I Married Someone with a Mental Illness
By Antonio & Laura Moore| Relationship Coaches | Marriage Means Moore Inc. | May 4, 2021
Just because you married someone with a mental illness does not mean your marriage will not work. Making a marriage work with someone fighting with a mental illness is no different than working on any other relationship challenge or issue you face as a couple. Yes, you may need to take extra steps to make sure you are on the right track when you are living with someone who is diagnosed with a mental illness. The bottom line is all relationships demand equal attention and hardships.
You see whether you are living with someone with a mental illness or not is a secondary factor, all marriage require work there are not exceptions. While a partner having a mental illness may need to be based on different circumstances and foundations, that does not make any relationship superior or inferior to others. Besides, when you promise to be there for your partner for better or worse, in sickness and in health – until death do us part is the end date. Despite the challenges, there are always ways to maintain a healthy relationship with your spouse. If you
The only way forward when you are living with someone diagnosed with a mental illness is by recognizing their behavioral instincts and then finding solutions. Moreover, despite the differences and people’s misguided beliefs, it is more than likely to improve your chances at success when you leave judgment and reservations out the door. In this article, we will help you understand what mental illness does to a marriage and how you can still live the best of your life without letting it overwhelm or burn out your relationship.
Discussions About Mental Illness
Mental illness is no longer a taboo topic of discussion now that people are getting educated about mental illness. However, there are still a few majorly overlooked dynamics that are not examined or written about as openly as they should. For instance, there have been plenty of resources regarding how an individual’s mental illness can affect them solely or their children. But on the contrary, there has been a notable oversight concerning how they struggle with their symptoms in a marriage, potentially affecting their spouse’s mental health, and vice versa.
Living with a mentally ill partner is not just about dealing with one’s symptoms with empathy. Research proves that there is a significant correlation between one partner fighting a mental illness and the other spouse suffering because of that as well. In short, relationship stress goes both ways, and couples finding themselves in such circumstances often have limited resources for positively pushing through and making their marriage a successful one.
Signs of Mental Illness
There is an unquestionable line stretching between abusive behavior and mental illnesses like antisocial personality disorder or schizophrenia. It is best not to toe that boundary and ensure that what you are experiencing with your spouse is, in fact, a cause for mental health disorder.
Here are a few definite signs of a person fighting with mental illness that you can look out for. Make sure it is not just an emotionally clogged or abusive relationship that you are dealing with:
- Chronic depression or major panic episodes
- Elevated sadness, anxiety, anger, irritability, and worries
- Experiencing delusions or hallucinations
- Fluctuations in sleeping pattern and appetite.
- Having emotional outbursts from time to time
- Inflicting self-harm or talking about it
- Strong emotional shifts
- Withdrawing and isolating from activities that usually bring joy.
How Mental Illness Affects a Marriage
Instead of feeling dejected and taking your partner’s actions personally, it is crucial to learn why they act a certain way when dealing with a mental illness. Here are five factors that usually affect a marriage in such cases, along with their elementary reasons:
Feeling isolated and left out might probably be the first thing you see your spouse experiencing, as people with mental illness tend to feel like no one could possibly understand what they are going through. You can easily categorize it as loneliness or a need to pull back from others without any evident reason. However, it is just your partner internally struggling with themselves unknowingly that puts a strain on your marriage.
2- Grief & Mental Illness
There can be times when your partner might not be exhibiting their emotions as openly as you would like them to or as they used to before you started living together 24/7. Moreover, the next day or week, you will see them get back to their usual self, talking to you about life and everything like before. This on-and-off exhibition of emotions can be a stressful factor to deal with in marriage, and it makes you feel nostalgic for the time when things were better. Plus, there is an undeniable push of grief when you eventually process your partner’s diagnosis, their symptoms, and the stress that comes along with it.
3- Guilt & Shame
Spouses with mental illness often withdraw within themselves when the feeling of guilt and stigma overwhelms their entire being. They feel as if they caused a severe upheaval in their partner’s life and relationship. In short, this feeling makes an already heavy burden even more challenging to carry in a marriage.
4- Under-functioning / Over-functioning
Due to the emotional factors mentioned above, people with mental illness tend to fall into either of the two different categories – ‘under-functioners’ and ‘over-functioners.’ The under-functioners easily feel anxious and overwhelmed because they tend to feel ashamed about their mental illness. On the other hand, over-functioners will bend over backward if need be, to fix any situation they get presented with. However, while this habit might make them sound like a superhero to most spouses, it might not end up being a good thing when they eventually burn out.
