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The Relationship Café

Mental Illness and Your Marriage

To enter into the holy covenant of marriage is one of the ways we are allowed to glimpse our relationship to the Lord. We are told that we are now “flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone.” (Genesis 2: 23) United together, we are to cleave to one another.

What are we to do if we discover our mate has emotional problems, or worse a mental illness? What if their disorder is of such magnitude that it—the illness—causes havoc and chaos in the relationship?

There is, of course, no simple answer to the question. I can´t imagine walking in a young womans´shoes who finds that she is married to a schizophrenic, or perhaps a man finds he is married to a woman struggling with Borderline Personality Disorder. Platitudes won´t help this man or woman. Simple instruction to pray and hope will likely be met with anger and resentment. 

Consider this recent note from a woman who is struggling to maintain hope in her marriage.

Dear Dr. David. I have been married for over fifteen years to a man who has severe depressive episodes. It is not just that he is moody at times. He goes into serious slumps when he doesn´t want to go to work, pays little attention to me, won´t attend church and has even mentioned suicide. He won´t see a doctor, and I´m at my wits end. What can you tell me that might help with a spouse who doesn´t want help, but who´s mental illness is ruining our marriage?

Your letter reminds me, and all of us, that mental health issues are serious, and it is time we talked openly about them. Depression is one of many disorders striking many lives and has very debilitating effects.

Your note is particularly concerning in that your husband won´t seek help. Depression, which strikes at least one in ten adults, is not only very common, but very treatable. Your husband can be helped but he must reach out for it. Here are some things to consider.


First, we must be careful about the use of labels. Even calling your husband´s depression a mental illness is questionable, and probably not helpful. What is helpful is to describe the symptoms, determine if it fits a particular diagnosis, and then get on with the effective treatment.

Second, you can help your husband by not being in denial about his depression. That means that you must talk openly about it Pretending it doesn´t exist, that he doesn´t have mood swings and times of suicidal thoughts, only makes matters worse. Educate yourself about depression. Understand that men are particularly vulnerable to denying their depression and refusing to seek help for it. I discuss this issue at length in my book, Does Your Man Have the Blues?

Share with him some of the symptoms of depression, such as:

• Constant low mood
• Loss of appetite and outside interests
• Change in sleeping habits
• Loss of energy
• Loss of libido
• Mood swings
• Thoughts of suicide

Third, he must be evaluated and diagnosis is critical. There are many possible origins for his depression, including, but not limited to, nutrition, alcohol use, grief, adjustment to stress, spiritual issues and likely biochemical changes. He must see a physician to rule out physiological issues, and then, if appropriate, seek counseling.

Fourth, you may need to set some difficult boundaries. While love certainly means bearing with your husband’s weaknesses, this must not be confused with enabling them. Depression is a very serious issue—and treatable. But he must seek help and you must calmly, consistently confront him.

Fifth, it is very likely, given the length of time he has been depressed, that he may need medications. Consultation with a qualified physician is needed. Invite your husband to go to your family doctor to discuss the matter further.

Finally, depression is treatable. Through the combined use of nutrition, spiritual counsel, psychotherapy and medication, depression can be effectively treated. You must take action. Depression is a serious threat to your husband´s life, certainly to your marriage, as well as to the quality of life for both of you. And---it is unnecessary.

How have others handled their mate´s emotional and mental illnesses? What has worked and what hasn´t? We want to hear from you.

