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