Mental health in married life

Marriage is considered to be an important stage in life, the truth is it might not always fulfil its promise of happiness, love, and harmony and may sometimes trigger mental health issues.

Sep 17, 2022

                                        Heart, Mind and Soul Fr Philip Chua

The eminent Greek philosopher, Socrates, once said, “By all means marry; if you get a good wife, you’ll become happy; if you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher”. Truth be told, it is no secret that happily married couples enjoy better mental health. It makes perfect sense that the joys of being part of a happily married couple translates into mental and physical well-being. Happily married couples enjoy higher levels of emotional and psychological well-being than those who are single or divorced. The operative word here, is of course, “happily married”.

Although marriage is considered to be an important stage in life, the truth is it might not always fulfil its promise of happiness, love, and harmony and may sometimes trigger mental health issues. The modern day demands and dynamics are significantly more complicated and stressful, resulting in married couples being more vulnerable to marital problems and correspondingly, mental health challenges. In my years of providing marriage counselling, I can attest that making a marriage work takes much care, patience and, above all, sacrifice. Couples who are having complications with their relationship must be able to identify the tell-tale signs of their impact on their marriage and get the required help to salvage their relationship:

1. Emotional signs
Fear, anxiety, depression and anger are clear emotional signs and the easiest to identify. It may manifest itself in feelings of rejection, jealousy or neglect. These emotions dominate in the way your spouse speaks, how they carry themselves and their tone of voice.

2. Behavioural signs
Take note of departures or changes in your spouse’s routines or behaviours. Examples of behavioural signs include your spouse habitually isolating themselves or engaging in self harm, engaging in substance abuse, or simply doing something excessively, for example, exercising, working, spending or eating.

3. Physical signs
Changes in sleep patterns, energy levels or appetite may be indicative of a problem. Other physical warning signs of possible mental health issues include restlessness, heartburn, headaches, muscle tension and occasional rapid heart rate.

4. Cognitive signs
A greater tendency of being more negative, critical or judgmental or demonstration of an unusual level of confidence or increased self-esteem may be indicative of cracks in a relationship. Other cognitive warning signs include your spouse being regularly distracted, struggling with focus and concentration, feeling confused or having memory issues.

There are many things that you can do to help your spouse address any mental health challenges that prevail:

1. Have frank and open conversations
Talk to your spouse about what you are witnessing. In doing so, approach your spouse in a loving, careful way, after asking them for some uninterrupted time to discuss something important. Begin the conversation by expressing your love. Reassuring your spouse of your love will help him/her better receive the hard message you have to share.

2. Ask questions
Never make assumptions. Ask how your spouse is feeling and what he/she is thinking. Ask if he/she knows of a cause for the changes you see. Simple questions such as, “How are you feeling emotionally?”, “Can you help me understand why you are struggling?” or “When was the last time you felt like yourself?” can sometimes provide critical insight into the challenges your spouse is facing.

3. Seek professional help
If the issue is too complicated for both of you to handle, bring in a professional to provide guidance and expertise. The Archdiocesan Mental Health Ministry and Life Journey Wellness Centre provide counselling and psychological consultations, including marriage counselling, to assist couples in navigating the issues encountered in a marriage. Do reach out to us at 03-82118214 or 03-20785777 or write to us at lifejourney@ archkl.org for more details.

4. Acknowledge that we all have mental health issues
As you talk with your spouse, it is important to realise that they may feel ashamed, since mental issues still carry some stigma in our society. This is especially true for men, as husbands are typically recognised as leaders in their marriage and therefore, any acknowledgement of mental issues may perpetuate the belief that one is weak or worthless. This may lead to self-isolation and emotional repression. If this situation arises, remind your spouse that everyone has “imperfections” and having mental health challenges is more common than one thinks.

5. Engage in regular check-ins
Whether or not you see tell-tale signs of mental health issues in your spouse, it is good to have regular check-ins with each other to see how each spouse is doing emotionally and psychologically. Make it a time when you share observations about each other and any struggles you may be having. This establishes bonding and goes a long way in building the foundation of a strong marriage built on trust and care for one another.

Let’s face it, making a marriage work takes a lot of hard work. This holds true whether you have been married for a few months or are inching towards a full decade as a married couple. A happy and healthy marriage requires continual commitment, energy and devotion from both parties. We need to recognise that no relationship is perfect and disagreements and arguments are bound to occur, even in the best of relationships. However, there may come a time or situation when we need to acknowledge that a marriage is no longer salvageable — when all else fails and the marriage has reached a point of being toxic and emotionally distressing. This may ultimately necessitate the dissolution of a marriage but in doing so, may salvage one’s mental well-being.

Fr Philip Chua is a registered and licensed Counsellor & Clinical Supervisor under Lembaga Kaunselor Malaysia. He is also the Ecclesiastical Assistant for the Archdiocesan Mental Health Ministry.

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