Marriage And Mental Health: What To Do When Your Spouse Doesn’t Understand

By Anni


A few too many “my husband/boyfriend/significant other doesn’t get it” comments and emails have shown up in my inbox lately.  Too many for me to ignore.

My first impulse is always to shout “just MAKE him get it”.

But then I remember all the years when my husband didn’t get it.  All the years when he didn’t get me and I didn’t get him either.

When we got married at the ripe old age of 23, we thought we knew each other pretty well. After all we had already been an item for five years, including living together for three.

But it turns out we couldn’t have known each other very well, because we didn’t even know ourselves.

I didn’t know I was a highly sensitive person.  I didn’t know I was an intuitive introvert.

I didn’t know that living a “normal” life – the kind that most people live – would eventually stress me out to the point of making me physically and mentally ill.

I didn’t know that here in a couple of years I would start experiencing severe anxiety.

I didn’t know that I would get so depressed, I’d get very close to losing my will to live.

I didn’t know that I would have no clue how to create a life that I would actually want to be in.

And when it all went down, it was a giant mess.  The kind that happens when the shit hits the fan.  And the shit didn’t just fall on me personally.  It majorly affected my husband and my marriage as well.  Of course it did.

Cleaning up this mess was a long process.  It was not a straight stretch from point A (unhealthy) to point B (healthy).  It was a long, windy road with a lot of wrong turns and dead ends.  A road that took years to travel.

It’s kind of a miracle my marriage survived it.  And as a matter of fact, it barely did survive.

But it did survive.

For my marriage to survive my depression, my anxiety, my high sensitivity, and my uncommon INFJ personality type coupled up with his more mainstream ESFJ personality type, I had to take five steps.  Five steps that I didn’t take in an orderly, logical fashion.  Five steps that I took over many years, stumbling on every possible obstacle on the way.

Sometimes I get exasperated that things that are so crystal clear to me now – in hindsight – took me so long to figure out.

So by sharing these lessons today, I hope to provide a short cut for someone else stuck in a similar shit storm. Struggling with mental health issues and/or high sensitivity while trying to keep a marriage alive at the same time.

Marriage And Mental Health: What I needed to do to save my marriage when my husband didn't understand my high sensitivity, anxiety, and depression. || Depression and relationships || Anxiety and relationships || HSP relationships

Marriage And Mental Health: What To Do When Your Spouse Doesn’t Get It

1. Figure Out What You Need To Be Healthy And Happy

In order for my marriage to survive, I needed to figure out what I needed to be healthy and happy.

My biggest problem was never “my husband doesn’t get me”. My biggest problem was that “I didn’t get me”.

And because I didn’t get myself, I didn’t know what I needed.  And because I didn’t know what I needed, I couldn’t give myself what I needed.  And because I couldn’t give myself what I needed, I got sick.  Physically and mentally.

And because I got sick, my marriage got sick.

In order to dig myself and my marriage out of the hole we were in, explaining myself to myself had to be my first priority.

I needed to focus on myself – as an individual, not as a wife – and figure out what exactly it was that I needed to be healthy and happy.

If my life was so unbearable that I didn’t want to be in it anymore, what needed to change for me to find my life worth sticking around for?

To hear more about how I went about figuring out this piece, check out my Life Improvement 101 video class.  (It’s free.)

2. Believe That You Deserve To Have Your Needs Met And That You Deserve Understanding And Support

In order for my marriage to survive, I needed to believe that I was worthy of having my needs met, that I was worthy of being understood, and that I was worthy of receiving support.

Once I started “getting myself” – once I understood who I was and what I needed to be healthy and happy – I needed to love myself enough to want to make sure those needs were met.

Without loving myself or believing that I was worthy, I would never ask for what I needed.

I would never stand my ground.  I would never insist.  I would never persist in the face of doubts.

3. Help Your Spouse Understand Who You Are And What You Need

Because, yes, there were doubts.  What I needed to be healthy and happy wasn’t mainstream.  It wasn’t what most people asked for.  It wasn’t familiar.  It wasn’t “well, I just need to pop some pills and then we can go on living the same life as before”.  It was more like “the way we are living is destroying me and I need to change everything.”

So my husband had doubts.

It’s not that he was being an asshole.  He is the kindest and most considerate person I have ever met (ESFJ!).  He wanted to be supportive.  He wanted nothing more than for me to be happy.  It simply wasn’t easy for him to understand.

But in order for my marriage to survive, my husband and I both had to understand that two people can have very different ways of experiencing the world.  Neither more right or wrong than the other.  Neither better or worse.  Just different.

