How to Handle Challenges with a Troubled Spouse
All marriages have their difficulties, but when one of the spouses has troubles, it can make the relationship seem impossible. Mental illness, substance abuse, or anger problems can further complicate a marriage. You love your spouse and want to make it work, but you may have a hard time dealing with their issues. You may be able to improve the situation by communicating about your problems, protecting yourself and your family, and getting support.
Communicating About Your Problems
Choose the right location.If your conversations tend to turn into screaming matches, pick a public location to talk. The key is to pick somewhere that doesn’t tolerate loud talking, or a place in which you’d be embarrassed if anyone heard you yelling. By choosing the right spot, you may have a more productive conversation.
- Libraries, coffee shops, busy parks, and even the shopping mall are all good places to have a potentially heated conversation. There are enough people there that you and your partner may be shy about raising your voices.
Write down a list of the issues you have with your spouse.Your spouse may be troubled, but that doesn’t excuse bad behavior or treatment. It’s important that you speak your mind about what is going on so that you can be happy in your marriage.
- To get the most out of your conversation, write down everything that is bothering you before you have a conversation about it. This allows you to stay organized and focus during the discussion.
- You likely know your spouse well enough to predict how they’re going to respond to your concerns. It’s helpful to come up with counterarguments to what you think they’re going to say. This helps you to get your point across if you become frazzled and lose your train of thought during your conversation.
Be honest.Although you may feel like you have to sugar-coat the situation because of your spouse’s troubles, doing so isn’t going to help your relationship. Be direct and tell your spouse how you really feel and what is bothering you. They won’t know what’s wrong and won’t be able to solve the problem if they aren’t aware of what is going on.
- In a calm tone, tell your spouse what troubles you. For example, you could say, “I feel helpless and afraid when you go on your rants, and I don’t know how to handle that.”
- Or, you could say, “It really upsets me when you decide not to take your medication and skip your doctor appointments. The way you behave when that happens puts a strain on our marriage.”
- You will likely encounter the most resistance if your spouse is abusing alcohol or drugs, unless they are ready to seek treatment.
Working through Problems
Keep yourself safe.If the troubles in your marriage are abusive in nature, your first order of business is to keep yourself and other family members safe. A variety of mental illnesses could cause your spouse to become abusive, and until they get the help they need for that, you’ll have to take steps to ensure your safety. No relationship is worth abuse.
- Ask friends and family members if you can stay with them if you feel that your safety is in jeopardy. You may also need to call the police and have a restraining order put in place if you’ve been harmed.
- Even though you may want to make your marriage work, you can’t do it if you feel that you are in danger.
- If you have children, they will have to be your top priority before your spouse.
Learn your spouse's triggers.If your spouse has anger issues, is mentally ill, or abusive, it may help you to distinguish what tends to worsen their symptoms. Knowing their triggers can help you avoid these issues until they learn how to effectively cope.
- For example, if your husband becomes depressed after a period of not getting adequate sleep, you might make getting consistent, quality sleep a priority. Help him wind down at night with relaxing activities to improve his sleep quality.
- If your spouse is verbally or physically abusive, you might try to avoid the behaviors that set them off until you can get yourself and your children to safety.
Decide if your marriage is worth saving.Sometimes, putting yourself through the trauma of attempting to save a relationship just isn’t worth it. If you’ve tried numerous times to repair the situation, or your spouse has committed what you believe is a “deal breaker,” the best bet may be to simply walk away.
- Putting in the effort when your spouse isn’t willing to reciprocate may not be worth it. If you decide your marriage is worth saving, tell your spouse you aren’t willing to put up with the same behaviors anymore. You’ll both need to put in lots of hard work and put your marriage first.
- However, make sure you are both on the same page and want the same outcome; if you are the only one making the effort, your marriage will likely stay the same or become worse.
Take care of your own needs.Your happiness should be on your list of priorities. You can’t be a good spouse if you aren’t happy. If your partner isn’t fulfilling all of your needs, take care of the ones you are able to meet yourself. Your happiness can have a positive effect on your relationship.
