By Joanna Teigen, Crosswalk.com
At our wedding, we walked the aisle with all the joy and optimism that young love and fresh faith can bring. Our commitment to love for better and for worse was heartfelt and has stood firm for almost thirty years.
Yet as a young bride and broom, we didn’t know that “for worse” meant the pain of depression would touch us again and again.
My struggle with depression started as a young girl and ebbed and flowed as I grew older. An ugly blend of genetics, health problems, and hurtful experiences brought emotional turmoil. Perfectionism and shame fueled the fire.
More recently, medication side-effects blindsided me with depressive feelings I never saw coming. Depression has lurked in the shadows for as long as I can remember.
I didn’t walk the journey of depression by myself. My husband traveled this hard road, too, as we shared our days side by side. He experienced his own hurts and losses as I struggled to cope. Here are five ways depression challenged our relationship, but God was able to get us through:
1. Loss of Teamwork
Depression saps your strength and energy. Simple tasks like errands and household projects feel monumental. Dealing with kids’ needs and attitudes is overwhelming.
Our marriage lost a healthy give and take as my husband shouldered more than his share of work at home.
He managed to-do lists and kept little tummies full. He tidied the clutter and kept the coffee pot brewing each morning. My depression revealed the heart of a servant in my husband as he stepped up to do what was needed for everyone.
2. Loss of Dreaming
It feels impossible to create hopes and dreams for the future when you’re just trying to survive today.
My husband is a creative planner, so he was hurt when his great ideas hit the brick wall of my depression. In those seasons where I felt low or “stuck,” we stopped setting financial goals.
Family outings or vacations were haphazard events instead of well-planned quality time. Home improvement projects stalled. Career goals and dreams were shelved. Rather than building and growing, we simply muddled through until the sun shone again.
3. Loss of Romance
Depression turns you inward. In the overwhelm of your own emotions, others’ needs and feelings are hard to grasp. I struggled to reach out to express love for my husband.
Physical intimacy felt too tiring or overly vulnerable. Negative thinking silenced my affirmation of his positive qualities. By the end of a long day, crashing on the couch held more appeal than heading out on a date together.
Depressive feelings took a toll on our warmth, our affection, and our time together.
4. Loss of Trust
Depression is fed by lies. It says, If you were stronger, you wouldn’t struggle. Your faith must be weak. You’re selfish and unloving. If people knew what you were really like, they’d never want you. See what a failure you are? You’re never going to change. You don’t deserve to be loved.
I swallowed those lies time and time again. Insecurity led me to pull away and build thick walls of self-protection around my heart.
As my husband met those lies with truth—I was deeply loved as a wife, mother, and daughter of God—we clashed. By rejecting his words, I essentially called him dishonest. He was wounded by my refusal to take him at his word and receive his love.
We lost our footing as we no longer trusted each other’s hearts.
5. Loss of “Us”
Depression stole our fun. Our affection and intimacy. Our music and dancing in the kitchen. It closed our doors to the joys of hospitality and new friends.
Depression stole the sweetness of motherhood and fractured the unity of our parenting. The little inside jokes, thoughtful habits, and favorite things we shared slipped away.
Low emotions brought our relationship to new lows as we struggled to find our way to each other. In seasons of depression, the marriage we enjoyed became hard to recognize.
But…Depression Doesn’t Have the Final Say
Today, depression’s power has grown weak. It might knock on the door, but it’s less likely to walk in and make itself at home. I’m celebrating the gifts of healing and freedom God has brought to my life.
By God’s grace, he threw a lifeline into my pit of depression every time. He brought wise, caring counselors who spoke truth to my soul. He healed physical issues that affected my mental well-being. Scripture, insightful books, and encouraging sisters in faith built up my spirit. Never once did God abandon me in the darkness of depression.
God is truly faithful. He never allows our pain to be wasted, since the testing of our faith through trials “produces perseverance” (James 1:3). Rather than depression ripping you or me apart, we can let “perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (vs. 4).
God used the difficulty of depression to fill me with strength and love I’d never known before.
God also used our struggles to equip us to love and serve others: He “comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:4).
Depression has given both my husband and me and more gentle, compassionate view of others who struggle. We can show mercy instead of criticizing or laying a burden of guilt on people’s shoulders. Just as God patiently renewed my mind and heart, we can bear with those who are walking through dark valleys today.
God Really Does Work for Our Good through All Things
Another silver lining of depression was discovering the power of the Bible. God’s love is displayed across every page. No lie or false belief can stand up against the truth of the Word. God’s scriptures reassured me I was secure and accepted, cherished and loved.
He reminded me the troubles of this life are temporary. He said no sin in my depression fell outside of his grace to forgive.
When I felt the most unlovable, God reassured me that “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. I will build you up again, and you…will be rebuilt” (Jeremiah 31:3-4).
God taught me much about grace through the unconditional love of my husband. He hurt. He grew tired and frustrated. He wondered if healing would come before permanent damage was done. I imposed on his patience and kindness, and he forgave every time.
My husband’s love was God’s unfailing love in tangible form.
My husband also found healing and growth after suffering from my depression. He learned boldness in telling me hard truth I needed to hear. His leadership grew stronger as he moved me to get help and he kept our family going. He, too, recognized that God’s love is better than even the best we might give to each other.
My husband learned humility to release the burden of “fixing” our lives to God’s control. He gave up self-reliance to depend on God for strength to give, serve, and love through it all.
Today, we’re enjoying the sweetest season of “for better” we’ve ever known. Our love has been tested and refined. We trust in a God who is faithful to give all we need.
Depression was a bitter enemy against our marriage, but God “intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done” (Genesis 50:20). If you or your spouse are feeling the losses and pain of depression, take heart knowing God is able to shine light in the darkness.
Joanna Teigen and her husband Rob have shared over 25 years of marriage and life with five kids, plus a beautiful daughter-in-law. They’re a neat-freak married to a mess, an explorer to a homebody, and an introvert to a ‘people person.’ But they agree their vows are for always, children are a gift, and prayer is powerful. Joanna is the co-author of Mr. and Mrs., 366 Devotions for Couples, A Mom’s Prayers for Her Son, and a variety of other resources for couples and parents. She looks forward to meeting you at GrowingHomeTogether.com.
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