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Not sure how to support my wife

Community Member


My wife and I have recently (sort of) decided to separate, or rather she wants to separate (but I don't). We've always had a truly enviable relationship, but things started to decline on her end when she started working from home, then really intensified with the lockdown. She is most definitely suffering from burnout but on top of ADHD and anxiety issues. She didn't love her job before (she teaches English to non-native speakers), she really started hating it when she had to do it online.

Her feelings of frustration and anxiety have caused her to see our apartment as a negative place, so about two months ago she started staying at a friend's place at first only saturday nights, but eventually all weekend, every weekend. Unfortunately I was also scooped up as part of our apartment, so she lost her feeling of connection to me as well as sexual attraction. There is a pretty clear connection between her stress levels and those feelings, but this is impossible to see when you're in a crisis. While she is well aware of these issues and has started doing therapy as well as taking antidepressants (which I fear may have actually made things worse over the past few weeks), she has a difficult path ahead, so I want to support her.

Despite my efforts to help her relax (setting up our bedroom for massages, making some of her favorite meals/desserts, putting her up in a hotel for the weekend so that she could be completely alone, etc.), her mood and outlook have only gotten worse. She recently decided that she wants to move into separate places, yet has since also talked about quitting her job, which we talked about her doing before she mentioned separation, and trying to find something she doesn't dread doing. She is quite open about the fact that she doesn't know what is going to happen, so I have had to come to terms with that, but it isn't even clear what she wants to happen in the short term.

I feel conflicted, because she keeps telling me she needs time and space, which I have tried to give her, but at the same time I also know that she needs support right now. I'm concerned that without support, she will get discouraged with her therapy and give up. The past three weeks have easily been the worst of my life, but I am trying to be strong for her. This is complicated by my own anxiety and depression issues, but I'm now in a better position to support her. I just don't know the best way to do that, especially if we separate.

27 Replies 27

Community Champion
Community Champion

Hi. Sorry to read what you are both going through. My first thought was couple therapy.

But... I also know what it feels like when a space has negative associations. For me it was my home and this was before covid. I don't think I have to go into details. My solution was to find work in an office.

I can also imagine there would be a lot of frustrations with teaching online. And being alone at home. And moving out can be a way of escaping?

With all this going on you are probably confused about what is or will happen. It sounds like this has a negative effect on you as well. 😞

You seem like a good and caring partner. Healing can also take time. Keep on doing as you are. And if you can use "I" based communication then your concern might be visible and you can find a way forward?

Thanks so much for responding. So great to see people supporting each other on these forums!

She is quite against the idea of couples therapy until she tackles her individual issues, but I think this is a mistake. I feel like she could learn a lot about her own issues (and my own) based on our relationship dynamics, but she just isn't open to it.

Part of her problem as well is that she knows how this is affecting me, so she feels guilty and completely shuts down. I've told her over and over that covid is the cause of this situation, not her. She is simply responding to a feeling that she didn't choose to have. It doesn't seem to help though. She still feels guilty, so I've had to work on not being sad around her. In a way, this has been quite good for me, as it has forced me to confront my own issues in order to give her the strength and stability that she needs right now. I'm willing to give her anything she wants or needs to feel better, but I'm not totally sure from a practical perspective how to support her if we separate or whether renting a new place for both of us would be enough to change her perspective.

On my end, I've had to force myself to stop trying to figure out what she is thinking from a distance and stop trying to predict how good or bad the future will be. Focus only on objective facts, not judgement. This has been a hard road and will require more work, but it does seem to help. In fact, I wonder how much of my anxiety over the course of my life has been caused by the same tendency.

There will be times in any relationship when one partner needs to lean on the other. The problem in her case is that she does not want to lean on anyone when it comes to her emotional needs. She has independently acknowledged that this is a problem for her and has said she will make a this a priority with her therapist, all of which I was glad to hear. However, it took me a little while to work out that for her to be able to lean on me, I need to be stronger than I've been. This realization by itself has spurred a lot of growth in me, so in that sense it has been positive, but I worry that if we separate I'll never get the opportunity to give her the support that she deserves and that I know I can give her.

