How To Support Your Grieving Spouse

SHOW NOTES:

"How To Support Your Spouse..." series
“How To Support Your Spouse…” series

Welcome to the last episode of our eight part series “How To Support a Spouse With…”! The Relationship Helpers are glad you have joined us today.  Today we learn about what we can do as spouses when our significant other has experienced loss. 

Leading up to this episode, we have looked at how to help a spouse who has been traumatized, has anxiety, has depression, has a substance abuse addiction, has anger issues, comes from a toxic family, or has a non-drug addiction.  Be sure to check these episodes out if you need some ideas to support your spouse through difficult times. 

Today’s episode may apply to you more than you think.  Often we consider grief and loss a time when someone has experienced a death in the family, but that is not always the source of grief. Sometimes it is the loss of a job, a dream, or a disappointment in an unmet expectation. With a broadened scope of what grief and loss look like, let’s take a look at how you can support your spouse during this painful time. 

Grief & Time

There is no timeline for grief.  The length of time to grieve is different for different people.  A couple may be experiencing the same loss, but take different amounts of time to heal. Have patience with your spouse during this difficult time.  Just because you feel you have grieved and are done grieving doesn’t mean that they should be done grieving too. 

Don’t assume that once someone is back at work or back at school that they have “moved on.” Just because the person is back to their normal, everyday responsibilities does not mean that they have overcome the grieving process or that they don’t need your support.  It just means they are trying to get back to their obligations. They very well could be ignoring their emotions just to get through the day. 

Don’t Say or Imply That They Are Crazy

There is an assumption that people should be functioning at their pre-loss level when they are back at work or school. It may be hard for you, as the supporting spouse, to understand how much this person or thing that was lost meant to your spouse. Bear that in mind as you interact with them. 

Sometimes “unfinished business” is the cause of pain during the grieving period.  If conflict was left unresolved or if some sort of closure was not experienced, then the grieving spouse may be struggling with the fact that the loss happened without an opportunity to try to improve their relationship with the deceased. 

Vincent describes how often men identify with their jobs and how when a man loses his job, he can be sent into a grieving process.  He did not know how much he identified with the job, and it can be hard for his spouse to understand that. This requires the supporting spouse to “put on their empathy hat”.  Rather than treating him like he is odd for behaving this way, try to understand what this job loss means to him. 

Be Aware of Their Triggers

Someone who has lost may be particularly sensitive to things they see, hear, touch, smell or taste that reminds them of who or what they lost. These are called triggers. For a man who lost his mechanic job, it may be something like the smell of oil.  Don’t forget how powerful our senses can be. 

You can probably pretty easily remember certain smells from your childhood.  If you’re able to think of these smells this easily, just think how easy it is to be triggered by your senses while grieving. Our brains make all sorts of associations, positive or negative, so don’t forget this when your spouse is grieving. 

Laura mentions how going to the grocery store was difficult for her after her miscarriages because she would see pregnant women or the baby aisle. She also would find it difficult to see dates on packaging or on checks because it would remind her of due dates that were not going to happen. So even numbers can be triggering.  Be sure to check out our episode on Triggers  or Pregnancy Loss for more information on these topics. 

Find Ways to Celebrate Who They Lost

Do an activity that the lost loved one used to enjoy or plant a tree in honor of that person.  Some people take their loved one’s clothes and sew them into pillows or quilts.  Creating a memorial fund or scholarship in honor of their loved one can be a positive way to memorialize a loved one. Doing something for the good of others in that person’s name continues that person’s legacy and helps to keep their memories alive. This helps to communicate the impression that person had on their life and the difference they made to them. 

Don’t forget humor.  It may be healing to participate in an activity that the deceased enjoyed. 

Be On The Lookout for Depression & Isolation Behaviors 

Being alone during a difficult time allows someone to collect and process their thoughts, BUT too much time spent in isolation can be unhealthy. Reclusive behaviors and sleeping a lot can be signs that depression has set in and needs to be addressed. 

If you suspect your spouse may be experiencing depression, you may want to listen to the following episodes “How to Support a Spouse With Depression” and “How Discouragement Leads to Depression”.  

The inability to function during daily routines, weight loss or gain, difficulty sleeping, and having difficulty with responsibilities all could be signs that depression has set in. 

Allow Them To Talk About It & Don’t Shut Them Down 

It’s important for your spouse to talk about the sad and happy memories.   They need to be able to share with others so that they are able to work through their feelings.  As mentioned before, loss is not necessarily the result of death, but could be the loss of a job, a friendship, or even maybe a church home. Be open to the possibility that your spouse could be grieving due to significant changes in his or her life.  

Divorce is an incredible loss.  The divorce process has a lot of similarities to the grieving process. 

Health scares can also be a type of loss. If your loved one was an active person and has lost mobility, that can be life-changing.  A cancer or disease diagnosis can mean having to change how they go about day-to-day activities. 

Getting your loved one to talk helps them to acknowledge how important whatever or whomever they lost meant to them and helps them to process the grief. 

Allowing your loved one to talk about their loss will help prevent them from “stuffing their feelings” as well as prevent them from living in denial. Both of these coping mechanisms allows negative thinking and feelings to fester. This requires you to be empathetic. You must “sit” with their grief. Instead of minimizing their feelings, dig deeper.  Allow them to explore how they felt about the person or thing they lost. Help recognize and validate their pain. 