And in order for my marriage to survive, my husband and I both had to understand that two people can have very different needs.  That two people can need very different things in order to reach health and happiness.  Neither more right or wrong than the other.  Neither better or worse.  Just different.

We didn’t gain this understanding overnight.  It wasn’t one announcement or one conversation.  It was:

  • Many conversations consisting of me trying to explain my way of experiencing the world and him trying to explain his point of view.
  • Sharing multiple articles and excerpts from books where other people, my kind as well as his kind, explained their way of experiencing the world.
  • Me explaining myself in writing, because I tend to be much more articulate in writing than in conversation.

4. Re-Negotiate Your Marriage

In order for my marriage to survive, I had to be willing to risk losing my marriage.

I needed to change the way I was living.  I wasn’t willing to compromise my basic needs anymore.  Because I had seen where too much compromise had led me.

But this meant that I was now a different person than the one my husband married.  More me.  More authentic.  But not the person he married.

I was happier.  I was calmer.  But I was also much less willing to compromise, accommodate, people-please.

And this wasn’t just about me.  He has needs too!  He is just as deserving of health and happiness as I am.  What if there was too much conflict between his needs for health and happiness and my newly discovered needs for health and happiness?

That was a possibility I had to be willing to face.  It was up to him to decide if he could adjust to my new way of being.

He could have said, no, I can’t do this anymore.  You are not the person I married.  The life you want and need is too different from the life I want and need.  And I would have understood.

But he said yes.  And that’s how I know he loves me.  The real me.  All of me.  With all of my issues and imperfections.

Had he said no, I would have known that he never really loved me in the first place.  I would have known that he loved the person he wanted me to be, not the person I actually was.

My heart would have been broken, but I would have survived.  Because by that point I knew what I needed and how to take care of myself.

5. Teach Your Spouse How To Support You

Once my husband decided to stay married to the new me, we went on to live happily ever after.

Just kidding! 😉

It would be more accurate to say that we went on to work hard on our marriage ever after.

For many years, we had been doing things one way and now we needed to learn another way.  Old patterns and habits that were not good for me needed to be replaced with new patterns and habits that supported my health.

In order for my marriage to survive, I had to teach my husband how to support me the way I needed to be supported.  I had to teach him how to help me maintain my sanity.

This wasn’t something he was going to just intuitively know how to do.  If I went for years without knowing what I needed and if professional helpers weren’t able to figure out what I needed, then I couldn’t really expect him to just know what I needed.

So I got very specific:

  • Help me stay strong.  Encourage me to sleep, exercise, and eat well.
  • I’m not good at saying “no”.  Until I get better at it, help me by not asking me to stretch myself beyond what I can handle either for you or anyone else.
  • If I schedule too much stimulating stuff, remind me it’s not good for me.
  • If I start saying things like “everything is too hard” and “I just want to give up” encourage me to rest in solitude.
  • Encourage me to do things that put my brain in flow: make plans, read books, work on the blog.

And that’s exactly what he does.  Every day.

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About the author 

Anni

Hi! I'm a life coach, a Certified MBTI® Practitioner, and a mentor for stressed out introverts and highly sensitive people. I used to be one myself! My mission is to help you discover your true self and create a life you ACTUALLY like.

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  1. Holy moly, Anni! I just found your blog today. Every post I’ve read through speaks volumes to me. It is so true that we evolve, and tbe people in our lives either have to evolve to stay with us, or fly the coop. Your husband is a rockstar for supporting you in your evolution, even if it meant discomfort and work for him. I am pretty certain the people pleaser in me is desperately trying to avoid making discomfort for others as I evolve in my needs. But so far that has blown up in all our faces. Cause I can’t contain my own discomfort anymore.
    I am often accused of making people ‘jump through hoops’. To me it’s just me evolving and yes, requiring different kinds of effort that people aren’t used to giving. I feel immense guilt when I grow and my requirements change. Cause people don’t understand why their behavior was okay for five years, and is suddenly not okay anymore.
    Do you have advice for standing up for my evolution, or explaining this phenomenon to people in a way that might make sense? A way that won’t lead them to believe I’m just an unpleasable person? Maybe I am unpleasable.

    1. Hi Jenna! Thank you so much for reading and commenting. 🙂 My advice: Push through the guilt and keep growing. Some people are going to see you as unpleasable no matter what you do or say. Let them. It doesn’t say anything about you – it’s just a reflection of where they are at.

      As for people who have the potential to understand, I find that it tends to work better to focus on describing what your struggles have been and what you have now realized that you need in order to overcome them rather than accusing the other person of falling short. And if you want someone to change their behavior, get as concrete as possible with specific examples.

