My husband seems to be going through a mid life crisis and I believe is suffering from depression. For the last few years he had been dabbling in esoteric practices and spirituality. One of his longtime friends has convinced my husband that he (my husband) has healing energies and that he (his friend) is my husband’s spiritual guide. My husband has been reading many books on all sorts of esoteric practices, attending workshops etc. Needless to say, I do not believe in any of these beliefs. In addition, my husband has become disenchanted with his job and everyday life. I spoke to him recently about our relationship and the fact that he has become very distant and never spends time with me. He told me he no longer enjoys spending time with me, that I was controlling and have been for the last 15 years. This was very hurtful and came right out of the blue. I feel many of my husband’s feelings initiate from his new beliefs (I am a negative energy in his life). I told him I thought he may be suffering from depression. He has agreed to go for counseling and had one session with a psychologist. I also suggested the two of us to go for counseling together. His reply was let’s start with me first in an angry tone. I have tried to reach out to him by initiating conversations. He has no desire to speak to me. He shows no interest in wanting to speak to me or spend time with me. I have no idea if he is interested in saving our marriage or trying to work on whatever issues he resents me for. I have no idea what my next steps should be?
Thank you for your question. It sounds like your husband’s recent personal exploration has been difficult and even hurtful for you. His new interests have introduced a strain on your marital relationship and have raised some questions for you about his goals, desire to change and where that leaves you in the relationship. I also hear your concern for your husband, his well being and mental health. I am wondering if he has a past history with mental health issues that might be influencing your worries about depression?
Middle adulthood, or what is commonly referred to as mid-life is often viewed as a time of crisis and loss, and although it can be a time of radical disruption and a lost sense of self, research suggests that middle adulthood is instead, frequently a time for personal discovery and growth. Whatever the motivation, adults in this stage of life face the developmental tasks of finding a sense of meaning in life, revising and reconstructing a sense of identity given the life lived, and developing a sense of generativity or making your mark on the world. It sounds like your husband might be seeking to answer some of these questions through the exploration of spirituality. That being said, being in relationship with a partner who is developing new spiritual and religious beliefs that you do not share, could be potentially isolating and create vast differences in beliefs related to the meaning and purpose of life.
You mentioned being hurt and surprised when your husband responded to your attempts at connection with comments regarding you being controlling. Though it may be helpful to engage in some reflection about your interaction patterns with your husband, it is important to clarify the difference between controlling behaviour, that which seeks to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behavior; Versus the natural tendency in relationships to seek ways to create common meaning through influence, conversation, shared rituals and interest in your partners dreams. It sounds like you have attempted to create opportunities for communication and have raised concerns about your relationship. It also sounds like your husband is not currently ready or willing to collaborate with you on this issue right now. For many people discussions about topics that are highly important can create feelings of vulnerability and a high risk of being exposed or misunderstood. If he does become open to communication you may be able to build some connection by focusing on what this change means to him, offering empathy and validation for his needs even if you acknowledge that you do not agree, and perhaps offer some lower level of participation such as reading about his new spirituality or offering some level of support.
When considering personal exploration that occurs for only member of a relationship, on one hand, research suggests that engagement in personal self-expansion outside of a romantic relationship can, in some cases, lead to greater levels of intimacy by promoting new ways of connecting and sharing new ideas with one’s partner. However, when this personal growth is obsessive, does not involve the other person or is met with a lack of support or fear of change, personal growth can lead to couples growing apart. This is particularly true when one partner chronically seeks personal growth outside the relationship and engages in little discussion or sharing with their partner. If this is the case in your relationship, I can’t help but wonder, if your next step might include evaluating your own intentions regarding meaning and your personal desires related to purpose. Specifically, taking time to consider your role and intentions within your marriage. For instance, considering where you stand on moving forward in the relationship if your husband choses this spiritual path? Having a plan for how to address the situation if he does not want to change or does not intend to collaborate with you in the solution, might allow for you to set some personal boundaries and expectations regarding your own needs in the relationship and how long you are willing to remain in the partnership without specific changes.
Much like putting on your own oxygen mask before helping others during a crisis, focusing on self-care in the middle of relationship difficulties can help to provide the necessary strength and emotional regulation needed to support yourself and your marriage through what lies ahead. Shifting some of your focus to activities that nurture and encourage personal awareness in the areas of physical, emotional, spiritual, professional, and social well-being might allow you to connect with your own personal intentions, leading to a greater understanding of your role in your husband’s current endeavours. Taking time to explore your own spirituality as it relates to your personal values, morals and purpose can be helpful in deciding the next steps that are right for you in cultivating meaning in your life. Specifically, drawing attention to questions regarding what you want to stand for in life, and how do you want to treat yourself, others and the world around you? Clarifying these values might support you in developing a personal compass and providing some direction for you as you evaluate your current position in your marriage.
Attending counselling can be a helpful way to explore your values, find validation and support, and care for your emotional well-being.
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