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Depression After Husband Left &
Helping Sons Understand

QUESTION: My husband left me this year and I feel so depressed. I don't know if I can hold up for my boys, who are old enough to know what is going on. My 15 year old is very worried about me. How can I assure him that depression is part of the healing?

To help you through this difficult period seek a support group as well as friends. Groups can provide the sense of warmth and comfort needed at this time when you feel the loss of the family as you knew it. Becoming a member of a group to facilitate your healing can provide a sense of belonging so needed during this transition. Inclusion in a group will lessen the intensity of your feelings of rejection. And it will allow for an unfolding of your grief and the growth that can inevitably arise out of pain.

Explain to your boys that you will recover, but it is like a snake shedding it's skin. Snakes become very sensitive and irritable when their new skin is first exposed. You are extremely sensitive at this time and it is true that your depression is a part of your healing. They will also be reassured when they see you attending your own group and/or individual therapy to help you through this process.

It is also okay to absorb the love and concern your boys have to give you without overdepending on them for emotional support. Individual counseling may be critical for understanding the emotional meaning of your current crisis. Childhood losses that were unresolved will come up for resolution at this time. You may find that your grief of separating from your husband has roots in mourning the loss of an earlier childhood figure. This crisis provides an opening for working through previous loss at a deeper level, and recreating a healthier and more whole sense of self.

Defining yourself through the marriage relationship is natural, but must come up for review and interpretation at this point in time. Why did you stay with someone who was not desiring you? What kept you in a marriage in which you were not cherished and valued? Was there deadness in you to begin with, or was your husband simply unappreciative of who you were and what you had to give? Perhaps it was something you were willing to live with because your own childhood did not create the promise for anything better.

There may be many questions you have that you need to ask and find your own answers. Stay in contact with others, write in a journal, draw or paint, but express yourself! Expressing your pain through art, words or even movement will eventually help to lighten your depression. Sooner or later you will begin to discover yourself in a new way. Reach out for help. You deserve it. Use this time to gently and gradually identify who you are and what you need. With time, your pain will give birth to self-understanding which holds the promise of expanding and enriching your future!

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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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