My husband and I have been married for almost 30 years and we are now empty nesters. I thought by now we would be enjoying our relationship more than ever, but that is not the case. He is being treated by our family doctor for some minor depression, but it doesn't seem to be helping and he refuses to see a psychiatrist or even a psychologist. He literally is refusing to do anything and is just unhappy all the time. I am truly at my wits end. I want him to get better and be happy but he seems to want to stay unhappy. Do you have any advice?
I have written other articles addressing depression, so I’m not going to do that in this one. I do highly recommend that anyone suffering from depression get professional help with it. I’m not sure if your husband is battling chemical depression from your letter, but I’m going to assume, in this case, that there are other contributing factors to his unhappiness, things which he could have some control over.
There are three main reasons that people create unhappiness either consciously or subconsciously, which are not related to depression. When someone is not interested in getting help, or is still unhappy after getting help, one of these three causes of unhappiness might also be in play.
Here are the three mains causes of unhappiness (they show up to some degree in everyone):
- Dissatisfaction with what is happening in your life. This means you are either craving things/events/circumstances you don’t have in your life that you wish you had or you are feeling bothered with things/events/circumstances that you do have in your life that you wish you didn’t have. Buddha referred to these as cravings and aversions. He believed they were the real cause of all suffering. They are basically choosing to be unhappy because what is in your life — isn’t what you wanted it to be. In other words life isn’t meeting your expectations, and you were attached to those expectations, so you choosing not to be happy until life gives you what you want.
- Fear about either your future or your past. This means you are holding onto fear about the past and experiencing shame, guilt or regret for things that already happened over which you have no control to change. Or you are choosing to worry about something that might happen in the future even though you don’t know if it really will. Either way you are borrowing misery from yesterday or tomorrow to suffer with today — for no good reason, because you cannot change the past of the future right now. Fear is also a negative energy that blocks love and joy.
- Choosing to be unhappy because unhappiness benefits you in some way. Some of you learned as a child that unhappiness could get you love and attention. You learned to play the self-pity card to earn sympathy love. You may be subconsciously OK when bad things happen to you, because you might use your unfortunate circumstances to get attention, or you may use it as an excuse to get you out of doing things you either don’t want to do or are scared to do. You could also use your unhappiness to hide from challenges, growth opportunities or learning that pushes you outside your comfort zone. You could use unhappiness to subconsciously protect you from looking bad or failing.
There is a possibility that your husband’s unhappiness has become part of his coping mechanism to protect him from life and risks, or he could have formed his sense of identity around it and doesn’t know who he would be without it. Hence, he may not be interested in fixing it, because there are benefits to staying where he is.
The truth for most of us is that our unhappiness is self-inflicted.
What I mean is most of the time being unhappy is an option, but it isn’t your only option. You could choose a trusting, peaceful, optimistic happy mindset in this moment if you wanted to. (Obviously I am not talking about chemical depression or times when a loved one dies or other difficult challenges befall you. I am talking about in your normal day-to-day life.)
I learned this truth from studying the work of Viktor Frankl, who survived the Jewish concentration camps in World War II and wrote the book “Man’s Search for Meaning.” He found that even in the most difficult circumstances he had the power (the last of the human freedoms, he called it) to choose his attitude.
I believe this is truth, and understanding this principle is the first step to experiencing or creating more happiness in your life. No matter how bad today is, you have the power to overcome these three causes of unhappiness and choose gratitude, trust, love, optimism and even joy. Here are some suggestions that might help you choose more happiness:
- Focus on gratitude for what’s right in your life. Doing this will help you to see that no matter how many things aren’t right, you still have a lot to be grateful for. You must also understand that this in the nature of life. You will never have everything as you want it. You will always have some things right and some things wrong. The amount of happiness you experience in your life depends entirely on where you focus. Focus on gratitude every day, even listing all your blessings, and you will find many reasons to smile.
- Trust the process of life. Life is a classroom, and there is divine order in the universe. It knows what it is doing and it will always deliver the best experiences you need for your growth and learning. No matter what misfortune befalls you, you can be sure — there is meaning and purpose in it. You will not suffer for nothing. You will gain wisdom and strength from every experience. The more you trust the journey and stop worrying about the future, the happier you will be. You can plan for the future, but that is entirely different from worrying about it. You can also learn from the past. It has lessons to teach you, but it serves no one to carry guilt, shame or regret about it. Embrace the lessons and let the rest go. Focus on today and being the best person you can be right now — and you will be happier.
- Take time and write down on paper what possible benefits you receive from staying unhappy. What does being unhappy get you? Be honest with yourself. What would you lose if you were happy? Then write down the costs for staying unhappy. What does being unhappy cost you? What would a different, more positive attitude get you? Just owning the truth on paper will help you to get clarity and choose better.
It is time to start living intentionally. You have the power to determine your mindset and how you feel. You get to choose the kind of energy you bring into every room you enter, and there are really only two choices. You can be positive, love, have faith and kindness energy or you can be negative, draining, fear and have neediness energy. Who do you want to be?
This is a personal decision each person must make by and for themselves in every moment. You cannot push your husband into happiness. He must want it and choose it.
See if he would be open to reading this article and even more importantly see if he would be open to getting some help. Most of us need a little professional guidance to get control of our subconscious programs and change ourselves — but he can do it and you can too.