Marriage and Mental Illness: For Better or Worse?
For Better of Worse? Yes, that's the vow. But when the symptoms of mental illness seem to change the personality - the very soul - of your husband or wife, how do you keep going? How do you hold the family together?
When faced with mental illness, family members have two sets of challenges. They seem to be
- the emotions we all face (like grief, confusion, guilt, loss, anger) and,
- the more practical issues in the role of any family caregiver - a role we all have to play at least some of the time in this situation.
My most personal experience, as a family member of someone diagnosed with mental illness, is as a Mom. In fact, I'd venture to say that a majority of the people who take NAMI's Family-to-Family course are parents. A typical class of 20-25 usually includes a handful of siblings, spouses, and/or children (that is, adults who grew up and may be caring for a parent with mental illness) - but the biggest group always seems to consist of parents.
Many of the issues, emotions, and challenges we face as family members certainly are universal to all of these roles - however, there are also additional feelings and obstacles that are unique to each "relative group."
Yes, I am a mother - but I also watched my daughter suffer through the loss of the "big brother" she knew, and adjust to her new role with a "little brother", whose growth and accomplishments now trail behind. I also was married to an alcoholic for seven years (Ben and Ali's father, William) and though I now struggle to determine if he'd had a co-occurring mental illness, I know that I did live with some of the uncertainties that spouses face when mental illness changes the partner they thought they'd married.
Challenges Facing Spouses with Mentally Ill Partners
Here are 5 things I learned from spouses of those with mental illness about their particular objective challenges, in addition to the ones we seem to all have in common (financial worries, staying alert to relapse symptoms, coping with family conflict etc.):
Spouses also face:
- Feeling like you've lost the partnership of marriage. If you always turned to your spouse in times of need, where can you turn now? (I know, in our house, my friends' sympathy for my Williams' alcoholic episodes wore thin very fast)
- Financial burdens. Coping with the loss of a wage-worker in the household, if mental illness has led to job loss. (I began to lose count of the number of jobs William lost, or the number of customer complaints when he started his own business, due to unreliability)
- Resentment - and sexual distance - that can accompany the change in roles when one spouse takes on the "caretaker" role.
- Single-parenting coupled with being the primary caretaker of your spouse. (One Mom I met told me about walking down the stairs dressed in her husband's Santa suit to greet their three young kids after he'd been hospitalized on Christmas Eve. That may the tip of the iceberg, but it still broke her heart). Worrying about your children's emotional state as well as your own.
- Stigma, social isolation, loss of the "couple friends" group. Invitations dwindle when your spouse's actions are unpredictable and sometimes embarrassing.
What helps spouses? What helps all family members? In my next post, I'll talk about life balance, and some concrete steps like learning all you can, reaching out for support in new places, and self-care.
Are you a spouse of someone with a diagnosed mental illness? Does this ring true for you? What helps you?
Kaye, R. (2012, March 17). Marriage and Mental Illness: For Better or Worse?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 19 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/mentalillnessinthefamily/2012/03/marriage-and-mental-illnessfor-better-or-worse
Author: Randye Kaye
Any immediate advice?
- your local relentless husband
My husband started to cry and said he doesn’t know what he wants anymore after a little argument back in January. His work is very stressful And we had been trying for a child for 4 years. He asked me to leave to my home country for weeks to see if he would miss me. Before my departure he would not touch me nor kiss me, only my forehead! I also realized during that period of time that I had to make some changes about myself. Well 2 weeks before my departure we had incredible intercourses. He started to kiss me back but there was still this little distance!! While in France visiting my family his flame got back more than ever. He would make promises to communicate more and that everything is Going to be great!! So I was happier than ever I would get back to a happy and loving husband!! At my arrival he caught the flu and I was his nurse for couple days! After that he was not excited we tried to have intercourse and it didn’t work!!! Couple days later I asked that question : is everything ok? He started to cry and said I don’t know!! Just like back in January and we were beginning of April! I told him to seek for help. I made an appointment to a psychologist, he is seeing him and likes him but I am not sure he is making some effort outside the sessions!!! He said he loves me and that’s why he is getting help. He is so cold with me that is getting too heavy on me and we are only 32- 33 years old!! We should be happy and embracing life!!
