Recently I was speaking at a conference on Sadness and Happiness in the Christian Life. As always happens at any conference where I speak about depression, I heard some heart-rending stories of suffering. Although these stories differ in many ways, I began to notice a common factor in the stories these Christian women were telling me, especially women who were home-makers. They were all lacking in verbal affirmation and encouragement from their husbands.
Their husbands were godly Christian men, faithful, hard-working, providing financially, helping out with the kids, taking on domestic and spiritual responsibilities, and so on. They were not abusive and had never said a hard word to their wives. BUT, they very rarely, if ever, said anything positive or affirming to them.
One Source of Affirmation
I talked with Shona about this and she said, “This is so important. Homemakers have only one source of affirmation — their husbands. Most young kids don’t usually notice what we do and praise us. There are no colleagues or customers to express appreciation and admiration. Our husbands are our only source of encouragement and commendation.”
As I thought more about it, and felt more and more guilty about it myself, I realized just how many possible sources of encouragement most men and women have who work outside the home. For example, I have my congregation, my students, blog readers, counselees, conferees, etc. Hardly a week goes by without someone expressing gratitude for something I’ve done in my ministry. But a homemaker has only one possible source of gratitude — her husband.
And yet how many times have I come home and, lo and behold, there’s a meal on the table. Well, so there should be. Shirts magically enter the wash basket and just appear in the wardrobe. Rugs vaccum themselves, trash cans empty themselves, dishes wash themselves, bills pay themselves, accounts get accounted, babies change their own diapers, and so on.
What, they don’t?
Of course not, and yet how often we husbands just take it all for granted. How would we feel if that happened to us at work — every single day? We work, work, work, and the response is silence, silence, silence. It would be pretty depressing wouldn’t it?
Or, when was the last time we expressed appreciation for how our wives looked, even after a day of being run ragged by children? When was the last time we noticed with gratitude the development of Christian graces and character in them?
We are their only source of affirmation.
“But,” someone will say, “Surely they should get their encouragement from the Lord? Why can’t they just rejoice in their salvation? Do they not know that they are accepted in Christ, no matter what?”
Yes, we want to bring them theological truth. Yes we want to point them to Christ and their justification. Yes, ultimately God’s opinion is the only one that matters.
But they’re also human. They need words of affirmation and appreciation from us too. That’s not human weakness; that’s basic humanity. We expect it in the workplace; our wives are right to expect it at home.
I’m not saying this is the panacea for all female depression; but I do wonder how many home-makers might have avoided depression if their husbands had been more affirming and encouraging? How many wives might be praising God if their husbands had praised them a bit more? How many mothers might yet avoid the pit of depression if their husbands could lift them up with even one compliment a day?
So here’s the challenge, men, regardless of whether your wife is depressed or not; and especially if she is. Make a huge daily effort to find as many reasons as you can to praise her. Take nothing for granted. Take nothing for nothing, but affirm, compliment, praise, and encourage her in every possible way. It might work better than Prozac.