Understand That You May Be In A Different Place In The Grieving Process

Elizabeth Kubler Ross is known for the Five Stages of Grief Model. It is not a fluid model. People can fluctuate between stages. 

Denial

The first stage is denial.  Often this is a state of or reaction of shock. This person may not be showing emotion, yet. 

Anger

Anger is the second stage. Examples could include, “If the doctor had not done this, my loved one wouldn’t have died,” or if “(my loved one) would have eaten healthier, driven more safely, taken better care of himself, etc. they wouldn’t have died.” 

Anger could be towards the person who died, towards a person at the scene of the death, towards themselves, or anger at God. Survivor’s guilt could be figuring into their anger, too. 

Bargaining

Bargaining is the third stage. It could sound like “If I do this, you do that…” It’s often directed towards God. Examples could be, “I’ll go to church every Sunday if you…”or I’ll read my Bible or pray every day if….”  or “I’ll do this with my family if you’ll…” etc.  

Depression

The fourth stage is depression.  This is where the person actually grieves. This is when a person cries. Our bodies are amazing vessels. We are designed to hold so much, but at some point, we have to spill out. Crying is a healthy release.  Holding back keeps us stuck.  We’re not able to work through the loss. 

Acceptance

Some sort of reconciliation has occurred. The person has moved past anger, has physically and emotionally grieved their loss and is allowing what they have learned through the grieving process to positively impact their life. 

This may mean that they have stopped looking for answers. They no longer question or challenge why the loss occurred.

Connect Them With Support Outside of Yourself

Your spouse may need more help than you can give.  In fact, being married does not mean that spouses should be each other’s only support. That’s too heavy a burden to bear. 

GriefShare can be a helpful lay support group that gives reciprocal support. You can find GriefShare at your local church. 

Laura notes that therapy can be particularly important for people who experienced a loss years ago that never was processed. As therapists we often find that people bury their grief and it comes out in unhealthy ways later. One example of this may be years after the death of a parent. An adult may find themselves triggered when they start their own family and certain milestones or events bring memories to the surface of their lost parent. 

A therapist can help those who have lost process grief. They can help individuals overcome the “should of beens” and unmet expectations that have kept them stuck. 

091 Marriage: How To Support Your Spouse With Non-drug Addictions

SHOW NOTES:

"How To Support Your Spouse..." series
“How To Support Your Spouse…” series

Welcome to Relationship Helpers!  Therapists Vincent and Laura thank you for listening to their series “How To Support A Spouse With…”.  This is the seventh part of an eight part series where they delve into mental health and relational issues that create tension in marriages. 

Today they introduce the topic of helping a spouse through a non-drug related addiction. (If you are in a relationship with someone who is an alcoholic or struggling with substance abuse, be sure to check out episode 088, “How To Support a Spouse Struggling With Alcoholism.”)

Gambling, workaholism, shopping, food, exercise, sex, all can be addictions, but fall into more “socially acceptable” addictions or are not as publicly acknowledged as alcoholism and substance abuse. 

Acknowledge The Problem

Often we minimize people’s behavior with, “Oh, that’s just what they do.”  We are not looking at these behaviors as a problem. We don’t examine how it’s effecting relationships.  

Activities such as over-shopping and over-exercising can put strains on relationships and negatively impact the functioning of families. As said before, however, they are more socially-acceptable and often go without being confronted. 

If you suspect your spouse has crossed into the realm of an addiction, your approach must be done gently but firmly.  You may begin by keeping documentation of what you are seeing.  You may record how many times someone did something and how it affected that day. 

The purpose of this documentation is not to tell them every time you enter something in your record but to help you see that it is actually a problem.  Once you’ve established for yourself that this is a problem, THEN you can present your concerns to them.  Do not use your record keeping as some sort of tally.  We are only suggesting that this record be used to solve whether whether your spouse really has a problem.

Shopaholic Example

An example would be that you notice your bank account low and decide to see what purchases are depleting your account.  You may notice that your spouse is going to Target regularly and decide to record how often they go. 

There’s a difference between over-shopping once in a blue moon versus on a regular basis, unless these rare shopping experiences involve very expensive purchases.  It’s important to look at routines and what that person is responsible for.  If their behaviors are negatively impacting what and who they are responsible for, they very well could have a problem. 

Sex Addiction Example

With sex addiction, there are varying levels of addiction. (All are harmful to a degree.)  Your lower levels are free pornography and masturbation, and your higher levels include paying for pornography, and higher still, having affairs, soliciting prostitutes and swinging.

When you examine the amount of time that is spent seeking out this material and these activities, it will help you see that it is a problem. The family and the marriage is neglected by these behaviors. 

Discussing The Problem And Ways To Work On It With Your Spouse

This must be a calm conversation.  Aggression will only make the situation worse. Don’t misunderstand, this is confrontation.  It is helpful to approach this conversation with much prayer and possibly even writing things down beforehand so you can stay on track.  

In the midst of your conversation, take notes. Collaborate. Write it out so both of you can see what needs to be done.  Communication will be much more clear if you both see it spelled out in front of you. It leaves less room for interpretation. 

