Marriage isn’t easy even under the best of circumstances. A marriage enduring the stress of caring for an ill family member is perhaps one of life’s more difficult challenges. When you have a child experiencing mental illness, it is normal for priorities to shift, and parents’ time and energy to be more focused on that child and doing everything possible to ensure the child gets the help he or she needs. Unfortunately for some couples, this means their marriage can get lost in the shuffle, and the relationship weakens or worse, falls apart.
As important as it is to ensure your child gets the care he or she needs, it is important that your spouse and your relationship get the attention both need in order to thrive. Dr. Laura Marshak, as quoted in a Child Mind Institute article, suggests that first and foremost, you create space for your marriage by setting aside time every day during which you focus only on each other. As little as a half-hour can keep your connection to one another intact.
The same article recommends that parents get a diagnosis for their child that they not only can trust, but also understand. In addition, parents need to get and stay on the same page with regard to discipline, limit-setting, and emotional reactions to the child’s undesired behavior. That consistency is good for the parents and the child.
Other recommendations many parents will recognize as smart strategies for strengthening their relationships in any circumstance. We tapped into the Huffington Post to highlight those strategies that work even in the midst of the stress and emotional turmoil of caring for a mentally ill child.
Apologize when you are wrong: If you realize you are wrong in a fight, admit it and say you are sorry. It will make a world of difference in terms of staying close. And forgive the other even if he/she doesn’t apologize.
Laugh more: Go ahead and tell those inside jokes. Laughing together can make you closer.
Play to your strengths: Face it, each of you has strengths that the other one does not. You may be more logical than your husband, but perhaps he is better at understanding nonverbal communication. This of these differences as complementary skills and talents you can use to your advantage.
Arrange weekly meetings: If you have kids and careers, there is nothing more important than having weekly “meetings.” It may not be romantic, but neither is nagging, and this curbs that a lot.
Talk about the little things: Talk about the big things, but also discuss the little things. Talk and then talk some more. The more you talk, the more you learn.
Have your own life: No one likes someone with no friends. So get hobbies. Get friends. Get a life! Now! It will make your spouse appreciate you more.
Remember to thank the other person: It’s true. However small it seems, remember to say thanks for small things, even if they are expected. It helps each person feel appreciated.
Stop yelling: No one is suggesting you stop fighting. Some fights are needed. But stop yelling. And name calling. And fighting dirty.
Hold hands: Even when you are mad at each other, just touch. Whether it’s in bed or out of bed. Sometimes the simple act of touching one another can help curb angry feelings.
Perhaps the most important thing couples can do to strengthen their relationships during times of stress or happiness is to communicate. Talk often, day dream out loud, ask questions, write notes to one another…whatever means of communication works for you, do it. Just adhere to the cardinal rule of communication: say what you mean, and mean what you say.
For hope and healing,
As the director of communications for Clarity Child Guidance Center, Mike shares the insights of children’s mental health experts, both inside and outside of Clarity CGC, who work with families looking for answers about their children’s mental health.
If you are experiencing an emergency, please call 9-1-1. If you need help locating mental health resources in your area, visit the Bexar County Community Resource website, call your local health department or the National Alliance Mental Illness's helpline at 800-950- NAMI (6264).