- Do something you enjoy, even if it is without your partner. For instance, join a club, take a class, make time to hang out with your friends, and schedule some “you” time. Having a source of enjoyment outside of your marriage may help you to handle your relationship obstacles better.
Let go of the past.If you’re really committed to saving your marriage, you can’t hang on to what happened previously in your marriage. Constantly thinking about your spouse’s past mistakes or infidelities only harms the relationship instead of helping it heal. Decide that the past is in the past and you’re going to work on the future.
- If your spouse cheated or otherwise betrayed your trust, be willing to forgive, but that doesn’t mean you have to forget. If your spouse is willing to get help and improve your bond, you have to learn to move on from those previous mistakes and make your marriage work.
Be patient.A major aspect of taking a marital vow is being with someone through times of sorrow and happiness. A marriage that is chronically troubled may be problematic, and you may need to decide if you are willing to continue to stand by your spouse. However, if your spouse is going through something and seems willing to get better, give it time.
Attend couple’s counseling together.Speaking to a therapist with your spouse about what troubles you may help you resolve your issues, together. It may also make each of you feel more comfortable talking in the presence of a professional about what is bothering you. The therapist may be able to offer you advice on how to deal with your troubled spouse’s problems and the issues they are creating for the relationship.
- Finding a therapist that both you and your spouse feel comfortable with is key to making the counseling effective. Ask friends and family members for names that they have experience with.
- If you don’t want them to know, look online for recommendations. If you or your spouse don’t feel a connection with the therapist or don’t feel safe, you may hold back, which will only hinder you.
Attend a support group.Support groups offer solace to people who are married to troubled spouses. They allow them to meet others who are going through similar situations and give them the opportunity to vent about their experiences. Attending a support group regularly can give you hope for your situation and help you figure out how to make your marriage work.
- Look online for support groups in your area or online-only groups if that is more convenient and comfortable for you. You can also ask your spouse’s therapist or doctor for recommendations on support groups.
- If your spouse has anger problems, you can take part in related groups for spouses. Similarly if your spouse has a mental illness, you can participate in a group that helps you learn how to cope with their condition.
Go to therapy alone.Being married to someone who is troubled is extremely challenging and can take a toll on your physical and mental health, especially if being with them puts you in danger. Talking to a therapist about what you experience and feel may help to offer you insight on your situation.
- A therapist may also be able to give you techniques to cope with the experience and help you improve the marriage.
- If you are being abused, or have reached a dead end in the relationship, then a therapist can work with you to develop a plan to leave your marriage safely.
Rely on friends and family.As the spouse of a troubled person, you can only do so much. It’s perfectly acceptable and appropriate to ask your friends and family for help. More than likely they would be happy to help, which can make your life a lot easier.
- Ask friends or family members to take on some of your chores, cook a meal for your family members, provide transportation for your spouse or kids, or anything that would give you some breathing room. Even just having some alone time with them can help.
QuestionHow can I be a good husband to my wife?
Clinical Social WorkerClinical Social WorkerExpert AnswerYou can be a good husband by listening more. Try to understand where your wife is coming from. What would she find helpful? What stresses her? Be supportive and show her affection.Thanks!
QuestionHow can I improve my marriage?
Clinical Social WorkerClinical Social WorkerExpert AnswerYou can improve your marriage by making an effort to talk openly about what you are each feeling and experiencing. When talking is difficult, you can try various writing exercises or seeking out a marriage counselor. It is important to listen to one another and put defensiveness and blame aside.Thanks!
QuestionWhat are the biggest problems in a marriage?
Clinical Social WorkerClinical Social WorkerExpert AnswerThe biggest problems in a marriage are those that stress the couple the most. These will be unique to the two people involved. For some, it may be infidelity, serious illness, financial problems such as prolonged unemployment, or a severely ill child.Thanks!
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