When Postpartum Depression Leads To Divorce

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divorce after baby and postpartum depressionKatherine recently asked me to write a post on postpartum depression and divorce. She wrote:

I’ve had a mom recently ask about divorce … how to deal with it when a husband divorces you over PPD.  There are some moms whose husbands treat them horribly during PPD or really just do not understand it at all and actually leave their wives because of it. What do they do? How do they handle that?

Yeah.  It’s a big one.

I have been trying to write this post for three weeks now.  Three weeks.  Every time I sit down to write about it I get stuck.  Stuck because I think of all of the many moms who I have worked with whose marriages have ended either during or following a bout of postpartum depression.  Stuck because that question about “how to deal with it” triggers that part of me that wants to have an answer for everything, the ability to fix things for people, and a magic button that I can push over and over for the women who suffer deeply after having a baby.  Stuck because, well frankly, I don’t know that there is a magic answer here.  Except that this is really, really hard.

It’s that big.

What we know is that the first year after becoming parents is statistically the most challenging for married couples.  This is the case for a couple that is not also managing the impact of a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder like postpartum depression, and so you can imagine how the statistics rise when you throw PPD into the picture.  In our society today, some 40-50% first time marriages will end in divorce.

One of the top causes for divorce is communication struggles.   More times than not, when a mom is suffering with postpartum depression or anxiety her partner is confused, unsure of how to help, angry, and disappointed.  And the moms don’t always know how to explain their challenges to him/her in a way that will benefit the strength of the marriage or partnership because she is also confused, unsure of how to feel better, disappointed and angry.  Dad is angry with Mom.  Mom is angry with Dad.  Neither of them knows how to talk to the other about what is happening and so they stop talking.  Or talking turns to yelling. The team breaks down and the marriage ends.  Communication struggles occur in almost every partnership when postpartum depression is involved.  And sometimes a marriage simply cannot recover from this, especially if there were struggles in communication before a pregnancy or baby entered the picture.

It can seem as though a marriage is ending because of postpartum depression, and while sometimes this may be absolutely true (meaning that a once strong marriage suddenly crumbles in the aftermath of PPD), often the marriage is ending because of something that the PPD magnified, be it challenges in communication, lack of trust, lack of loyalty, financial challenges, or simply irreconcilable differences.  We can assume the cause of divorce is postpartum depression when PPD may actually be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Relationship conflict during or after postpartum depression is a reality.  I recently wrote a post on relationships for Postpartum Progress that discussed a common phenomenon that can happen: Women get stronger and well and their marriages fall behind due to new self understanding and a lack of relationship attention.  This post spoke about the importance of couple’s therapy during or after PPD recovery so that the couple can begin to thrive and become well again after hurts, misunderstandings, and lack of focus.   Sometimes couples seek out therapy support, sometimes they do not.  Sometimes the couple’s therapy works to save a marriage, sometimes it does not. And, yes, divorce does happen.

As far as the question, “how can moms handle it when Dad leaves after PPD,” the answer is that, like with any loss, or trauma, a mom needs support. Sometimes love, care, and validation from friends and family is enough.  Sometimes moms need a therapist to help them work though the myriad of complicated emotions that they feel.  But, regardless of who that mom is, how strong she may be, and how on-board she is (or isn’t) with the decision to end a marriage, she cannot expect herself to get through it alone.

So, if this post speaks to you, be kind to yourself.  Remember that it is not your fault.  Be wary of self-judgment and the familiar places that you go to when you are at your most vulnerable; the self-critical places that hold you down and repeatedly make it difficult to come up for air.  Remember that maintaining a strong marriage is not solely up to you and that two people need to work together to make it out of the quicksand.  And know that it is both okay and also entirely appropriate to feel the gamut of what you are feeling: the anger, sadness, disappointment, regrets are all valid and important for you to experience (even if you’d rather just move on quickly).  And know this: There are others like you out there, and you are not alone. 

