I have spent the last few years of my life making a focused attempt to manage my bipolar disorder and related issues. I wanted to be better. I also needed to be better. There were a number of reasons that drove me, but the main ones were my wife and children. When I achieved management, I had a crashing realization that stopped me dead in my tracks. I had forgotten something, my marriage. It wasn’t something I tried to do. In fact, the main reason I put my whole mind to management of my bipolar disorder, anxiety and PTSD was because of the negative effects they were having on the relationship between my wife and I. They strained our love and weakened our resolve to stick it out.
Clarity in the Hospital
That instability showed me I needed to make a change in my life. My last stay in an inpatient treatment facility, three years ago, served as the kick off point. I spent almost all of my time there speaking with the other residents and collecting their stories. They were all different, but they all told me the same thing. I was too passive in my attempts to manage my issues. I was doing all of the right things. I was taking medication, I was going to therapy, and I wanted to get better. The problem was that I was leaving all of those things at the doctor’s office when I left and didn’t take them home.
Instead, I brought the full force of my issues home to my wife.
During my depressive episodes, I would find myself dissolving into tears over and over again. Suicidal thoughts would rush through my mind and leave me terrified that I might make another attempt. I begged for my wife’s comfort but found that she could never give me enough. I pushed, pulled, and pleaded for her to give me something more. I needed her to give me everything she was in the hopes that it would fill the hole inside of me and wash away the suicidal thoughts. She couldn’t give me any more than she already was though. It wouldn’t have been enough if she could have. Instead of finding ways to help myself out of the hole, I was hurting her. My push for comfort hurt her because it taught her that her love wasn’t enough. My constant mentions of suicidal thoughts terrified her and upset her because she felt powerless and worried. I even used guilt about my suicidal thoughts as requests for more comfort. In my manic states, I could barely recognize that she existed. I was too focused on what I wanted and what I felt that I needed at the time. I pursued every desire to the detriment of everything in my life. I dismissed her feelings, and I ignored the requests of my children to be with them. She started shutting down. It wasn’t because she was done with our marriage. She was shutting down because she had nothing left to give. She just wanted things to be better. She wanted the nightmare to end. She didn’t want to be the only one managing the marriage
I gained a new perspective
When I left the hospital, I attacked my treatment with an even greater sense of single minded intensity. I took home all of the coping mechanisms and tried them over and over in my life. I tried them over and over and modified them as I needed to. It helped, but it wasn’t enough. I was still hurting them and I couldn’t figure out how to make it any better. I saw it as a direct result of my episodes. Those were the times that I felt the least in control and seemed to cause the most pain. I began to fear them for what they brought. They brought the turmoil that was destroying my life. I couldn’t keep my change in perspective consistent. I couldn’t just make one decision and be better. I still felt just as out of control.
It must have been her
I didn’t see that at the time. Instead, I came to believe that the problem was our relationship. I rationalized that we weren’t healthy enough to allow me to be healthy. We weren’t managing our marriage adequately. So I begged her to go to marriage counseling with me. I hoped that it would help. She caved, and we went. The idea was to work on us, but my focus was on what she wasn’t doing for me. She wasn’t kissing me as often as I needed to her. The “I love you’s” didn’t come often enough. Her hugs were not full enough. She was not supporting me as she needed to support me.
I did not see how my words hurt her. The therapist tried to frame my thoughts and actions from her perspective, but I could not see it. All I saw was my own perspective and allowed compromises.
I saw the compromises as a validation that she was not doing enough. She could do more to help me. She seemed to pull further from me after that. I had another moment of clarity.
Time to go within Again.
I didn’t know what to do other than to keep my episodes away. They were less frequent with my medication, but they still happened. I thought that the key to a happy life was avoiding them entirely, so I turned within. I searched myself for every clue that might tell me how to do that. I could not find the answer to prevent them, but I did devise an idea. For months, I watched my every reaction, turned my entire gaze inward, and watched for my emotional range. I needed to know what my normal emotions looked like. I stripped bits and pieces from each reaction and each spoken phrase.
I learned my core, I built an emotional ruler and I built it by tuning the rest of the world out. I needed to see me and everything else was just a distraction. I didn’t see the needs and wants of my wife and children. I was too busy. Managing my marriage and children were no longer my priorities.
My efforts were rewarded though. I had my ruler and could use it and see episodes days in advance. I would call my doctor and ask for medication adjustments days in advance, leaving myself with only a few days of an episode before the medication kicked in and pushed them away.
I found it!
I was so happy with what I found. I relished in it. But I still did not focus on how do I settle a dispute in my marriage.
I should have turned then to my wife and kids and enjoyed a full life with them, but I was too busy celebrating my success. Even in health I had no time for managing my marriage or family. My wife and I went to counseling again, because this time I knew there was something wrong with her because I was managed, I was better. She remained largely silent. I did not understand the tears in her eyes. I thought it meant I still wasn’t doing well enough. So I turned inward once again. I sought to learn who I was and how to manage the episodes with skills in addition to my medications. My gaze was forced ever inward. For months I searched myself. I looked and looked, analyzed and digested. Absorbed and accepted. It felt hollow though. I could tell I was missing something.
