I’ve Lost Interest in My Depressed Wife

Article by Dr. Michael Tobin
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Dear Dr. Tobin,

My wife and I have been married 21 years and have 3 daughters. Since I have known her, she has suffered from insecurity and a poor self-image, resulting from bad experiences during her teen years. She was a bit heavy, had severe acne, and had few friends. During her college years, she had high anxiety about grades, and spent all her time studying. I, on the other hand, have a high degree of self-confidence, and tend to take things more in stride. I do not let many things get to me. One of my faults is an inability to share my feelings with people and allow them to try to help me. This has always been an issue in our marriage. My problem is, I have grown tired of “helping” my wife through all her issues and emotional struggles. I have also grown tired of her problems with gaining weight, which is a cause for depression for her. She has had several bouts with depression over the last six years, and is now on medication. I find myself lacking any affection for her, or patience with her problems. She provides no fun or joy in my life. When I think about bringing this up to her, I don’t because I know that her fragile psyche could not handle it. She is a very good woman, and I admire her and do love her. I am just not interested in her anymore.

What should I do?


No Interest in Wife


Dear No Interest,

The fact that you’re exhausted and impatient is no surprise. Being the Rescuer for such a long time is wearing you down. You’ve discovered that the job offers you no support, affection, fun and joy. Here’s why: When a person takes on the role of the Rescuer, he sacrifices his needs, thinking that his good will, kindness and insightful advice will lift the Victim, in this case your wife, out of the depths of her pain and depression. It can feel quite uplifting to have such a powerful effect on another human being. However, that effect is very short lived, if successful at all. The Victim remains stuck and the Rescuer feels frustrated.

Sometimes the Victim either gets angry or even more depressed as a way of showing her disapproval of the Rescuer’s ineffective efforts. And sometimes the Rescuer either becomes depressed because his efforts have been so ineffective or he becomes angry with the Victim for not changing. It’s also possible that the Rescuer may become so depressed at his lack of effect that he turns into the Victim and the Victim becomes the Rescuer. Another scenario: the Rescuer or Victim, out of a sense of frustration, become Persecutors and start torturing each other.

It sounds like you’ve become tired of this game. That’s healthy. Now you want a different kind of relationship with your wife. As long as you’re scripted to play the role of the Rescuer and she, the role of the Helpless Victim, there is no chance that either of you can have a genuine relationship based on love, mutual sharing and need fulfillment. I think you understand that.

So the question remains: How do you change a pattern in a relationship that is well established? And if one person is ready for a change and the other isn’t, can a relationship survive?

One thing is certain — ignoring the eventual confrontation with your wife will not help either of you. I understand that you don’t want to hurt her. However, the only chance for a meaningful relationship is if you deal directly with your feelings. Your wife’s big fear is that you don’t love her and she’s right, you don’t. As long as you treat her as a helplessly depressed incompetent there is no way that you can feel genuine love for her. You both know that.

Yes, if you begin to deal honestly, there will probably be a crisis. Your wife will likely become more depressed or angry and you might feel terribly guilty. This is the inevitable first stage of change. To get through that stage I would strongly recommend that you be in marital therapy and I strongly recommend that you make that suggestion in a loving and sensitive manner. Let her know that your deep desire is to have a close and genuine relationship and that you feel that there are issues that would be best discussed with a marital counselor. She may very well hear this suggestion as proof that you don’t love her and that this is your first step toward divorce. Don’t try too hard to convince her; just stick with your decision to go into therapy. I’m sure that she won’t resist.

Change is always hard. However, the alternative is further depression, dissatisfaction and the eventual death of your marriage. Take a deep breath, find the courage within and begin that first step toward creating a genuine relationship based on honesty and openness.

Good luck,

Dr. Michael Tobin

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