Helping a Spouse with Mental Illness

Several people have asked me, "What can I do to support my spouse with a mental illness?" so I thought I'd address my thoughts on this topic.  As always, this is my experience with how my husband helps me, so some of these things might not help or be applicable in another situation, but I hope at least a few of these thoughts will help a spouse who wants to be loving and supportive to their spouse with a mental illness and simply doesn't know how.

First of all, my husband is my safe place, and he has created that feeling for me by listening, loving, and caring unceasingly.  He recognizes that he can't fix everything for me as he's not a psychiatrist or a therapist, but he is always available to listen to me talk about what I'm feeling or struggling with, dry my wet eyes, and make me smile.  Sometimes I have a hard time going to him about things, because I don't want to burden him, but I ALWAYS feel better after opening up to him, and I can't imagine not having his safe arms to hold me when my heart is shattering under the heavy pressure of darkness.

There are several different things my husband does to help me, and I usually need different things at different times, but here is the comprehensive list of things that he does to support me through this trial we are facing together.
  1. He doesn't take my feelings personally.  He recognizes that there is something chemically wrong inside my brain, and no amount of love from him can heal me.  So when I am feeling down, he recognizes that it is not his fault.  He hasn't done anything wrong to cause me to feel the way I feel, and he knows that I simply need his love, the one thing that can carry me through the pain and the raging storms inside of me. 
  2. He stays calm as we talk.  I can say with a certainty that I would feel much worse and close up if my husband got emotional as I explained my struggles to him.  His ability to calmly and patiently listen helps more than anything, because often I just need to talk about what I am thinking and feeling and then things get better.
  3. He asks me how I am really doing.  By now, my husband can tell when I am sad.  Sometimes it's hard for me to start the conversation of how I am feeling, so it really helps when he asks, giving me the opportunity to talk to him without having to find a way to start.  
  4. He knows when to be bold.  I don't know how he knows when I need this, so maybe I should have him write a blog post about his side of things, but sometimes after listening to me and as I am getting myself more worked up, he says, "It's time to stop.  You know those things aren't true, and you need to stop thinking that way."  I always hate it when he does this at the time, because it stops my thought process from continuing the way it was going, but in the end, it helps me so much!  It helps me recognize that what I am thinking and feeling is not true, and I know it.  It helps me stop thinking things that only fuel the fire already blazing in my brain.  It helps me remove my emotions from the situation and think through the current situation more rationally.  I must add though, he only does this AFTER listening to me thoroughly and recognizing that my train of thoughts are not healthy or productive.  
  5. He helps me with daily tasks.  I know I shouldn't admit this, but my husband kindly encourages me to get up, get ready, shower, brush my teeth, exercise, eat, take my medicine, etc.  I really struggle with these daily tasks, and I need his support in helping me take care of myself.  I can't adequately explain how helpful it is to have someone by my side helping me in this way, but it is one of the best things he can do for me.  
  6. He encourages me to do the things that will help me feel better.  While dishes and cleaning need to be done constantly, he patiently accepts the days that I just can't do those things and supports me in taking a mental health break.  Sometimes he makes dinner or does the dishes for me when I am struggling, because he knows that is what I need.  He is patient with me when I need time to crochet, sew, be with friends, etc. so that I can get back to feeling well again soon. 
  7. He helps me get help.  He has been fully supportive of me going to the psychiatrist (sometimes coming to the appointments if I feel like I need him there), taking medication, going to counseling, etc.  He wants me to feel better, so he does what is necessary to help me get to the point of feeling better. 
  8. He tells me over and over again that he loves me.  I often fear that my husband will stop loving me because of my struggles.  While he has never given me any inkling of a reason to believe this is true, it is still a very large fear of mine, especially because I know how lost and devastated I would be without him.  I'm sure he gets tired of reiterating to me again and again that he will always love me no matter what, but he never complains about it, and he is always willing to calm my fears by repeating to me the tender feelings he has for me.  
  9. He thanks me for what I do.  The truth is, I could do so much more, and I'm sure he knows that, but he thanks me for what I am able to do and recognizes that I am truly trying my best.  He constantly tells me that I am loved and appreciated by him and my daughter and that they both need me so much.  
  10. He asks what he can do to help me and then does it.  Sometimes I need to go for a walk, take a nap, create a schedule for my day, or find a project to do.  He suggests things that could possibly help me too, and he is always willing to do whatever we think can help me.  Often times, I know that I need to get outside or eat something, but I feel powerless doing it for myself, so he does it with me.
  11. He is my eyes and ears for truth and happiness.  He points out to me when my brain is feeding me lies.  He emphasizes times of happiness so I can remember them later. He helps me see things as they really are and not as my brokenness feels they are.
  12. He always finds a way to make me laugh through my tears.  After we get done talking about the things making me sad, he does something to make me smile.  Sometimes he tells a ridiculous joke or story, makes a pun, acts weird, etc. but he always makes me laugh.  This helps me to stop crying (sometimes it hard to stop once I've started) and to realize that everything is really truly going to be okay.  
  13. He joyfully bears my burdens with me.  He doesn't understand what it's like to struggle in this way by experience, but he has developed such an understanding of mental illness through my struggles.  He is compassionate and kind, loving and patient, reassuring and supportive.  He loves me for who I am, even the parts of me that are broken, and he genuinely wants what is best for me.  
As in all things, this has been a process that has taken time.  My husband had no clue when we first got married how to support me with my struggles, so be patient with yourself as you learn how to be supportive and loving to your spouse with a mental illness, and don't forget to take care of yourself too.  It will take time and hours of communication to figure out what works best for the two of you, but I fully believe that marriages can thrive, even when mental illness is involved.

I will forever be thankful to have the loving support of my husband through this trial of darkness.  He truly is a source of so much JOY and comfort at this time, and I'm constantly amazed at the wonderful man he is to take such good care of me through something so difficult to understand.  We are a team, and together, we can overcome anything!

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