I decided to make an appointment to the same psychologist, he said he can give me some techniques on how to approach him, he also said he is going to a midlife crisis/ depression. In the meantime I am thinking in going away to visit a friend for 2 weeks and leave him some space to think about it. He is the love of my life but if I can’t help, I can’t let the days go by and feel like nothing.
Does anyone experiencing of had experienced this kind of situation ? And how did you handle it?
Sorry for that long text, it feels good to get it out
I am so sorry that you going through these things. I have not had the same experience, I write on this blog because my husband has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. I know it isn’t the same, but I completely understand how frustrating it is to not know how to help or what to do for your partner. There are some days I am at a complete loss, but I have to remind myself that he is going through a lot and that I love him dearly. That being said, you certainly need to remember to take care of yourself and make sure that you are in a safe and healthy environment. Please feel free to read and/or comment on my posts any time.
Long story short, during that time we didn't have health benefits, nor income from his employer. It made things very tough, and my husband felt very Dishonored from his company. We ended up getting lawyers to fight for disability, 2 years dragged on, no solution, no income no nothing.... Finally we agreed to drop the law suit in order to get his job back. The agreement was, if we drop the law suite, he can go back to work for @a year at least. They took him back. Not ethically though. He found out in January 2018, when they Laid him off, it was planned all along. He took it to heart, felt betraded and self worthlessness. I tried reassuring him, it wasn't his fault. Over the last couple months, monies tight, no work and he has been recently diagnosed with severe depression and has now been hospitalized. He is normally a big, living, giving caring guy. He now is a ZOMBIE and no care in the world! Not even for himself anymore. I am SO SCARED OF WHAT MY/OUR FUTURE HOLDS!? I just want my husband back! HIM to be HIM. I am 110% supportive of him, but I'm horrified of him being a different person after. They're estimating 1 month treatment, hospitalization. He says I LOVE YOU because he said he knows he should, but has NO FEELINGS for anything or anyone. He talks so gently and slow. It breaks my heart. I don't know what to do to help him., Or don't do that would help him? I'm so scared of losing my husband to a breakdown and our life changing or separating. He says I'm better off without him. I told him I'm not one of those wives that is here for the money.... Clearly there isn't any, and I love HIM TO DEATH!! But I don't know what to do or expect... Can someone please help me? Can a marriage be saved after clinically severe depression has been diagnosed?? I'm so heartbroken missing my hubby so much!!
I'm so sorry for your pain, but know that you do not have to do this alone. Check out the resources that HealthyPlace.com offers on their helpline page (under Resources) or contact your local NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) to find a local support group and seek out help. It can be terrifying when a loved one slips into deep depression--both my husband and my daughter do--but, know that they can allow emerge out of it. In the meantime, be kind to yourself and seek the support you need to get through these hard times.
After 24 years of marriage, and 27 years of being together, my wife told me she was no longer in love with me. My world changed completely in that instant of time.
I’m 59 … she’s 49. We have two children whom are now adults, with the youngest being 18.
I was sexually abused when I was 3 … not by a parent / relative. It happened only once … and was not discovered by anyone. I “froze” that moment … then 6 years later, when I was 9, I was traumatized again. The effects of those events, coupled to growing up in an emotionless home run by a dictator and supported by my mother’s passiveness, my sexual development was warped, and I became very adept at being alone. This lifestyle caused me great shame and guilt and I could never understand why I didn’t fit in – anywhere.