Ultimatums and Boundaries

We also have to consider denial.  Ultimatums are often used in situations where a spouse refuses to work on their problems.  Issuing an ultimatum provides the hurting spouse healthier boundaries and serves to protect them from the unhealthy behavior of the addict. 

In the example of over-shopping, keeping a tally of their spending and determining some healthy ways to overcome it.  If they do not stop, you will have to come up with consequences such as separating bank accounts and separating bill paying so that they are solely responsible for their actions.  Requiring them to get help is a great ultimatum. 

If over-eating is a problem, you make them aware that you are no longer enabling their addiction by buying them the food. Then you stop buying their food with your money. 

Talking to a Workaholic

If workaholism is the issue, having a conversation about protecting family time is important.  Discussing when you can have a family vacation, discussing the value of family mealtimes spent together, and having a conversation with your boss about how you can accomplish these  necessities is important. 

Workaholics often do not want to sit quietly with their thoughts. When they have to spend time with their family, it can create conflict.  Workaholics often do not come to therapy because they won’t take the time off of their schedule for it. 

Addictions often are behaviors used to cover a void.  As Christian we call the void the “God-shaped hole.” Relationship gets substituted by unhealthy behaviors. 

Have A Healthy Lifestyle Yourself

You’ve acknowledged your spouse has a problem, it will be important for you to take care of your well-being. Having healthy eating habits and exercise will be helpful. Making efforts to care for your body will help you as you support your spouse through their difficult time. 

It will be up to you to put boundaries in place.  This means you may have to say “no” to a promotion at work if that promotion takes you away from home when you are needed at home. 

Enacting healthy spiritual disciplines such as a quiet time will be helpful for you to stay in communication with God.  Set aside a time everyday when you can go before God, read scripture, meditate on His word and pray.

Learning scripture and praise songs writes positive words on your heart and focuses your mind on the positive during these trying times with your spouse. 

Arrow Prayers

Vincent discusses “arrow prayers”.  These are prayers much like Nehemiah made before he would go meet with the king. These are quick, eyes open prayers that are focusing our minds on God in the midst of a difficult discussion or time.

Imagine these arrow prayers as “shooting up a prayer to God” while in the midst of your daily activities.  This is prayer during the trial, rather than finally sitting down to pray about it. 

Lastly, the spiritual discipline of praising God is important.  It keeps your mind on what is good and positive and keeps your focus on how God provides. 

Seek Help

You may have made an ultimatum that your spouse needs to seek help.  It is not only beneficial for them to have the support of a therapist, but it can be for you, as well.  A therapist will help you learn how to cope with your spouses issues and keep you accountable with your boundaries. 

A therapist will help you navigate some of the things we have discussed earlier, such as coming up with boundaries and communicating them to your spouse.  Your therapist can help you come up with ultimatums and consequences.  They can be your guide as you make decisions on what your marriage needs for recovery. 

Support Groups

Support groups are a wonderful way to receive encouragement and accountability, as well.  Many people shy from groups, but they are allowing fear to be their guide.  Groups force you out of your comfort zone and help you tackle your issues in a supportive environment.

Learn what groups are in your area.  Find groups for family or spouses of addicts.  Support groups are not only for addicts. Celebrate Recovery is an excellent resource for addicts and their loved ones.  

If you are a spouse of an addict, there is a strong chance that you are enabling their behavior.  Help from a therapist and support group can help you see how you may be enabling and what you can do to overcome it. 

Conclusion

Today’s episode serves as an umbrella for different types of “miscellaneous” addictions.  We hope that it has enlightened you to the possibility of addictions outside of the more well-known ones and provided you with direction as to how to seek help.

As Christian therapists, we see the importance of seeking out counsel that is spiritually-based.  Word-of-mouth referrals from those you trust can be helpful, but seeking out a therapist who is well vetted and a part of the American Association of Christian Counselors will provide you with healthy guidance.

Don’t make a quick call from the yellow pages. Research your potential therapists.  Read their articles, read what they have to say. Don’t blindly enter into therapy. 

How To Support Your Spouse With Anger Issues

SHOW NOTES:

"How To Support Your Spouse..." series
“How To Support Your Spouse…” series

Thank you for listening to today’s episode, “How To Support a Spouse With Anger Issues.”  It is the sixth part in an eight part series on “How To Support a Spouse…” where the Relationship Helpers discuss how to help your spouse as they struggle with different mental health and/or relationship issues.

Anger issues are a common problem that Vincent and Laura work with, as therapists. Are these words common in your interactions with your spouse?  “You never!”  “You always!” “You…you…you!” Do you play the blame game?  

We’re going to look at how to prevent escalation of arguments and how to stop seeing the other person as the problem. There is no marriage where only one person has an anger issue. If one person is aggressive, then the other person has an anger issue because they probably do not know how to deal with their spouse’s aggression.  

Disclaimer:  We are not suggesting that physical or emotional abuse is to be tolerated or that someone deserves it.  We are only saying that anger issues are a SHARED issue whether you have the problem being an aggressor or you have to cope with an aggressive spouse. 

Bear in mind that there are other subtle shades of anger that we have to consider, such as how a passive or passive-aggressive person manages their anger. The couple that “does not fight” or “never has conflict” can very well have anger issues as well because they bury their anger.

