loving each other through schizophreniaI love my wedding ring. My husband and I bought our rings when we were living on his paycheck and didn’t have much in the way of disposable income. My wedding ring is a wide gold band with four small rows of little diamonds. I don’t have a big rock on my finger to draw attention to my hand or mine or my husband’s job or status. My wedding ring didn’t cost a lot of money and even though we could afford to upgrade it now, I never would. My ring reminds me of the road we have traveled, the hardships we have been through and the two young lovers with big hopes and romantic ideals instead of cash.

The day my husband officially placed the ring on my finger, we said the traditional vows to each other, promising to be there for each other, “in sickness and health.” Looking back on that day what stands out isn’t just our naïve belief that our future would be bright but a lack of understanding of the magnitude of the promises we were making to each other.

If my husband-to-be watched a video of someone suffering from auditory hallucinations and delusions and was told that one day his wife would be just like the person in the video, would he have slipped the symbol of all those promises on my finger that day? If someone would have told me that I would go through periods of time where I thought my husband, the love of my life, was the enemy and run away from him and hide for weeks at a time, would I have wanted him to place that ring on my finger?

I’m glad that the only video we have of that time, isn’t a glance into the future but an actual recording of the ceremony. A glance into the future may have changed the outcome of both of our lives and kept the two of us from experiencing what it is like to love someone through and past challenges that many marriages are unable to survive or endure.

The divorce statistics for couples where one person has a severe mental illness are not on our side. Statistics have never been on our side, and yet, here we are, nearly two decades after promising to be there for one another in the worst of times, and the best of times and we have defied the statistics and the odds. Not only have we beaten the expectations, we both feel as if we are married to our best friend, biggest fan, and each of us sees the other one’s needs and well-being as a priority.

I have written hundreds of blog posts and articles about living with schizophrenia, and the one thing I hear the most from people living with the illness is that I give them hope that they too can find a partner to share their lives. My marriage has become a symbol of hope for others who see themselves in parts of our story.

Could I give a roadmap to other people who are traveling down the path of mental illness with their spouse? No, I can’t give a roadmap because every couple is different and every person who has a mental illness has that illness manifest in different ways, but I can share things that have made the long term as well as our everyday life together much better. Think of these things as ammunition in a battle that may someday wage against your union.

The number one thing that my husband and I share is a sense of humor. We laugh. We laugh hard, and we laugh often. We make up songs; we text each other ridiculous and nonsensical texts, and we watch a comedy together and do all sorts of silly things that outsiders would probably see and roll their eyes.

Something that also takes place at the top with humor is trust. My husband and I trust each other completely, and we protect that trust inside and outside our relationship. For instance, it is perfectly fine for my husband to make fun of me, but if someone else were to do that, especially with the kind of humor that has an underlying meanness to it, my husband would speak up. I would do the same for him. It is also true that we never fight or criticize each other publicly. If we have something to say that isn’t flattering to each other, we do that in private. If we were to cut each other down or make each other look bad in the eyes of others, it would cut into our ability to trust each other and trust is essential to a healthy relationship especially when there are times when I need to trust my husband to make decisions that will keep me safe.

My husband and I share daily rituals that enrich our life and time together. We eat dinner together at least five to six nights a week and over dinner we talk about the two things that were the best part of our day. We also share one thing that we learned that day. These rituals get us in a mood of gratefulness, thanksgiving, and they connect us to one another. Dinner is a time we look each other in the eye, and we don’t bring our phones to the table.

Regarding the long-term, I think it is part of the fabric of our relationship that we have a dream life together. We often plan what we will do in retirement. We talk about where we would like to go, what we would like to see, and how we would like to travel to those places. The ability to look into the future together and see things we both want to do together is like glue for our everyday. Dreams of the future mean we can see ourselves together ten, twenty or thirty years down the road.

We aren’t the only couple that has stayed together nineteen years while having one partner with a severe mental illness. There are other examples of successful couples out there. I wonder if you were to ask any of them if they would want to upgrade their wedding rings? My guess is no, people who have had to overcome frightening and difficult obstacles to fulfilling their vows probably gave up caring what their wedding rings look like long ago. My guess is their concern is only with the symbolism of the union and how they kept their promises – promises that you don’t know how you are going to be called to fulfill the day that you make them.

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