Relationships are supposed to be give and take. Everyone will tell you that. They will also tell you that not everything is always fair or even. During one season of life, one partner is doing more giving, and during the next, it’s the other partner’s turn. But what happens when one partner suffers from serious mental health issues?
Marriage has taught me a lot. I am not the same person I was two years ago. I’m not the same person I was one year ago. I’m not even the same person I was a few months ago.
One of the biggest changes I’ve had to make is learning to put my anxiety on a shelf so I can be there for my husband. He is usually the strong one, the one who can withstand so much when I cannot function.
But a few months ago, I needed to be the strong one for him…and I couldn’t. And that was really hard for both of us – especially because looking back, if I had just pushed myself a little more, I could have been the support he needed. But at the time, I was too focused on my problems; too focused on myself.
Anxiety can make you extremely selfish. You learn early on to say ‘no’ to things that will trigger more anxiety, to become okay with canceling plans last minute, to tell yourself that you have nothing left to give because you’ve used up all your energy caring for yourself.
As I mentioned in a recent post, boundaries are good. Learning to say ‘no’ when you’ve reached your limit is definitely not a bad thing. However, for my marriage, I’ve had to learn to sometimes…shelf my problems and put my husband first (when possible, I know this isn’t always an option).
There is a fine line between knowing your boundaries and using anxiety as an excuse (even if it’s unintentional). There is a difference between saying “I am so sorry, but I just don’t have anything left to give right now, let’s talk later” as opposed to “…but what about ME?”
Learning to navigate marriage is hard enough. Throw in some serious anxiety problems and you’ve got yourself into a whole new thing.
However, I’m learning that anxiety cannot be my excuse to be perpetually emotionally distant. Caring for someone else when you’re exhausted from caring for yourself is hard…but marriage is hard.
When I’m emotionally exhausted but my partner needs support from me, here are some things we do:
- Communicate! I am honest with my husband when I feel like things are just too much for me right now. Sometimes that means we wait and talk about it later. Other times it means I try my hardest to be there for him even when I am not sure how helpful or supportive I can be.
- Just listen! Part of the reason why dealing with my husband’s struggles was so hard for me was because I was constantly trying to fix the problems, when in reality he just wanted me to listen anyway (hello, reverse gender norms). When you don’t have anything left to give, just listen to your partner. Rub their back. Give them a hug. They probably just want you to listen anyway.
- Write! This may not work for everyone, but when I am not in a place where I can immediately listen, I ask my husband to write down his feelings so I can read them and process. That way it is not immediately emotionally tolling on me and also gives me the time I need to respond in a supportive way.
- Walk! Some of the best conversations my husband and I have had were while we walked around the neighbourhood. I love walking, especially on a cool summer or fall evening. For some reason, I feel like I am infinitely more open to conversation and supportive when out in nature.
Learning what give and take looks like in your relationship can be a challenge. Communicating how you feel can be even harder – but trust me, it’s worth it.