Valued Contributor
Valued Contributor

Hi jsm1974

It's a pleasure to meet such a sensitive and wonderful deeply caring person. You're wife's truly blessed to have you in her life.

Personally, I've found being sensitive to 'the need to wonder' can send me a little crazy at times. If you triggered me to wonder about a particular trait I have, you could be leading me to wonder all day. Seriously, I'd analyse the hell out of that trait just so I could find a greater sense of consciousness (aka heaven on earth). It might take an entire day to reach a conclusion or mind altering/life changing revelation or, if I'm lucky, could take 5 minutes or come instantly. From what you say, sounds like your own sense of wonder has led to some mind altering revelations for you. Such revelations tend to come more easily to an open mind 🙂

Having 2 'feelers' in the same house can be challenging in a lot of ways. It's like you can feel each other's stress, disappointment, anxiety, sadness, frustration and so on. On the flip side, you can also feel each other's incredible excitement/hyperactivity, sense of joy, sexual energy, sense of inspiration etc. It's weird but if you're seriously tuned into your partner and they're feeling hyperactivity or anxiety, if you pay really close attention you may notice your breathing has perhaps changed to match theirs. My daughter's pretty sensitive and constructively assertive. I've had her say to me on occasion 'Mum, STOP IT! I can feel what you're doing to me. I can feel your agitation and it's getting me worked up, so stop it and focus on something else'. My son's the same. We're a funny sensitive bunch, to the point where we can all sense the same need at times, to speak utter nonsense (natural amusement) when lockdown starts to get a little depressing, for example.

Wondering if you've ever considered researching stuff like 'Emotional intelligence', 'Listening to your body' or 'Developing intuition'. A bit out there but it's less about 'Why am I feeling so much?' and more about 'What is this feeling that I'm feeling?'. Am I feeling my wife's need for self reflection? Am I feeling her trying to suppress her high energy levels in lockdown (am I feeling her sense of suppression)? Am I tuning into her sense of frustration and failure, to focus on her work? Do you have the traits of an empath?

Alone time can be so important for a feeler (detachment from feeling all the time). If you're someone who feels their own thoughts, you want to make sure those thoughts are constructive ones.

Thank you for such a beautiful compliment! Amazing what a few kind words can do when you're suffering!

I think we are both feelers, but in crisis we respond very differently. She detaches and avoids constantly, while I engage and want to discuss constantly, which is also unhelpful (or at least to that extent). I realized a couple of days ago that this has made things particularly problematic, as the more she avoids the more I pursue, and the more I pursue the more intensely she avoids. I'm breaking that cycle so that I can actually be contributing to her recovery rather than the problem, but fear that it could be too late.

Some of this clearly signals a degree of diminished self-esteem on my end, as I'm constantly thinking that it will take very little time being separated before she realizes that I'm not nearly good enough for her. I've always been aware that I'm punching WELL above my weight with her, so it won't take much to pull the veil away from her eyes. I know this isn't constructive, particularly given that it intensifies the constant panic attacks that I get now.

And I totally agree with what you said about constructive thoughts. The negative ones were making me want to vomit, which is a bit hard to hide and was really making me insane, so I started listening to an audio book called Calming the Emotional Storm. The listening itself is great, given that even watching tv or listening to music is too painful at the moment, but the exercises the author gives and the way that she describes how to do them, how they work and why they're important, really resonated with me as well.

One of the main ones I'm using is the fact-based thinking I talked about in a previous post. I definitely still have work to do, as it is really difficult to stop myself from making predictions or speculating about things, but this technique has given me some of the only moments of peace and calm I have felt in weeks. I'm still struggling, but I'm hoping that the more I do this, the more natural it will become and I'll really start to see these benefits become a bit more permanent.

