How Mental Illness Helped My Marriage: One Therapist’s Story
This story has been seven years in the making.
I met my husband two months before I was finished with my Masters graduate program in Marriage and Family Therapy. To say he was not what I imagined for myself or what my friends and family imagined for me is an understatement. Two weeks before graduation, we decided to get married the day before graduation. My friends held an intervention, literally. My mother grilled him for two hours in her kitchen (to be fair, she met him a week before the wedding). My dad took offense to him not asking for my hand.
The concerns were taken well because I knew his history of addiction, trauma, and mental illness even more than they did. I believed I was supposed to marry him. I believed I could handle it.
Five days after graduation we moved across the country to find a job with the National Health Service Corps. We moved to a small town with no friends or family. We were stuck with each other.
In my training, I knew what I was supposed to do so during our first fight, I took time to sift through how much of my hurt was because of what he did (or didn’t do) and how much was because of how much other people in my past had let me down. Man, it was hard, but I knew that my ability to filter criticism would be a direct correlation of the success of our marriage. I knew marriage was hard, but I was determined to not be one of those wives that called home and complained about her husband to her family and then they would never like him. Plus, I was determined to prove to everyone that I made the right choice, that I wasn’t wrong, that we were right for each other.
It’s a Girl!
Five months after we got married, I learned that I was pregnant. I was excited, he was…less than excited. I was working full time and he was a student. By student, I mean that he was trying to take college courses and find a major but because of the rural location, options were limited. Very limited. He stayed home to care for our daughter, while I continued to work full time.
He struggled with sleep, trauma nightmares, and previous predator’s texting him to the point where we had to change our numbers, self-harm, and relapses. Again, I knew it was hard, but I didn’t know it was that hard.
The Breaking Point
When our daughter was 11 months old, my husband attempted suicide. I drove him to the hospital three hours away and left him there. He was having such a hard time that he ended up staying there for a little over four months. I was a single parent for a long time. I felt like a single parent for several months after he returned. The amount of medications he was on, the financial strain, the difficulties of him having to be seen by one of my colleagues, and a very unethical therapist that I ended up having to report to our local licensing board was just a short list of the difficulties that arose. I was very close to reaching burnout after only two years in the field of mental health. I took my licensing exams during all of this and passed. Two months after getting my license, I was promoted to run my local clinic. More. Stress.
He went to therapy, we went to therapy, then I went to therapy, then we took a break. Then we went to therapy again. We both needed something to change.
I’m not exactly certain when the change happened, but it did. Part of what changed was me and my attitude. At the beginning of our marriage, I took everything personally. If he wasn’t happy it was a direct indication of my value or my ability to create a safe environment. Once I learned that I was not his trauma. I was not his issues. I was not the reason he was struggling. That is when life improved.
The second thing that changed was his expectations. When we got married, he thought that because he married a therapist, he would have access to therapy 24/7. He was hurt and angry for so long as a result. Once it became clear that only he could fix him and only I could fix me, things certainly improved.
There were times in which I considered leaving. In those moments I made myself a deal. I told myself that if I felt like I was doing everything right. If I was doing my best as a wife to take care of myself and my family and I was still feeling that way, then I could go. The amazing thing was that when I challenged myself to do everything I knew I could be doing, things got better.
“He is So Good For Me”
Last September, I was out on a weekend trip with some of my friends. They have known me for a little over four years. There was a comment that I am so good for my husband and I replied that he is so good for me. My friend was taken aback. She couldn’t imagine how a woman working full time could have any benefit from having a husband with mental illness on disability, seemingly doing nothing. I knew he was a person struggling, trying to be better, and being there for our daughter.
Since then, I have worked to remember all the ways he is good for me. I have had to learn about being able to do hard things. I have learned to trust myself better and be better differentiated. I have learned how to hold my tongue and be kind. I have learned how to serve other people and have empathy for where they are in life. I have better learned how to meet a person where they are, including myself. I have learned better of how not to judge others. I have learned to be a better therapist. All because I have a husband with a mental illness.
“We Are All Broken”
A couple weeks ago, one of my good friends came for a visit. She moved away two years ago. We had lunch every week and walked every morning for almost a year and a half before she moved. She knew my struggles with my husband’s mental illness and our difficulty getting through the hard parts. She was amazed at how different everything was from two years ago.
As I look back on the past seven years. I remember the hard times. But I also remember to forget them. I no longer worry when I call his phone and he doesn’t answer. I no longer take a deep breath before I open the door, just in case I find something scary. I no longer see myself as whole and him as broken. We are all broken and sometimes we are lucky enough to have other people around to catch us when we fall apart.
I find myself continually grateful for sticking through the hard parts because at the other side of the hard parts are the good parts, the better parts, and the best parts.
Please leave a comment below if you enjoyed this article. How has your life been impacted by mental illness?
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