In Sickness and In Health: Strengthening Marriage in Adverse Times – By Kati Gilmore

Can you remember how you felt on your wedding day? You have been awaiting commitment to the one you love for the rest of your life, and the day has finally arrived. Everything around you is spinning in unfamiliar chaos in efforts to achieve a perfect fairytale day, a day Walt Disney himself would envy. […]

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Can you remember how you felt on your wedding day? You have been awaiting commitment to the one you love for the rest of your life, and the day has finally arrived. Everything around you is spinning in unfamiliar chaos in efforts to achieve a perfect fairytale day, a day Walt Disney himself would envy. You’ve said your vows, for better or worse, richer or poorer, and you are ready to begin the celebration that will be the start for a happy marriage. At the reception, you are greeted with congratulations and well wishes like “welcome to the family” and “you two make a great couple.” Close friends and family toast to the newlyweds and give speeches that resonate a deserving future for both Bride and Groom. The honeymoon comes and goes, and the last stamp is pressed against the stack of thank you cards. You now find yourself settling into your marriage. Everything seems to be going like the fairytale you had anticipated and then one day you find yourself experiencing something neither of you planned for.

In the United States, one in five people can experience a mental illness in a given year (NIMH, 2013). In marriage, mental illness is typically not something that is pre-planned or expected. The American depiction of a happy marriage complete with fantasy weddings does not culturally do justice to the profound impact mental health can have upon a marriage and family. Social isolation, financial distress, emotional discomfort, lack of intimacy and the persistent feeling of loss are just a few examples of how the societal expectation of marriage becomes bleak when one partner begins to experience symptoms of a mental illness.

A host of new roles become the norm as a couple navigates this new path. For the well spouse, they are now faced with caregiving and re-conceptualizing the state of their marriage. For the un-well spouse, they experience a new world of symptoms that include feeling abnormal, constant fear and hopelessness of the situation. You might think that it would take a serious and persistent mental illness to have an adverse effect on a relationship, however, the top two mental health issues attributed to divorce are depression and addiction (Breslau, J. 2011.) These eye-opening facts are a catalyst for raising awareness for marriages in order to withstand mental anguish as its prevalence increases in the United States.

Think back to your wedding day, specifically, your vows. More than likely your wedding vows had some sort of reference to caring for your spouse in sickness or in health, even if they did not explicitly use those words. In our lives, a vast array of medical issues can arise that paralyze us, both interpersonally and interpersonally. These unexpected situations manifest in our lives at different times, however the dynamics involving mental health issues in marriage seem to be different. For example, in the book The Burden of Sympathy, author David Karp asserts that when a spouse is diagnosed with cancer, they are met with gratitude, sympathy and willingness. He goes on to contrast this example with the diagnosis of a mental illness by saying that generally, the suffering spouse is met with anger, shame, grief, blame and misunderstanding (Karp, 2002). Now, are you still thinking of your vows? When you declared “in sickness and in health” were there exclusions? Did sickness refer only to physical illnesses that do not impact ones behavior? In the same sense that mental illness is generally not thought of when we say “in sickness and in health,” your spouse did not plan to have a mental illness and can be in as desperate shock as you find yourself, the caregiver. Enduring this delicate dynamic is not free from complication, but it does not have to be done alone.

Here at NWA Premier Counseling, our clinicians understand the sensitive dynamics your family is experiencing. We are highly skilled in providing support for the entire family, as well as specialized treatment for mental health issues that come up in everyday life. We believe your relationships are highly valuable and that is why we customize your treatment to fit your specific needs.

If your marriage or family is experiencing difficulty due to mental health issues, we would like to help. If you are thinking about getting married and are concerned about the role of mental health in your relationship, we can help. Restoring hope, like the kind you had on your wedding day, is not lost. We are invested in your quality of life.

Please call today.

References for this Article
Breslau, J., Miller, E., Jin, R., Sampson, N. A., Alonso, J., Andrade, L. H., … de, G. G. (2011). A multinational study of mental disorders, marriage, and divorce. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 124(6), 474-486. 10.1111/j.1600-0447.2011.01712.x
Karp, David. (2002). The burden of sympathy: how families cope with mental illness.
New York. Oxford University Press.
Any Mental Illness (AMI) Among Adults. (n.d.). Retrieved October 23, 2015, from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/any-mental-illness-ami-among-adults.shtml – See more at: https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-By-the-Numbers#sthash.tQE4XxJL.dpuf