really..." Just respond with a smile, "Well, that's how I see things." Your love and belief in him will do more than you can imagine at any time, but especially when he feels low.

5. Don't give in to your own fears.
Trust God to do His good work in and through your husband. Be patient.

6. Don't try to analyze him.
This one is especially for me. I have an analytical brain, and am forever trying to figure things out and solve problems. But my husband needs me to be his wife, not his shrink or MD. When I tell him what I think is going on or give my "helpful" prescriptions, they are usually less than helpful.

7. Don't let him isolate himself, even if he wants to. 
Invite good friends over for dinner. Not someone who will be draining and need lots of good counsel, but someone you can laugh and relax with. Plan some fun times out together whether it is a hike at a nearby nature preserve or a walk around your neighborhood. Go out for dinner together. Find fun, low-key things to do out of the house.

8. Find a friend you can talk and pray with.
Yes, you need to be careful what you say. You don't need to share specifics, but having a friend to pray with regularly is a great help in all times, including those times when your lover is in the depths.

Gal 6:2 Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.

9. Encourage him to seek help if it seems extra-long or extra-serious.
Also, don't pooh-pooh medical sources of depression. I'd always read about these possible causes, but thought they were improbable. Last year for me was the most difficult emotionally I can remember. We had legitimate reasons to be discouraged, and both Tim and I were. But my response to life's situations was out of proportion. A normally fairly unemotionaly woman, I was crying daily. And worse, many days I felt no reason to go on. And then, during a routine doctor visit, I learned my thyroid was barely functioning. As I wrote a few months ago, once I got on thyoid replacement medication, my depression almost immediately lifted. Praise God for this simple help. So now, I no longer despise the idea of medical roots of depression. It can definitely be worth checking out.

10. Make love. Often! It helps.
Definitely more fun than Prozac, and maybe more effective.

God can use depression in our lives, as He can use all suffering, to draw us to Himself. Trust Him for His work in your husband and in yourself.

II Cor. 4:  7-10 
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves;
 8 ¶ we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.


Amber said…
Thank you for this Anne! This is such an encouragement :)
Anne said…
Thanks, Amber. I'm glad you found it helpful!

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