Yesterday, my wife and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary. People say that the first year off marriage is the toughest, as it’s the initial adjustment period where you learn to live with your significant other. For us, it seemed to fly by and we’re stronger than ever. Given that this blog focuses on mental health, I thought I’d use this occasion to reflect on how mental health can impact relationships.
In the case of my wife and I, we both have dealt with various mental health disorders; more specifically, my wife struggled with an eating disorder as a teen and has dealt with depression for years. She became a school counselor. As for me, I’ve been diagnosed with generalized anxiety, have panic attacks, and often experience depression after a major panic attack. I am now a mental health therapist and clinician.
What follows is a list of things I’ve been learning over the past year as we continue building our lives in marriage while also managing our mental health.
- Empathy is essential: Empathy is having the ability to sense and understand someone else’s emotions. This is one of the major ways to communicate love. In any relationship, empathy takes effort, despite how infatuated or in love you are with the person; however, having a mental health condition can make this more challenging, as one’s emotions are clouded or even unstable at times. Which brings me to my next point…
- You’re no longer an individual with a diagnosis: Whether there are one or two people in the relationship that suffer from a mental health condition, it’s important to understand that you stopped being an individual when you entered the relationship. As individuals, my wife and I have the tendency to isolate or to suppress what we’re feeling. When you’re in a relationship, you can’t do this. The other person will be able to sense the change in mood. They love you, so you can’t just keep your emotions to yourself, nor is doing so healthy. If you’re in a healthy relationship, your partner is one of the safe people who you can talk to about various mental health challenges without judgment. Which brings me to my next point…
- Your partner isn’t responsible for your mental health: Because your partner loves and cares for you, you may find that they have the tendency to want to “fix” various mental health issues. Those suffering should not overwhelm or constantly burden their partners with their mental health challenges and partners should avoid overcompensating by trying to “fix” their partner. This sounds contradictory to #2, but hear me out. Yes, you will need to be open to you partner about what’s going on emotionally; however, there are limits. Over the last year, my wife and I have learned how to be more open about our mental health challenges. Sometimes we have to educate the other on how the symptoms play out and what our needs are in those moments, despite the fact that we are both mental health professionals. Don’t assume your partner knows how to handle a mental illness. Be mindful that partners can become overwhelmed if you burden them with too much. It’s not that they don’t love you; rather, it’s that mental illness is exhausting for both those fighting it and for those who love them. To reduce the burden, I recommend having outside help involved, which brings me to my next 2 points…
- Therapy: If you struggle with mental health challenges, there is no shame in seeing a therapist. I am a therapist and I’ve been to therapy several times throughout my life. My wife currently sees a therapist for her depression and is finding it to be very helpful. I’ve seen a significant improvement in her mood since she started going. Depending on how mental illness impacts the marriage, you may also consider couples therapy. My wife and I have not been to couples therapy; however, I felt that it was important to mention this option.
- Medication: I understand that mental health medication is a controversial topic. I will not go in-depth, but you can read a previous post I wrote about medication here. Choosing medication will vary from couple-to-couple; however, in the case of my wife and I, we both take mental health medication. Let’s look at the pros and cons, shall we?
- Pros: Since my wife began medication for depression last year, I’ve noticed a dramatic improvement in her mood. It very much felt like the “old Rachel” was back after she had dealt with an extended depressive episode. You can read more about my experiences with medication in the above link; however, I will say that medication helps me to manage my anxiety more effectively.
- Cons: as you read in the above link, medications do have side effects. Since my wife and I are both on medication, we’ve noticed a few that have impacted our relationship in small ways. Disclaimer: what I’m about to share should not deter you from seeking medication if you need it. Also, if you’re a minor, skip to #6. For men and women taking mental health medication, you may notice the following side effects or changes: reduced sex drive, vaginal dryness, and/or it may require more time and foreplay to be ready for intercourse. These side effects are manageable by speaking to your doctor about your concerns. Sometimes a simple dose change can alleviate these side effects. Remember, doctors prescribe medication because the benefits are supposed to outweigh the side effects. There are creative ways to sidestep the aforementioned side effects as well 😉
- Love languages and personalities: There are tons of assessments you can take online to learn about your love languages or about your personality. Recently, my wife and I took both assessments. I learned that her love languages are quality time and words of affirmation whereas she learned that my love languages are acts of service (helping me to get stuff done) and quality time. As for personalities, we learned that we are both introverts but that I’m more of a classic introvert. One version we took even showed us how our varying Myers-Briggs scores interact in a relationship. It was amazing how a computer program was showing us our actual relationship on the screen. And they’re free too (links below)! Take some time to get to know how your partner is wired emotionally. This not only helps those dealing with mental illness, emotional intelligence is a vital part to any healthy relationship.
While I’ll never consider myself the expert on relationships, I hope that the information shared today was helpful. As always, thanks for reading! Feel free to comment below.
Links to love languages and personality assessments:
Photo credit: Infinitie Photography