All of this and more in today’s episode!

1. Recognize how you respond to their anger/your anger style

How Are Your Responding To Your Spouse’s Anger?

Consider these questions to get a better understanding of how you handle anger:  

Do you become aggressive? Do you push their buttons? Do you become sarcastic?  Do you hit them where it hurts with your words?  

Do you walk away from the situation? Do you become passive?  Do you go out to the shop or go shopping?  Do you escape or avoid conflict?  

Do you talk to someone else about the problem?  Do you get others involved? (This  gives your spouse more reason to become angry.)

Anger Styles:

Aggressive: 

This person is demonstrative with their anger.  They may shout, stand tall, intimidate. They say what they want, need or feel, but in the process they are putting the other person down, or dismissing the other person.

They often blame others for their problems. Someone who is aggressive may not always be loud; they may just be bossy, “talk over” people or talk fast. 

Passive:  

This person does not say what they need, want or feel.  They do not let you know if they disagree with you.  Many people who are passive apologize often. Passive people often believe that they are to blame. Usually a passive person struggles with a sense of low self-worth. 

Passive-Aggressive: 

Be aware that this can be a very subtle display of anger.  Many times the person with passive-aggressive behavior justify their behavior. This person may not meet the expectations of others using “deniable” means. They have a lot of excuses. 

A few examples of passive-aggressive behavior you may have not thought about:  If someone makes you angry, you deny it when they ask, but you talk to someone else about it behind their back, which is gossip. 

Complaining is about things is another form of passive-aggressive behavior. Being a “yes man” to everything, but not being able to get the work done that you agree to do is passive-aggressive. 

A passive-aggressive person may seem very responsible by agreeing to help, but then you find that their help is not terribly reliable because they are over-committed and end up cutting corners and give excuses. (Not showing up on time and not following through with what you say you will do is classic passive- aggressive behavior.)

Assertiveness:

The gold standard for anger styles is assertiveness (not to be confused with aggressiveness!) Passive, aggressive and passive-aggressive behaviors are natural responses to situations that induce anxiety.  It’s more difficult to be assertive because fight-or-flight mode kicks in when we are anxious.  When this happens we fight (aggressive) or flee (passive).

Assertiveness requires intentionality. Being assertive means saying what you need, want or feel in a relaxed, calm manner. You realize others may not agree with you, but you don’t let that influence your behavior negatively. 

2. Address your spouse’s anger issues at the appropriate time

As marriage counselors, we have to create an atmosphere conducive towards productive conflict. This means as therapists we have to stay calm and also set a mood or atmosphere in the counseling room.  This is much like what a spouse must do when they are preparing to confront their spouse. 

This is not addressing problems in the heat of the moment, but at a calculated time. They may be more willing to listen to what you have to say if you approach them when they have calmed down and are more comfortable. 

Vincent finds that couples respond positively to conflict in therapy sessions because the therapist is able to create a calm environment, which is usually missing at home during arguments. He has had couples say that they have brought fights to session that have happened many times at home, but have been able to remedy it during session because they were finally “heard” by their spouse.  

Establishing a location that is “safe” for conflict is important.  Bringing up a contentious issue while with family or around others only serves to escalate the problem. Create a place in your home, in your yard, etc. that is neutral ground for you two to air your grievances. 

It’s also important to establish the places that are off-limits.  Don’t choose to stir conflict while in bed. Find a place where important conversations need to take place. 

Slowing down is a very important part of the process. Study your spouse.  Are they calm?  Are they in transition (just getting home from work, doing the most important task of the day, etc.?). Do they have time set aside or are they headed somewhere? 

It’s important to consider these before approaching them over a problem.

3. Talk with them assertively about it

A gentle touch (when physical abuse is not an issue), like placing a hand on your spouse’s leg, may be a way to connect with them before you start talking about the difficult subject matter. 

Reflective listening will be key to successfully discussing the problem at hand.  If you summarize what your spouse is saying and they feel heard, they will respond more positively.  If you are unable to SHOW THEM how they feel, they will feel more angry and distant from you.  

Reflective listening offers the opportunity for you actually hear the other person and for them to feel heard. They will correct you if you summarize wrong and in the process you will gain better understanding of how they feel. Your openness to being wrong or misunderstanding will also help them feel less separated from you. 

This type of listening conveys empathy.  That means that you are showing the other person that you are putting yourself in their shoes and trying to imagine what their experience may be like.

4. Set Boundaries

If you would like a healthy marriage and your spouse is aggressive or passive-aggressive, you will need to address their anger issue and create boundaries. It may sound like something like this, “If you start cursing me or putting me down (on the phone) I’m going to hang up.” If it’s face-to-face you can say, “I’m going to walk away.”

This choice of words is important.  Rather than just hanging up or just walking away, you have communicated clearly what you expect and what you are going to do. You are being direct and assertive.  It leaves much less room for misunderstanding.  Walking away or hanging up without communicating why you are doing it can be a passive-aggressive act in itself. 

These type of boundaries are best established when things are calm between the two of you.  You can initiate the conversation by saying, “I would like and I know you would like for us to have a good, healthy relationship. I want to be able to be vulnerable with you.”

Ideally you should begin this type of discussion at the lowest indication of anger to prevent escalation. 