I tried suicide at 23 … and from that failure I ended up getting professional help for the first time – to gain understanding of “why” I was the way I was. That took time, and I was doing ok with the new-found insights … and I left therapy thinking I was mostly ok - still alone but with better understanding and strategies to cope - and that I needed to move on in life. Soon though, I found myself again “alone against the world” and went back to doing what I had been doing prior to my suicide attempt to get some connection and pleasure. And I continued living this “lie” – was a real Jekyll and Hyde … until I met my wife – who had / has a heart of kindness I had never experienced before.
I was so glad to finally have someone to love … my first and only love … that I stopped my anti-social destructive behaviours and together we were the quintessential happy young couple – we were never great at sex, but for all other aspects of marriage – even communication, we were as happy as could be. And I never really told her of my past … until we started to drift apart – sexually – after the birth of our son, which was 6 years into the marriage. Sex casually left the building – and life took over. The issue of lack of intimacy would come up every now and again – always from her, and always as to why “how come we never have sex anymore”. I never understood why I could not commit this last bit of my love for her. And, she admits that she has issues of closeness also ... so ... more time goes by, and we keep "trying" ... "working" ... yet even after attending marriage counselling together … it never did get resolved. And I knew that deep down inside my psyche I had unresolved issues – or aftereffects – of the early abuse, and the damage to my “self” that had never been repaired.
Then 2017 came and both of the kids are on their own, and I decided to try and retire, and my wife and I committed to working on the intimacy / sex issue again … and we even planned a vacation for August – which we took and was the first for us together in over 20 years. We had a great time … but never had sex. Then we came home … talked more … and again neither of us made a move towards the other.
I then made the mistake of writing down what had happened to me when I was a child (I had, over the years, told my wife all of this – this was my first time ever writing it down) and giving it to her to read and maybe … maybe … help her understand me more. My wife’s response was a total and complete shock to me. She told me that she knows I’m in pain over all of this but that she is “no longer is in love with me”, and that she wants a separation and divorce, and that she does not see us ever getting back together. She next said that she thought I’d be better off alone.
That was at the end of September. I took this pronouncement very badly … and as I had already “opened” up all that shit in my mind re the abuse, neglect, trust, love, manhood, etc when I wrote it all on paper … I had a breakdown - I lost control of my thoughts. My wife moved out of the home … and two days later I woke up to my 3-year old damaged self holding onto an Exacto blade knife in one hand and my penis in the other as I was looking to cut that part off of me. I was so scared … and so alone … and it was so all of a sudden.
I realized I needed help, again, and I have since been doing that. I had to leave my home community as there is no available help there at all – and what help that is available is on a “wait list” and is for a residential facility outside my province only (and the wait list is between 6-10 months long).
My wife’s response was a complete shock – I truly believed she still loved me as much as I have always loved her … she was my only love … I have never loved anyone else and I never once fell out of love with her. I was the romantic in our marriage. I never had a clue … and so I could not understand her response. In the month it took for me to pull myself together enough to find the help I need and make the arrangements – she withdrew from me even more. Granted, I was pretty screwed up and I felt hopeless. But, I searched and I found a new place (with help from my in-laws - really), was diagnosed as suffering from PTSS, arranged therapies, and prepared to leave.
Then, while cleaning up our home computer, I found a file of pics. It seems that 3 weeks before I wrote her of my history and my concerns for us, she had had an affair. That discovery changed my fragile mind even more – it made me physically ill. My immediate thought was that I had caused so much angst with this lovely woman that she had changed her values … and that … that realization … is so damned PAINFUL. This pain consumed me … and it is what drove me - literally - 3700 kilometres to get the professional help I needed.
I've now been in intensive therapy - EMDR is a blessing - for three months and have made great progress with insightful linkages … and it is all led by my being as brutally honest with myself as possible. It is good. It is also very very lonely.
I have too much time to think … and I’m very scared for my future when I think thoughts like “what is the value of doing all this work?” The early traumas’ have been resolved to great satisfaction in my mind … I am confident that my thoughts are really mine now. I’m standing on my own again and confidently looking around at this new “present” … I’m just not ready to figure out the best next steps for myself … and I wonder about my ideals around “love” and “trust” and “sharing” and “truth” and it is scary. I have never wanted to be “alone”.
