Business of Well-being

Six Stages of Coping with Your Spouse's Depression

We were married on October 24, 1998 and on October 25, I barely recognized her! She spoke differently, using words of anger and despair. Her voice was different; it was sharper. She had a different look in her eyes, one of unhappiness. She had a completely different personality, not the fun-loving person I married only 24 hours before, but one of anger and fear.  

On that day, I wondered "Who the heck is this?" During the time we were dating, I saw nothing in Sharon which would have given me any indication of her illnesses. I simply had no idea what depression was. When we got married, it was as if a switch was thrown and Sharon became someone I had never met before.

It took over six years for the Sharon I married to show herself again. During those six years, I had encountered, with Sharon, situations with which I was completely unfamiliar and, therefore, had no idea how to handle. Sharon's suicidal behaviors were among the worst.

Sharon would often become so despondent and depressed that she would howl in anger and despair and talk about how she didn't want to be here any more and how she should just die and relieve the rest of the world of the burden of her existence. These events always occurred in the middle of the night. We often went days without any sleep.

Since Sharon was on very powerful medications, if she had decided to end her own life, it would have been a very easy thing to do since she had access to enough drugs to do the job any time she chose. I was convinced that suicide was a very real possibility for Sharon and so I would wake up several times every night and listen for her to make some noise to see if she was still with us.

These nightly events began to have their toll on me and my health in fairly short order. Some of the behaviors that Sharon would exhibit were very bizarre. She would be so kind and loving one second and then seemingly without cause or provocation, she would become viciously angry, sarcastic and completely irrational.

My step sons and I never knew from one minute to the next what our life was going to be like. For six long years there was very little happiness in our household. We all found ourselves walking on egg shells all day, every day just so we would not set Sharon off into some fit of rage. I soon fell into an avoidance pattern where I would do anything that Sharon said she needed me to do just to avoid confrontation.

I began to alienate my friends, my family and even my own daughter because I just could not stand to go through another night of defending myself against Sharon's exhausting interrogations. After several years of this, I began to feel like I wanted to be anywhere else but at home.

I dreaded coming home each day, and I was beginning to hate everything about my life. My work began to suffer and people at the office were getting pretty fed-up with my constant stressful demeanor. I had trouble concentrating, and I began to make serous mistakes, one of which cost my employer over a million dollars, all because I was too exhausted and distracted to do my job properly.

In addition to all of this, Sharon's compulsive spending eventually ruined us financially. Between the obsessive spending and the tens of thousands of dollars we ultimately wasted on treatments which did not work, we lost our home, our life's savings, all of our investments and we ended up over $160,000 in debt. My life had been officially destroyed!

In looking back on my own experiences I can see where I went through some learning stages before I was able to begin to successfully deal with Sharon's depression.  Understanding these stages was key to getting us past this humungous hurdle in our lives. The first sage that I went through is a stage of denial.

When it was first suggested to me that Sharon might be mentally ill, my first response was to deny that suggestion and dismiss Sharon's condition as a bad attitude. I did not want to admit that Sharon might have an illness. Things soon got so bad that I had to come to the realization that there could be no other explanation, and that's when I was forced to acknowledge that I was dealing with someone who was mentally and emotionally ill; someone who couldn't snap out of it.

Once I realized that Sharon's symptoms were real I felt insecure in the knowledge that my wife had emotional and mental difficulties, and I tried everything to keep it from the people in our lives. This is the second stage; secrecy. Often times we would make plans with family or friends, and at the very last second, Sharon would have some reason why we needed to cancel.  

I would do or say anything to make excuses as to why we couldn't follow through with our commitments. I know now that this was pretty much the exact wrong thing to do, but I didn't know that at the time, so I constantly made excuses for Sharon. I became very good, I thought, at hiding our situation from everyone, but the truth is, everyone saw right through it all.

I began to feel guilty that I was not able to make Sharon happy. I began to feel panicky because I was always on guard against what I was going to walk into when I got home. I wasn't sleeping at all because either Sharon would be up with an anxiety episode or I was on suicide watch.  

And, I was exhausted from not only trying to keep the secret, but always trying to make everything in life perfect so Sharon would be happy. I was killing myself! One day, I just gave up and entered the third stage of coping; surrender.I stopped caring about my life, I stopped caring about anything at all and I just gave in to the fact that I was a captive in this miserable existence in my own home.

Of course, this didn't help my career as an IT consultant at all! I was so wrapped up in my problems at home that I became almost useless at my job. I can't imagine how many hours I spent at the office just staring off into space trying to figure out how my life got so messed up. I never thought I could ever become that despondent in my life.