      If you feel like you might be asking for something unreasonable, ask yourself how much you are bending for the sake of the relationship and how many hoops you have been jumping through. Is it a balanced relationship?

      1. Aha! I’m in agreement there. Definitely not balanced relationships in the past. Most people I have dated (and dumped) liked me for the things I did for them, not for who I am. So when I stopped taking such good care of them in favor of myself, they got mad and then lost interest in me quick. My mom and ex husband are still mad, years later. Step one in my better health journey was to stop doing things for people in hopes of receiveing love. Now on to setting those firm boundaries about what I need to function. Just takes practice!! And letting people go who need to go.

  2. Hi Anni. I am an indian married for 2 years have a baby boy. I dont know if you would reply me or not. I feel like only i am making efforts to make our marriage a happy place. I have so many issues with my husband and in laws. These are really small things but making a huge difference in my lifestyle. Like my husband arrive late everyday busy with his friends.not caring. Here i cant wear my jeans and top only salwar kurta. If i dont wear a dupatta its a great mess then. Fed up of these small things very basic but needed too. These small things used to give me happiness. What to do?

  3. Oh my goodness; I’ve read through a couple of your posts and I feel like I’m finally finding someone who is like me and understands what I’m going through. I’ve been feeling so lonely like I don’t have anyone to talk to and nobody who understand, but so much I’ve read here already resonates with me so much. I am also an INFJ (with an extrovert husband) and experience depression and anxiety. Thanks so much for writing this blog! I’m excited to keep reading and seeing how I can apply what you share to my own life. Thanks!

  4. Hi Anni, I came across your article on Pinterest and started reading your work and then kept clicking on the next article and the next and the next. I have never commented on any posts that I have read but You are a wonderful writer and have zeroed in on a lot of what I have been feeling/experiencing for the past few years. I feel like I am not alone which to be honest has given me a real sense of relief!
    With all the information and advice you have graciously given what did you do first? Did you take the personality test first? Did you start running first? Was it waking up early and giving yourself time for yourself to begin your journey out of depression?
    I have been contemplating meds but I would rather overcome using natural methods as you have prescribed.
    You are truly an inspiration and it’s so crazy how much I relate to what you have gone through.

    Trish

    1. Hi Trish,

      You are most definitely not alone! I hear from so many people going through similar stuff.

      I did start running first. That kind of gave me the boost I needed to be able to tackle the rest. The process of figuring out my personality and then changing various aspects about my lifestyle to match happened over time as there were some things I could start implementing immediately (setting aside time to “introvert”) and other things that took longer (changing my career).

      In hindsight, I wish I had prioritized fixing my sleep habits sooner. Good sleep has really helped with my general well-being – I would say almost as much as exercise and alone time.

      But anyway, I SO hope my resources help and you find what you need to start feeling better soon!

      Take care,
      Anni

  5. Hi Anni,
    This resonates so much with me and my wife, I am a man so not sure if I am able to comment here?
    I wish you well.
    Brian

  6. Hi Anni,
    I have been married to my husband for 18 years. 7 months ago I had a huge falling out with my brother in law and his wife. Since then they won’t stop meddling in my life and trying to ruin my reputation in our neighborhood. His wife also works with me. I just want them to leave me alone. I finally had it out with my husband because he did nothing for 7 months. But as of the latest incident, he finally stood up for me. During these 7 months my husband and I have been arguing bc he wouldn’t stand up for me and confront his brother. I had to handle it on my own because he didn’t want to get involved. They never stopped. Every other week there was new drama. They were finding ways to get under my skin. And it worked. It drove me to a state of depression and I even tried to harm myself. Now as for my husband, he lacks the caring and sensitivity (he’s been like this for a while) and I’m partly to blame. But what should we do now to fix this? We both love each other and he says he doesn’t want to give up on me, but I’ve lost my willpower. I just want to give up on everything and he’s not sensitive to that, instead he gets angry and lashes out at me constantly. I’m so lost

    1. Hi Susan,

      What a nightmare! I’m so sorry you are going through this! If you decide to keep trying to save your marriage, you and your husband might be interested in some of my other articles on relationships – particularly the one on setting boundaries and the ones on personality clashes and compromise in marriage. They are all listed here: https://www.solutionstoallyourproblems.com/get-along/

      Take care,
      Anni

  7. Spoke right to my soul! I’m the same personality as you, and my hubby is an ENFJ. I feel like I’m reading a letter from my older, wiser self. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

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