Print      Email to a Friend    posted on Tuesday, April 08, 2008 3:39 PM

Comments on this post

# RE: Mental Illness and Your Marriage

This article seems to be my personal account,the only difference being that his mental illness is not depression and remains undiagnosed.i dont know how to deal with it.talking to friends n relatives hasn't helped.my only hope rests in God's supernatural intervention.praying and waiting for His Grace.
Left by aasiyanaz on Apr 09, 2008 3:17 AM

# RE: Mental Illness and Your Marriage

I have suffered with depression for years. My Internist finally told me if I didn't get help for it with medications,something bad would happen. I chose to ignore his advice. I ended up in a hospital & had group & individual psychotherapy & was put on medications to treat depression caused by chemical imbalance in the brain. I still have psychotherapy & take anitdepressant now but it's only every 6 months I see my therapist. At first, my husband was angry with me & didn't understand what was wrong with me. But now he does & with prayer & commitment to each other we've made great strides in communication in our marriage. We can talk about anything now. My heart goes out to this woman & her husband. I pray he seeks help because it's there & life will be so much better for them both. Prayer is very important & reading the Psalms & even praying the Psalms that speak to your heart. There is hope! God bless you & comfort you.
Left by Hope08 on Apr 09, 2008 6:51 AM

# RE: Mental Illness and Your Marriage

I am the one with mental illness. I have an incredible husband. He goes with me to my psychiatrist. He makes sure I am never without my medicine. He says I have given him much more than he has given me, when I thank him for staying. I have bipolar II and when I am in public or with his family and I am becoming manic, he nudges me to slow down. My daughter also who is in college comes to see me and protects me from outside harrassment. Sometimes people make fun of me because I act a certain way. My family is wonderful. They accept me the way I am and help me to be better than I am.
Left by repaulling on Apr 09, 2008 9:24 AM

# RE: Mental Illness and Your Marriage

I just wanted to share the goodness of the Lord and how he delivered me from demonic depression. I was hallucinating, hearing voices and having weird nightmares and I knew they were from the devil. The drugs I was taking, only made me feel worse and lacking in energy to do anything but oneday my brother played a gospel song by Caedmon's call-'God of Wonders' and from there I started singing along. I got other gospel songs from different artists and sang along to their songs but do you, I became like a new transformed being when I danced my best while the music was playing and I kept doing this until I saw the change. I no longer needed medication and now people know me in the church I attend as the best dancer. Glory be to God almighty! Just dance to the beat of the music you will see what God will do for you.
Left by etrait25 on Apr 09, 2008 5:39 PM

# RE: Mental Illness and Your Marriage

Many very famous women have admitted they had post-partum depression such as Marie Osmond and Brooke Shields. I also suffered from this, but because I was a nurse and understood the reasons why I had it, I was able to handle it without medication. I would sit on the bed weeping and pray to God and thank him for my new baby and ask him to give me the joy and he did! I would tell my husband that I'm ok, I just know it is the hormones making me feel this way. It also helps greatly to talk to other new mothers and get encouragement from them! We are all the body of Christ!
Left by princessesp on Apr 09, 2008 10:54 PM

# RE: Mental Illness and Your Marriage

Wow, thank you for this report. I am in a relationship with a man I dearly love, but am constantly perplexed by his behaviors. He will never consent to help.(paranoid delusions or spiritual insights. psychotic thoughts or demon harrassments. directions from God or antisocial behaviors). Many times I almost wrote CBN for prayer, but never could figure out how to explain. Sometimes I can only pray and throw up my hands in surrender and distance myself & tell God 'it's your problem'. It is very painful at times for him and for me to watch. What a relief to know others do understand. Can I ever really know the difference between mental illness and a person spiritually seperated from the world?
Left by nanabq on Apr 09, 2008 11:21 PM

# RE: Mental Illness and Your Marriage

It is only by the grace of God that my sons and I are alive. My husband is a paranoid schizophrenic. God saved us and helped my husband through many many difficult times. With prayer, he goes to work every day and always takes his medicines. There are times when he is depressed that it is difficult to get him to take his meds, but he finally does. There is hope for the mentally ill and a marriage but I am not going to sugar coat anything. It is VERY HARD WORK and I sometimes wonder why I have stayed through so much. But who am I to question God's plan for my family. Just know that prayers are answered. My children are now grown and very well adjusted. I wonder if they would be as supportive and caring if they did not live through such a trama . . . Thank you God for my children and their good health - both physical and mental.
Left by LoKiKo on Apr 11, 2008 10:59 AM

