Should you leave your mentally ill spouse?

Mental illness has a huge emotional, financial and psychological toll on a relationship.

Mental illness has a huge emotional, financial, and psychological toll on a relationship.

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What you need to know:

  • Many partners choose to stick with their mentally ill spouses because of their marriage vows.
  • If you make a decision to stay, then let it be purely out of your own volition.
  • Understand the kind of illness your partner is suffering from and the available treatment or coping options.

The law recognises the dissolution of marriage due to incurable insanity. You can go to court and file that your spouse is incurably of unsound mind, and they are no longer the same person you married. Section 8 (1) (d) of the Matrimonial Causes Act states that a petition for divorce may be presented to the court either by the husband or the wife on grounds that the respondent is incurably of unsound mind and has been continuously under care and treatment for a period of at least five years preceding the presentation of the petition. This shows how critical mental wellness in relationships is.

The toll

Many partners choose to stick with their mentally ill spouses because of their marriage vows. This is never an easy decision. Your finances get depleted as you pursue medical check-ups, treatment, and medications. Unexpected outbursts and incoherent thoughts from your ailing partner mean you can’t communicate or relate with them as you used to. Your once loving and caring partner may turn into a potential threat not only to your well-being but your children’s too. All these will leave you questioning whether staying put in the relationship or marriage is worth it. “We have many partners whose wellness is genuinely at risk. But they hardly leave these types of relationships despite the risks due to the judgmental nature of their communities or societies. No one wants to be labeled selfish,” says psychologist Karen Kawira.

Leaving or staying

According to Steve Austin, author of From Pastor to Psych Ward who suffered from mental illness, the decision to stay or leave should not be imposed on you. “If you make a decision to stay, then let it be purely out of your own volition. Don’t be coerced either by force or manipulation to stay or leave,” he says. Once you have opted to stay, set a clear line that friends or family cannot cross. Your marriage, both its previous joys and dysfunctions is nobody’s business but your own.” Additionally, if you choose to stay, do not make a habit of setting up your partner for failure by allocating them duties or requests they can’t meet in their current state. “It helps to maintain an accepting and positive attitude while holding realistic expectations for the partner with serious mental illness,” says the American Psychological Association (APA) journal. In the same vein, show them love and respect. Under the illness lies the man or woman with needs and wants.

Treatment

Understand the kind of illness your partner is suffering from and the available treatment or coping options. Never constrain him or her to a chair, bed, or room. “Have a psychiatrist on standby to guide you on how to go about taking care of him or her, and what he needs to be a better person,” says Geoffrey Indiasi, a psychiatrist based in Nakuru. Get clinical appointments for check-ups at a registered government hospital with a department in psychiatry. Alternatively, you may go for the fully-fledged mental hospitals such as the Mathari National Teaching and Referral Hospital in Nairobi County or the Gilgil Mental Hospital in Nakuru County. Do not assume responsibility for your partner’s health since they may not always be fully conscious of their health status.

Your well-being

“Your stress levels may stretch to a critical level where managing the illness becomes for all intents and purposes the only function of your relationship or marriage,” says Dr. John Duffy, the author of the Available Parent. According to psychologist Ken Munyua, it is also easy to subconsciously neglect your health and social well-being as you empathise with your sick loved one. Do not fall into this trap. Eat healthily, sleep adequately, exercise, and get engaged in the things you enjoy the most to prevent depression and stress from creeping into you.

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