My husband has Bipolar disorder. He and I have been together for about seven years.
We met and fell hard for each other while I was working my way through school and we lived over 800 miles apart. We had been introduced online by a mutual acquaintance we know IRL.
He disclosed his mental illness early on, and I continued the relationship with my eyes wide open.
We were mad for one another. We connected on a very deep level; the kind of communication and intimacy you spend decades, sometimes lifetimes, longing for. We became one of those couples that people hate, and love, because it was just THAT good.
About five years in, I discovered that a lot of what I thought I knew, I did not know. The man I was married to was living two very separate lives — unmedicated, equally manic and depressed (and sometimes both at once), trying desperately to hide his darkest parts from me for fear of losing everything.
I decided to stay. He decided to fight for his sanity, and we both decided to fight for our marriage.
He became medication compliant, began to meet with his psychiatrist, and the honesty I thought had been there from the beginning became real, became concrete. My husband now feels safe being completely open with me about how he is feeling, what his mood is feeling like (whether he is “up,” “down” or the dreaded mixed state that makes him miserable). We now live in total transparency, setting healthy boundaries and implementing safeguards to our marriage and to my personal sanity.
Plot twist: I also have a mental illness. Severe anxiety disorder coupled with cyclical bouts of depression. Our hard times did me no favors, mentally speaking, but they were a catalyst for me to begin taking better care of myself. I made a commitment to take care of myself physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I began to study and am now a Certified Reiki Healing Practitioner, and am working toward my Yoga Teacher certification.
I take time to see my friends. They are a very important support system that exists outside of the marriage.
The most valuable lesson I learned through it all was this: No one is here to save me, except me. I am the only one who can decide how my life is going to be, and make it so. Yes, my husband loves me and is amazing, but he is not my savior. We take care of ourselves, and care for one another, but we are not able and do not attempt to fix one another.
How can a marriage work if one or both partners is mentally ill?
The answer is, with a lot of care and hard work on the part of both people in the relationship.
We carve out time to be with one another amidst the harsh realities of life. We forgive each other when we mess up. The same things that make a ‘normal’ marriage work are what make ours work.
Love, time spent together, commitment, honesty, friendship, common goals, core values, romance. The ability to allow one another to grow and change, and symbiotically exist with one another while handling our own mental illnesses as well as caring for each other as needed.
Plus, some medication and therapy.
*A committed relationship takes work, and there may be hard times. But abuse, whether mental, emotional or physical, is never OK. Please don’t mistake unnecessary drama and pain as “typical relationship stuff.”
Someone with a mental illness should never use their illness to excuse their own bad behavior, or to manipulate their partner. Hard work is one thing, misery and abuse are but another. If you are in an abusive situation, please seek help. There is help available.