What bothers me the most though is the effects my early “life” has had on my wife ... I really don't know her anymore - she is that different to me now ... and I suspect she has been in pain for a long while and it took her that long while to get up her nerve to leave ... and I understand that on an intellectual level. Emotionally, I'm so very lost without her … so yeah it's very hard to learn that she's already planning a vacation for next month (February - something we had wanted to do ourselves but never did) ... and that she is so so quickly leaving me in the dust. This is so hard on me - trying to work on the issues of my early life which is so deeply tied to my present ... and my present has imploded.
Too much pain ... too alone ... and so full of guilt / shame / etc that I let my marriage fail. I had the best and I screwed it up by not dealing with my adult issues that were born in the unknown issues surrounding my childhood sexual abuse ... catch-22 at it's finest.
I cried for months, I never thought I'd feel happiness again, and then......I started to feel better, and the grief started to lift, it wasn't overnight, it was a process. I started to feel whole again, instead of shattered. He is much better, and has made some real progress, but it took time. His memory is better, and he really derives pleasure from some of his old hobbies and interests. I sometimes wake-up, and forget, that he is different now, and expect a certain amount of enthusiasm or spontaneity, and when I suddenly realize, oh........here we are, thats hard. I don't beat myself up for having to make the adjustment to our new reality all over again, or having lingering feelings of grief and loss for who he was, and what we had together. but he is trying, and I see that. I live for the days that, I see glimpses of him again, his wonderful self. If your not living with this, you don't understand. The counselor we see, helps both of us with perspective, and while this doesn't eradicate the feelings, of disappointment, or isolation, from family and friends, who start to fade away or outright reject you, , it does strengthen the bond we have with each other .I look forward to reconnecting with our local mental health support groups. It is fruitless to expect our friends, and his family, to embrace this in any way. This has been my experience. They appear in every way to want to distance themselves, with the exception of a few loyal and loving friends, who possess the humanity, and compassion we should all have. Achieving a balance , taking care of myself, and taking care of my husband, is a struggle. For months, I didn't leave his side. I felt so alone. I remember thinking and feeling, why am I the only one who seems to care how he is doing!? Nobody should have to go through this alone. What the hell! I have accepted that our situation requires me to be strong, and decisive, for the both of us, whether I wanted it to be that way or not, is not even relevant anymore, if we are going to survive. He now does things independently of me, and I do as well. It took us awhile to get to this point. And I am Grateful. I look forward to a time, when instead of running away, family and friends understand what a devastating illness this is, and not knowing what to say is okay, just ask.
!unfortunately the only people reading this, already get it.
He refuses treatment and constantly says I'm giving out negative energy.
I hardly go out and neither do the kids because he wants us to be home with him all the time.
I work full-time, the kids are cared for at day-care. I do not leave the children with him as he had vented his anger on my eldest whilst l was pregnant and l had to use all my strength to stop him.
I feel drained. I put on a fake assuring smile all the time. None of my co-workers know.
I am so sorry that you are living in this situation. Please, please know that if you or your children are in danger it is PARAMOUNT that you remove yourself from the dangerous family member. Here is a list of articles with information and resources for you: http://www.healthyplace.com/abuse/articles/break-free-from-domestic-abuse-domestic-violence/. Please remember, above all else, that your children deserve to grow up in a safe home. Please take care of yourself and them.
Also for everyone else in this comments section, this is an example of a website that might be helpful for free CBT etc. for yourself, spouse, kids.
Everyone is different and I wish you all the best. If I could send resilience the mail, I would. Take care of yours self first; put your own oxygen mask on first in an mergency, because only then can we help others who needs us.
Sometimes marriage (we are all human, navigating the world in terms of our relationships with others) get into cycles of distress with repeating patterns and behaviours.
