Dealing With Mental Illness in a Marriage: How Can Couples Avoid Divorce?

Mental Illness

All marriages take effort by both parties in order to succeed. However, a marriage where one spouse has a mental illness or a personality disorder can be especially challenging to sustain. There are high instances of divorce in these relationships if the couple does not learn how to address the issue openly and honestly.

Just like a situation where a spouse is addicted to drugs, alcohol, or sex, a spouse with a mental illness can often be unreliable, unpredictable, and sometimes abusive. Because the courts have not definitively addressed the issue, the burden often lies on health care professionals, like therapists and life coaches, to develop strategies for addressing the issue in a relationship.

Suggested by Jeffrey Sumber, MA, LCPC, a Chicago psychotherapist and relationship coach, and clinical psychologist John Duffy, Ph.D, below are tips for couples coping with mental illness in their relationship.

Get a Definitive Diagnosis and Learn Treatment Options

Identifying what, if any, mental illness is the cause of the relationship issues is the first step. Often the behaviors of someone who has a mental illness are strange or erratic or can be mistaken for more common behaviors. Once the illness is diagnosed, finding out how to treat it will go a long way with creating a strategy to combat any conflict that may arise in the relationship due to the illness.

Get Involved

Find out what role(s) you can play in the treatment plan and best ways to productively support your spouse. By developing a healthy perspective about the issue, you can prepare yourself better for the day-to-day challenges that you may encounter.

Look at the Diagnosis as a Conquerable Obstacle

Recognize that mental illness is just another relationship challenge the couple needs to work through in order to have a successful marriage. It is part of a spectrum of obstacles they will encounter in their journey together.

Be Open and Honest

Maintain open, honest, and kind communication with each other. This means keeping a positive attitude and expressing respect and admiration for each other.

Status Check

Designate a time each week to check in with each other to see how the other is doing or feeling. This helps couples keep accountable to each other.

Take Care of Yourself

If one spouse does not take care of themselves mentally, physically, and spiritually, it can be difficult to take care of someone else. Eating well, getting plenty of sleep, exercising, and taking part in enjoyable hobbies are all important aspects of staying healthy.

Access Your Needs Appropriately

Do not expect any one person, including your partner, to meet all of your needs. This will set up unreasonable expectations on everyone involved and may lead to anger and resentment.

Do Not Engage in the Blame Game

In every relationship, both parties involved are equally responsible for the health of the relationship. Neither party should blame the other for the issues that result from one of the parties having a mental illness.

Seek Counseling

Seek individual counseling if you are unable to express your feelings to your partner in a non-judgmental or critical way. Seek couples counseling if both parties need a fresh perspective as to the relationship dynamics.

Lessons Learned

Learn from lessons that come from the situation. Be open to new strategies and approaches in dealing with the challenges of mental illness.

Plan For the Future

One of the most important factors in maintaining a successful relationship when one party has mental illness is to plan for the future. Couples can prepare during periods of wellness for what may lie ahead of them.

Couples may want to open accounts in the well spouse’s name for all expenses. It may be advisable for the spouse with mental illness to give power of attorney to the other spouse. If the symptoms of the illness progress, the couple needs to have a game plan on how to approach the issue and when to seek additional mental health care.

Contact an Attorney in Illinois

If you are contemplating divorce or have any family law questions, do not hesitate to contact an experienced Wheaton family law attorney at Sullivan Taylor, Gumina & Palmer, P.C.