The Torah (Devarim 24:5) teaches that the first year of marriage should be a period of special joy. It relays that even in a time of war, the groom must stay home and bring happiness to his bride. In practice, reality is not far away from this ideal of having an especially joyous first year of marriage. However, when one partner has a mental illness, the reality can be different. Indeed, if these realities are swept under the carpet, then the weight of expectations created by the Jewish marriage process can, unfortunately, lead to problems
Not a Magic Cure
Often a bride or groom is aware of feelings of depression or anxiety but believes they will go away after the wedding. The thinking is that marriage is some sort of magic cure for mental illness. In reality, they will likely have unrealistic expectations about what this change of circumstances can achieve. Moreover, the excitement of the marriage process, surrounded by joyful friends and family, can temporarily appear to confirm these misapprehensions.
The realization that one has not escaped these feelings of turmoil can be profoundly demoralizing. Suddenly, newlyweds realize that the wedding was not the solution to their illness. Rather, it was a temporary distraction or crutch. This can precipitate a real crisis. Even worse, the new husband or wife is usually ill-equipped to help with the mental illness.
A supportive and loving relationship can be one of the most effective tools for dealing with mental illness. However, this can only be achieved with the right understanding going in. During the first year, just learning to live with a new person is challenging enough. Navigating depression, anxiety or other disorders can present an insurmountable challenge. If information is withheld, it is hard for the non-mentally ill spouse to avoid the feeling that they have almost been cheated.
Openness and Education
Those in the mental health industry are in a better position to help than ever before. However, they must be enabled to by an openness to receiving help. To put the hushed attitude surrounding mental illness into perspective, no responsible person would suggest to someone with lung cancer that they hush it up or try not to think about. Too many people still talk that way about mental illness. Many young people who have treatable syndromes fall into the two traps of thinking either that they are just experiencing normal emotions that everyone goes through or that they are just incurably broken. Similarly, many people are totally unequipped to deal with mental illness in a partner, even though the odds are greater than 20% that it will come up.
If you are going through depression or anxiety or if you are married to someone who is, the message is the same: THERE IS HELP. Seek it out!
What are your thoughts regarding the difficulties of getting married when one spouse has a mental illness? What advice do you have for couples who may be facing this. Please share your comments and questions below.