32 ways to heal your marriage from the effects of mental illness

While there are countless things you can do to repair your marriage, here are the ones that have worked for my wife and I and people we know. You don’t need to use them all, just use what works for you.

Some of these strategies involve deepening a relationship with God. While we believe in God, we know that not everybody else does, or maybe not in the same way as we do. No matter what your beliefs, finding strength in a higher power plays an important role in healing. So, whenever we mention God, simply apply these tips to God however you know him.

But first, we recommend that you and your spouse talk through a few questions about how your family backgrounds and life experiences (the good, the bad, and the ugly) have shaped you.

  • What are some specific examples of events in your childhood, teenage years, young adulthood, and adult life that are still affecting you—for good or ill?
  • In what ways have your parents, siblings, and others positively or negatively influenced each of you and your marriage?
  • What can you do to minimize or avoid the negative effects of your past on your marriage?
  • What are some good experiences from your past that you can build into your marriage?

Having spent a little time discussing the ways your past could be influencing your present, now it’s your turn to begin rebuilding. Here are some action steps you and your spouse can take to start healing your marriage.

If you have a mental illness:

  • Identify any unhealthy patterns of communicating with your partner.
  • Determine which specific mental-illness-related behaviors are harming you, your spouse, and your children.
  • Implement adjustments that will ensure the best happiness and safety for you, your spouse, and your children.
  • Take responsibility for your own recovery.
  • Learn all you can about your illness and its treatment and recovery tactics.
  • Get professional counseling for you, your spouse, and your family.
  • Develop good coping tools and strategies.
  • Find new ways of healing your own damaged self-esteem.
  • Talk regularly with safe, supportive people and work hard to not isolate yourself from others.
  • Practice forgiving yourself and your spouse.
  • Experiment with different ways to defuse your own stresses and those between you and your spouse.
  • Get into a daily habit of sharing the highs and lows of your day (the best things and worst things that have happened) and how you feel about them.
  • Admit to yourself and God that you need his help controlling your mental health struggles.
  • Turn your life and marriage over to the care and direction of God.

If your spouse has a mental illness:

  • Develop realistic expectations for you, your spouse, and your marriage.
  • Identify unhealthy patterns of communicating and relating in your marriage.
  • Pinpoint the specific behaviors your mentally ill spouse exhibits that may be harming you and your children.
  • Discover what emotions your spouse’s mental illness behavior has triggered in you and your children.
  • Make necessary adjustments to ensure happiness and safety for you and your children.
  • Seek advice about what to do if your spouse is suicidal, and make an action plan.
  • Remind yourself, often, that your marriage is a lifelong commitment.
  • Learn ways of dealing with your spouse’s personality changes and your own damaged responses.
  • Work at forgiving yourself and your spouse.
  • Learn all you can about your spouse’s illness and its treatments.
  • Experiment with new ways of taking better care of yourself—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
  • Mentally condition yourself to fight your tendencies to withdraw from others who don’t understand your situation or who might pile on guilt that you’re not being a good enough spouse.
  • Make it a habit to describe two positive qualities you’ve observed in your spouse in the past week, then share with him or her why those are important to you.
  • Admit to yourself and God that your marriage stresses are out of control and that you can’t handle them alone—you need his help.
  • Turn your life and marriage over to the care and direction of God.
  • Ask God for help in restoring positive feelings toward your spouse.
  • Keep the focus on prayer. You might ask your spouse to pray for a specific situation you may face tomorrow, or you could describe an answer to prayer you’ve had in the past week.
  • If you and your spouse are able to discuss how your past is affecting your present, and if you make an effort to implement some of these ideas to help the marriage rebuilding process, you’ll be well on your way to a healed relationship!

Note: This is an excerpt from my book, Mental Illness and Your Marriage. To find out more, please click here.

Jim

Jim

Hi, I'm Jim. I've been through the emotional wringer. I've been a successful pastor and leader and a loving father, but I've also been suicidally depressed. I'll teach you the techniques I used to heal myself, and give you the tools to reclaim your life and move forward!
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