I looked outward then, and saw the life I had created. I had created a life of happiness that I steadfastly refused to see. I had a loving wife. Children who loved and adored me. A family that wanted nothing more than time with me. So many things around me to bring happiness, but I had forced myself to stay within the confines of my own mind. Someone gave me a book then. It was on managing your marriage and relationships. I was reluctant, but I read it.
I am not sure I had ever been more ashamed.
I had been right when I thought we needed marriage counseling. I was right when I felt that so much was wrong in my life. My disorder, my issues were a problem that needed to be addressed but they blinded me to where the problem outside of me was. I didn’t see the most important thing I should have been doing. Managing my marriage and family.
I should have been living my life.
I should have been chasing my children down the hall and capturing them in a hug, rather than trying to catch the wisp of self I chased down the byways of my mind. I should have been conversing with my wife about of the contents of our day, rather than running the monologue of unanswerable questions in my mind. I was so busy trying to find a life within that I forgot the life I had in them. I was so ashamed of what I had done and left undone. I started playing with my children at every request. I shared in their laugher and held them when they needed my touch. I exchanged every “I love you” and put myself into every hug. I wanted to crush them to me, but in a good way. Their happiness at their inclusion brought happiness to me in turn.
I turned her back on me.
As for my wife? We could hardly talk to each other without ending up in an argument. She resented my constant affirmations of “I love you.” She resisted every hug and sighed at kisses goodbye. I was so afraid that I had permanently damaged the most important relationship I’d ever had. When I completed my study of the book, saw my wrongdoing. I had stopped putting her first. She wasn’t even on the list at times. I had stopped pursuing her. I was just living with her. I wasn’t listening to her. I was wrapped up in what I wanted to hear. The book showed me, page after page, all the ways I was the one failing in my relationship. I was surprised she hadn’t already left me. The question “What have I done?” flashed through my mind over and over. In the pursuit of my own needs, I had caused so many wounds and nearly lost everything that mattered to me. I followed the advice in the book, as closely as I could, with what little hope I had left. I tried managing my marriage.
I remembered my vows.
I started treating her as she should have been treated all along. I rephrased the things I said to remove the venom. I did the things around the house that I had been neglecting. I took time to listen to her, and to be with her. I rubbed her tired feet. I brought her small gifts and flowers to show her my love. I did what I could to give more than I received. I started treating her as my wife again.
At first, her reactions were cold. We’d gone through this before, when I wanted something from her I would often act like this. She was waiting for the demands to start. It made me lose hope, but I kept on with my attempts to show her it was something more. I kept managing my marriage and stopped putting it at the back burner.
As the weeks passed, things began to change. The venom in her replies drained away. Her resistance to “I love you” gave way. Her hugs seemed full again and the kisses were freely given. It wasn’t perfect yet, but things were improving.
All of the things that I complained and railed on her for during marriage counseling started to fall away. I realized that those things were not her fault. They were her way of protecting herself from me. They were scabs that had formed from my emotional abuse and neglect. Our relationship had never been the issue. It had been my actions, my worlds, my commitment, and my view of it.
I was the one that needed to change.
Not her. I listened to my kids. I made time for them. I treated them with love and respect. I worked to give them more. I stopped expecting things and started earning smiles from them. I lived in love, rather than in fear. Do you know what I found as I did this? The final pieces of myself. I found that the real expression of my inner self came in the interactions I had with the ones I loved.
When I looked at the way I loved my wife and children, I saw who I was and who I wasn’t. I saw my failings and I saw my triumphs. I had been looking for healing in the wrong places. I was right to spend some time within, but not so much. I neglected managing my marriage and family in favor of myself, and I am confident that I nearly paid the terrible price for that neglect. I’m still not perfect, my wife is sitting on the couch alone as I write this, but I don’t have to be. I don’t have to improve every day, but I need a firm commitment to do better as often as I can.
Learn from mistakes.
I learned that I should have broadened my focus outside of just myself. It was okay to improve and drive to do so, but it was also important to remember the importance of the ones within my life. I found more self-improvement progress within my time with them than I ever did alone. I learned to spread my love and bask in the moments with the ones I loved. Their love is worth more than a thousand moments of self-reflection. I witnessed strengthening marital commitment when my focus shifted from self reflection to making progress in my relationship.
It is time to value what they create in me and enhance their value through my words and actions. They need my love more than I do.
How to manage your marriage when you are in a situation like I was in? Don’t look tips on how do you handle a difficult marriage, instead look for things that you could be doing wrong. Your happiness is not your partner’s responsibility. If want to know how do you survive an unhappy marriage and thrive, look within and think what are you contributing to the relationship and how you can make things better. You take the first step and look for ways to keep your marriage fresh.
Even if you feel right now that your partner isn’t doing everything they should be doing to keep your relationship blissful, and strongly believe that there is a lot they could do to improve the situation look toward your own self first. To know ‘how do you handle a difficult marriage?’ you must look within and not just focus on your own happiness but the ones you love.