Dear Carolyn: I'm depressed about the direction my professional life has taken. I feel like I could cry at any moment. I need a warm word or a hug.
I get this kind of support from my sister and parents but not from my wife. She has been supportive during this time, but she never comes around to giving me any kind of show of support through either an encouraging word or a hug or anything. Her support is mostly silent (and sometimes it seems to be waning or even critical).
I think she cares about what I'm going through, but she doesn't show it. How can I convey how upset I am to her?
-- Need My Wife to Be More Supportive
A: You sound so oddly detached from each other. I think she needs to hear specifically how you feel -- not in the form of blame, or a "hug me" plea that could come off as more needy than honest, but instead as a plain statement of how close to the edge you really are. As in, "The job thing has me on the verge of tears now all the time."
Even between people who are close, a need you see as obvious can be the last thing on the other person's mind. In this case, she could easily believe she's helping you by just listening, or deliberately not dwelling on it.
Closing that gap isn't only about your talking more or more clearly; it's arguably even more important that you hear the way she feels.
It may be no coincidence that your sister and parents are the ones with the warm words and hugs. They presumably see you less, hear you complain less, have less riding on your career, breathe in less of your gloom, side with you reflexively.
This is not to give your wife permission to be frosty or critical. It's just that proximity means her waters are choppy now, too, from your storm. You're getting the worst of it, yes -- but she's not only getting tossed about, but also being asked to be strong and steady for both of you. That can exhaust someone emotionally, and fast.
So talk to your wife, but also recognize when your need exceeds any one person's capacity to meet it. When that happens, it's best to note ways your wife is good at helping -- and outsource the rest.
The natural place to start is with professional help for your depression, which can't be hugged away. Even if your blues fall short of a clinical threshold -- your nearness to tears says otherwise -- your distress warrants at least some reputable career coaching. Not only would you get fresh eyes on your crisis, but also fresh ears. Even the most loving spouses burn out.
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