5 Tips to Manage Mental Illness in a Marriage

Mental illness can add stress to any relationship.

Mental illness is common among adults in the United States. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, close to forty-four million adults aged eighteen or older met the criteria for a diagnosis of mental illness in 2012, which was about 18.6 percent of the population. Even if you might not have a mental illness, your spouse or significant other might. This article offers five tips to manage mental illness in a marriage or committed relationship.

1. Take care of yourself first

This is good relationship advice in general, but it is especially important for someone living with a partner who has any kind of illness. It can be easy to become a burned out caregiver, but if you are careful to maintain your own boundaries and keep self-care as one of your priorities, you are much less likely to. As a result, you will not only be healthier and happier yourself, but you will also be a better partner to your significant other.

2. Try not to take things personally

Mental illness can be the source of numerous symptoms that cause interpersonal problems, such as rapid mood swings, paranoia, mistrust and anger. Someone dealing with depression, for example, can feel apathetic about life, withdrawn and may just wish to sleep all the time. As this person's partner, it can be difficult not to take this personally and question why you cannot make your spouse happy.

The truth is that depression is the cause of these problems, though this can be hard to recognize when you are in the middle of it. As difficult as it is, try not to take such behavior from your spouse personally.

3. Get educated

Learn all you can about whatever diagnosis your partner has. Everyone is unique and not all labels are entirely accurate, but that the more you know about the problem, the better you will understand what your partner may be going through.

Stigma and myths about mental illness exist, and it is important not to buy into them. The more accurate information about your partner's diagnosis and treatment options that you have, the better.

4. Do your part to maintain the strength of your relationship

As with maintaining your own self-care, this tip is crucial for anyone in a relationship and is no different for someone married to a person diagnosed with a mental illness. Take care of your relationship. You may wish to consider couples counseling or coaching to help you stay connected to each other and cope with the additional stress of a mental illness.

Minimally, know what it takes to have a strong relationship, and do your part to be the best partner you can be. Try to be empathetic, emotionally present and be a good listener to your partner. A great resource for anyone in a relationship is the book Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships by Dr. Sue Johnson.

5. Do not take responsibility for your partner's mental illness.

Do not make excuses for your partner, try to play the role of therapist or enable your partner to avoid dealing with the problem.

This can be tricky if your partner is resistant to getting help, yet is clearly suffering. While it is crucial to be supportive of your partner, it is ultimately your partner's responsibility to manage his or her mental illness.  


National Institute of Mental Health 

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