There are some days that I wonder at my husband’s unending patience with me. Even as he insists that he loves me and that that feeling has never been challenged over the course of our relationship together, I wonder how he puts up with the unfortunate side effects of me having a mental illness. This weekend was a prime example.
We had gone to a local mall to shop for some things for our upcoming vacation. Everything started off fine. We enjoyed food at a food truck festival in one of the mall’s parking lots. We started shopping, but soon the frustrations of dealing with a crowded mall and not being able to find what we were looking for had me in anxious state and I began to get irritated at my husband for everything he was doing. We bickered over the most ridiculous things because I wasn’t able to let things go and I even yelled at him. There was part of my brain that knew how awful I was behaving to him, but my anxiety wasn’t letting my mouth shut. And the weekend honestly just went downhill from there.
I mentioned in a prior post that I was scared to reveal to my husband that I struggled with depression and anxiety when we were still dating. It was mostly because of an emotionally abusive relationship that I had been in the past in which I was belittled and criticized both for having depression and taking medication for it. At one point I dared to bring up ending the relationship and I was told that no one else would ever want me because of my depression.
The difficulty of navigating my mental illness in romantic relationships did not end when this relationship did. Beyond believing that there was a part of me that was shameful and embarrassing, I never met a guy that was able to handle depression and anxiety with anything more then insensitivity or complete hopelessness. Until I met my husband that is. And I’ve really got brag on the amazing man I’ve married, because even though he may feel a little lost sometimes, he does an excellent job of supporting me.
Here are some basic tips for dealing with mental illness in marriage for both those suffering with a mental illness and their partners:
Mental Illness in Marriage- Tips for those with mental illness
Patience- Yes, we need a whole lot of patience too. When you aren’t personally suffering from a mental illness, it can be difficult to understand what the other person is experiencing and respond accordingly. While you deserve to be treated with respect and understanding, that doesn’t mean that your partner is not going to experience frustration and confusion when you do something or respond in a way that doesn’t make sense to them.
Inform- It is your job to cue your partner into what is going on with your illness. If you are feeling depressed or feel like your anxiety is spiraling out of control, they want to know. First of all, because they care about you. Secondly, because it can help them understand that you are, for example, having a panic attack and not actually angry with them. Be specific about what it feels like when you are depressed or having anxious thoughts. Also use opportunities to educate them about your illness itself through informative resources and your own story. More information can only help them better understand you and dispel any myths that they have obtained about mental illness.
Tell them what you want- Do I stay with you or do I give you space? Do I argue with the anxiety or do I focus on validating you? Your partner is in the tough position of trying to figure out what you want and need in any given situation. Admittedly, there are going to be situations where you just don’t know what you need, but if you do know what would help, please tell them! Telling my husband when I need space or when I would prefer a back rub has been key to avoiding arguments.
Don’t put the full burden on your partner- Your partner can’t be your everything. This not only places unfair pressure on them, but it means that you won’t be getting everything you need. You need a therapist. You also need other support in the form of friends and/or family.
Mental Illness in Marriage- Tips for the Partner
Patience- Dealing with the ups and downs of a partner with mental illness can be incredibly stressful and frustrating. And it involves a whole lot of patience in response, because often a quick, snide answer or anger in response to what you feel may be illogical behavior will only feed the struggle they are having. It can be helpful to take a mental step back in these situations and remember that their behavior is not about you, but a response to anxiety or whatever they are currently struggling with. I will add that you don’t (and shouldn’t) have to just sit there and take it if your partner becomes abusive in any way.
Listen- Set out to understand what it is that your partner experiences on a daily basis. Ask them to explain what they are feeling to you. Take the initiative to do research on the mental illness that your partner has. Instead of making assumptions, ask them what they need from you.
Connect- Your partner is not their mental illness. And your relationship shouldn’t revolve around it either. It is incredibly important to keep doing normal things like spending time after work cuddling and watching Netflix, going on dates, and just spending quality time together. Attend couples counseling together to strengthen your relationship and work through concerns that you might have.
Self-care- Whether your partner suffers from occasional anxiety attacks or has a mental illness that requires a lot more care and supervision, you will likely experience times of burn-out or feelings of being overwhelmed. It is incredibly important that you put your own self-care first. Make time for yourself apart from your partner and indulge your own interests and hobbies. Have a therapist, support group, or close friend that you can confide your frustration in. Make sure that you are only a part of your spouse’s support system, so they have a therapist, friends, and other outlets that they are able to rely on (because you can’t be there 100% of the time!).
What advice would you offer to someone struggling with the impact of mental illness in marriage?