# RE: Mental Illness and Your Marriage

I also was married to a a person,later described
with ADH&D.who ruined a whole family through her running around,marriages,children while married,but with men who were not her husband.
What does it say a "foolish woman tears down her home".Selfish,an ego that would make the biggest
star you know pale in comparison.went to bed with most of her doctors,people where she shopped,worked.
I think it all goes back to when we were 1st
married & she loved the Quighy board'All the talking of deceint living ment nothing to her.
obviously we are not together anymore,thanks be to G-D.
steve<><
Left by sonnybunny on Apr 11, 2008 4:11 PM

# RE: Mental Illness and Your Marriage

I am the one who started showing signs of depression. I am blessed to have a family who has always noticed if I am not up to par. They were the first to notice how ill I was before I was diagonised with a disease for which there is no medical cure. My husband and teenage daughters were the first ones to tell me that I was becoming moody, argumentative, and just not fun to be around. I am glad to say that I am under the doctors care for my depression, and my family is glad to have me back.
Left by tmj869 on Apr 11, 2008 6:55 PM

# RE: Mental Illness and Your Marriage

Thank you, everyone, for writing about your experience. One of my personal goals for this blog is so we can all see and appreciate our humanity. While we are daily being made into the likeness of Christ, we are also told "We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair." (II Cor. 4: 7-8) We all struggle, and will struggle, but knowing we're all in this together, allowing God to change and heal us, takes some of our suffering away.
Keep on sharing!! We all learn from each other.
Dr. David
Left by drdavidhawkins on Apr 11, 2008 10:36 PM

# RE: Mental Illness and Your Marriage

My husband expressed a desire to commit suicide and I couldn't reason with him, so I called 911 and the paramedics brought him to the hospital. I signed an involuntary petition so that he couldn't sign himself out. He was there a 11 days in psych, diagnosed with bipolar, placed on meds, and life has been so much better for us as well as our children. He has even quit smoking, praise God.
Left by nal_hug on Apr 14, 2008 12:03 AM

# RE: Mental Illness and Your Marriage

I am Bipolar and suffer with Trichotillomania (the urge to pull your hair out). My husband and daughter are excellent when it comes to me and my conditions they accept me for how and who I am. I too had the thought of suicide enter my mind but by the grace and mercy of God I was saved. I lost a brother last year to suicide he wasn't as fortunate to have SUPPORT as I Do and I thank God every day. Also I had an Angel named Peggy she's my DR. she takes care of me personally. Then I have My Pastor and his Wife and a few other true Christians 4 Support, The Good Book is a Must, And The Psalms are read daily because they restore my soul!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Left by hopenfaith36 on Apr 16, 2008 11:58 AM

# RE: Mental Illness and Your Marriage

I suffer from a mental illness and my son has autism. My husband has been supportive, unfortunately the church community has not. They told me that God has given everyone a "sound mind" as it says in 1 Timothy. I disagree with that. There are people who are severely mentally ill and I met them and it breaks my heart because God did NOT give them a sound mind. The verse does not apply to everyone, only to some people. We need to have compassion for people who are mentally ill and not say that they are suffering because of sin. Adults and children with a mental illness should be treated with respect not with someone telling them a bible verse that they may not understand. Listen and love them, not lecture them.
Left by blue4me on Jun 18, 2008 10:44 PM

# RE: Mental Illness and Your Marriage

I am married to a man who was recently diagnosed with Narcissistic personality disorder.
He is mostly very defensive any time I try to point out a troublesome behavior. He has a false, grandiose self-concept which he will protect at all costs, he has very schizotypic delusions at times and will insist he responded to me when his mouth never moved.
He has been through countless counselling sessions in which he later tells me that the counselors know NOTHING and do not help because he HAS NO PROBLEMS...that I am the one with the problems.
I was told I was bipolar for a while, until my home situation was investigated. I was taken off meds, told that my bipolar traits were "situational" from living with a narcissist, and that I could just cope however I needed to.
coping...what a word. There are times I ABHOR this man's behaviors which are so much of who and what he is. He lives in fantasy and believes that everyone around him is safe and good, even if they act threatening.
Left by yahssis on Aug 02, 2008 5:41 PM

