Ask Dr. Debra
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My husband's job turned sour six months to a year
ago. He's worried he won't be able to find a good new job. I've
helped him look, but it's my opinion that he hasn't tried very hard
because he's scared to have that worry proved. In the meantime, he's
having trouble sleeping and eating. All medical tests have come back
fine or neutrally inconclusive. He calls his symptoms a result of
"stress." I call it "depression" and am insisting that he do more to
get out of his slump, like start seeing a therapist. In the
meantime, how do I avoid becoming a horrific nag and keep my sanity
around this withdrawn, lethargic creature?
Dear Concerned Wife,
Your husband is definitely showing signs of stress.
You're not giving me enough symptoms to know whether or not he has
depression. Some signs of depression (for men) are: poor appetite or
overeating, insomnia or hypersomnia, low energy or fatigue, a
feeling of hopelessness, low self-esteem, poor concentration,
difficulty making decisions, and irritability.
You mention that he's had medical tests. Has he (or
have you) spoken to his doctor about the possibility of depression?
His doctor needs to have this information, so he or she can monitor
your husband's condition and judge if he will need medication.
Men tend to receive their sense of self-esteem
from their work. Even in today's modern society, men are heavily
invested in their role of breadwinner for their families. In these
uncertain economic times, male stress and depression has been
increasing. When men are stressed, they tend to withdraw into their
"caves" and not talk about their problems.
You, as a woman, intuitively feel the need to talk
about the situation. Yet, your talking at him will not help,
especially if you are using the word "scared." For men to admit fear
is shameful for them, and most of the time they will deny the
feeling of fear (regardless if they are actually feeling it.) They
might even become offended that you are using it in regards to them.
Always substitute the word "concerned" for "afraid" or "scared."
Cardiovascular exercise is important for stress
and depression. Encourage him to exercise every day. Coax him
out for a walk with you. Men do better talking side-by-side rather
than face-to-face. Although don't try to get him to talk on your
first few walks. You don't want him to feel ambushed.
There are some good books for men and
stress/depression. I recommend The Irritable Male Syndrome
by Jed Diamond and I Don't Want to Talk About It by Terrence
Real. You might get him to read the books, but if not, at least you
can read them and share excerpts with him. At least your husband
still has a job, instead of being unemployed. Remind him he's no
worse off by exploring the job market.
Make the new job search a challenge. Men love
challenges. See how fun and creative you both can be. Encourage him
to dream big. There are good books on job searching. What Color
is My Parachute comes out every year with updated information.
Also job counselors might be helpful. I always tell job seekers to
pick up the Sunday paper and read the want adds from A to Z,
skipping the multiple adds. (You don't have to read about every
accountant job.) Go to job search Web sites. See what's out there.
There might be jobs he's never even thought of doing, but would be
well suited for. And also put the word out through all your family,
friends, and contacts.
Once your husband has some solid information, he
should show signs of feeling better. If he doesn't, I suggest seeing
a counselor. As for you, step back from his situation and focus on
your own interests. Nothing keeps a man in his cave like an
argumentative or hovering wife. He'll be more inclined to venture
out of his cave when he sees you're happy and productive.
Feel free to
me with your questions.
Debra Holland, Ph.D., is a licensed psychotherapist who
specializes in relationships and communication techniques.
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