Welcome back, or simply welcome, to another full week of Q&A with J. Today’s question involves medication and the marriage bed:
I have recently had to go on anti-depressants because of a long bout of atypical depression and they are really affecting me. It is hard to get excited about anything (even chocolate) and I’m noticing it affecting my relationship with my SO [significant other] a lot. We’re both physical touch people and tend to be able to communicate better when we feel together physically, but lately he has felt very rejected and insignificant because I’m not turning to him for comfort anymore.
Before I went on the meds I had a lot of weepy meltdowns and really leaned on him, but now I’m a bit more withdrawn and unexcited, so I think the abrupt change is what is causing problems for us… So far, in talking about it, we’ve decided to ‘ride it out’ and see how I continue to respond to my drugs, but I’m wondering what I can do now (or continue to do if things don’t pick up again) to try and re-establish intimacy. I know it is said that women have to have their head engaged, but I don’t really know what my head is up to these days…
Ah, medication. It’s a blessing to have medications available to deal with physiological challenges. Yes, I know “Big Pharma” has issues, but talk to the people who lived pre-penicillin and you’ll discover we’re a pretty lucky bunch overall. In particular here, antidepressants can provide real relief to people who truly need this tweak to their system.
First, make sure the medication is doing what it should. I don’t know why you would be “more withdrawn and unexcited” on antidepressants than before. I faced a hormonally caused depression in the past, and my withdrawn and unexcited phase was the depression. When I got out of that fog, I felt more engaged and excited — which is typical.
Give the antidepressants time to adjust in your body (usually a few weeks), then take stock. Talk to your doctor if the medications are not making you feel much better or if they cause any problematic side effects. There are multiple options for antidepressants, and you may fare better with another brand. It can take time to find out the best medication and dosage for you, so be willing to communicate freely with your physician and iron out the best approach.
Communicate with your husband how you’re feeling. When we don’t know what’s going on with our spouse, we have a tendency to fill the gaps — sometimes not so positively. We can easily misconstrue what’s going on; for example, feeling personally rejected when our spouse simply doesn’t feel physically good. When you’re dealing with a mood disorder, it’s important to describe what’s going on inside you. This marriage thing is “in sickness and in health,” so let your hubby in on the deal and be honest about what you’re going through.
Try not to whine, complain, and wallow. But discussing how you feel and how to tackle your issues together can bring him along in this process and make him feel like less of an outsider. We often try to spare our beloved the bad stuff, but as long as you can calmly and honestly share, go ahead and do so. It might help you avoid misunderstandings.
Revisit your affection dynamic. Here’s the red flag for me: He feels loved when your depressed self needs comfort through physical affection (“lately he has felt very rejected and insignificant because I’m not turning to him for comfort anymore.”) I believe affection and even sex can be comforting, but the majority of your affection should be expressions of love rather than bids for attention and reassurance.
Certainly, there are times in life when we need more comforting than others, but you two need to work on establishing a healthy balance in which physical touch is a mutually satisfying and relationship-building interaction. If you’ve been remiss in affection lately, then perhaps you need to make a conscious effort to physically touch him in ways that express your appreciation, attraction, and love.
You can build this into a routine even, setting aside time to snuggle together on the couch and discuss your day or giving a long kiss when you greet one another. You might need to make goals and remind yourself often to attend to this important aspect of your relationship. The good news is that physical touch, long embraces, foreplay, and sexual intimacy all release feel-good chemicals into your body that can help your mood.
Your head is where you focus. You also mentioned that “women have to have their head engaged, but I don’t really know what my head is up to these days…” Honestly, your head is wherever you focus. Now when you’re in deep depression, or another mood disorder or crisis, your head space is taken up by the major obstacle you need to confront. That’s entirely understandable.
But hopefully, as you come out of depression, you can reestablish intimacy by making it a priority. If your head’s not in the game, draft your brain and get into play. Spend time during the day thinking about your husband, fantasize about your intimacy together, attend to your appearance and your environment so they lend themselves to sexual encounters, flirt and talk about sex with your hubby — in essence, reestablish yourself as a sensual wife, and pursuing sexual intimacy will, most likely, become much easier.
One last thing, you called him your “significant other,” rather than husband. That doesn’t mean you’re not married, because I’ve heard that term used for spouses as well, so I addressed your question as though you two are wed. But marriage is the relationship I address on my blog, because that’s where God intends sexual intimacy to grow and satisfy. If that’s not where your relationship is, please take a step back and ask what other choices you need to make that would be best for you and for him.