Did your marriage end in divorce after postpartum depression?  If so, what did you do to manage the stress?  How did you get through it?  What helped you to take care of yourself during this challenging time?

Photo credit: © Matthew Benoit – Fotolia.com

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About Kate Kripke

Kate Kripke is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) specializing in the prevention and treatment of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. She is also a Colorado state coordinator for Postpartum Support International. Kate lives in Boulder with her husband and two daughters and writes an eponymous blog.

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Comments

  1. Thank you so much for this post. I was hospitalized for my PPD and ten days after leaving the hospital, my husband asked me for a divorce. He put me out of our home and took my daughter away from me too. There is nothing more devestating than the person who vowed to stay with you through sickness and health leave you when you need them the most. I have told my story to hundreds of people and I have always felt I was one of the only woman who didn’t have a happy ending to my story. This article just made me feel less alone. There are no easy answers to what to do or feel when a spouse can’t handle the pressure that PPD can have on a marriage. Support is essential. I was able to completely rebuild my life thanks to the support of loved ones. Thank you so much for this eye opening post.

  2. staceyglpc says:

    Katherine, your link “For Dads” no longer works…just FYI.

  3. Amanda Gremillion says:

    my marriage almost ended due to PPD and by almost I mean it was filed and my husband went to the courthouse to stop it at the last minute. He eventually realized what was wrong with me and as I started getting help and getting better he wanted to work on things and we eventually became stronger for it but initially it made my PPD worse and was the hardest thing I have ever gone through in my life.

    • My husband has filed for divorce. Our son is six months old and my husband says I’ve made him miserable and he’s done with me. I’m so hurt. I’m praying for a reconciliation.

      • I’m so sorry to hear that Ginger. I hope you are getting help and support from family and friends and that you are getting help for your postpartum depression. We’re thinking of you and hoping you get some resolutions soon.

  4. My psychiatrist says that ppd generally begins with depression during the pregnancy…and women chalk their feelings up to being pregnant and believe that when the baby is born everything will fall into magical bliss. A new baby is many amazing things but utter bliss is rarely one of them. A better understanding that depression often begins during pregnancy can lead to women getting help sooner and a couple walking out of the hospital with a new baby and also with the understanding, at least a better understanding, of the reality of what they are facing when they get home with their new baby.

    While I was reading this post what first came to mind was a somewhat controversial article written by a husband/father who talks about sitting in the park during a picnic with his family watching his wife breastfeed their five year old son. Basically his wife’s body had been completely repurposed and he wasn’t happy about it. The responders to the article were mostly shocked that he could be so unfeeling and unsupportive of his wife’s dedication to breastfeeding. My husband read the article and was firmly on the side of the husband. In our society today there is this emphasis on being a super mom and everything revolving around the child, etc., and it really excludes the father/husband from his family, his wife, his marriage. Maybe for some, in an ideal world, all husbands would support years of breastfeeding. But not all men do and I don’t think that men should have to be happy about spending years in the guest room while the ok breastfeeds and cosleeping. This isn’t an argument against breastfeeding but rather a suggestion that the husbands needs be taken into consideration when starting a family. If you have really different ideas on how a family functions its better to know that before having children. If I wanted to breastfeed for five years and cosleep with the baby we wouldn’t have wound up having children in the first place. We talked about all those things. We talked about what us we wanted to preserve in light of adding a baby.

  5. I’m so glad Kate wrote about this. I felt so alone when my marriage crumbled on the heels of my PPD. All I read were these endearing stories of awesome husbands stepping in and helping their wives through the hell. I felt like even more of a failure – in the thick of things, not only did I feel like I’d failed my child, failed at being a mother but was so unloveable that my husband didn’t even want to help. It’s taken me a long time to accept that the reason that mine didn’t do any of the herculean things that husbands do when their wives are in this trauma wasn’t anything to do with me, but to do with him.

    It’s reassuring to know that I’m not the only one.