We highly recommend reading the Boundaries books by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend to get a better grasp of what boundaries you may need and what you need to do to establish them. You may find their book “Boundaries in Marriage” particularly helpful!

Be aware that setting a boundary is not a one time event.  You discuss the boundary you are establishing, you put it into place, and you enforce it. In other words, having boundaries is an on-going activity. You don’t just say a boundary and then leave the topic alone and not do anything about it afterwards. 

5. Hard Boundaries

When abuse is happening, be it physical or verbal, special boundaries must be in place.

Be aware that when someone punches the wall, throws things, damages property, THAT IS PHYSICAL ABUSE.  Many people are confused about what defines physical abuse.  When an aggressor punches the wall or breaks something that is a physical threat. 

If you are being threatened, it is very important to have an exit plan to protect your safety. Ideally this should not be done alone. Getting input support of others will help you succeed in leaving the relationship more safely. 

Others will be able to help you figure out the logistics of getting you and your kids safely removed from the situation and what to do next. The police department can direct you towards domestic violence groups in your area. They can tell you about the local shelters and resources available to you.  

A therapist can also help in planning an exit strategy along with providing you with resources for your next steps in leaving the abusive relationship. Your therapist can also help you determine your strongest and healthiest supporters, which is important because leaving an abusive relationship can be tricky and you need people who will have healthy boundaries themselves to help you get out to lessen your danger. Some friends and family may not be the best support for you, and a therapist can help you see that. 

Being connected with your church, pastor, bible studies, Celebrate Recovery groups, all of these suggestions can provide you the opportunity to be connected to people who may be able to support you through this time. 

Be sure to listen to our episode where we interview Holly Ashley, a domestic violence survivor and survivor advocate.  She provides helpful encouragement and tips for those struggling in abusive relationships.

6. Seek Individual and Couples Counseling

Through therapy, you can learn at greater depths about you and your spouse’s anger styles. Couples counseling can be helpful when the aggression has not escalated to the point of physical abuse. If both parties are willing to work on the relationship, there is greater hope.  Going to a therapist who gives homework between sessions will provide the couple with tools to improve their communication. 

Individual counseling my be indicated when there is physical abuse or one spouse is unwilling to go to therapy and work on the issues at hand. Be sure to check out our episodes on how to support a spouse who comes from a toxic family or our episode on how to support an alcoholic spouse if these issues contribute to your spouse’s anger issues.

We hope you’ve found today’s episode informative. Anger is often tied to other issues such as trauma, anxiety, or substance abuse.  Visit our search bar on our website to find episodes on these topics. 

089 Marriage: How To Support Your Spouse With Depression

SHOW NOTES:

Welcome to Relationship Helpers! This week therapists Vincent and Laura are discussing nine things you can do to support your spouse who is suffering from depression.  

"How To Support Your Spouse..." series
“How To Support Your Spouse…” series

If this is your first time listening or haven’t heard us speak on depression before, be sure to check out our other episodes on depression (How Discouragement Leads to Depression & Depression and the Whole Person. And episodes 54 through 63 where we discussion 101 different activities that you can do to help improve your mood.)

Today’s episode marks the fifth episode in an eight part series on “How To Support A Spouse…” Each week we are addressing the problems mental health issues can bring to marriage and ways to cope through recovery. Learn how to help your spouse who is struggling with depression by reading further.

Help Them Become Aware Of It

Many people are not attuned to their depression—they may not even realize they have it. You may play a role in helping them combat denial. This must be done delicately. 

Gentle observations that start with “I’ve noticed that (when it’s time to go to work you don’t want to get out of bed in the morning)” are much more effective than “You always sleep too late!” Or “You sleep all the time!” 

Another example would be “I’ve noticed that you really enjoyed your exercise class in the past, but lately you’ve not been going and you seem sad.”  This is a nice segue into showing your spouse they are no longer doing an activity that they once enjoyed, which is a sign of depression. 

Reframe What They Say In A Positive Way

People who struggle with depression have a tendency to speak negatively as though much of what they say goes through a negative filter. Your job as the supportive spouse is to challenge their unhelpful thinking habits. 

Catastrophizing is a common unhelpful thinking habit.  This is thinking that the worst possible scenario is going to happen. If you hear your spouse catastrophize, you can ask them “What’s the likelihood that the worst thing is going to happen?”

If your spouse just got a ding in their car, rather than fixating on the new flaw, you can say, “Your car has more character.”  That would be a “re-frame” of the situation—taking a bad situation and making it less severe.

Vincent gives the example of a positive reframe through the situation of a person staining a shirt and how that person could be upset about it, but that the supportive spouse could compliment them on how creative they were with mixing and matching to make a new outfit out of another top. 

Someone who is depressed is his or her own worst critic.  Let them know that friends and loved ones would not think these negative things about them so why should they. This is a CAREFUL conversation though, as self-awareness about depression without the ability to cope is unhelpful. 

The person suffering depression is already beating themselves up, they don’t need someone adding to it.  They need someone supportive enough to say “Hey, okay, we see that you’re thinking a negative thought, but just because you’re having a negative thought you don’t have to judge yourself as bad.”

