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Today I welcome back my husband, Chad McDonald, who is wrapping up his article about what it’s been like to live with someone who suffers from depression. If you missed Part 1, you can read it here. Thank you for taking the time to listen. He’s had A LOT of experience and I appreciate him being willing to share something so personal that can be helpful for others like you.
In my previous article, I shared how I came to recognize Samantha’s depression as real and that we needed to deal with it together. Now I’d like to share some specific things I learned that are absolutely necessary for helping a spouse with depression.
It All Starts With Grace
As a pastor, this is a topic that I talk about a lot but did not always apply when it came to my own family. The truth is that if I had not started looking into the subject of grace, I don’t know how we would have been able to move forward. God gives us the ultimate example of grace as we see in His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus did for us what we couldn’t do, what we didn’t deserve for Him to do, and what we could never have imagined anyone ever doing for us.
Grace is defined as “unmerited love”. This is an accurate definition, but as I have studied the Bible I have found that grace is expanded even more from that definition. Grace is all about what God gives us that is unmerited. Although we are sinners, the Bible tells us that Christ died for us. He forgives us of our sins. This alone is amazing! In fact, I don’t know a better description to attach to the word “grace” than “amazing”.
God Shows Us His Grace
If we think a bit about grace, we see that it covers such a big area of our lives. In 2 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul tells about a thorn in his flesh and how he asked God three times to remove the thorn. God responded with a single phrase: “My grace is sufficient for you”. So many have interpreted this scripture as God telling Paul to, “Keep a stiff upper lip and hang in there. Just step up to the plate and get through it.” But God was not telling Paul to just deal with it. He was saying, “Paul, you know about my grace. You have been walking with me and you understand my power to transform. Operate in my strength.”
With God, grace isn’t just unmerited love. A professor of mine said it this way: “Grace, biblically understood, is God’s willingness to unleash His power on my behalf even though I don’t deserve it.” So much of God’s grace is about Him reaching down to us to partner with us to live in victory. This is what a covenant is all about. Guess what? Marriage is a covenant, and we need to learn that grace is what holds covenants together. If it was not for God’s grace, the covenant I have with Him could not happen. God also extends this grace to us to use with others, especially our marriage covenant partners.
I had to learn to lead in my marriage with this grace that I received from God. I needed grace to move forward. To rebuild my marriage, I needed grace.
Speak Grace to the Mountain
In the book of Zechariah, chapter 4, we see the account of the Jewish people assigned the task of rebuilding the Temple after it had been destroyed by invading armies. Zerubbabel was their leader. To rebuild the temple, the Israelites had to quarry rocks out of a great mountain. In the middle of this overwhelming task God spoke to Zerubbabel:
“Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit”, says the Lord of hosts. “Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain! And he shall bring forth the capstone with shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’”
God was telling Zerubbabel to “speak grace” to a mountain. Why? God was telling him that He was going to partner with him. Together they would bring this mountain down.
This helped me realize that I needed to “speak grace” to my marriage. I needed to enter into a partnership established in grace. This is a partnership between Samantha, myself, and most importantly, God, who freely gives the grace. Grace meant I needed to make changes. I started learning how to forgive Samantha and asking her to forgive me. I needed to offer her my strength, courage, patience, support, understanding, and love.
Living by Grace
Here are some of the things that had to change as I started living by grace:
I had to learn to set aside time for Samantha.
This meant I needed to make her a priority in my life. She needs my time. She needed to know that I would take the time to drop things to focus on her. This is a very hard step. Sometimes I came up with every possible reason why I couldn’t do it, but it is essential.
I had to learn to pray for my wife.
Learn how to pray from compassion and love for what Samantha was going through was one of the first changes I made. I am really good at praying selfishly and needed to learn to change that and pray for victory for her, not just for my own peace and harmony.
I had to learn to listen.
Listening is not my greatest strength, and I have had to work very hard to learn how to listen to her. It was especially hard for me to listen with my ears open rather than with my mouth.
I had to seek to understand.
It was important that I understood what Samantha was going through and not dismiss it. I wrote depression off, and I wanted her to just agree with me. Stephen Covey wrote about this vital principle that should be applied to every interaction we have in his book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. I had to recognize that what my wife was telling me was real and serious.
I had to learn who the real enemy was, and it wasn’t Samantha.
It dawned on me that I was battling against my wife instead of the real enemy. We were at war, and instead of firing our artillery at the enemy, we engaged in friendly fire. We were killing each other! Battling depression is just that: a battle. It is war. There are wounds–anger, sadness, casualties, and pain—and the very comrades in arms that are supposed to fight together were inflicting much of this. We were so busy fighting each other we forgot who the real enemy is.
I needed to drop my pride.
I had to admit that there was a problem and get to the point that I wanted a solution, regardless of my fragile ego. This meant opening myself up to Samantha, others, and most importantly, to God. It meant that I had to seek help for my family. I had to be willing to participate in the solution and not just leave it to my wife to battle on her own. This may mean talking with a counselor also. I had to realize that her problems were also mine because God brought the two of us together and made us one.
I figured out when to grow a spine.
There are times when it is necessary to confront my wife. I’ve had to lovingly remind her that this is hard work, and we both do need to work at it. There are times when it’s necessary to correct, say no, or express feelings as well. I have had to get firm at times and tell Samantha that I do not want to be treated a certain way. The secret was to learn how and when. Make sure it is done in love. Be very careful with this.
I had to give her permission to talk to someone else.
I had to give her permission to share with the counselor anything she needed to share. Also, I gave her full permission to share with one friend whatever she needed to share. This has become one of the most helpful things that we have ever done. We picked one lady that Samantha could share with my full support. One of the greatest dangers is sharing with the wrong people or with too many people. I have seen a lot of marriages ruined because of the wife, need to talk to someone, started sharing with many people and the wrong people. This avenue can turn into a place for resentment to grow, bashing on your spouse, bad advice, and major steps backward.
Samantha and I mutually decided that she could share whatever she needed to share with our friend, Carrie. Carrie truly cares about Samantha, our family, and is filled with compassion. She had wisdom, she was mature, she was not a gossip, and she was spiritually sound and understood. Carrie was willing to love us no matter what. She could encourage, listen, pray, give biblical advice, and at times confronting, stand firm, and keep accountability. Pick this person very carefully. The wrong person could do considerably more harm than good.
Living Grace Every Day
Again, I want to say that this is a continual thing for me to live these out, and the truth is that I do it imperfectly. Every day this is hard work, but it is so worth it. I break these pieces of advice often yet I continue to get better. This is not an all-inclusive list, rather these are the things that stood out the most for me. Know that through God’s grace nothing is impossible. You can be a support to your spouse who deals with depression. There can be victory in the life of your family.
You can live with real joy!