real life

'My husband has been depressed for our entire marriage. I only found out last week.'

The author of this story is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons.

This story discusses mental health and suicidal ideation, which may be triggering for some readers. 

I can think of three significant fights my husband and I have had in the entirety of our  14 year relationship and this one was major. 

Jeff* had been at work all day, about mid-way through his seven-day shift, and I had been home with our two young girls who were sick with the latest daycare virus.

I had Facetimed my mum at some point that day, as I usually did, but this time she didn't have the energy to talk to the kids as she normally would. She said that the motion of the camera moving around to follow them as they talked to her was making her feel sick. She had been feeling sick for about a week now since her first chemo treatment and she hadn't managed to get on top of the side effects yet. Nausea. Stomach cramps. Loss of appetite. Insomnia.

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On top of that, one of her newly reconstructed breasts, the one that had five tumours in it and the one that had already been treated for a tumour 11 years ago, was now feeling hard and her skin was puckering and off colour. She told me she was worried about it and now, so was I.


She soon changed the subject to my upcoming holiday, and I could hear the envy and sadness in her voice as she said that she wished she could travel without wanting to throw up. 

After we had hung up I tried to sit with my feelings of helplessness, fear, guilt and overwhelm. I tried to focus on my kids. I tried to focus on our upcoming holiday. I sent Jeff an update on the new plans I had arranged. Read, but no reply. I tried to call him. No answer. Hours later, he sent me a meme. *eyeroll*

When he got home, it didn't take long for me to start unloading all my emotions and expressing how let down I felt he hadn't asked me about my day, returned my call or answered my message. First, he tried to offer solutions. Then he got defensive at my frustration and accusations of him not actually caring or trying to understand how I was feeling. For not being there when I needed him. 

Realising that I was clouding the problem I let go of the accusations and I cried. I told him I was scared that my mum was going to die. The crux of all of this.

He turned away from me. I cried alone. I asked for a hug. He said he didn't want to hug me because of how I spoke to him when I was angry. 

I felt so rejected and misunderstood. Couldn't he see past the anger to the fear? Could that not be forgiven after what I had just told him and how I was obviously feeling?


I walked into another room and the thoughts that filled my head were like those that I've read in the comment sections of posts from other disgruntled wives. "If he can't be there for you during something like this then what is the point of the marriage?" "Leave him and you'll never feel let down like this again."

I went to bed, hoping that he would realise that he was being selfish and that I needed him. Through my quiet whimpering, I heard him walk up the hallway toward the bedroom. 

He saw me wiping away tears. He said nothing, picked up his pillow, and went back to the living room. 

My sadness turned to anger again. I went to him and shouted "how is this the solution to everything I just said? I need you to be there for me. You've made this about yourself when I just told you that I AM SCARED THAT MY MUM IS GOING TO DIE. All that I asked for was a hug and you can't even do it. You can't do anything even when I am spoon-feeding you what I need from you."

Almost begrudgingly, he got up and hugged me. I sobbed on his chest until it was all out and then I pulled away. He said that he didn't know what to do now. "Do you want a short term or long-term answer?" I asked. "Both," he replied. 

Short term: come to bed and lay with me. 

Long term: go to therapy and learn how to deal with emotions. You never learnt as a kid, and you've done nothing to try to learn as an adult. If you don't do something, it will be the end of our marriage.

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I went to bed, and he followed, first checking the girls in bed. When he came into the room, he asked me to turn my lamp off. I questioned it before realising that he was crying. I turned the lamp off and pulled him in. He lay his head on my chest and I held him tight. I rubbed his arms, his back and his head and he cried as silently as he could. 

He didn't talk. I probed for an insight into how he was feeling. Nothing. I felt bad for him, and I was surprised at how quickly this had turned from me needing comfort to him needing it. But I was okay. I felt like a fraud for how I had switched from the state I was in, to this now calm, caring and supportive person. But it felt right. I had let my emotions out and now I felt better. I had got him to understand me, be there for me and love me again. That's all I needed.

Now I knew that was what he needed to do too. I didn't care what he said, I just wanted some idea of how he was feeling. I told him I wouldn't judge anything he said, and I urged him to talk and tell me how he was feeling. He said that he didn't know. I kept holding him. He wiped away tears and sniffed. Still quietly. 

He put his arms around me and asked how I was feeling now, and I told him how just letting it out had made me feel better. He said, "I love you and the girls" and I told him how much we loved him and that I was scared for him keeping whatever he was feeling buried inside. I really was. The kind of pain I knew he was feeling doesn't just dissolve, it stays stuck inside and causes disease. 


I knew to stop pushing though, this was as vulnerable as he could get tonight. I played our wedding song, and we went to sleep.

It has been a month since that night, and we have just discovered that Jeff is suffering from depression. He remembers a time when he didn't feel like this and that was when he was 15, 12 long years ago. In that time, he has seriously thought about suicide three times and the strongest urge was when we had that fight.

I am so relieved that I didn't abandon him that night. That I didn't take on the advice I have read in comment sections, articles and social media posts and push him away because he wasn't meeting my needs at that moment. I'm so glad that I found my softness and was able to be there for him. I'm so grateful that he came to bed and thought of the love between him and his daughters.

I'm so proud of him for taking a second thought about his mental health. For the podcasts, well-being initiatives at his work, websites, and questionnaires that he accessed which have taken the stigma out of depression, provided practical first steps, and given him insights into his mental health.

I am so relieved that the world hasn't had to feel the pain of losing him.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, 24-hour support is available through Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

Feature Image: Getty.