A psychological and spiritual look at how one can best support a mentally ill partner while also taking care of oneself.
In these pages, consultant R. Christian Bohlen earnestly recounts his own experiences with mental illness as well as those of his wife, Helen M. Bohlen. Both live with bipolar disorder and worked together to save their relationship. Each chapter includes a section of explanation from R. Christian Bohlen on a particular issue—such as “My Needs Are Not Being Met” or “My Heart Breaks for My Spouse”—followed by a section from his wife’s perspective on the same subject, and how they’ve addressed the issue over time; it also features a section of guidelines and advice regarding the problem at hand. Some of the specific concerns in each segment include finding ways to regulate one’s emotions by using various techniques, including dialectical behavior therapy; dealing with perceptions of unfairness in a relationship, which the authors illustrate by using an example from the story of David in the Old Testament; comparing one’s needs and wants with one’s partner’s (and noting that “Tenderness is so important. Reconsider the importance of being nice”); recognizing codependency and the importance of setting and respecting boundaries; and doing exercises that aim to increase one’s mindfulness (“Such practices will fully bring you back to what is real and present. This is an essential skill for anyone experiencing stress”). In a later section of the book, they recommend a general relationship model that they call “GREAT”—an acronym that stands for “being genuine, respectful, empathetic, accepting, and trusting.”
One of the most illuminating sections of the book includes a comparison chart that shows the differences between productive and nonproductive thoughts. One harmful or nonproductive thought, for example, may be that one’s spouse is not sufficiently engaging in certain positive behaviors, which can be frustrating; the productive counterpart to this thought is that one can engage in those behaviors oneself, and invite one’s spouse to participate in them. These sorts of highlights could have an incredibly positive effect on one’s communication skills and overall sense of marital satisfaction. The book has a distinctly Christian aspect, offering a great many biblical references and often noting that one may rely on God for spiritual help during tumultuous times. For the most part, though, the suggestions themselves are secular in nature and could be applied by any married person, regardless of their religious affiliation. The authors’ intimate knowledge of the subject matter, combined with the hopeful tone, results in a relationship guide that’s both practical and kind. Its frequent focus on the issues that face the partner of an ill person offers readers refreshing takes on how such illness can affect family members. Overall, this is a moving work that does not shy away from noting how heavy a burden living with mental illness can be, while also offering a number of ways to potentially ease that burden.
A warm and comprehensive guide for mentally ill spouses and their loved ones.