Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Getting help for glum husband who rejects all suggestions
Deeeeetroit: My partner is borderline depressed and it's (ticking) me off.
I hear all the time about how he's not going anywhere in life, and then when I say, "Well, pick something, let's do it!" he has all sorts of excuses or just says he can't think of anything he wants to do. I say "go get career counseling," and he says no. I say "go back on antidepressants, go back to therapy," and he says no.
He's always putting himself down and frankly I am tired of trying to say nice things about him (all of which I mean, of course I do, I married him!) and then hearing them smacked down.
I'm considering an ultimatum but I think he'll just hear it as "you are broken," which I don't mean. And I wouldn't divorce him; we have two small kids who love their dad.
He has advanced degrees, is supersmart, and people like him. He could do anything, if he weren't so glum. What do you suggest?
Carolyn: It's not glum, it's depressed. It's not "broken," as you know — it's sick. Treatably sick.
So please find a quiet, otherwise low-stress opportunity to say, "You have depression, a medical condition. I am asking you take care of this condition, please, because it is affecting not just you, but your whole family. If you won't take care of yourself, then please let me make an appointment with your therapist/doctor and I'll take you there."
If he won't agree even to that, make an appointment with his doctor/therapist yourself and find out what the best step would be for your family. S/he couldn't comment on his case specifically, but can help you work around the most common obstacle in dealing with someone depressed: the fear that your actions will be directly responsible for the other person's decline.
Learn about disorder so you can understand Mom
Difficult Mother, D.C.: How do you deal with your mother, who you and the rest of your family are convinced has obsessive compulsive personality disorder (OCPD), when you can't even discuss your concerns with her? The inherent problem is that the OCPD person doesn't see anything wrong with her behavior and thinks everyone else has a problem or is wrong. This is really taking a toll on the family relationships.
Carolyn: When the person with a possible disorder refuses to admit or deal with said disorder, your only choice is to learn about the disorder yourself so you can establish realistic expectations of that person's behavior.
Once you teach yourself to stop expecting this person to behave in a healthy way, and instead anticipate disordered behavior, you can often drastically reduce the amount of conflict involved in dealing with her. You not only trigger less disordered behavior, because you can anticipate what those triggers are, but also roll with it better, since you're expecting it.
Not a perfect solution, but it can be remarkably effective.
It's also only a slight extension of the healthy way to deal with all people: Get to know them, learn their ways, and develop your expectations accordingly.