In other words, recognize negative thoughts non-judgmentally.  Someone can have a negative thought and let it pass for other thoughts to come through, much like cars on a train passing by.  One does not stay stuck on the tracks, others take its place. It’s shifting the mind by saying “Okay, I had a negative thought, moving on.”  instead of “I had a negative thought, I’m a bad person, something bad is going to happen.” 

Engage Them In Conversation

Find opportunities to initiate conversation with your spouse.  Schedule meals when you can eat together.

Don’t fall into the trap our busy culture has created. Don’t make a plate and go do your own thing behind a tv or closed doors, sit down together at the dinner table and talk.

Our busy culture has made it more difficult to be intimate and relational. Put away your phones. It’s very isolating. We have to be intentional about how we spend our time. 

Pray Together

Many couples struggle with praying together, but it is a very beneficial weapon against depression. Being prayerful means putting yourself in a vulnerable position. 

This is particularly difficult with couples who struggle with resentment towards one another. Prayer forces you to lower walls and defenses. It refocuses you upon God instead of yourself. 

Prayer also shifts our focus onto what we are grateful for.  People who struggle with depression have difficulty maintaining focus on the positives so making a habit out of praying together is practicing gratitude and positive thinking. 

Self-Care

Be sure not to isolate yourself just because your spouse has. You run the risk of isolation and depression yourself if you stay at home and entertain their way of thinking.

Just because your spouse does not want to participate at some family function or go to some activity does not mean you shouldn’t. You need to be getting out and have social interaction to take care of yourself.

(Disclaimer: This does not mean you should avoid your spouse. When you care for yourself it fuels you to be a more supportive spouse.) 

Encourage Them To Seek Help

Not only would it be helpful for your depressed spouse to seek therapy, it may be helpful for you to seek help, as well.  A therapist can help you see how you may be contributing to the situation.  The therapist can give you direction into how you can be supportive as well as teach you how not to enable certain negative behaviors of your spouse.

Also, if you seek therapy yourself, it may encourage your spouse to do so as well.  You can even make it a part of initiating conversation by saying, “I’ve noticed that when I go to therapy I’ve been able to learn so much and feel so much better. It’s been a positive thing.”

Your spouse may benefit from talking to a counselor, support group or pastor.  A bible study or club may be a great social outlet for them to interact with others as well as give them an opportunity to talk to someone other than their spouse. Some churches have Stephens Ministers who are laypeople specially trained to support people who need someone to talk to. 

Oftentimes when a spouse struggles with depression, their marriage suffers because a toxic, parasitic relationship develops where the depressed spouse requires too much of their spouse.  Having other social outlets and therapy can help to create balance in your relationship. 

Plan Some Fun Things To Do

Have you done anything fun?  Have you avoided it? Have you intentionally pursued fun or have you put too much on your plate? 

As marriage counselors we like to get our client’s relationship history.  What do couples normally do at the beginning of their relationship? They have fun. 

Reminiscing about the fun you had early in your relationship could be a great opportunity to inspire you to do some of those things again.  Many times couples become complacent. They don’t do the things they used to enjoy.  Remembering these activities and doing them anew could be a great mood-lifter and marriage-enhancer. 

Encouraging Them To Be More Socially Engaged

This must be done with care.  If your spouse has completely withdrawn, it would probably be most helpful to approach social activities in baby steps.  This could mean instead of not going to a function, committing to fifteen minutes of it to see what it is like.

It may be something as simple as having coffee at a coffee shop or walking around a store. A trip to the park may be a small step towards getting out more. Visiting friends may be a larger step. 

Volunteer work is an excellent opportunity to be social but also can help someone feel like they are contributing to a greater cause, making them feel purpose.  

Help Them To Learn Healthy Coping Skills

When people have depression they often feel stuck. Sometimes it’s hard for them to get creative with ways to improve their moods. In our series “101 Ways to Cope With Anxiety & Depression” you’ll find tons of low to no-cost activities that are healthy and mood-boosting. We’ve included a free PDF (link here) of this list to inspire you.

Coping skills are different for different people, depending on their likes and dislikes and skillsets. Our purpose in creating a list of 101 activities was to prove that there is always SOMETHING that you can do.  You can’t say ‘no’ to all 101 activities. That is encouraging! 

Other helpful coping skills that you can encourage your spouse to partake in include spiritual disciplines such as gratitude journaling. This is a great way to praise God for what you do have and to shift your focus from the negative to the positive.

An added bonus is that if you date when things occur in your gratitude journal, you can look back in your journal and remember these great times.  It can be a mood-shifter. Vincent mentions that through his own prayer journaling, he has been able to see how faithful God has been. He has found it to be very encouraging.

Another great spiritual activity is praising God through song. If the music you are listening to is bringing you down, it may not be in your best interests to continue listening to it. Instead, singing praise songs is a way to shift a negative mindset to a positive one. 

We see through the spiritual discipline of bible study how people such as Paul praised God through imprisonment, as well as people like Job who suffered through loss and infirmity, weathered trials through faith. These people’s lives are examples of the benefits of actively seeking God through trials. 

Don’t Belittle or Minimize Your Spouse’s Feelings or Symptoms of Depression

We have included many suggestions today, but they very well could fall on deaf ears if they are not presented in a loving, kind way. Many spouses who are trying to encourage their depressed spouse actually do it wrong. They get frustrated and sometimes make the situation worse. 