It's awful to feel stuck and change is the hardest thing of all. You have bravery, you have courage, and though it may not feel like it, you have choice. Make a booking and shop around till you find a counsellor you trust; or join an online forum staffed by trained volunteers/counsellors. Call a TOLL-FREE helpline if money is a issue and someone will listen to you, facilitate you sorting out what you want to do next to break the cycle of dysfunctionality and make a referral . There's no shame in that. It's important to get help for yourself.
For women (and men), family and domestic violence is never okay. Speak to your local women's organisation or shelter to help you figure out how to stay or leave safely.
If you have children and you feel stuck, unsafe, scared or unsure what to do regarding a spouse that is violent, abusive, or you fear your partner's current behaviour so much, you use the analogy you feel you're walking around 'on eggsshells', learning a bit more about yourself will ultimately help your children and they will thank you for it down the track. Lots of spouses feel this way. You are not alone and there is help and a better way of living. Talk to somebody.
However, I'm feeling the void that has been created by our physical and emotional distance. What should I do about my sexual and emotional needs as I no longer have a partner.
I don't want to feel like I'm cheating on her but God created us in a way that we try to fulfill these urges yet she will not let me near her.
Should I get someone on the side?
I think your question is very valid. But first, let me address your wife's symptoms. Obviously, she isn't well. She needs medical help, the same way she would if she were diabetic and her insulin levels were off. Paranoia is a very common symptom, but can be treated. If you can do anything to help your wife, get her to the doctor and get her meds adjusted.
Concerning your needs, I write a lot about taking care of the caregiver on Healthyplace:
Mentally Ill Spouses: Give What You Can to Your Marriage: http://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/mentalillnessinthefamily/2016/02/mentally-ill-spouses-give-what-you-can-to-your-marriage/
Marriage and Mental Illness: Take Care of the Caregiver: http://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/mentalillnessinthefamily/2016/03/marriage-and-mental-illness-take-care-of-the-caregiver/
Marriage and Mental Illness: 5 Steps to Revive Your Sex Life: http://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/mentalillnessinthefamily/2016/02/marriage-and-mental-lllness-5-steps-to-revive-your-sex-life/
I am the spouse with mental illness in my marriage, and I have had to realize that my getting better is not just about me. It's about my partner, too. If I am not trying to get well, overcome symptoms, etc. and this has a negative effect on my marriage, than I do not believe that my husband is obligated to stay with me. That being said, if I'm doing everything I can to get better and there are still challenges in my marriage due to medications, etc., than I would hope my husband would be faithful to me through that process in the same way he would be faithful to me if I had another kind of illness that affected our marriage.
Only you can decide if your partner is doing all she can to get better and what your morals are. But having an affair on the side will only complicate a very complicated situation. Do you have someone you can talk to about this? A counselor, pastor, etc? I guarantee it would help you sort through all of this if you had someone outside the situation to talk to. Your needs and your humanity do matter in this equation! Find someone who can help you sort this all out before looking outside your marriage. I'm so sorry you are in such a difficult situation.
I'm so sorry to hear how poorly you are feeling. Never forget that your health is your first priority. Are you seeing a doctor or therapist that might help you be able to find resources? Being safe is by far the most important thing for you, before everything and everyone else, even a spouse. Please take care of yourself. If you can, talk to someone outside your marriage who can help you brainstorm a strategy to stay well. Please know that you are loved and you matter and that you need to keep fighting. Don't give up.
It went to an extent were he started to take promises from me for every little thing but that was not enough he had to keep reminding me of my promises and keep reassuring hin that I would never bread such promises.
Even today five year later it continues. I'm fed up of these recurring questions. I'm tI red of hearing negative about myself and my family all the time. He keep's disrespecting me talking about what a piece of trash I am. And as soon as he insults me he wants to ask if I remember all that I have promised him again and till when. Some days are good. But if he's better one day he gets worse two to three days after that. He keeps telling me what a piece of trash I and my family are good for nothing and that I became decent after marrying him. I'm going nuts here. I'm not able to handle all this stress. My four year son is tired of our fights and I'm worried about how it will accept him. I'm tired but I can't leave him. I simply can't. I don't even know why I still love him anymore. He is making my life he'll. I'm not able to handle anymore and I wish I could just die. He mentally abuses me all the time. Picks up petty fights. Keeps making me remember about my promises and telling me how cheap I was and how cheap my family are . I want to die but I can't leave my son in his hands. I can't do that to him. I can't even divorce him.
