Anger and Stress Management Tips for Satisfying Relationships
Working as a risk management specialist for a large medical group was getting 36-year-old Juliette down. She was exhausted and had no energy left for her husband, 38-year-old Elliot and their 5 and 6 year old children Aden and Mara. She hated having to work, but was the only breadwinner. The pressure on Juliette made her depressed. All she wanted to do was to sleep. She left the chores to her Elliot who attended to them with pride, seeing them as his contribution to the family.
Even when she was awake, Juliette felt fatigued and disinterested in playing with her kids. She preferred to look on as Elliot engaged them in cycling, swimming and ball games. She was easily upset when things didn’t go right with the family, and felt useless as a mother, sister and wife. Depression had taken hold, and Juliette was steeped in a lack of self-worth. Her anger at having to be the breadwinner was buried in the depression, as was her disappointment and resentment towards her husband for not taking on that role.
The happiness Elliot felt taking care of the home and family was tainted by his anxiety about Juliette’s depression. He was scared that if she got worse and couldn’t work, he would be forced to step into the breach! Since losing his sales job three years ago, he had given up looking for other opportunities having had little response and numerous applications rejected. He had settled into being the primary care taker, but Juliette’s depression was stirring up fears again. Frantic efforts to cheer up his wife, and fix whatever problems she talked about didn’t make things any easier. She just got more and more morose and shut down, hoping that he would take up the baton and support the family.
They didn’t talk about Juliette’s depression or about Elliot’s anxiety that he would have to get a job if she didn’t pull herself together. They were caught in a vicious cycle where Juliette’s depression made her more dependent on Elliot to take care of parenting, housework and the children’s school issues. The more dependent Juliette became the more Elliot countered that he couldn’t get a job because he was burdened with all the child care and household management!
Depression promotes stress about not being able to cope, resulting in poor romantic relationship outcomes, says a study reported in Clinical Psychology Review, 2010.
Another study reported in Communication Monographs, 2015 monitored the communication between romantic couples where one partner was depressed. They found that depressed members of a romantic partnership avoided talking about the depression and how it impacted their relationship, as well as about the relationship itself. The uncertainty about the status of the relationship was the primary reason for avoidance. Women were less likely than men to talk about the depression, exacerbating the uncertainty in the relationship.
Depressed people like Juliette are motivated to avoid negative outcomes and often use avoidance as a way of managing their relationship problems. Although it may ease the stress in the moment of choosing avoidance, over the long term, there is a price to pay. Opportunities to practice interpersonal skills are removed. Chances to deepen bonds through understanding and empathy are neglected, leading to and interpretation of each other’s behavior in increasingly negative ways. The threats to their identity as individuals and members of a couple are never faced and resolved, adding to the stress, and deepening the depression, as reported in an article in Clinical Psychology Review, 2011
A depressed partner may take anti-depressants like SSRI’s (Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Lexapro, Cimbalta, Effexor, Celexa etc.) and still not get any better. A recent study reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Feb. 9, 2015 found that stress prevents the medication from doing its job, making the depression even worse. This study described the ‘punishment center of the brain’ (lateral habenula) that rules, making a person feel down on themselves and more depressed.
Put that together with a finding that placebo pills were as good if not better than anti-depressants in affecting mood (Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics. 2010) we have a perfect storm of bad feeling and estrangement between a romantic couple. Putting Juliette on anti-depressants won’t make her better, nor will it remove the cause for her depression. She needs to be depressed to push her husband into being the breadwinner.
Attend couples therapy and begin the process of implementing these 6 essential steps
- Discuss their expectations of each other.
- Express their disappointments, fears and anger at one another for the roles they are forced to adopt.
- Discuss the depression, it’s purpose and impact on the family, including the rage Juliette suppressed, about having to be the one supporting the family when she really wanted to be the one taken care of.
- Explore coping mechanisms for the relationship stress by noticing the trigger points.
- Begin the process of sharing parenting and household tasks
- Shift Elliot from feeling “forced” to get a job, to “wanting” to get a job
copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D. 2015
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Disclaimer: this article is for informational and educative purposes only. Dr. Raymond is not responsible for any reactions you may have when reading the content or using the suggestions therein. Interacting with this material does not constitute a therapeutic relationship with Dr. Jeanette Raymond