Unlike physical health, mental health is to a large extent ‘invisible’ as it takes place privately in one’s mind and thoughts. In the intimacy of a marriage relationship, mental health issues often come to the fore. This can be very confusing and upsetting for both partners, especially if it has been previously undiagnosed. These may includes a wide range mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety and panic attacks, bipolar mood swings and addictions. Marriage and mental illness is a notoriously difficult combination. However, the difficulties can be successfully overcome by being fully aware of the situation, and taking steps in the right direction, with love and determination.
Here are ten helpful tips for managing mental health and marriage:
1. Information is imperative
If you and your spouse suspect that there may be some symptoms of mental illness in your relationship, it is imperative that you get relevant information and find out as much as you can. Simply ignoring problems or covering them up will not solve anything. The truth will set you free. Nowadays we have a vast amount of knowledge available at our fingertips on the internet, and by consulting professionals and experts in the field. Informing yourself of the facts goes a long way towards reaching a place of understanding and knowing what your options are.
2. Get the necessary treatment
Once you have a clearer idea of what you are dealing with, you can get the necessary diagnosis and treatment. Unfortunately mental illness has often been stigmatized, especially in the past. Sadly this has resulted in a reluctance to come forward and receive the needed treatment. However, those who overcome this reluctance can be greatly helped, and with the correct treatment they can enjoy many years of normalcy and a fulfilling married life with their spouse.
3. Stay connected
A couple who is struggling with mental illness in their marriage sometimes finds that their connection with friends and even family can start drifting away. There is the temptation to isolate themselves and to think that nobody else will understand. However it is important to make the effort to stay connected, and to help others understand what you are going through. Relationships are essential to your well being, and you will need the help of your family, friends and community.
4. Build up a support network
Being part of a support network can give you the strength and encouragement that you need to keep going. You may find such a network at your church, or perhaps there is a specialized support group in your community for the particular illness you are grappling with. You may even find a support group on the internet. Sharing your story and your struggles with like-minded and caring people is a great help.
5. Keep on communicating
Within your marriage relationship, it is essential to keep on communicating with your spouse. Talk about how you are feeling and how you can help each other to cope with the particular circumstances that you are facing as a result of the illness. Don’t neglect to express your love verbally every day, and take time to nurture your relationship with each other. If you are apart during the day, make a call from time to time just to say ‘hi’ and check how your beloved is doing.
6. Don’t let self-care slide
Sometimes one spouse can be so absorbed in caring for the other, that their own self-care tends to slide. This is detrimental and risky in the long run, as you really need to keep up your strength and energy to care for your loved one. Do not think of self-care as “selfish” – on the contrary, it is essential. You need to make sure that you eat healthy foods and take regular meals, get enough sleep, and exercise. Also take time off at least once a week to spend with friends, and do something that you enjoy, whether it is watching a movie or going for a swim or walk on the beach.
7. Obliterate blaming
Blaming is one of the most destructive and counterproductive things you can do in a marriage relationship. Blaming should be avoided at all costs and obliterated from your conversation. When unhealthy behaviour occurs, try to express your feelings and concerns in a non-blaming way which will keep the lines of communication open. It is good to ask open-ended questions and seek to understand your spouse, finding a way forward together.
8. Appreciation and affirmation
When you can find something to appreciate and affirm in your spouse every day, you will be contributing to a much better and healthier atmosphere in your relationship. Just a small “thank you” can make all the difference in a difficult situation. When you can look beyond the circumstances and recognise your spouse’s good qualities, you may even find yourself saying, “I’m proud of you”, or “I admire your courage in the way you are handling this.”
9. Go for counselling when needed
If you find yourself becoming overwhelmed or overburdened at times, don’t hesitate to go for counselling. If possible, find a professional who has a mental health counselling degree and will understand the unique challenges you may be facing in your marriage. Seeking timely assistance is far better than struggling on alone and facing possible burnout. Everyone needs help from time to time and it is important to recognize your needs so that you can take the necessary steps to protect the emotional health of your marriage.
10. Lifelong learning
Finally, don’t forget that life-long learning is what it is all about. Whatever struggles and challenges you may be facing, see it all as valuable experience that is helping you to learn lessons and skills which you may not have been able to learn any other way. The patience and perseverance you have exercised will stand you in excellent stead for whatever you may face in the future together, and will no doubt be a great help and encouragement to others too.
Want to have a happier, healthier marriage?
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.