When your spouse is having a difficult time, don’t immediately go up to them and say, “You need to do this…” or “You need to do that…” Instead, they need you to listen.  They do not need you to “fix it.”

Validate how they feel. Mirror what you are hearing. We call this reflective listening. This helps them feel heard. 

Reflective listening also helps both of you to think deeper about things, otherwise you are left with just a bunch of “yes” or “no” answers without what is underneath it. When you use reflective listening you are also providing an opportunity for your spouse to help correct you if you are “mis-reading” what they are saying. 

Don’t say “I understand,” this comes across as dismissive.  SHOW them you understand. You do this by validating their feelings, by showing empathy. This would be you putting yourself in their shoes. 

Be careful, however, in your use of empathy and reflective listening.  These are great starters, but if you ONLY provide these, you are not working towards a solution; it’s keeping things stuck.

Reflective listening helps as a springboard for conversation and to establish alignment with your spouse, but you will need to move forward towards healing through using the re-framing we talked about earlier, paired with some of the coping skills (ex.:  ways to be more social, volunteer work, or any of a number of the coping skills in our list of 101).

We hope that today’s episode encourages you as you work to improve your marriage and help your spouse through their difficult time with depression.

088 Marriage: How To Support Your Spouse Struggling With Alcoholism

SHOW NOTES:

"How To Support Your Spouse..." series
“How To Support Your Spouse…” series

Welcome to Relationship Helpers!  You have joined us midway through our eight-part series on “How to Support a Spouse With…”. Each week we have and will continue to take a look at a mental health or relationship issue that challenges marriages and requires supportive spouses.

So far we’ve addressed how to support a spouse with PTSD, anxiety, and toxic in-laws.  This week we will discuss how to support an alcoholic or addicted spouse. 

Boundaries, Boundaries, Boundaries

One of the most difficult things you will have to do as a spouse is to create and follow through with boundaries, but it is paramount in supporting your spouse that struggles with addiction. If you have a tendency to avoid conflict, your marriage will be dysfunctional.

1.) Don’t (Finance) Enable the Addiction

You have to make the decision not to finance the addiction.  This means not giving money to your spouse for random reasons. This also means not going to the store to buy alcohol for them.

Separate your bank accounts. Generally, in marriage, we encourage joint bank accounts, but when there is an active addiction occurring, the boundary of separate accounts will help to cut the finances off that feed the addiction.

Many people fail at creating and following through with boundaries.  They are fearful of the pushback that comes with setting boundaries and sticking with them. You will NEED to face your spouse’s anger, even if you are someone who avoids conflict. 

It’s good to be aware of your communication style, along with your spouse’s.  If you are passive, it will be important to work on expressing yourself and following through with boundaries. You will need to do this in an assertive way—relaxed and confident. You would be telling them in a loving way, not yelling, not insultingly. This should be done in a very intentional way.  

This is not a one-time conversation. Be prepared to have to talk about it more. After you set a boundary, they will continue to try to get around it. An addicted spouse will try to find a way to work your weakness.You will need to set your spirit or your attitude towards not bending. 

Understand that avoiding conflict only pushes it til later and has an exponential effect, making it worse for waiting. Being more firm and direct helps you get much further, than pushing off potential conflict. 

2.) Your Spouse MUST Seek Help

Placing an ultimatum in the situation will help to define boundaries and to help you both stick with a plan.  Requiring that your spouse get help will mean that you will no longer be the only person holding him/her accountable.  They will then be forced to actively work on recovering from their addiction.

If you’re struggling with the idea of communicating an ultimatum, it could be scripted as such:  “I cannot continue to be in an unhealthy environment and abusive environment.” 

It’s important to remember that you are living in an abusive relationship.  Not only is your spouse abusing a substance, he or she is abusing you through neglect.  There is no way for a spouse to have an addiction and to foster a healthy relationship with a loved one. The loved one is being neglected. 

Other forms of abuse are very common in relationships where a spouse is addicted to drugs or alcohol.  Seek help for yourself to remove yourself from these situations. 

Support Groups

Resources for your spouse include:  Celebrate Recovery (a Christian-based 12 step program found in many churches) and A/A (a secular-based 12 step group found in many communities and churches.) The great thing about small groups is that God can use this time for people to speak to their heart and start breaking down their wall of denial.  They are able to see other people’s denial, and hold a mirror up to themselves and see their own denial. Groups are very powerful. 

Be mindful that addictions have a tendency to shift. If someone is trying to overcome drinking, they may stop drinking and take on smoking or over-exercising. Being in a small group can help keep the addict alert to how their behaviors are unhealthy.

Accountability Partners

Many support groups provide the opportunity for its members to have accountability partners. When you have carried the burden of being the only person keeping your spouse accountable for so long it strains your marriage.  Having an outside party to keep your spouse accountable is a healthy choice. 

The accountability partner needs to be the same sex.  That’s what is appropriate. They will be able to call out their b.s.—they will know when they are lying not only to other people, but to themselves.  They know these things because they have done it themselves. 

People who know this mindset are the kind of people that can hold them accountable. They are experts in it.  It really is a mentor-type relationship where someone who is very knowledgeable about addiction behavior is able to support another who is in the earlier stages of recovery. 