5- Intimacy & Mental Illness
Because of the emotional challenges already faced by both partners, it can get troubling to feel intimately and emotionally close to your spouse at times. Moreover, the person dealing with mental illness might even feel overly stressed and exhausted because of all the excessive overthinking and constant guilt.
While it is understandable to question how a marriage can work under such circumstances, it is only a matter of willpower once you recognize these behavioral patterns. Because once you are already aware of how and why some things affect your marriage, it is considerably easier to find strategies that help your marriage bloom into a healthy and happy relationship.
Dos and Don’ts of Living with a Mentally Ill Partner
While there is no ten-problems-one-solution strategy for creating a successful and promising life with your spouse, there are some dos and don’ts that you can practice for enforcing a positive attitude in your lifestyle together:
1- Encourage Them to Speak and Listen with Empathy
The first thing that needs to happen when you’re married to someone with a mental illness is constructive communication. This means you should encourage your partner to speak their mind without interrupting them in between. Moreover, you should listen to what they are saying with nothing but empathy in your mind. Judgment should never enter your conversation because everyone has their own coping mechanism when it comes to mental illness. You cannot judge or compare one person to another in any case.
2- Validate Their Feelings
Validating their feelings is the next big step because that is what encourages your spouse to share their feelings and thoughts with you when they are already down. Moreover, it is essential to acknowledge that ‘validation’ does not necessarily mean you have to agree with your partner’s feelings. It is as simple as making them aware of the fact that you understand they are hurting and that you are there for them, no matter what. It gives them the freedom to accept their feelings while also offering them the strength to move on.
3- Do not Pose Yourself as a Treatment
Trying to pose yourself as a treatment for your spouse’s mental illness is never okay because that eventually leads you to emotional burnout. You should know when to stop and take a time-out rather than focusing all your energy on your partner. Instead, the best course of action is to talk to them and establish boundaries that restrict both of you from invading each other’s personal limits. After all, you must be helping your partner to set their mind free rather than making them feel dependent upon you all the time.
4- Acknowledge the Positive Shifts
It is the complete trust between you and your partner that clears your path to a fulfilling future. While you should never encourage yourself or your spouse into believing that any one of you is dependent upon the other, that does not mean you should not acknowledge and celebrate each other’s accomplishments. For example, the next time they open with you when they are feeling down, you should tell them exactly how proud you are to be the one they are opening up to.
5- Resist from Offering Flawed Encouragements
Let us take a hypothetical situation. Suppose your partner is having an asthma attack but instead of getting an inhaler, you tell them to “try harder” in hopes that it will encourage them to breathe properly. Which might only worsen their condition even more.
That is exactly how irrational it might sound when you tell your partner to try harder when they are suffering from a mental illness. It is best to accept that some things are neither in your or your partner’s control. Moreover, it is best to restrict yourself from offering flawed encouragement that does not help their case in any way.
6- Learn Their Symptoms to Stop Taking Them Personally
Each mental illness comes with its own set of struggles, and it is a vital part of being supportive to know how those symptoms may affect your partner. For example, if your spouse is diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, they may feel restless, tired, and even irritated while experiencing mild to severe lack of concentration at times. As their spouse, you should learn about those symptoms and educate yourself on dealing with them when the situation strikes.
This also cuts off the possibility of taking their comments or actions personally. Once you realize what they are going through, you might understand how their actions are not meant to inflict any harm on you personally.
7- Do not Reinforce a Timetable
Furthermore, it is best to restrain yourself from reinforcing a timetable concerning where you both should be in life, especially when you are married to someone with a mental illness. It takes time to understand and resolve your problems when mental illness is the crux of most of your marital issues. Pushing a timeline never works as a catalyst, and it conveys to your partner that you might not be as level-headed about the given circumstances as you tell them to be, hence opening another can of worms.
8- Do not Hesitate from Removing Yourself from a Potentially Dangerous Situation
Do not be neglected, no matter how much you love your spouse and want the best for them. If you see yourself getting roped into a potentially dangerous situation – mentally, emotionally, or physically, remove yourself from the setup and contact emergency services immediately. The same applies when you see your partner trying to inflict harm on themselves.
9- Get Help – Together and Individually
Lastly, you both need a solid support system, where you can both share your thoughts – together as well as individually. You can consider seeing an individual life coach and a marriage coach, as they can conveniently help you during the difficult times of your life, using their own set of techniques. While talking to family members and friends is always a good option, you do not need to ignore the importance of talking to a professional coach who knows precisely how to deal with situations involving mental illness.
You can start this journey with us at Marriage Means Moore by scheduling an appointment. Or you can also visit our website blog for a list of resources that we have put together. Our resources will help you resolve all kinds of marital and relationship issues more effectively.