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Not sure how to support my wife

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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 Member

So my wife has been staying with her friends since Wednesday night. She called that night because she has our cat with her and he was acting a bit stressed, then sent me a video of him and a message the next day. She actually wrote a few messages and I replied to each, but she did not even look at my messages. She has been on FB several times since and still hasn't read them. She seems quite set on detaching from me completely, but at the very least she has demonstrated that she doesn't care. She says she does and that she still loves me, but her actions (or lack thereof) tell a very different story.

The reality is that if I had died last night she wouldn't know until she came back on Monday or Tuesday. She knows that I don't have any support and that this is the absolute worst moment of my life. I don't expect to be able to lean on her, nor would i want to given what she is also going through, but even short messages to make sure I'm alright would go such a long way. She's not even willing or able to do that.

On top of all of this, I will have to handle the vast majority of the process of moving, which is stressful enough by itself but which will also include sorting out our things. I tried doing a bit yesterday, but realized I couldn't handle it after about 5 seconds.

The past 4 weeks have been a living hell, but what is perhaps the most problematic aspect of this is that I have no support network to fall back on. I have literally 1 friend and I'm pretty sure even she is tired of talking to me. Every hour is an eternity, so I'm really not sure how to get through this. At the rate I'm going, even if getting back together was a realistic possibility both I and my trust in her would be so damaged from this time that I don't know how the relationship would work. I feel so incredibly sad, lost, overwhelmed, and alone in the world.

Community Champion
Community Champion


On uncertainty, perhaps the best place to look is here...


I hope the link is not removed

On talking with your wife... It is something my psychologist told me. It's about talking with empathy. And the words she used was dripping like honey. That is not to make light of the situation. The style of communication is referred to as "I communication". There are images on the internet about this but could go something like...

I feel sad when I see ...

I wish that we ...

I guess that it is difficult for you ...

If we could ...

What do you think?

It would also be ok to agree with your wife and remind her about her strengths and talents.

Chat no more l

Community Champion
Community Champion
Chat more later

Hi Smallwolf

Thanks once again for your reply.

The link is still good and it is a good article for conceptualizing the issues around uncertainty and anxiety. The themes in there fit in well with other things I've been reading on mindfulness and DBT.

The thing with reminding her of her strengths and talents is a tricky one. I do that regularly anyway, but recently it has been making her feel worse. One of her issues is her self-esteem, so she doesn't see these things and doesn't feel deserving of what I see in her, which is particularly frustrating given that she is much younger, better looking, smarter, livelier, etc. than I am. I guess this draws her attention to her self-esteem and makes her feel bad.

The phrases you have suggested are a great idea, but require me to be able to actually talk to her. She's gone now and will probably continue to try to avoid our place and me as much as possible. Even when she is here, when she talks to me it is like she is talking to a coworker. No connection or love at all in her eyes. I can't stand to be around her because her apathy is so pervasive, so I don't even want her here at the moment.

I guess this is where that stuff on uncertainty really comes into play. I know that I desperately grasp for certainty as a result of anxiety, which in turn increases my anxiety as no matter how much I worry I am never any more certain (of course). I really feel like mindfulness and other techniques to manage uncertainty should be practiced when people are in a reasonably good situation so that they are prepared when things get difficult. I wish I had. These things take a lot of practice, so it's hard to even apply them in a crisis, but I'm trying.

Valued Contributor
Valued Contributor

Hi jsm1974

I feel for you so much as your wife continues to stay away in order to make better sense of things. It's tough when someone detaches from us when they're trying to make sense of things. Kind of like are they making sense of things in a way that includes me in their future? Imagining what they're thinking can be torturous, leaving you in a kind of limbo.

Self-esteem's a tough one. Are we born with it? Does it somehow disintegrate over time, based on our upbringing or our life experiences? How do we integrate it more into life if the foundations of healthy self-esteem were never given to us in the first place? Can we recognise when we're on a quest to find it, asking a lot of related questions? 'What's wrong with me? Why do I let people walk all over me? Am I worthless? Why do I have such little self love or self respect? Why do I have so little confidence? Why doesn't my partner or why don't my friends help me nurture it more? Do they actually like me? Am I worth the effort?' and so on. I've found, while all self esteem related questions can be incredibly valid and well worth asking, they can also be incredibly depressing, especially when we're not getting the the right or most constructive answers.

Nathaniel Branden is a brilliant author when it comes to addressing self-esteem. His 'The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem' is a deeply thoughtful analytical book. For me, it held a lot of 'Aha!' moments, when it came to a lot of the factors that were seriously lacking in my life. While I won't go into what exactly the six pillars are, he speaks of the foundations as being 'Self-respect' and 'Self-efficacy'. Self-efficacy is a biggy. To trust in your own ability to manage, even when things aren't working out, is definitely a big call. How many of us were really seriously taught how to manage challenges, how to break them down and analyse them constructively or simply how to feel our way through them?