    • Lucy you are definitely not alone. Like you, I blamed myself for years. I felt as if I did something so awful to him, myself and my daughter. Time has shown me that he was the weak one, he was the one who crumbled, not me. He tried to take everything from me but it didn’t work. my experience is so different than most women but what I have been through has made me a better stronger person. I’m glad you responded to this. You are certainly not alone.

      • I am experiencing the same as you. I always go so hard on myself trying to be perfect, but my hubby goes even harder. He expects that I can finish everything in 1 min and be able to keep my concentration in our kids and that is not 50% of the job he says. As I blame myself for everything even his actions and ofcorse he agrees. Im getting all the blame of the whole relationship. He did enough to keep the relationship good he say now I have to try for myself. I know that i could managed to get better if I got a therapist but i dont get the support. He thinks that I’m only a bit depressed and should not go to a therapist since they only fool you. He also threatened to take our kids away from me several times because I don’t deserve them I’m making them stupid. I can go on with examples but what I wanted to tell you is that you are definately not alone.

    • You’re definitely not the only one Lucy.

  6. Thank you for this article. I suffered from postpartum depression which resulted in my marriage falling apart. I think it gave my ex a “reason” to cheat , lie , and disconnect. A part of me cant blame him , but then the other part of me is full of anger and hurt that he would leave when I needed him most. It’s been a year and a half since he left . I’m doing so much better than I was then , however I still strugge with the loss of my marriage and family. I really do hurt for the women dealing with PD . Thoughts and orayers are with you all. Xo

  7. I think there’s a double standard at play here. It seems that women suffering from PPD are expecting their husbands to be able to just take whatever form of negativity that they hurl at them. And if their husbands couldn’t take it, then they’re weak. Whatever PPD sufferers are suffering, they’re taking all of that and putting onto their husbands. Whatever’s eating at you from the inside, it’s being put onto your husband and eating him away from outside. It’s not easy. It’s really, really difficult. Women have lots of books, doctors, and resources to help them with their illness, but men have almost nothing on how to cope with it. Really. All we have is one book. And it’s written by a woman. And it’s in outline format. Every husband calls the experience “hell” for a reason. Just like you didn’t wished to get this illness; your husbands didn’t wish to be throw into the fires of hell. Just blame the illness, and not the parties involved. Hell can tear anyone apart.

    • I only recognize now that my divorce 2 years after baby arrived was probably related to my PPD, I do think men need more guidance as to recognizing the symptoms and paths to get help for their wives before it ruins the family. I have had 3 more kids since and have been on medication and it is night and day. After my first, I felt total isolation, fear and standoffish to everyone. I pushed out all the good and only elevated the bad in my husband. I feel horrible now because I want my ex to know that it was not his fault. Men are an equal part of the equation and deserve the help so they can help the wives…..

      • Thank you for making this point. I am husband and we had a baby 4 months back. I can clearly see symptoms of my wife going through PPD. But problem here is that she is not ready to accept it. She doesn’t want to speak to anyone about it. She doesn’t want to be meet friends or anyone. For everything I am blamed. Everytime we argue she wants to break up with me. I am myself going through anxiety and stress because of it. I am going to see a doctor today for myself.
        I feel helpless, scared and afraid. In this relationship I am the one who tells my wife that we can make it work and we can go for counselling together etc but she says if I cannot help her how can a stranger help her. I see it all breaking up :-( I am have never been so scared in my life.

        • MK don’t give up on her. My husband divorced me. Our son was 5 months old when he filed. He is now 18 months old. We signed the settlement last month. I am still devastated. I love him so much but couldn’t handle my PPD with OCD and he gave up. The saddest part is he is a doctor and should know better than anyone what was happening. Instead he tried to use it against me in court. Claiming I was an unfit mom. Your wife is in there. Don’t give up on her. She needs you now more than ever. Please stand up for your family.

