Marriage is hard. Two people with different backgrounds, different baggage, different habits, and different expectations deciding to pledge their life to each other is a recipe for disaster.
It’s also a recipe for beauty and holiness. I can honestly say that there is nothing in my life—not motherhood, friendship or family—that has shaped my relationship with God more than my marriage. I suspect you could say the same.
As Gary Thomas says in Sacred Marriage (which everyone should read BTW), “What if marriage was designed to make us holy, not happy?”
And that’s all under normal circumstances. Throw in a little anger, a bit of bitterness, a dash of selfishness, and a pinch of illness and the outcome changes quite a bit.
My husband and I have dealt with all of these things in our marriage from time to time, but our ongoing issue is my own mental illness. I have dealt with anxiety, panic attacks, and depression at various times in our marriage, and it can certainly put a strain on the happiest of couples. God has given me the grace of reprieve the last few years, through wonderful doctors and finding the right medicine, and I am forever grateful.
But lately I have watched from the outside looking in as several of my friends are in the middle of the struggle with their own spouses. I know first-hand that dealing with a spouse who struggles with depression or anxiety can leave you feeling helpless, alone, or even angry. I’ve seen it in my husband and in other relationships around me. All of these emotions are completely normal and even understandable.
Instead of thinking through just how you can be a better help-mate to your spouse who is dealing with these issues, let’s talk about how it can affect you. God specifically placed you in relationship with this person, and He knew this was coming. This was not a surprise to Him.
Yes, you married one person and thought that this was going to be who they were forever, and one day they changed. This threw you for a curve, but nothing throws God for a curve. He knew.
He knew that you needed this in your life. I know, that sounds harsh, but stay with me.
Through the years, I have seen my husband’s character change while having to deal with a wife who was not as emotionally stable as he is. He was raised in the Deep South, with all the stereotypical teaching of manliness that comes with it: “Men don’t cry;” “You can decide to get over things;” “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps;” etc.
And then he married me.
I challenged those notions, and he had to rework his thought patterns around it. We are in ministry, and I can see every day how this reworking has made him a more compassionate minister and person.
I’ve seen it in the lives of close friends as well. One in particular, who thought of depression and mental illness as weakness in a person until his own child began a serious struggle that couldn’t be explained away.
In the book The Anxious Christian, Rhett Smith says, “The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.”
He is speaking here of the person dealing with mental illness themselves, but this is also highly applicable to you—the spouse—who is walking this road with them, day by day.
How has your spouse’s struggle with mental illness made you step out of your ruts?
What is God using this struggle to do in your life? You have been conditioned to thinking of mental health issues in terms of your spouse’s struggle, but it is your struggle too. God made two into one the day you both said “I do,” so your struggles are one as well.
Are you letting discomfort propel you forward into new ways of thinking, or backward into bitterness and frustration?
God is daily using these mental health struggles to sanctify your spouse, but don’t forget that the sanctification is yours as well.