Why didn't I just leave? Well, I knew that if I left, and Sharon killed herself, I would have to drag that around with me for the rest of my life, and I wasn't going to give Sharon that power, so I stayed. I was lying in my bed very late one night, listening for signs that Sharon was still alive, dreading what the next day would bring and, it occurred to me that I had been doing this exact same thing night after night for years.  

I was an absolute mess. I was ashamed of my life, ashamed of myself, I felt nauseas with guilt because I was holding myself responsible for not being able to make Sharon happy, I was worried about our finances because we were very broke. I was having chest pains, my stomach hurt all the time, I had no interest in anything and no energy for anything and it occurred to me that I was living a life of despair.  

Right out of the blue, the forth stage hit; anger! I started to fight back!I consulted my lawyer and began to live each day in a state of readiness, ready to leave at any second if things got any worse, and they did; they got much worse! I became irritable and defiant towards Sharon and everyone else in my life including the people at work.

Of course, this defiance just made things worse. We were fighting all the time; there was never a pleasant moment in our home for several months. Sharon was miserable, I was miserable, the kids were miserable and our friends and family started to stay away from us. On a very cold night at the end of February, Sharon and I were at our very worst.  

Sharon was depressed, I was beaten, we were out of hope, out of money, out of tears and out of resolve. So, we did the only thing we could do; we went to Cancun! At that moment I had decided that we were either going to fix this or end it and, together, Sharon and I decided to fix it.

The very next morning I walked over to the travel agent just down the street from our house, whipped out my credit card and racked it up to the limit; our very last source of funds in our lives. Forty eight hours later there we were, at a five star, all-inclusive resort in Cancun.

When we arrived at the resort, there was not another soul on the beach except her and me. We stood there in the dark in the humid salty air staring up at the stars and that's when we saved our marriage. The shame, guilt, grief, fear and anger in me all gave way to desire; desire for a better life, a better future; a future with Sharon and, most of all, a better understanding of Sharon's condition.

When we returned from Cancun, I began to participate more in Sharon's therapy by talking to her more about it, meeting with her doctors, understanding her medications and her mood swings. The change was not immediate; it took some time and there were still some rocky moments, but, at least Sharon and I were now working together towards making things better and not against each other.

Once I began down this path, I was able to jump to the fifth stage; understanding. At this stage, we were able to dive head first into research and discovery. Both Sharon and I began to research depression to see if we could understand why nothing seemed to help her get better.

There is so much information about depression out there, but there are also so many opinions about it that it was tough to separate opinion from fact. But we just kept asking questions, reading books, speaking with experts and sifting through the mountains of information until we found some things that made sense to us.

Through the stage of understanding, I learned things about Sharon's condition that really helped me to comprehend her behaviors, which equipped me with the tools I needed to respond to her more effectively. Once I understood what depression really was, I then understood that Sharon could no more talk herself out of her behaviors than she could talk herself out of a heart attack, which then brought me to the final stage of coping; forgiveness.

I had to forgive myself for my own ignorance before I could move on and build a better life for us both because guilt is probably the single most toxic emotion known to man, and I had to shed any guilt I felt over my past feelings of anger and blame.

By struggling through all those years Sharon and I have been able to rebuild our lives in spite of her illnesses. She now controls her illnesses instead of her illnesses controlling her. The stigma that's attached to depression and mental illness prevents so many from facing it head on and doing what is required to take control of their lives. If more of us understood this horrible illness, more of us would make our way through the six stages of coping and fewer of us would end up divorced or worse.

About the Author

For over 30 years, Steve Lowell has been, among other things, a professional speaker, entertainer and public speaking trainer. Because of his history with his wife's severe depression and emotional illnesses, Steve researched in substantial detail what causes anxiety, stress, depression and other emotional factors which hold so many people back from realizing their true potential.

In learning about the mind, universal laws and human behavior, Steve found that his research gave him new perspectives on how to effectively train people. So, by combining his background in speaking, entertaining and training with the research he and his wife have done, Steve helps his clients not only change the way they speak and present, but also identify the limiting beliefs that are holding them back and replace that belief system with a healthy and empowering self image.

In addition to training people in public speaking, personal interaction skills and self confidence, Steve and Sharon also do keynote speaking about their experiences with depression and severe emotional distress. Steve and Sharon are not doctors or clinicians, they are real life survivors in a drama which effects over 38 million Americans every year, many of whom do not survive. For information on hiring Steve and/or Sharon Lowell to speak at your next event, contact Steve Lowell at (613) 295-2413 or

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