My husband, who used to be a frequent cutter in his teen years, has cut himself twice in the 16 years I’ve known him. He is not an alcoholic. He is not addicted to drugs. He is a very upstanding father and husband. He’s held his current engineering job for well over a decade which allows me to be a stay-at-home mom, to garden, and to not have to do a job I hate on top of the full-time parenting and homemaker positions I hold. Recently, my son spent the weekend with a friend while my husband and I went to a festival together. At the festival we partook in some Ecstasy, and it was his first time ever doing it. I know that Ecstasy causes a drop in serotonin and can cause depression, but I was completely unprepared for what happened with my husband. The following day we packed up, picked up our son, and headed home. I went to sleep after getting our son into bed (8:30 p.m.) and left Fred to surf the web. At 4 a.m. I awoke to an empty bed and went to find Fred. When I found him, he was drunk and in the bathroom puking. I have only seen him that drunk a handful of times in 16 years. I noticed some bite marks on his arm, and through both a series of conversations with him while he was sick and going into his email account (I fully warned him before I went snooping) I found a picture of his arm emailed to a girl who we are both friends with. His arm was covered in shallow cuts and blood. I found out he also had over a dozen more self-inflicted cuts on his abdomen and chest.
I was initially angry with the girl he sent the image to because I thought she was encouraging this, and I didn’t want to see my husband’s part in it. Several days after I found my husband by the toilet, I finally emailed her and told her that I was uncomfortable with their relationship and that I changed their chats to be on the record because I’m worried about Fred. Things fell apart between Fred and this other woman after that. I have such a hard time not taking on the blame for that happening. I tell myself that I’m not the one who screwed that up, but that if I could have just kept her out of it from my end things would have been okay between the two of them. My husband does not have all that many friends because he is a very private person. I have a huge circle of friends and had many people whom I could lean on during this tough time, but by my emailing her and voicing my problems, I’ve taken away one of the few people he had. How do I move past the guilt? — No longer Ecstatic
You know, of all the things you discuss in your letter here — your extramarital relationship that ended against your desire, the car accident, the Ecstasy, your husband’s erratic behavior… the drunken puking and the dozens of cut and bite marks all over his body — I would think the least of your worries would be your husband’s relationship with this other woman. I mean, I get that you’re in an open relationship and it has worked for you all these years, but maybe it isn’t working so well anymore. Maybe what triggered your husband’s depression wasn’t so much the Ecstasy, but feeling like you were more connected to someone outside your marriage than to him. That you begin your letter with an account of your six-month extramarital relationship ending signifies that it was kind of a big deal to you. Otherwise, why include it? And if I, someone who doesn’t even know you, can pick up on your feelings about this other man in a short letter, then imagine what your husband has picked up on. Maybe — just maybe — the woman your husband needs to “lean on during this tough time” isn’t that girl he’s been emailing, but YOU.
I’m not telling you that it’s wrong for you to have an open marriage. I’m not even judging you for your drug use (though I do think that as a mother of a five-year-old, you might want to make sure at least that one parent isn’t tripping his balls off should an emergency arise). What I am saying is that your lifestyle, no matter how awesome it may have worked in the past, is not currently a happy one. Your husband is crying out for help. He needs you. He needs you to check in to your marriage and to him. If you want to erase the guilt you feel for having some part in your husband having too few people to turn to, be there for him. Be the support he needs. A person doesn’t really need a huge circle of friends like you have if he has one great, wonderfully supportive person in his corner. After that, everything is gravy.
The way to start being the person your husband can count on is to talk to him. Express your concern. Let him know you’ve missed connecting with him. Tell him how much you care. Start there and maybe move toward finding a professional he can talk to about his depression and anxiety. For now, the thought of other partners needs to be the furthest thing on your minds. Focus on each other and re-building your bond. And if you decide to keep your marriage open or to move into a different kind of relationship altogether, it needs to be a decision you re-visit together and through deep, honest, open dialogue. Your husband needs to be heard — he’s crying out to be heard. So start listening to him.