When Mental Health Impacts Your Marriage

by Nov 10, 2021Article, Well With My Soul

Carolyn Hunsicker, LCPC

Carolyn Hunsicker is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) and a National Board Certified Counselor (NCC) in both Maryland and South Carolina. She has completed Gottman couples counseling Level III. Prior to opening True View Counseling, Carolyn spent 13 years as a high school counselor.  Before relocating to South Carolina in 2020, she attended LifePoint Church for over 25 years.  Her client list includes patients residing in both states, and her passion resides in fostering enhanced communication skills in the lives of individuals and couples. Carolyn feels that “one of the greatest joys and rewards of [my] life is counseling couples and helping them to work hard to make their marriage the best it can be this side of heaven.”


Welcome to the second installment of our Well With My Soul series.  In this installment, mental health professionals that are connected to LifePoint will be sharing truths about mental wellness. This week, Carolyn Hunsicker speaks to the role that mental health can play in our relationship with our significant other.

How does mental illness impact the partnership of a relationship?

Carolyn: A healthy partnership occurs when partners are focused on their spouse, leaning into what makes them happy and promoting an atmosphere conducive to turning toward one another (or what I like to call “we-ness”). When one or both members of the marriage are suffering from a mental illness or are going through a rough time, it can become difficult to think of needs beyond their own. Someone who is suffering emotionally cannot see themselves being able to muster gestures that, in their mind, would be meaningful enough to contribute to the relationship. Remember that being able to think rationally is also a challenge faced in mental illness. It’s important to remember that small and inexpensive gestures can go a long way in showing your commitment and appreciation for your partner if you are the person who is struggling mentally.

Likewise, loving someone who is struggling mentally can also be very lonely for a multitude of reasons. Despite efforts to be near and supportive in tangible ways, the struggling partner may have trouble receiving compassion due to feeling unworthy or unlovable. They may push support away or be unable to accurately “read” their behaviors and reactions of their spouse as supportive. This can be exhausting and frustrating for all involved.

My best advice is to view this journey like a roller coaster, full of ups, downs, twists and turns. Be consistent in your message of love and hope and reassure them that you are there for them and will weather the storms with them.

What advice would you give to someone in a relationship with a person struggling with mental illness?

Carolyn:  You cannot be the sole mental health provider to anyone struggling with mental illness without risking your own mental health, compounding the problem. Depending on how acutely you are being impacted, it may be helpful to seek professional help as well, just to process what you are enduring daily. Be encouraged by looking at the illness journey in its entirety. Celebrate and take heart in these peaks that will sustain you in the valleys.

An exception to your support would be the presence of any physical or emotional abuse. These are non-negotiable issues that must be addressed.  If a mentally ill spouse (addiction can fall into this category as well) is unwilling to seek and stick to getting help, a wake-up call in terms of separation may be helpful, with the goal of reconciliation after couples therapy if there is no abuse.

What advice would you give someone struggling with mental illness in regard to their partner and/or relationship?

Carolyn:  Stay the course. It takes time to unwind underlying or root reasons for feeling so worthless. If prescribed medication is in the mix, that also takes time in terms of seeing what works best for your individual biological makeup. It’s funny. We teach our children how to care for others and empathize, but we don’t teach people how to receive compassion and care. Practice allowing others to love you and work hard to accept it for what it is without putting an irrational thought bubble over someone’s head. If you are imaging that someone is thinking the worst of you, remember that until those words of disapproval come out of their mouths, it’s simply not true. Refuse to believe the lies. This can be accomplished through hard work with a trained therapist.

What are some benefits that can come from couples counseling?

Carolyn:  COVID quarantine was not just hard on individuals, but it was particularly hard on marriages. Just as all individuals can benefit from counseling, all couples can benefit from and grow closer through counseling. Quite comically, we are typically not attracted to those who are “just like us” and that’s where the ‘fun’ begins. After we spend time, sometimes years even, trying to get our spouse to act, feel and think the way we do, we are left scratching our heads. Probably the biggest contribution counseling can make in a marriage is enhanced communication which leads to greater intimacy, both emotionally and physically. After all, some of our basic human needs include being known, heard, and understood. Learning how to provide a safe place (which includes being quick to listen, slow to anger, and slow to speak) for our spouses to share without judgment is a learned skill no one should miss out on. When mental illness is in the picture, this communication piece can be skewed, making interactions potentially hurtful and harmful. Marriage counseling provides couples with scripted tools and templates to assist them in engaging fairly and lovingly, allowing both partners the opportunity to authentically process their experiences with their number one person.

Facing Mental Health Within the Family

Cheryl Durgin Cheryl Durgin is a volunteer with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), as well as a trained facilitator of their family education program, and a licensed volunteer with the International Fellowship of Chaplains, ministering in areas of...

When a Loved One is Struggling

When a Loved One is StrugglingWe are blessed to live in a time and society where conversations about mental health are not only accepted but supported. The open conversations in our culture surrounding mental health have created an environment in society where people...

When To Seek Professional Help

When to Seek Professional Help  A counselor I know once described therapy like this: There are the things about ourselves that we know we know. How much sleep we need to be able to function in the morning or what foods will make us sick. There are also things...

Lament: The Freedom to Feel

Lament: The Freedom to Feel  e are wired to avoid physical pain. Just watch any toddler touch a hot candle after being told not to. Chances are, he won’t be in a hurry to do it again. Yet physical pain serves a purpose, helping us to focus on...

Setting Healthy Boundaries

Setting Healthy Boundaries   y mother is mentally ill. (Full disclosure: I was in my twenties before I was able to say this sentence aloud).   She suffers from a personality disorder that cannot be treated medically and that makes it near...

Isolation vs. Solitude

Isolation vs. Solitude  solation is an evil twin of solitude. Because they’re twins, they often get mistaken for one another. It’s only when you see how they affect the world around them that you can begin to tell them apart. It’s crucial to...

Life in the Desert

Life in the Desert  he desert is not a common vacation destination for good reason – it’s not a place that most people want to visit. We long for beaches and mountains, for valleys and lakes. We want beauty and life abounding. We don’t seek...