Mental illness can be hard on couples. If your spouse is diagnosed with a mental illness, your relationship can begin to feel like it exists solely to manage the illness. The stress involved can reach a crisis level. Although having a spouse with a mental illness can be difficult at times, it is possible to maintain a healthy and happy marriage.

Living With Someone With A Mental Illness

When your partner is diagnosed with a mental illness such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or major depression, it can be hard on your relationship. Your spouse might require more help, and may not be able to manage the same tasks as before. It could be hard to take care of your own obligations, while also taking on your partner’s responsibilities. This can cause resentment. The unpredictable nature of their illness can be difficult to deal with. You may be afraid of what the future will hold. The fear, worry, and added strain can cause problems with your own physical and mental health. You may see your spouse as a child that needs to be cared for and could feel quite alone. Although it can be challenging when your spouse has a mental illness, there are some things you can do to help your relationship not only survive, but also thrive.

1. Educate Yourself

Learn everything you can about the mental illness that your spouse is experiencing. It can be easier to separate who your partner is from the mental illness they are dealing with when you are aware of the symptoms of their illness. This can help you work together as a team fighting the illness, instead of fighting against your partner. When you understand their illness, it can help you be more aware of some of the subtle changes that can occur. This way you can seek help in the early stages of a relapse. Educating yourself on the illness helps you prepare for the expected changes and take charge of the things within your control. Knowing what to expect can help you manage the situation more effectively.

2. Have Strong Boundaries

While it is normal to want to help your spouse, and you may need to take on extra responsibilities, having strong boundaries can keep you from enabling them. Having strong boundaries requires you to know yourself, your capabilities, and your limits. If you overcompensate for your partner, make excuses for them, or take on everything yourself, you could end up resenting them. You have limits, needs, and expectations that need to be honored by having firm boundaries. For instance, you can have a boundary around them managing their illness by taking their prescribed medications and attending their therapy appointments. A consequence for not taking their medication as prescribed could be that they have to take it in front of someone. Boundaries are for you, not for the other person. If your partner stops taking their medication, they could suffer a major relapse which could have a negative impact on you. 

3. Practice Self-Care

To be able to deal with the added responsibilities surrounding your partner’s mental illness, you need to take care of yourself. Make time for yourself and do the things that you enjoy. Eat well-balanced healthy meals. Exercise regularly. Get enough sleep. Spend time with friends and family. Practice meditation and mindfulness and take care of your spiritual needs. Do things that bring you joy, comfort you, and relax or energize you. If you neglect self-care, your own physical and mental health can suffer and you could experience caregiver burnout. When you take time out of your day to attend to your emotional and physical well-being, you will have more to give your spouse. 

4. Communicate With Your Spouse

When your spouse has a mental illness, you may spend a lot of time biting your tongue so you don’t say something that will make things worse. However, not sharing your experience, concerns, and even your frustrations, can lead to feelings of loneliness and disconnection. Externalizing the illness and sharing how it’s impacting each of you, can bring you closer together. This way you can band together to fight the negative impact of your common enemy. When you don’t discuss these things, you could build up resentment that can come out as bitterness, anger, or even contempt. Keeping the lines of communication open will keep your relationship strong, even in the midst of a mental illness.

5. Get Support

When your spouse is struggling with a mental illness, they may not be able to do all of the things that they were able to do before. Although you may be able to handle some of the added responsibilities on your own, asking others for help can make things a lot easier. You can ask your family, friends, and even your community to help you out. Make a list of the things that you need help with and see who is able to help and when. Join a support group. Reach out to your church. Or, ask your neighbors for help. When you ask others for help, you are less likely to feel overwhelmed and better able to care for your loved ones, and yourself.

6. Get Professional Help

Your spouse may not be the only one that can benefit from counseling. It may also be helpful for you. Therapy can provide a safe space for you to process your feelings about your situation in a healthy way. You could also learn effective coping strategies in therapy. Couples counseling can help keep the focus on your relationship. By actively working on your relationship, you can learn ways to effectively manage the more difficult stages of the illness as a team. The added support that you receive for yourself and your relationship can help both you and your marriage remain strong and healthy.

Although having a spouse with a mental illness can be challenging, it does not have to destroy your marriage. With help and support, you can manage the reality of your situation effectively and grow closer to each other. Working together, your marriage can strengthen and thrive.

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