        • Going to see a doctor yourself is a very good idea. Of course you are impacted by both a new baby and a dramatic change in your wife. I have always had major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder and have always pursued treatment to live as healthy and “normal” a life as possible…this willingness opens up options for me with relative ease. I stayed on all my medications through both pregnancies and formula fed partly because of the medications and partly because breastfeeding and my issues would clash horribly. But I was looking to be a happy mom and wife over other ideals. Or in other words I didn’t feel pressured by society or myself to be blissfully happy over a newborn…and obviously both medications and formula feeding aren’t popular choices. So I can’t really think of anything to say regarding your wife other than what the person before me said, she is in there somewhere. How long you wait for her is your choice because you are just as much a part of the relationship as she is. But it’s also a medical condition. What if you had cancer or something? Treatment for that could be lengthy as well. You’re caught between a treatable condition and a wife who isn’t ready for treatment. It’s possible she will come out of it on her own. In the meantime getting help for yourself is the best thing you can do for you. They also have support groups for families members of people with mental illness like they have support groups for family members of alcoholics. Good luck. I hope you feel better soon and I hope your wife is ready to reach out soon. Maybe try to observe her and see if you can figure out why she is in denial. Is she afraid of having something wrong with her? Of needing therapy and/or medication? Some women suffer post partum psychosis which frankly would be scaring the crap out of her. Is she breastfeeding? Is it going well? Even if it’s going well or seems to be she might hate it. Is she trying to breastfeed and feel like she is failing? Is she someone in general who puts a lot of pressure on herself to be perfect or on top of things? Babies make it hard to feel either of those. Lack of sleep impacts people differently. It takes some women a really long time to fully bond with their baby. My first was about 8 months before I fully understood what it meant to fall in love with your baby. With my second, who’s 10 weeks now, I find myself fighting the feelings of falling in love with her. Why? No idea. Maybe because it took longer with my son and I feel guilty? Fear of something? No idea. But I don’t let it worry me either, but I’ve had years of therapy.

          • Thank you Ginger & Wendy for your comments.
            I don’t plan to give up yet and just hang in there. I do understand that this is a medical condition and the psychologist I visited mentioned he might give me some tips to help her acknowledge her illness but he did warn me it could happen in a day or might even be a life long process.
            I think she is not confident about her looks also though she looks great and I remind her this every now and then.
            No she is not breastfeeding because baby won’t latch properly. She tried for two days after birth but then gave up, it made her very upset too. Then she tried with breast pump for few weeks but shortly she couldn’t express much so left it. I think it was because of c-section and there was quite a time gap when they let both baby and mom close to each other.
            It just hurts sometimes so much when the person you love the most and who has been your best friend starts to hate you and go away from you.
            I read sometime back that depression is like a third person in between two loving people, and its so true.
            I am hoping things will be okay because I love both my wife and daughter a lot.

            • I agree that there is not enough support for the fathers. I have two children from a past relationship and over three years ago I met the women of my dreams. We were perfect together for years. She took in my two children when they needed a mother. After I popped the question in front of fireworks at Disney we found out that she was pregnant! Doctors have always told her she couldn’t have children. Once the new addition came everything changed. Our son is six months old now and she has left me for the second time now. She doesn’t think that she needs help. She wants time for her she says. I have done everything I can for her and been there to support her. She wont go get help and it’s killing my children and me. When I look to the internet for help….nothing

  8. My son and daughter in law are going through a very difficult time since their son was born a year ago and a severe battle with PPD.
    It is so sure that the husbands get very little support. My daughter in law has 4 different doctors….cleaning lady, nanny help, family help, friends help and my son gets no help. I understand the battle of PPD….I’ve been helping take care of the baby. But, ladies, please get some support for your husbands. They are the ones working to support you. It’s very difficult for them to deal with the anxiety, depression, demands and ocd day in and day out. In order for this to not destroy marriages, the fathers need more help!

    • Carol, we agree. PPD takes a toll on husbands too. Of course it does. It affects everyone it touches. Just like moms need to be strong and reach out for help, husbands do too. Counseling can be especially helpful for fathers to learn how to cope with the situation. And of course any help in the home is helping not only the mom, but the entire family system.