Don’t listen to the songs. Don’t hold on to the stories. Don’t watch the movies, and don’t believe the fairytales. Because in the real world, nobody gets a happily ever after. The real world is full of real people, and real people are never perfect. Marriage is never perfect.
Yet so many of us continue to idolize a happily ever after, and we even think we see it in some of our friends, but every marriage will have conflict. Every marriage will know frustration and experience anger. Every marriage will face adversity. There is no happily ever after.
We had known each other for four years when we married and lived together for three. Time enough to discover our flaws. Time enough to see the cracks. Honest enough to accept what was manageable. Secure enough to know our foundation was strong. And when Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder entered our lives, shortly after our fifth wedding anniversary, it certainly wasn’t the first test we had faced. We were a strong team, with a proven track record.
Mental illness didn’t scare me. We had the knowledge, and I was sure we had the skills. I didn’t expect marriage to be easy. I didn’t expect a happily ever after. And so, in the face of adversity, we accepted the cards we had been dealt, and we naturally drew together.
Time passed, but the PTSD didn’t. After five years of mental illness wreaking havoc on our relationship, I was beginning to feel utterly trapped by my commitment. This time, our unity wasn’t even close to winning the battle. I could never have imagined that a marriage could look like this. I could never have imagined that fighting this illness would be so complex and so unrelenting. And I could never have imagined that I might lose my best friend.
It was clear that the PTSD had cut deep, and I felt thoroughly helpless watching it drive wedges into the original cracks, forcing them open into gaping crevasses. Our marriage, tearing apart at the seams. As I hastily clung to the shreds, I was still blind to the fact that PTSD had set us up with opposing challenges. And I was yet to learn that mental illness doesn’t play fair in a marriage. There were certainly no guidelines for this.
Mental illness has redefined our marriage in every way, and every day I struggle to find where I fit. I’m not the wife I once was. I no longer feel like his best friend. I’m cannot be his therapist. And I’m not welcomed as his carer. I never once expected a happily ever after, but I never once expected to be married to a man with a complex mental illness.
In the face of PTSD, what type of partner do I become? Where does the mental illness end and the marriage begin?
I am a compassionate partner: this was not his choice, but it will be with us always and we need to learn how to live with it.
I am a supportive partner: his mental illness affects our whole family, and because it’s our problem together, we’ll fix it together.
I am a defensive partner: no, he can’t just suck it up, no, he can’t just forget about it, and no, he can’t just move on.
I am an encouraging partner: PTSD doesn’t define him, it’s something that happened to him, and it can be managed.
I am a frustrated partner: surely he’s stronger than this, why isn’t he getting better?
I am a loyal partner: I will stand by him while there’s still a chance we can find a better way forward, while there’s still so much to fight for.
I am a cold partner: his behavior hurts me and his words deceive me, so he doesn’t get to touch me.
I am an ashamed partner: overwhelmed with guilt each and every time I question how long I can go on like this, and how long I should go on like this.
I am an angry partner: he dares to choose the easy option, he dares to give in to the pain, he dares to treat me like I’m not worth the fight.
I am a relieved partner: his episodes have been bad, really bad, but thankfully he is not a statistic, we still have another chance.
I am a fearful partner: his moods are unpredictable and his anger is escalating, how much is truly too much?
I am a broken partner: so tired of the predictable cycles, how much longer can I do this, how much longer can I wait?
I am a hopeful partner: this time it’ll be better, this time I’m sure he will fully commit to his recovery, maybe this time I can believe.
I am a resilient partner: standing steady amidst each flurry of chaos, and in the face of each wild storm, along a treacherous and uncertain journey.
I am a lonely partner: grieving for a person I still see each day, and sleep next to each night.
I am wife to a man with a complex mental illness. And although I am entirely lost as to how this marriage should function, this is our ever after.
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