Yes, definitely easier to practice what makes sense when we're in a good headspace. I find, sometimes it pays to write notes for your self. Sounds a little crazy but if my logical non emotional self writes notes for my depressed or stressed out highly emotional self, when I'm down or stressed the notes help me re-member who I truly am. Eg: You're someone who gets really down when you're in a depressing challenge. It's okay, you won't stay in this state as long as you search for a new positively mind altering revelation'. Easier said than done at times 🙂

Thanks so much once again for your kind words, therising.

I don't know where to begin with the self-esteem stuff but I know I need to work on it. I keep thinking that if I were her, I wouldn't bother trying to work things out either and that I never deserved her anyway, so why would she come back? I've been reading voraciously to find techniques to help me keep my emotions under control. I'm finally starting to get some of the benefits of those techniques, but they are all for anxiety and acceptance. It's hard for me to focus on trusting my ability to manage when I don't feel like I have any real goal in mind. I'm struggling lately to see much point in living, given my situation in the world. My age (47), which I've been struggling with for a long time now, weighs on my mind as I think about starting over and I can't help but ask "why bother"?

Hi jsm1974,

Welcome to the forums and thank you for sharing your story with us here.

We are sorry to hear that things have been so difficult lately and that you are struggling to see the point in living. We want to remind you that all life is important, including yours and you have significant strength and deserve to live a happy life. We understand these must be such hard feelings to sit with, so please know that you never have to go through this alone, and support is always here for you.

If you would like to talk to someone, the Beyond Blue Support Service is available 24/7 by phone on 1300 22 4636 or on Webchat 1pm-12am AEST on our website: www.beyondblue.org.au/getsupport  One of our friendly counsellors will be able to talk through these feelings with you and can offer support, advice and referrals.

We also strongly urge that in overwhelming moments you get in touch with our friends at Lifeline (13 11 14) or the Suicide Call Back Service (1300 659 467).

We hope that you will find some comfort here on the forums. Please feel free to keep reaching out here on your thread whenever you feel up to it.

Community Member

Thanks for following up. I can't say I've ever felt quite as bad as I do now, apart from the rest of the past 5 weeks, but I'm safe. Trying to take things 5 minutes at a time (even 1 hour at a time is too intimidating). This makes for an unbelievably long day, but at least I'm getting through.

This experience has, for me, highlighted the need for more ways for people to connect in real life (once lockdown ends) or at least via video chat. If the pandemic has given us one gift it is the variety of online video chat platforms that are now available. I've been searching for support groups, but the only one I've found is one that I'd have to pay $100 per session for (and a 4 session booking). The free groups I've found all appear to have gone inactive since around early September. We need more ways to help each other, as I feel that knowing that you have the support of people who know you and being able to be around those people to feel that energy must be an amazing source of strength and an integral part of healing.

Valued Contributor
Valued Contributor

Hi jsm1974

Life's definitely easier when you've got naturally brilliant self-esteem, the road ahead is so well planned out that you just cruise along and you can switch your feelings on and off with seriously impressive self-control. Oh, to have such abilities. For myself at times, it seems life's more like some of the scenes from the movie 'Shazam!'. While this superhero begins with no idea of all his abilities, he tests and fumbles his way through gradually finding them and trying to master them.

You mention a lot of the abilities you're working on mastering

  • The ability to recognise and manage your emotions/feelings
  • The ability to feel a growing need for greater self-esteem. It's the undeniable call to address and nurture it that we feel most deeply
  • The ability to know when to reach out to others. So very most important
  • The ability to question who you are and where you stand at this time in your life, in order to gain a sense of self and direction
  • The ability to live in the moment. You mention how you are managing to live within 5 minute periods of time. People who aim to master life in specific ways work toward living in each present moment, taking it down to each split second (if they care to measure it). You are working on your ability to be mindful, to be present in everything you do. It's amazing how much mindfulness we can lack at times: To not carefully hear or listen to the water that pours from the kettle into our cup each morning or to not see the true expression on a person's face who tries so carefully to hide their sadness are only 2 of so many things we can miss in a lifetime
  • Your ability to see what there is a need for in this world, such as with support groups, relates to your ability to feel great compassion and recognise what is lacking when it comes to our nature (a nature which is designed to evolve through community/support)

As I reflect on a lot of my own abilities, I can honestly say the greatest ones I have come to master or are coming to master first emerged at some of the most depressing times in my life. Whether it be a sense of courage that 1st began to develop through trying for another child after 2 miscarriages or my self esteem that gradually emerged when I began to push myself beyond the anxiety which often screamed 'Don't upset the person degrading you', I've practiced so much of what 1st came into being. It is not time which makes things easier. It is a practice over time which reveals to us who we truly are 🙂

Community Champion
Community Champion

You mentioned doing things when you are feeling well... That may be true but we might not to think about them or learn about them until we need to. Being aware is one part of it, and the other is practice. On good days and bad. And to remember that thoughts are just that. If one exercise does not work try another.

I would crave certainty as well, where you know how things will play out. But there can be new challenges and possiblities?