When mentally ill spouses shift focus onto their marriage rather than themselves, everyone benefits. Giving to your spouse is absolutely necessary to keep your marriage going, no matter how mentally ill you are (Mentally Ill Spouses: Give What You Can To Your Marriage). Before I became ill with bipolar disorder, I was an equal partner in my marriage. After my diagnosis and subsequent medication regiment, it was impossible for me to be the same partner to my husband. But as time went on, I found ways to give to my husband and have a better marriage despite my bipolar disorder diagnosis. I, the mentally ill spouse, did this by focusing on my marriage.
Mental Illness in the Family
In every marriage with mental illness, taking care of the caregiver is as important as taking care of the mentally ill spouse. Too often we focus on the needs of the mentally ill spouse and forget that the partner supporting them needs love and support as well (The Role of Caregivers for People with Mental Illness). Without much-needed support, caregivers can experience burnout. Not only can their health be compromised if they experience caregiver burnout, but they will also be unable to support their mentally ill spouse. In every marriage with mental illness, taking care of the caregiver is essential.
In marriages with mental illness, one of the biggest struggles can be the loss of a couple's sex life. But, you can revive your sex life. Because of the side effects of medications, symptoms of mental illness, and conflicts within the marriage, many couples struggling with mental illness are also suffering from a lack of sexual connection. But, there is hope. Here are five ways to revive your sex life in spite of mental illness in your marriage.
The cost of making mental illness and marriage work can be extremely high for both partners. After a mental illness diagnosis, there are many decisions both spouses must make that will affect their marriage. Will the mentally ill spouse accept the diagnosis and comply with treatment? How willing is the newly diagnosed spouse to include their partner in their treatment plan? How willing is their partner to help his or her partner achieve wellness? The effects of these decisions have longstanding consequences for both partners. Whatever they decide, making a mental illness and marriage work affects both spouses' lifestyles, finances, careers, and freedom.
Mentally ill spouses often feel that finding ways to give to your spouse is impossible. When it takes all the will you have just to get out of bed in the morning, tending to someone else can seem laughable. And yet, the more I have shifted my focus off of my own suffering and onto the needs of my husband, the stronger my marriage becomes and the better I feel about myself. I think it's important for mentally ill spouses to give what they can to their marriages.
When a marriage contains a mental illness, you should make a wellness contract to create boundaries.With a 90 percent divorce rate for couples in which one spouse has bipolar disorder, I realize how blessed Jack and I are to still be married. But our marriage has not survived for 16 years just because we love each other. Our marriage has survived because we made a straightforward contract after my bipolar 1 disorder diagnosis, and both of us have kept to it. He promised to stay with me for better or worse, and I promised to be med-compliant and to attend therapy in an effort to become as well as possible. Our wellness contract is helping our marriage and my mental illness.
Last year on my birthday, I became very ill with Strep Throat. I only agreed to go to the ER when I began shivering with a high fever, believing my ear was about to explode. As they wheeled me in for a CT scan, I started wondering, how on earth could I have let myself get this sick? Since my bipolar 1 disorder diagnosis at 21, I’ve practiced the art of ignoring my own needs. If addressing my needs didn’t fit into my environment, I numbed out. I refused to listen to the needs of my body and soul, even if it meant I was ignoring symptoms of my mental illness.
For years, I looked into the mirror, and all I could see was my bipolar disorder. I felt worthless. I wondered every day if my family would be better off if they just quit loving me. Maybe everyone would be better off if they forgot to feed me, forgot to look for me, let go of fighting for me. I believed the lies my bipolar disorder told me. I spent all my time and energy staring into a mirror that was lying to me. But now I know that it is possible to put down that mirror. It is possible to find self-love and acceptance when I refuse to listen to the lies of my mental illness, and instead look to the people who love me to help me define my self-worth.
If you are a member of a family dealing with mental illness, you'll probably agree: dreams of a perfect Christmas hardly ever come true. We look backwards to before the mental illness, wishing, once again, for a life without meds, doctors and the mental illness rollercoaster. But looking backwards instead of focusing on the present sets unreal expectations for the Christmas at hand. The best gift you can give your mentally ill loved one this Christmas is not more unrealistic, nostalgic expectations. Rather, focus on making choices for this present Christmas that will help move your loved one and your family further down the road of recovery.
I think I know the best gift the mentally ill can give their families this season. It’s Christmas time again. I’m trying so hard not to get swept up by the tinsel and twinkle lights that, frankly, it’s a little depressing. Christmas without my usual hypomanic buzz feels like an arranged marriage, instead of my usual love affair with this season. But this year I'm giving my family something my hypomania can't. I'm taking charge of my illness to make certain my bipolar 1 disorder doesn't wreak havoc on my family's special moments. After all, peace is the best Christmas gift I can give my family (How Not To Take Bipolar Hypomania Irritability Out On Others).