Advice Column: Answers to difficult questions

A child copes with parental dispute, dating with depression. Questions answered by Hara Marano.

By Hara Estroff Marano, published on February 1, 2003 - last reviewed on January 23, 2015

A
Child's Dilemma

My parents have been fighting a lot—every day for the last
week. My dad found out that my mom was cheating on him (with my ex). I am
hurt because my mom knows that I still love him. What will help my mom
and dad work out their problems? I don't want them to separate. My dad
still loves my mom. They are fighting as I write. I just need help
because I do need my mom and she thinks I do not. She has never been
around when I needed her the most; she keeps pushing me away from her. I
don't want anyone to know my problems.

B

Sometimes parents can get so wrapped up in their own problems they
forget that they have the important job of parenting to do. Sometimes
they can be jolted back to reality. Perhaps that is the case with your
parents now.

You have something important to tell you parents. It would be wise
to call them together for a meeting and tell them you have something to
say that they need to hear. Speak from the heart, just as your letter
does. Tell them what you have told me: that you love them both and that
you don't want your family to break apart, and that their constant
fighting scares you and hurts you. Then you could turn specifically to
your mother and tell her that you need her, and that you need her even
though sometimes you feel she isn't there for you, but that you hope she
will find the way to be the mother you need right now. She may get the
message, but she may not. (And she certainly shouldn't be fooling around
with your boyfriends, current or former, but that is a whole other
issue.)

Remember, painful as it may be to watch things unfold, it is not
your job to fix your parents' problems—they are the adults; and you
should not feel that it's your fault if your parents split. The hope is
that when they are reminded of the parenting they have to do, they might
begin to consider your needs as well as their own. Maybe they can go for
help in fixing their marriage once they remember how important it
is.

A Date with Depression

I am a divorced mother who has been dating a gentleman (for over a
year) with whom I have a lot in common. He has been divorced for three
years and is also the father of four wonderful children. He runs his own
business and shares custody of his kids. He has a very likeable
personality and is easy-going, and sensitive to other people's needs. I
am very pleased with our relationship and feel very strongly for him,
however, I am concerned about our future because he has had frequent
episodes of depression. During these episodes, he experiences a total
lack of energy, sexual desire, and self-appreciation. At times I think
that he truly believes his life is worth nothing except to take care of
his kids. I have never experienced depression like this before and it
worries me to see him like this. He is very health-conscious, and is
physically fit. Is the depression something I should be concerned about,
from a relationship standpoint?

Ann

Your concern is well-founded, as bouts of depression tend to
increase in severity and frequency over time and usually have very
subversive effects on relationships. Depression makes people irritable,
withdrawn, easily overwhelmed and unable to enjoy life, and usually
results in an increase in arguing. The actions of the depressed person
can also make the nondepressed partner feel rejected and lonely. There
are many ways that the potential for misunderstanding is greatly
increased.

Depression also can have a very negative impact on a person's
ability to function at work, a real concern as it could threaten your
friend's livelihood and the well-being of his children. Such an outcome
would be a huge stress and could greatly compound any depression.

But depression is a highly treatable disorder. In general
depression results from a collision of biological vulnerability with life
stresses, and these may come from internal sources as well as external
situations. Everyone's biological vulnerability is set at a different
threshold, and so are the stresses they are subjected to.

Some people truly seem to need the chemical kick start of
antidepressant drugs like Prozac to help them out of the mental rut that
depression puts them in. All depressed people need to learn what makes
the vulnerable and ways to manage their moods; the best way is though
psychotherapy with a mental health professional highly experienced at
working with the depressed. Further, many men have trouble gaining access
to the emotional pain that is typically at the core of their depression,
and your friend would probably benefit from therapy that can help him do
that as well.

The best way to find a qualified therapist is to ask someone you
know who has been helped by therapy. Or search our therapist directory to
find someone suitable in your area.