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Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Karen Kleiman’s new book Tokens of Affection: Reclaiming Your Marriage after Postpartum Depression (Routledge, 2014).
If either your or your spouse is suffering from postpartum depression, it may seem like all you can do is manage to care for your baby, without any energy left over to care for each other. But it’s vital to the recovery process to maintain a loving connection with each other in the midst of postpartum depression – and it’s possible to do so, with God’s help.
Here’s how you can reclaim your marriage after postpartum depression:
Consider how you all are really feeling in your marriage right now. Identify and acknowledge the specific kinds of troubling feelings that are currently causing turmoil in your marriage, such as: anxiety that you can’t deal with the stress of trying to meet your baby’s needs and each other’s needs, worry that you don’t love your baby or each other as much as you should, anger or bitterness over how your lifestyle has changed, resentment that your spouse hasn’t helped you in ways you’d expected, frustration that your spouse isn’t listening to your concerns or doesn’t seem to understand you, and a sense of loneliness and alienation from your spouse. Talk honestly with your spouse about specific issues, and pray about them together, asking God to empower you both to heal and restore a strong connection between you.
Connect through esteem. Value yourselves and your relationship highly, as God does. Esteem says: “I know this is important to you, so I will give you this.” Build self-esteem in ways that include: accepting yourself for who you are, forgiving yourself when you make mistakes and growing from your mistakes, and replacing critical self-talk with positive thoughts about yourself. Build relationship esteem in ways such as: giving each other the freedom to be who you are naturally; thinking, speaking, and behaving in ways that demonstrate mutual regard and respect; refraining from trying to control your partner or allowing your partner to control you; letting go of your anger about your spouse and ask God to help you forgive him or her; checking in regularly with your spouse to see how he or she is feeling; and telling your spouse what you love most about him or her.
Connect through collaboration. Work as a team toward accomplishing shared goals. Collaboration says: “I believe you need my help, so I will offer this to you.” Build collaboration by: accepting and trusting your spouse’s opinions and judgments, joining forces with your spouse to each contribute your expertise while working on projects together, not allowing feelings of competition or power get in your way, working to solve problems in mutually beneficial ways, shifting your focus from ego to service, recalibrating your expectations so they’re realistic, and being open to change.
Connect through compromise. Give and take in fair, balanced ways that will strengthen your relationship with each other. Compromise says: “I need you to do this for me; therefore, I will do this for you.” Some of the ways you can compromise include: renouncing your need to be right when you all are disagreeing, seeing your spouse’s point of view and honoring it, controlling your emotions so you can disagree calmly, getting clear information rather than making assumptions, and refusing to keep score with your spouse.
Connect through selflessness. Think of your spouse as well as yourself when making decisions, giving what’s necessary to do what’s best for both of you. Selflessness says: “I see that you are feeling this way, so how about we do this?” Develop selflessness in ways such as: considering your spouse’s needs without getting defensive, forfeiting what you want in support of your marriage, distinguishing between giving up something out of strength versus out of weakness, being patient with your spouse, considering your spouse’s needs first when you’re both dealing with stressful situations, giving affection to your spouse, and serving your spouse through simple acts of kindness without expecting anything in return.
Connect through sanctuary. Create a place where you can both feel cared for and safe figuring out how to solve problems together. Sanctuary says: “I miss you. Let’s go do this.” Create a sanctuary in your marriage by: finding a comforting and relaxing place in your home or elsewhere where you and your spouse can meet to discuss important issues in your marriage, safeguarding your friendship with your spouse, letting your spouse spend time alone without feeling excluded or threatened by your spouse’s need for privacy, making time for yourself to think through your marriage issues in private without guilt, and reserving your disagreements for the right time and place.
Connect through expression. Communicate successfully with each other in both verbal and non-verbal ways. Expression says: “You haven’t talked to me about this in a while. Tell me more.” Express yourselves successfully in ways that include: clearly communicating your thoughts and feelings to your spouse through words, body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice in a way to which your spouse will be most responsive; listening carefully to what your spouse is telling you and understanding it well; helping your spouse understand you; laughing with your spouse and enjoying playful activities together to relieve tension in your relationship; and thanking your spouse for what he or she does for you.
Connect through tolerance. Accept each other – flaws and all – offering each other the unconditional love that God gives you both. Tolerance says: “I’m trying to do better at this. Will you try to do this?” Develop tolerance in ways like: choosing not to let your spouse’s annoying habits bother you, accepting your spouse’s opinions that contradict your own, being patient and understanding when your spouse disagrees with you, making sure that your expectations of your spouse are reasonable, dealing cautiously and compassionately with intense emotions that come up between you, and forgiving your spouse when he or she hurts or offends you.
Connect through loyalty. Commit fully to working on your marriage and learning skills that will strengthen the trust between you. Loyalty says: “I wish we felt more of that, so I will do this.” Build loyalty in ways that include: hoping for, and working toward the goal of, remaining married to your spouse and developing a happy life together; trying hard to be fair and making your spouse feel cared for; prioritizing time to spend together often; paying attention to the nuances of your relationship; and monitoring your words and behavior to develop more trust between you.
Adapted from Tokens of Affection: Reclaiming Your Marriage after Postpartum Depression, copyright 2014 by Karen Kleiman with Amy Wenzel. Published by Routledge, an imprint of Taylor & Francis Group, New York, NY, www.routledgementalhealth.com.
SEE ALSO: Depression and the Pastor's Wife
Karen Kleiman, MSW, LCSW, is a well-known international expert on postpartum depression. She is founder of The Postpartum Stress Center, a premier treatment and professional training center for prenatal and postpartum depression and anxiety.
Whitney Hopler, who has served as a Crosswalk.com contributing writer for many years, is author of the Christian novel Dream Factory, which is set during Hollywood's golden age. She produced a site about angels and miracles for About.com. Now she writes about the power of thoughts on her “Renewing Your Mind” blog.
Publication date: November 10, 2014