# RE: Mental Illness and Your Marriage

I will pray for you. You are very right it hard to live with such a person but nothing is too difficult for God he can turn it all around for your own GOOD. You are a strong woman, take heart and continue being on your knees.
Grace
Left by sandeolando on Aug 14, 2008 10:34 PM

# RE: Mental Illness and Your Marriage

My husband has Narcisstic Personality Disorder as well. We have been married 16 years. I didn't know he had anything wrong with him until 4 months into the marriage when he started yelling at me, raging, then acting normal as if nothing happenned. He substantiates his behavior by saying he is the head of the house as appointed by God, and can do/say anthing he wants to me and our 4 kids because God wants to keep us in line. He has completely exasperated me and the kids. My two teenagers have been affected by his behavior and have low self esteem and other problems. I am on depression medicine and cry all the time. I can't believe God wants us to live like this. He won't get help and tells me I have the mental problem. Yes, I pray all the time, every day. I try to focus on God and praise and worship him. My husband is only getting worse. He won't go to church with us. I don't want to live like this. I read that NPD is incurable.
Left by danielle777 on Sep 05, 2008 2:26 PM

# RE: Mental Illness and Your Marriage

Hi all. I am new to the site. I thank Dr. David for his article. After reading the book "Stop Walking on Eggshells", I now know what is "wrong" with my husband. We've been married for nine years and he very often has angry outbursts, is critical and controlling, and has other attributes described in the book. He has a daughter from a previous marriage who is almost 15 years old. She has stopped visiting us. When I suggest it just "Might" have something to do w/his anger, then I am the bad guy and get verbally attacked. We have a seven year old daughter together. She has ADHD and I have ADD and depression. My concern is that the seven year old will one day abandon him and/or develop the anger problem herself, which is already an issue.
I've told her that Daddy loves her but that he sometimes gets angry when he shouldn't. I've told her the angry outbursts are not ok for her. Any other ideas?
Left by djesquire on Sep 29, 2008 10:49 AM

# RE: Mental Illness and Your Marriage

I have been married 8 years, my husband was diagnosed with some mental health issues and I was not told for quite a few years (the hipa privacy law helped with keeping that from getting into the hands of a loving family member that is willing to help him get though a diagnoses like this). After finding out about the diagnoses' of:borderline intellectual functioning, avoidant personality disorder, adjustment disorder with anxious features,
interpersonal aspects difficulty, hypersensitive to negative evaluation and is very slow to trust others, I started to understand why he said and did things the way he did. I looked for ways we could get though this and have our lives function closer to normal at least, my husband had no interest in getting help. after 2 years and being 7 months pregnant with child #2, I took my 3 1/2 year old son with mild CP and left the house
and only then was my hubby willing to get counseling but wants to hide behind the diagnosis and not getting more help 4 prob
Left by charity on May 21, 2012 8:43 PM

# RE: Mental Illness and Your Marriage

Forgive me please, while I am reading all these posts there is some comfort knowing that I am not the only one dealing with this. But where are the posts with a solution? My husband had manic depression. We've been together 4 1/2 years. In the last 3 years he has been hospitalized 5 times, arrested once, and is currently on probation. All due to this mental illness. We have a daughter together who absolutely loves. In fact he has said many times that if anything happens to her that he would take his own life. Right now as we speak I am at work, I left my house knowing that my husband is in the middle of a mania. What's worse is my daughter is there too, I had no choice we have no money for daycare. I need somebody to tell me it's ok to leave. And if you can't do that tell me there is some hope. This man doesn't believe anything is wrong with him. He takes meds under complete protest. But refuses to take what is prescribed. This is a man of God, he loves the Lord....
Left by Marinda on Jan 25, 2013 12:59 PM