Dr. Liz Hale represents Utah’s strongermarriage.org, a resource for providing education and insight to strengthen marriages.
It’s easy to see how we can get caught off guard unless we’re prepared with a certain level of knowledge about helping a loved one with a mental condition.And the numbers are high. One out of 4 adults suffers with a mental illness in any given year. Utah ranks 8th in the country for completed suicides. Whether the mentally ill spouse suffers from clinical depression, schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder or another mental illness, the condition has devastating effects on the individuals and the marriage. Certain factors can facilitate marriage survival.
The most critical factor is to get treatment.
TIP #1: Seek & Follow Treatment Plan
The true devastation is when we don’t seek professional intervention. A good mental health professional is worth their weight in gold! Treatment works. Education works. Learn all you can about symptoms, triggers and the “how-to’s” of managing a crisis. Resources like the National Alliance on Mental Illness are tremendous support systems that can be linked to fromstrongermarriage.org.
There is a grieving that needs to take place.
TIP #2: Grieve Fantasy; Embrace Reality
We all marry with expectations of “how glorious it’s going to be!” Grieve what isn’t and embrace what is. Perhaps we all need to grieve the fantasy, but especially someone married to a partner with a mental illness. When a treatment plan is successful, you have a “normal” relationship with its ups and downs. When a treatment plan fails, the downs remain down. Most of us will have a different sort of marriage than the one we dreamed of and embracing reality will be the most powerful step we can take in all marriages.
As the spokesperson for strongermarriage.org I personally answer questions and concerns on your blog and Facebook pages. www.facebook.com/strongermarriage. Recently, a woman married to a man who suffers with paranoia wrote to you:
“He sees connections in everything! The junk mail delivered to our mail box refers to something he said to his boss 15 years ago. He thinks everyone knows what he’s “really like” and all the “bad things” he’s done. He has done NOTHING illegal or bad; only in his mind. It has taken me a long time to understand this disease….and it will never make sense. At first, I thought, “Get over yourself! Who do you think you are that the world would revolve around you and what you said or did so many years ago?” I thought I was a terrible person for thinking this until I realized there were others in my situation, Thank God for support groups!”
TIP #3: Be Responsive; Not Responsible
It’s key to remember that you can’t fix your mentally ill spouse. You are not any more responsible for solving than causing the mental condition. Only the individual with the disorder can choose to seek and follow a treatment plan. Be an advocate and a cheerleader while realizing that the ultimate responsibility lies with your spouse.
TIP #4: Maintain Excellent Self-Care
Self-care is of utmost importance.Nowhere is self-care more important than in living with someone who has a medical condition such as a mental illness. I’ve seen formerly stable partners become downtrodden and clinically depressed due to the stress of living with a spouse who has a mental illness. Stress is hard on your brain and your body. Seek help before you too become overwhelmed. Therapy and anti-depressants can be supportive to the well-being of a partner. Avoid isolation. Stay in close contact with family and friends; join a support group; pick up as hobby to maintain healthy relationships.
TIP #5: Spare Spouse & Family
Some mentally ill spouses would never harm anyone, except perhaps themselves. Others may become out of control during a severe episode or breakdown if they are someone who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia or bi-polar disorder. Follow your instincts. If you feel your spouse may become verbally or physically abusive, consider leaving until your spouse is being successfully treated. This is a tough decision but an important one. Your job is to spare your family from injury and to spare your spouse from the pain they would suffer in causing it.
For more information on creating a successful marriage, go to strongermarriage.org.