What to Expect When Marriage Meets Mental Illness
Marriage is no easy journey. The concept of bringing together two people with different values, ideas, feelings, and personalities is in itself, a challenge all its own. Now consider a marriage where a spouse is struggling with a mental illness.
Mental illness comes in many forms and many degrees of severity. However, any mental disease comes with challenges in a marriage and many marriages do not survive the onset of mental illness. When a mental illness is diagnosed, the diagnosis brings sort of relief within the marriage, because it does help the unafflicted spouse understand why their significant other has been behaving the way they have, and the afflicted spouse also begins to understand themselves and their feelings and attitude, which previously didn’t make sense to them.
The support of a spouse during a struggle with mental illness is a valuable thing. However, some challenges are presented when mental illness comes to the table in a marriage.
The first challenge to consider is a loss of a sense of partnership within the marriage itself. Being relieved about the diagnosis is one thing but that very diagnosis can feel like a wall between you – the barrier between you and your partner. This can especially be an issue if the unafflicted spouse was previously dependent on the afflicted spouse for emotional support or for guidance.
Another challenge frequently faced in marriages where one spouse is mentally ill is job-loss as a result of the illness, and the consequences that come with it. This can be a severe challenge if there was only one income and the person bringing that income falls ill. Mental illness leaves a person unreliable, undetermined and uninterested and the mindset is not one that can hold a job post.
Another possibility is a change in roles, or perhaps the creation of a role. An independent partner may find the other being the caregiver, and feelings of insecurity, helplessness, and restlessness settle in. This can create resentment on either part and even distance in their intimate life.
Single parenting could become a reality. The unafflicted partner may have to not only take on the role of the caregiver but also to take on the role of the parent without any assistance from his or her partner. This leads to a whole host of other issues and concerns, but it is far best for the children involved that the afflicted spouse steps down from the responsibilities of being a parent, as they need to focus their energy on recovery and self-healing instead.
Being ostracized by society is likely to occur, especially if your family is part of a small and intimate community, where everybody’s business is known and discussed. You may feel that you have a certain reputation to uphold, but it is very important to let go of any concerns about what others may think. Society is harsh and it is especially harsh to those who don’t match up to the general expectations, or to those who may be unpredictable and behave in manners that may be embarrassing at times.
If you or your spouse have been diagnosed with a mental illness, then some or many of these challenges may ring true with you. Being patient and supportive is the key to making a marriage like this one work. Communication becomes more important in this situation than in any other, and it is a skill that requires much attention. When a mentally ill person has a rough patch, they will behave in ways a ‘normal’ person will not understand. Mental illness is unpredictable and sometimes, just when you think you have the hang of it, it all goes upside down.
Some advice on dealing with the concerns that have been mentioned is to begin seeing a therapist together, for couples counseling, in addition to the afflicted spouse seeking therapy for themselves alone, as well. This displays support but also gives the other space to recover. Also, seek the help of close family and friends to assist with making parenting a little easier, as every pair of hands or eyes helps in immeasurable amounts. When it comes to society, spend more time with understanding and supportive family. When it comes to job-loss, seeking fund-raisers in a small community may be fruitful. Make use of any government disability pay that may be applicable and begin looking for creative ways to earn an income, that does not require drastic lifestyle changes or a lot of energy or time investment, because time and energy will be needed in the matters of the home as well.
The bottom line is that there is a lot of hope for the mentally ill, and if you or your spouse have discovered illness and are trying to cope, there are many support groups, medications, and professionals available to make the process easier.
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