“Today was not a good day,” I darkly greeted my husband as he entered our apartment and took in the scene. I laid on the couch while the kids had some screen time in our bedroom. My struggle with anxiety and maintaining my mental health had taken a more prominent role in our lives over the last few years.
So this scene was not unfamiliar.
“Every day doesn’t have to be a good day,” he said as he closed the door behind him.
Without diminishing it was difficult or judging the current state of the house, his simple acknowledgment of my experience came as both a relief and a reminder of its truth. That day felt disappointing and deflating. I’d been doing relatively well recently, and the day’s events had felt like a setback.
Some days are hard—even for someone who’s healthy or getting healthier—that’s what I heard in his words. Progress with my mental health had not been totally reset by a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day. It was simply a bad day.
Sometimes I wonder if my husband knew what he was signing up for when he married me and vowed to love me through better or worse. We’d weathered some challenging circumstances as friends and while dating. We both felt we’d pretty much seen each other at our best and at our worst.
I often asked for prayer for my anxiety, and he’d gotten glimpses of the way it affected me physically. But for the most part, it was something that felt manageable. I had been able to deal with it without it significantly affecting my choices or lifestyle.
Until I couldn’t.
Seeking help for my mental health
After our second daughter was born, things got bad. I was scared—for myself, for my kids and how my mental health struggles were affecting them.
And that our entire lives might fall apart the way I felt I was falling apart. I had an opportunity to see a counselor, and though life was busy, I knew I needed to take it.
That started a year-and-a-half-long journey of weekly counseling. I discovered I had a physiological proclivity for anxiety, on top of a lifetime of accruing unhealthy coping mechanisms and distorted thought processes.
Add to that an accumulation of stressful life events—moves, difficult births, high turnover of relationships, hostile living environments, and living cross-culturally—and I found myself stuck in those distorted thoughts and beliefs.
I had a lot of emotional, mental, and spiritual work to do, and I needed a lot of support.
My husband had ample opportunities to love me in the struggle with mental illness. Especially when the hard days turned into hard weeks and hard years.
Not that he did it perfectly. I don’t think “perfectly” exists when you’re walking with someone who’s struggling. But looking back on that particularly difficult season, here are some ways he supported me well.
1. He supported my need to be in counseling.
Copays for counseling over the course of a year and a half add up, but he knew it was an important investment for me and for our family. For the same reason, he didn’t complain about being banished to our room one evening a week so I could use the living room to talk with my counselor via Zoom.
2. He took on more responsibility to keep our lives running.
Even though I was staying home with the kids at the time, he still made many of our meals and ran errands I would normally run. He took the lead in more interactions with our kids, and let me “tap out” for the entire evening when needed.
3. He adjusted his expectations.
Our lives looked different during that season. He lived with more clutter and ate more take out. Sometimes we made fewer plans or had to cancel plans. He accepted that I simply had less capacity for things I might normally, and he was flexible. In the same way, we make accommodations and give special grace for someone who’s physically ill, he made accommodations for me when I needed it for my mental health.
4. We went out on dates.
We had the amazing gift of an affordable sitter our kids adored, so we went out weekly. That time allowed me to process with him some of what I was working through in counseling. And the pause from other responsibilities helped me to connect with him about how he was doing, too.
5. He didn’t try to fix me or make me feel crazy.
It was OK he couldn’t totally understand what I was thinking or feeling because what I needed from him was to listen and to love me anyway. It wasn’t that he never tried to speak truth into my life, but he didn’t try to slap a bandage, spiritual or otherwise, on my issues.
Some of this could have to do with the fact that he’s a generally easygoing guy, but I appreciated him being much less alarmed by my state of being than I was. He trusted God to take care of me and our family.
For better or for worse includes mental health
If you or your spouse struggle with mental illness, or you’re in a worse-rather-than-better spot, take it as an opportunity to give (and receive) unconditional love—to live out the vow you made when you got married.
It may be difficult to believe the best about yourself or your spouse. Take heart in focusing on believing the best about the God who sees and cares for you both.
He has grace and a strength prepared for both of you (Psalm 84:7) for this season. And He is able to sustain and bring wholeness when we find ourselves (or our spouse) weak and broken.
You won’t be able to do it perfectly, and you won’t be able to do it alone. You will both need support from people other than your spouse. This is especially true when you find yourselves weak or struggling at the same time.
It can feel extremely humbling, but it’s so important to ask for help. We all need to borrow hope from time to time. It’s part of why God says it’s not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). Sometimes you’ll need to borrow; sometimes you’ll have some to share.
“Every day doesn’t have to be a good day,” was one of the best things my husband could’ve said to me at the end of that particular day. It reminded me he chose to love me through the bad days and the bad years, through sickness and in health, forever.
Copyright © 2020 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.
Laura Way lives in Orlando, Florida with her husband, Aubrey, and their two vibrant young daughters. She and Aubrey lived in East Asia for seven years until recently relocating. She enjoys writing about sojourning through different places, seasons of life, and terrains of mental and spiritual health at sojourningmomma.wordpress.com.