I need help.
I need peace in my life.
I am tired.....
Is there some way that you can find a therapist, doctor, or pastor to talk to? It sounds like you need someone on your side. Being able to talk to someone outside of your situation can be so helpful. I know what it is to feel tired and in need of peace, and you deserve to find a restful, peaceful way to live your life and raise your child. Remember that you are not only fighting for your own welfare in this situation, but also for the welfare of your son. Please take care of yourself and find someone to talk to.
Things went fine for the first few months until maybe may, when her sister and her cousin, one of her "friends" also, started calling and talking to her about gossip and drama back-to-back it seemed, this went on for a couple of weeks, that's when she stopped cooking, cleaning or anything else besides sex, no conversation unless it was an argument or condescending talk. I also cooked and cleaned half of the time. She left after an argument in June, she was gone for two weeks, we began talking again and she came back home, about two weeks later the same thing, we argued about her sleeping all day, she works 20 hours per week, I work 80 hours per week, all she ever did was sleep, same thing this time she left for 2-3 weeks, we started talking she came home. Just three weeks ago tomorrow we had a big argument she left again, had not saw her in almost three weeks, until Thursday (2 days ago) she showed up to the house with her female cousin and they tried to physically take our son, long story short the police came, heard both sides of our stories, she was high off of something. They made them leave, I left out the part where she hadnt seen nor tried to see our son in three whole weeks, I had to text message her and tell her I was going to take her to court and get full custody since she abandoned him, that's why she played it off and acted like she cared. My question is what do you guys suggest/think I should do? Keep trying. Maybe force her to get help? Or just give up? Its weighing on me either way I look at it. She's 32 years old, I'm 31. Thoughts? Comments?
When he left I asked him: "when you were ill with depression, I worked, took care of you, you got better. Now I am ill and you leave?" He answered: "when you took care of me I got better, when I took care of you, you didn't get better." I sighed: "is it my fault you're so bad at taking care of me?"
The lesson I learned through taking care of an ill person is to not have any expectations of them but allow them the space to heal and let them know that you accept, love and is there for them. I know my husband recovered from his depression of a year because of that. He didn't work and couldn't contribute much. I had patience, he healed. When it was my turn he couldn't do the same and left. I don't want to be a pain but the vow of in sickness and in health extends to mental illness. We come across partners with it because the universe wanted to teach us something. Leaving...we learn nothing but selfishness. I know how painful it is that I felt so hurt and betrayed by someone I kept my vows with but didn't do it for me in return. Before leaving your ill spouse, ask yourself what is it about that person's conditioning that mirrors yours that you needed to deal with? In this age of disposable goods which we consume and dispose things so easily, relationships unfortunately is another thing we dispose of when it doesn't go well.
To quote from the bible:
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away."
When we project into the future (like my ex did ..thinking I wouldn't recover, but he was wrong) we are being selfish. When we complaint and nag about what we have to endure, we lost patience. When we think too much about what happens, makes ourselves the victim it is no more. It is tough but a lot of patience and love is needed just like rest and medicine is needed for the body to heal. A mental illness spouse needs unconditional love and patience to heal. My ex didn't give me that but my mother did... So I healed.
Being a person on both sides of the picture, taking care of a depressed spouse and suffering mental illness from work related stress and childhood trauma, I can understand what it is like on both sides. Hang in there.....
now about bipolar cycling does it come and go. He admits to being depressed and I fear he may harm himself too. I feel somewhat guilty about fili g so quickly after separating but did not want to loose my home etc. He seems determined to loose everything and leave me penniless.