At night, the moonlight falls through my window, a giant spotlight in the sky, illuminating shining thoughts that will not let me sleep. In the morning, she still hangs heavy in the sky, watchful. I have been thinking about the changing faces of a relationship, about simple ways a life together can change things.
When my husband and I were first married he was a renaissance man, of sorts. The bloom was still fresh on his doctoral degree and his professional life was full and exciting. He was running about 40 miles a week, played guitar with a group of old friends in a blues band, and had just passed an exam to become a nationally recognized homebrew judge. He was busy and happy and in love with life.
Early on, I lost myself in his interests. I became the good helper his wide array of interests required. Only, I wasn’t happy. Good man that he is, he encouraged me to find my bliss, and so, with his blessing I began to journey. I took a painting class. Began a yoga practice. Remembered the joy in putting down the words.
I still helped him bottle up batches of homebrew; I still went running with him on the weekends; I still listened for his footfalls in the hall. But I was on my own journey. We grew into individuals, together.
In my book, I talk about self-expansion theory—that theory of love that says we fall deeper in passionate love over the years only when we continue to grow and learn new things together. Early in relationships, when couples are still learning about the other, passions run high. But as time goes on and we think we know all there is to know about one another, the wild tongues of fire usually settle into slow, steady burning embers.
Depression stunts curiosity, robs us of the continued growth that stokes the embers back into flame. Just as any crisis elicits protective behaviors, when depression enters a relationship, we tend to wrap our arms around the entire system—shut off the rest of the world in an attempt to defend against the pain that is found there. The relationship becomes insulated, shut off, co-dependent. When you tether your happiness to one person the world becomes very small. More than that, God becomes small.
What if, in depression, we opened our arms to the world instead? Instead of I just don’t feel like it today, what if we took that apathy as invitation? A sign that something new needs to enter the doors of our hearts?
Last weekend, when I traveled to the Nebraska plains to worship with over eighty women at the Jumping Tandem Retreat, I was reminded how time invested in my own growth refreshes. I didn’t realize how tired, how lonely, how hungry I was until I landed in the middle of that place. Stepping away from the ordinary moments of my life allowed me to miss them. To miss my husband.
When I returned home, I saw him with new eyes. And I was able to love him better.
**What are you doing to continue to grow personally? When was the last time you went away by yourself? How about your Beloved? I have been known to tell my husband, “Go away so I can miss you.” It usually works. Space is a place where grace grows afresh. If an overnight trip is too hard, take a small sojourn alone or with a friend who refreshes your spirit. Go for a walk, to a museum, a garden center, do some window-shopping, take a class, learn something new. Encourage your beloved to do the same. He or she may resist. Fear is a powerful anchor. Continue to gently encourage and model for them by investing in yourself.
**This Friday series contains reflections on loving someone who has Depression. If you are in this place, or know someone who is, I hope you’ll join me in this journey. These words cannot replace medical or psychological treatment, but I hope they will be a source of encouragement.
Part I: When You Love Someone Who has Depression
Part II: West Virginia Morning: When You Love Someone with Depression, II
Part III: Good Friday
Part IV: Interview with Dr. Michelle Bengtson
Part V: When You Love Someone Who Has Depression: Stigma
Part VI: When You Love Someone Who Has Depression: Pray Together