Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Get what you need by learning how to talk about problems
Newlywed: I'm six months into my first marriage, adjusting to being a stepmom, at an unhappy crossroads about what to do when I grow up (I'm early 30s but career clueless), and am pretty down. I have a history of depression, so I know the deal. My problem is that my solution to handling all of this is to withdraw from my husband. I know I'm doing it, I know it's affecting us, and yet it's still what I'm doing. We really feel like two people who are coexisting rather than connecting, and knowing it's my fault isn't helping my mood.
Any advice on how to push through this? Or figure out how to get better at talking to him? He definitely tries to "fix" things whenever anything is wrong and he's wonderfully supportive — to the point of being suffocating sometimes (like, I can do anything! I can go to Mars if that's what I really want!). I'm very lucky to have him. I'm just struggling with . . . almost everything right now. Help? I've done years of therapy before but am not eager to do it again right now, partially because I need to find someone on my new insurance.
Carolyn: Just to dispense with the obvious, new insurance is an annoyance, not an obstacle to necessary health care.
But I know what you're saying, and though it's always important to treat depression in a responsible way, that isn't the entirety of your problem. You also a need a constructive way to talk to your husband while you get through the various things you have to get through, both medical and non-.
For the person on the outside, like your husband, silence is the absolute worst. So you're right that your withdrawal adds to the problem. On top of that, though, silence also creates desperation, and desperation can turn someone who tries to "fix" things into a power fixer, a 24/7 solution factory — exactly what you don't need.
So, don't put off talking to him just because you don't have any answers. Talk to him simply to put a name to everything you are feeling — even if it's, "I'm at a loss" or "I don't know where to start." To that end, here's one place to start:
• You are struggling with all these adjustments.
• This does not mean you aren't committed to them.
• It does mean you are falling back into an old habit of withdrawing.
• You know it's not good to withdraw. You are trying.
• Here are the things he can do to help you with this effort: (not trying to solve everything, for example, and just listening; or asking questions; or asking what you need; or leaving you alone when your face has that stricken look; or talking about something else; or taking his children to dinner without you once a week; whatever).
• Are there things he would like you to do to make this easier on him?
That's the kind of conversation you need. It won't solve everything, but can give you both a working approach to day-to-day situations, which you can tweak as needed. When you aren't just guessing about each other, you're both less vulnerable, which will help you communicate more fearlessly. That's the path to connecting.