Individual Counseling

Support groups offer a wealth of accountability; a counselor is also helpful in providing support.  Although a counselor may see your spouse less often during the week than the group, the counselor will provide a concentrated dose of attention to working on coping skills and will also aid in accountability.

3.) Avoiding Tempting Situations

You will need an understanding of your spouse’s addiction pattern.  Are they weekend warriors?  Does being around family tempt your spouse to drink/use?

Does your spouse drink too much at ball games?  What activities or environments seem to bring out their addiction? 

4.) Conversations About Their Temptations

When you initiate conversation about your spouse’s addiction with them, you are learning about what tempts them, but they are also learning about it too.  This could provide the opportunity for their walls to start coming down and to see past their denial.

Family Gatherings

Be aware that one particular temptation for addicts and alcoholics is family gatherings. 

It may seem cliche, but there is a reason movies will have an alcoholic or addict featured in a family gathering at the holidays.  Holidays and family are very common triggers for the addict. Often there is anxiety surrounding these relationships and for someone whose coping mechanism is to partake in alcohol and/or drugs the environment is ripe for using. Many people struggling with substance abuse issues have a trauma history.  Seeing the uncle who molested you at a Christmas party is obviously a trigger.  

Many addicts struggle with social anxiety.  Gatherings, especially family gatherings, are nerve-wracking, but they feel obligated to go leading to a possible bender. On top of that, what if they come from an alcoholic family?  Are they entering a scene where there will be alcohol?

These scenarios need to be discussed and mitigated prior to the date of the events. This may mean going to “neutral grounds”, such as the park, for get-togethers. This may be a helpful boundary.  Another may be tag-teaming with your spouse, meaning staying near your spouse to avoid temptation. In this particular situation, the spouse has to be the accountability partner, otherwise going to the basement with the guys could become having beers with the guys.

Time Consideration

Another important consideration is time.  Creating a limit as to how long you will be in the environment may help to offset the fear of being there.  Understanding that there is a cut-off time may help to ease the tension and less tempted to drink.

Ask your spouse what seems to be a reasonable amount of time to visit and make an agreement on how long that visit will be. It’s making a plan.  It’s being proactive. This also prevents making false assumptions about how long things will go. 

Sacrifice To Meet Goals

You may have to make sacrifices to accommodate your spouse’s needs.  This means that you may not be able to spend as much time doing the things you want to do in respect of your spouse’s temptations. You may have to sacrifice your own drinking.

You may also have to have some assertive conversations with family about your spouse’s issue.  It may mean telling them that you’d appreciate them not offering alcohol because of your spouse’s addiction. It may mean opening up to other people—telling then that you’d appreciate their support as you work through this difficult time together. 

This may seem daunting when you are communicating this to an alcoholic, but take heart, they could be supportive if you talk to them about it.

5.) Encourage Their Walk With God

This is not an activity that you nag them into.  This needs to be approached in a gentle manner. 

Devotionals 

Questions such as, “Hey, how was your devotional?” may be helpful.  Even less invasive conversation starters might include telling them how your devotional really spoke to you.  You can take a topic like patience and say how your devotion on patience really spoke to you through a certain situation that occurred to you today. 

If you engage them in these discussions, you may find something that they can relate to and the both of you can learn together.  These discussions can invite self-reflection in an indirect way.  

Bible Study

If you attend a small group or bible study, you could take an opportunity to show them how a topic you learned in group has impacted your life, and invite them to attend the group. If you hear a message at church that makes an impression on you, tell them about how it did and invite them to come to church. 

Your spouse may see how you are growing in Christ and want that for themselves. They will be seeing how you treat them different from before.  This could encourage them to seek God. 

6.) Be Aware of Your Own Shortcomings

Are you passive?  Aggressive?  A complainer?  Do you have your own compulsions? 

We cannot put all of our energy into the addicted spouse being “the” problem.  Often when there is an addiction in a relationship, there are dysfunctional patterns that are brought to the relationship by both parties.  It’s important to take an in-depth look at yourself to see what role you play in the addiction behavioral pattern.

A Critical Wife

An example that we see play out in marriage therapy would be of an alcoholic husband who has a critical, complaining wife.  No, she does not force him to drink, but her critical spirit antagonizes him, which leads him to partake in his unhealthy coping mechanism. 

She needs to see that her behavior, in this case her critical spirit, is not helping the situation, it is only hurting it. In fact, critical behavior is passive-aggressive. She needs to learn more assertive ways of communicating with her husband. 

Take a look at your own walk with God.  Invite Him to illuminate the areas in your life that need some work to improve your relationship with your spouse. 

7.) Encourage Healthy Coping Skills

These could include being assertive, learning to take breaks, self-care, slowing down your speech, deep breathing, relaxation techniques, and grounding exercises. Communication skills such as learning to say ‘no’ and having boundaries are also very healthy coping skills to learn. 

It’s also important to practice rejoicing in your trials.  We see it frequently in James and in Paul’s letters.  It’s counterintuitive, but singing praise songs during your challenges actually helps. It’s a coping skill. 

Memorizing scripture helps us write scripture on our hearts and creates a kind of “internal rolodex” of resources we can draw upon when we are in need of encouragement.