AN #IBOT post
I don't write about relationships. It's not my thing. I have written about the importance of our relationships to our well being here and here but when it comes to the nitty gritty of how marriages and intimate relationships do and don't work I tend to shy away.
This got me thinking. Relationships are really important and for anyone who has experienced a tough time in life, particularly with a mental health issue such as depression or anxiety, your relationship with your partner can get terribly knocked around, sometimes to an irreparable point.
So today I have a wonderful and important read for you, not from me but from Jason who writes for Daily Zen, a UK site I have partnered with to give us a different take on well being and happiness. Jason has suffered from depression and anxiety for over 20 years and today he's sharing with us what he has learnt about rebuilding a relationship.
My marriage festered, stagnant. My wife and I drifted apart. Communication revolved around keeping the household running. Intimacy vanished. I suffered from depression and anxiety. She stayed strong because she had to. For years, we coexisted. We were housemates.
My disease wedged between us. I isolated myself thinking I was protecting her from the darkness that surrounded me. I slept on the couch, she slept in the bedroom. We stopped checking in with each other, each of us suffering differently in silence. When we’d go out together, the conversation was one sided – she would talk, trying to engage me, and I would listen, adding little of my own. We rarely said “I love you” anymore.
The truth of the matter was this: she was desperate for us to be close again, while I had become scared of it. Finally after watching me struggle for about four or five years, she suggested that she should come to a therapy session with me. I agreed.
The therapy sessions were uncomfortable, especially for me. It quickly became clear that I was the one holding back from the relationship. Emily had been waiting for me, ready to accept me again with opens arms and an open heart. So the bulk of the work fell in my lap, and I’ve made progress, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement. Like with any good relationship, ours needs constant tending.
Here are some of the things we focused on to help us rebuild our relationship.
Trust. We needed a strong foundation of trust to start working on the relationship. Emily needed to see that I was committed towards working on both myself and the relationship in order for things to get better. This one can still be a battle because it’s very easy for me to get wrapped up in working on myself and my disease, and this can often exclude anyone else. We learned an important lesson in building the trust between the two of us: Don’t take things personally. So many times, the things that are said that are hurtful are unintentional. We worked on not making our issues about the other person. I learned to focus on building the relationship rather than making it all about the things I had been doing wrong. Emily learned that she could be more compassionate toward me when she directed the anger she felt towards the depression and anxiety rather than me.
Vulnerability. This an especially big one for me. Knowing that I trusted her and that she meant no to harm to me, I needed to be able to show the worst of myself to Emily. This included being able to tell her what I hated about myself and when and how I was feeling suicidal. This process was slow, painful and necessary. She showed extraordinary patience in helping me spell out what I was thinking while assigning no shame to me for my feelings. This is such an important piece of the puzzle. I already felt terribly about myself and she worked very hard to ensure the things she said to me didn’t add to those feelings. This helped me become more comfortable with being vulnerable with her and was an important link between the trust issues and the next piece.
Communication. Good communication is a cornerstone of a good relationship. To help build my communications skills, our therapist had us do an exercise where I would give Emily a compliment and she would reply, “Thank you.” It felt ridiculous and awkward, but after doing this for some time, it made me feel more comfortable in what I was saying to her. Her thanks for each statement validated my feelings, which I would often downplay. The therapist also had me tell her things that she may not have known about me repeatedly, again to show me I could be comfortable telling her anything. Emily’s approach to improving our communication problems involved asking herself, “How can I help his situation?” She practiced accepting where I was at any given moment and working under the assumption that I was not being hurtful to her on purpose. She also tried to keep her own insecurities out of the equation.
Love. It might sound strange to say that we worked on our love for each other, but it’s something we did. The communication exercise we did where she would thank me for something I said to her was also an exercise in love. By complimenting and thanking each other, we were able to bring up many of the reasons we were first attracted to each other twenty years ago. Keeping those things more front and center rekindled our affection for each other. We also tried to keep a healthy sense of humor about what we were doing, pointing out that some of the exercises we were using together made us goofy and awkward, like we were when we first started dating. Lastly, we tried to be more spontaneous together – which led to us having more fun together and appreciating each other more.
I haven’t shared these stories to point out what a great couple Emily and I are together – we’re still a work in progress, but getting better. I suspect that issues like depression and anxiety put wedges in many relationships, and can be very tricky to navigate. I shared our stories in the hopes that they might give other couples some things to think about when looking at their own relationships.
Depression and anxiety are difficult enough to deal with, but having a good relationship gives an enormous amount of support to the person suffering.
Jason Large, Daily Zen
Jason has suffered from depression and anxiety for over twenty years. He can be contacted at:https://www.facebook.com/jason.large.12?fref=nf
If you have concerns about your own or a loved one's emotional or mental state I encourage you to talk to someone about it. Your GP is a great first port of call. You can also find out more via Sane Australia's web site. It has some great fact sheets and other resources. If it is urgent, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Please drop by and visit the team at Daily Zen too. You'll be hearing more from them here soon too! In the meantime, tell me, do Jason's tips ring true with you?