Having a spouse with a mental illness can be exhausting and frustrating. And this fatigue and exasperation can spill over into your relationship, slowing chipping away at the love, romance and fun times.
Fortunately, though, couples can reclaim their love and romance each day. In Five Good Minutes with the One You Love: 100 Mindful Practices to Deepen & Renew Your Love Every Day, Jeffrey Brantley, MD, and Wendy Millstine, NC, help you learn to pay attention to your
relationship in a kind and nonjudging way. They offer super simple exercises you can do by yourself or with your partner to strengthen your relationship.
These are three of my favorite activities from their book.
Walk a mile in your partner’s shoes.
Empathy is the foundation of healthy relationships. But all partners can forget to empathize or may have a tough time doing so when frustration and fatigue set in.
This visualization reminds you of the hardships your partner has faced and is facing. It reminds you to be understanding and patient and kind.
Imagine yourself removing your shoes and putting on your partner’s shoes. What are the first things you might notice about them? Are they oversized, faded or in need of repair?
Consider the miles of life experiences that your partner has walked. Try to imagine the myriad of feelings that she has experienced in these shoes—agony and despair, confusion, uncertainty, enthusiasm and ecstasy.
Now it’s time to slip back into your own shoes and be open to your enormous capacity for empathy and understanding.
Make play a priority.
Structure and routine are important, especially for mental illness. But doing the same thing day in and day out can dampen a relationship. In fact, all relationships get stale over time.
Brantley and Millstine offer the below suggestions to infuse some spontaneity into a ho-hum routine.
- Play a game of “competitive dating,” where each spouse tries to find an even more fundate the next time.
- Do what you loved to do as a kid, such as miniature golf, arcade games, theme parks or roller-skating.
- Order tickets for events you’ve never seen before, such as musicals or stand-up comedy.
- “Arm wrestle for love—the winner has to give you a hundred kisses starting at your head and working her way down!”
If none of these resonate with you, spend a few minutes chatting with your spouse about what fun means to you, and plan to do that.
Honor your commitments.
Unless you do a vow renewal – which isn’t that common – the last time you said your vows was your wedding day. Brantley and Millstine suggest couples honor their vows daily. For this exercise, ask your partner to join you. (You also can do this on your own.)
- Reflect on your top three commitments, such as loyalty, respect, generosity, honesty or friendship.
- Say your vows to your partner. (If you’re doing this alone, say them aloud.) “Consider why you selected these three vows and the sense of obligation and importance that they hold in your life and in your relationships,” Brantley and Millstine write.
- Say to your partner (or aloud to yourself): “I pledge to honor my vows to you every day.”
Love doesn’t live in big gestures. It lives in the everyday. So these seemingly small actions can go a long way. Even if these strategies don’t suit you, hopefully they still get you thinking about the things you can do daily to improve your relationship and honor your partner.
Happy couple photo available from Shutterstock.