Valued Contributor
Valued Contributor

Hi jsm1974

I get where you're coming from. My husband's an 'avoider'. He'll avoid discussing just about anything that can lead to the possible evolution of our relationship. He just doesn't like to feel where the conversation's taking him, so he'll shut it down. He'll even avoid wondering about himself. The reason why this triggers me is because I'm a wonderer (the opposite). I'll wonder about anything that could make a constructive difference. Of course, this means getting to the bottom of certain behaviours. Like yourself, I'm someone who naturally has to work things out. I just hate sitting with the same problem, especially when I know it's one that'll just cycle around again and again. My husband would tell you it's like having a live in psychologist or interrogator 🙂 Really not all that intense to tell you the truth. Could be something as simple as asking 'Do you wonder why my sense of wonder triggers you?' The answer, 'No. I don't know. I just don't want to discuss it'.

Up until a few years ago, I believed a lot in the relationship was my fault. Why wasn't he interested in having thoughtful conversations? Why wasn't he more interested in what mattered to me? Why wasn't he interested in romantic weekends away even? Finally, it hit. He basically just doesn't wonder about those things. May sound a little arrogant but I thought what's wrong with someone who has such a serious lack of wonder. When I say serious I mean it. Before my revelation hit, I found it literally depressing, with thoughts such as 'Why aren't I worth the effort' or 'What's wrong with me?'. Such thoughts existed for years, where I felt worthless.

jsm, it's not our fault that we're wonderful (full of wonder), although wonder can be taken a little too far at times, like when it turns to frustration for our self or we're getting the other person really worked up. Demanding answers won't always work. In fact, it can simply define us as 'overly demanding'. Yes, I've had my moments 🙂

It's the nature of an analyst to make predictions. I think it's when imagination runs wild with predictions that things tend to get a little out of control. You can feel where imaginative 'story telling' is taking you; it can be sickening. An open minded person is an imaginative person. Abilities can appear as curses at certain times 🙂

When it comes to getting out of our imagination (detaching from triggering imagery) practice definitely makes perfect or close to it, leading us to become naturals 🙂

Community Champion
Community Champion

If you are supporting someone with issues, some of that cam rub off onto you. And if you already worry about things, this could make it "worse". As a person with the anxiety (myself) it is easy to think to the worst, that is based on nothing except what my mind tells me. At this point it is also worth remembering that thoughts are just that, they do not define who or what we are. For me, part of the trick to stop the negative self talk cycle.

Things can change.... perhaps slower than we might life and patience is required. Looking after yourself is equally important.

As an aside, my psych. told me how to talk to my wife to her to open up about some things, or without getting defensive at least. If you are interested I could share that and perhaps help your wife to open up a bit.

Listening to you,

Thanks for your kind and thoughtful responses.

therising, my wife is fine, under ordinary circumstances, to talk about relationship-related issues, but right now she is just overwhelmed, so anything involving confronting her own feelings or to think about our relationship stresses her out even further. As a result, I have been avoiding broaching the subject of how she is feeling. I don't want to push her away, but at the same time I feel like these things need to be discussed.

smallwolf, I'd love to know how to get her to open up. Even she knows this is a problem and wants to make it a priority with her therapist, but I'm dying to know how to help on my end.

Also, if you have any tips on dealing with uncertainty, I'd love to hear those as well. Not knowing what will become of the best part of my life is pretty difficult, particularly now.

If anyone is open to sharing, I'm curious whether you have experienced a situation in which you found yourself attracted to other people but not your partner during a stressful time. I went through that a few years ago. I was constantly looking at other women, even women who I did not find nearly as attractive as my wife, but for whatever reason found having sex with my wife a chore. When I really stopped and thought about what was going on in my mind I realized that I was attracted to those women specifically because I had no experience with them, so they were all mysterious and exciting. This was my response to burnout and stress in the rest of my life. Once I realized that, I was able to move past it.

I have a strong feeling that this is what is happening with my wife, but she lacks the skills to deal with it and the experience to identify the actual problem. It certainly can be reversed, as happened in my case, but only if this knowledge is internalized. Given that she can't seem to even begin to face her issues, I don't know if that reversal will happen in this case. Just wondering if anyone else has had a similar experience.