I believe that Relationships and connection is what our purpose in life is. We were placed here and designed to perfectly and beautifully establish connections. I realized we have the privilege to receive and give love and to care for and be cared for. There is no stronger or more beautiful connection to me than, LOVE. It’s listed right there in the vows of traditional weddings, “Love you till death do us part, through sickness and in health“. However, things aren’t always as easy as they seem. I can maintain a healthy relationship, while I battle multiple mental health issues, but it hasn’t been easy. In fact, it’s one of the hardest roads I navigate in life because it’s a constant world of unknown struggles. What eventually made me embrace the challenge was understanding the small tips that helped us grow stronger and overcome the mental illness obstacle course.
From personal experiences to material learned in my degree program; These tips have helped my husband and I move from surviving to successfully thriving in our marriage while even though I continue to struggle with mental illnesses.
First tip , Let go of your timetable. There is no magic time frame for wholeness, and certain mental illnesses ebb and flow for many years. Believing that your loved one should be better in a few weeks or months can set everyone up for hardship; “should’s” are a trap, and everyone’s journey is their own. Resolve to love and respect the person in your life through each part of the process—when they move forward and when they regress, when they have victories and when they stumble back into old coping mechanisms. Let go of idealized timetables and make a one-time decision that just as you would tell someone with cancer that you will remain by their side until they beat it, you are going to be there (even if it’s hard, even when it’s ugly, even if it takes a long time). And then stay, even when you’re pushed away. Isolation can feel comfortable for someone suffering with certain mental illnesses, and sometimes not talking is easier than trying to express thoughts and feelings that they themselves can’t piece together and understand. Sometimes a person feels toxic to their environment, and they pull away to protect people that they are hurting because the symptoms of their illness are out of their control. This is when love becomes a choice, because it can be a confusing and angering time for everyone involved. Choosing to love someone who acts or feels unlovable can be part of what helps them see that are valued as a whole person, that they are not the sum total of their pain. (some information from nami.org)
Second: Self-Love: Trying to be there for everyone else before you make sure that you’re okay is like pouring from an empty cup. You can love others, but it’s not coming from a stable and healthy foundation. I learned that in a course in college where it was explained that the relationships I hold today are built off the structures that were modeled to me in childhood. Shouting, avoiding conversation and co-dependency from addictions that were present are some of the examples that molded you to form a similar pattern of communicating that you were raised in. Taking care of yourself might mean going to counseling together with your spouse, or taking a designated “me” time to reflect and write in a journal. It could include ways you work through processing your past so that you can find a healthy way to love yourself the way you deserve to be loved. Therapy, where both my husband and I went, was the most amazing and beneficial thing we ever did for each other because instead of just one person working on themselves; we were working as a team to understand each other and shed light on the importance of self-love as a #1 priority in life.
Even when you don’t feel like it, we have to try and communicate because your significant other cannot read your mind. They need us to communicate to them in order for them to understand what is going on and where your head space is at. In fact, Strong and consistent communication is important in every marriage and/or relationship, even without the aspect of a mental illness. Trust me, sometimes I don’t feel like talking to my husband. Not that I don’t love him, but I know it’s not comfortable or easy for me to talk about my feelings. Sometimes I can’t say aloud that I’m replaying thoughts about death in my head because although that’s normal for me, I feel in that moment, very vulnerable and afraid of being judged. When we feel so unloved, lonely and unworthy, it can be scary, totally out of our comfort zone to share with anyone. So, even if you don’t feel like it, and I know how hard it will be for you to talk about feelings when you’re feeling alone;, I’m understanding that it’s hard for them too. An example that we’ve probably all had one day or another is when we go to that dark place in our mind that can last days, weeks or months. It’s easier to say, “I’m fine”, “I’m tired”, “Can we talk later? However, if we don’t communicate what’s going on, they’re going to think your bad mood that’s lasted days or weeks or months is because you’re not happy with them. We know that the truth is far from that; it’s because we have a mental illness which overrides our ability to control our emotions so strongly. The benefits of communicating these emotions could provide your lover to be there to provide guidance when you need it, To recognize the symptoms of a on-set of anxiety, depression, bipolar, etc… and try to off-set it before it begins. Communication helps so much because it keeps them from feeling left out and in the dark. So even when it’s hard and you don’t want to, communicating with our lovers will make them feel better because you are enlightening them to what’s going on instead of keeping them in the dark. You are also learning to express your feelings in a healthy way so it’s a win-win.
Fourth, Help them to understand:
Mental Illness, in terms of relationships, means that your partner has to understand there is nothing to be fixed, but what they can do instead is they can learn and put in effort to understand what you are going through. Becoming educated is one of the key factors that will teach our loved ones to help us, and as they learn more about our mental illnesses; than we’ll feel better when communicating our thoughts to them. At least, that’s what happen in my marriage. I encourage him to watch documentaries, listen to podcasts, or even read about it from the never ending resources on the internet. With so many options to learn about what we are dealing with, we can feel so much more loved and supported; especially when they begin to understand why you need space or why we ask them to skip a movie date and just lay down and enjoy their presence on a Friday night. Knowledge is power!
Fifth & Finally:
Remember, you have a mental illness; you are not your mental illness.
Marriage and dating come with their built in basket of common issues that arise in every marriage. Separating yourself from your illness is hard, but once you see things for what they are, you can be free to be yourself without the cloud of paranoia and delusion hanging over your head. It’s something you take care of, it’s not you. Also, when couple relationships are under stress, partners begin to physically and emotionally distance themselves from each other. They tend to avoid each other, and when they do come together, it’s often strained, resulting in restrained or surface-level conversations. A healthy way that my husband and I got back on track is by having reasonable expectations of the rewards that marriage brings, and recognizing that it still requires personal effort by both parties to make it work.
Navigating the road of compromise in a marriage is a tough one though, when am I being selfish and when is he just not being sympathetic or helpful? While I still am a work in progress, I learned a important lesson which is… we don’t have to do life alone!
“You can’t compare your insides with everyone else’s outsides.” You aren’t perfect, your partner isn’t perfect and your marriage will never be perfect. It’s the wonderful, spontaneous journey that you’re both on together which makes it worth it.
Wishing you and your loved one all the best,