Therapy helps, but there are other actions you should be taking at the same time.
Supporting your spouse or partner througha mental illness diagnosis requires patience, knowledge and love. It isn't always easy, but there are ways you can make the healing process as painless as possible. We asked three relationship experts for their advice on what to do when your marriage is affected by mental health issues.
From Katherine Mazza:
Be it a mood disorder, an attention deficit disorder or a personality disorder, a mental illness diagnosis affects both partners in a relationship — and everyone in the home, for that matter. Once an official diagnosis has confirmed that you're not imagining it, some new challenges will arise. Certainly this journey is taking a new twist, and now is the time to move forward with a new and positive understanding. Having a clear road map will reduce anxiety and fears, and will empower both of you to stay united and rediscover your strengths as a committed couple. Here are a few tips on how to do so.
1. Educate yourself. Gather as much info as possible. Nothing is worse than being in the dark about something so impacting. You can debunk a few myths that may be causing unnecessary worrying and stigma. You can learn about the physiology, genetic components, options for treatment and behavior modification, as well as how to improve communication in your relationship.
2. Consider group therapy. There is a powerful dynamic that occurs in group therapy. It lies somewhere between normalizing the condition by hearing what others are experiencing, feeling connected, and the open forum environment that allows for hope, humor, compassion, and connection. There are groups for many conditions, and they exist for the diagnosed person as well as for the partner. Families can benefit greatly from being with other families that share in their difficulities. Check out local listings for groups offered by hospitals, behavioral facilities, and community centers.
3. Consider couples counseling. This can be a life-changing experience. Communication, balance of power, boundary formation and a redefining of roles and expectations are just a few thing to work on.
From Carin Goldstein:
When it comes to your marriage, one thing is for certain: life keeps coming. Together, you will share highs and lows, celebrations and disappointments, as well as various unexpected challenges like infertility, job loss or infidelity. For some couples, the challenge may be when one of the partners is diagnosed with a mental illness such as depression, major anxiety, ADHD, a mood disorder, etc. For the non-diagnosed spouse, he or she may feel a range of other emotions such as overwhelmed, confused or even fear of the uncertain. However, there are several proactive steps one can take to manage these fears and feel more at ease with this new challenge.
1. Do your homework. As with any unknown, knowledge is key. Understanding what your spouse's diagnosis looks like and smells like is imperative to understanding how to meet your spouse's needs, as well as how to manage the impact of the illness within the marriage.
2. Couple's therapy. One of the ways that you can "do your homework" is by seeking professional support via a credentialed couples therapist or counselor who specializes in your spouse's specific illness. In addition to educating you about the illness, he or she can also offer viable tools to help manage what is now the new norm.
3. Expect the unexpected. In the best of circumstances, it is wise to expect life's curveballs. Throw in a newly-diagnosed mental illness, and you are doubly wise to prepare for the unknown. The more you surrender, the less you will fight the situation, and that in itself will be one less stress for you and your spouse.
4. Focus on compassion. Having compassion for what your spouse is experiencing can create a positive trickle effect in which each person is less reactive and more accepting of the other. For example, let's say your spouse suffers from ADHD: if you are aware that as a child, he or she felt "stupid" every time they interrupted a conversation, chances are you will feel more forgiving toward his or her impulsive behaviors within the marriage.
From Lora Andersen:
Life can sometimes be like a roller coaster — it takes us on a ride of highs and lows, not knowing what to expect around the next corner. When your spouse or partner is diagnosed with a mental disorder such as depression, bipolar disorder, addiction, anxiety or anger issues, even the best relationships can be tested. Luckily, there are ways you can support your spouse and reduce the stress in your relationship and family life:
1. Read about and research the mental disorder so that you understand what your spouse is going through — and what to expect.
2. If at all possible, accompany your spouse to his or her doctor's appointments for support, and to discuss any concerns with the medical professional.
3. At an appropriate time, discuss the situation with your spouse and decide together on an action plan, including how you can support each other, how to talk with family members about the illness, establish boundaries (what's acceptable behavior and what's not), what to do in case of emergency, and what to do when one or the other needs some personal space.
4. Identify and establish a support network. Who can you call for help or just to talk? Make a list of names and contact information in case of an emergency or just for emotional support. Make sure that these people understand the situation ahead of time.
5. Join or start a weekly support group. Sometimes knowing that you're not alone and being able to openly discuss the situation with fellow caregivers can be both rewarding and therapeutic.
6. Take time for yourself. Do something at least once a week to rejuvenate your spirit. Take a class to learn something new, go for a spa treatment, have lunch with a friend, go shopping, enjoy a hobby, participate in sports; do anything that motivates and excites you.
7. Seek coaching or counseling. A life coach or counselor can help to support you to maintain positive energy and good mental and physical health.
Above all else, keeping communication lines open with your spouse will help to foster your relationship and keep you close even through the most difficult times.
Lora Lucinda Andersen, The Sexy Wife Coach, is a Professional Life Strategies Coach specializing in relationships, communication, sex & intimacy, addiction and life transitions. You can learn more about Lora, book an appointment for coaching and/or read more articles by her at: www.sexywifecoach.com.
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