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What Couples Get Wrong about Mental Illness

  • Meg Gemelli Contributing Writer
  • 2017 23 Jan
What Couples Get Wrong about Mental Illness

Wedding bells echo, rings still carry their sheen, and picture frames grace the walls. It’s the making of a home. The promise of forever manifests in smells of fresh paint and dinners by candlelight. The honeymoon is but a memory, but the excitement of building a life remains. Exhilarating. Comfortable. Most couples never even see it coming. 

Mental illness.

Those who have experience with depression, anxiety, or others understand the devastation that such labels bring. “Anxiety” sounds like weakness. Maybe stressed-out is less threatening? We prefer exhausted to depressed and we’d rather describe ourselves as detail-oriented, instead of obsessive. The terms used in medicine sound impersonal, the exact opposite of the intimacy we long for in relationships.

In reaction, we convince ourselves that stressed-out, exhausted, and detail-oriented will ebb over time. We downplay them and “just get through it,” throwing ourselves into praying harder, eating healthier, and staying busier. Perhaps the thought even crosses our minds that we can continue, business as usual, while God miraculously takes away the symptoms. 

There’s a problem that arises though, because there were quite a few times in the Bible that God chose not to heal an infirmity the first time that He was asked. Instead, He chose to develop faith in the midst of a painful situation. As couples, it’s impossible to walk solely through good times and none of the bad. We’re getting something wrong about mental health and it’s this:

The church doesn’t need health care and health care doesn’t need the church.

As a Jesus-follower and a Marriage and Family Therapist, I’ve lived the past 15 years with one foot in two worlds - the Church and psychology. In that time, I’ve noticed a few things.

To the Church: The secular world doesn’t believe that the church has enough training to identify major illness, abuse, and neglect. They’re concerned that we’re not equipped to responsibly walk people through the grueling process of organized treatment. Many institutions, however, are grateful for the resources that we’re willing to pour into our communities.

To the Mental Health World: The church largely views the mental health world as godless and self-serving. Their perception of psychology is that, “Truth is only what I experience” and “Whatever makes me happy is the right way to live.” That being said, there’s appreciation for our willingness to tackle scary, complicated problems.

To Both Institutions: You’re absolutely correct, and you’re both woefully misinformed. God is in the business of miraculous healing, yes. Yet He also charges us, his servants, to be His “hands and feet,” which includes the binding of wounds physically, spiritually, and emotionally. We can’t do it without Him.

Our thinking about faith and health care is segmented. We’ve believed that psychological suffering is sin, therefore, we haven’t taken the time to consider the multitudes of ways that God chooses to heal His children. We’ve fallen victim to shame and have gone into hiding. 

Consider these comments from couples:

  • If my husband would pray more, he wouldn’t be so angry all the time. (Male Depression)
  • If my wife would agree to try the medicine her doctor suggested, her nerves would be calm by now. (Anxiety)
  • She’s lazy and ungrateful. I don’t think she loves me anymore. (Major Depression)
  • He can’t handle life. He needs to man up and take care of his family. (Addiction)

These sentiments make some dark assumptions: 

  • That healing is solely a matter of choice, a “pull up your bootstraps” solution. 
  • That somebody’s ability to function is a reflection of how much that person loves his or her partner.
  • That medicine is the primary key to attacking illness. 
  • That spiritual practice immediately dissolves any struggle that a believer might encounter.  

These assumptions are dangerous. They pit one partner against the other in accusation: You’re lazy, unloving, stubborn, and un-spiritual. 

The enemy comes to kill, steal, and destroy (John 10:10). The attacks can be complex, but the remedy is simple. We encourage unity against common enemies: death, despair, and sickness. 

You see, a cord of three strands is not easily broken (Ecclesiastes 4:12). When we clasp hands and turn to face our attacker head-on, his power is demolished. Our beliefs about God’s healing methods need to be surrendered at His feet alone. We must align health care decisions with Scripture and allow others to come alongside us, most importantly, our partners. Only then, do we truly become the body of Christ. 

Maybe you’ve been healed or perhaps you’re still waiting, and your pain will bear witness to God’s faithfulness for those around you. Either way, stand firm brothers and sisters… 

You’re not alone. 

Please pray with me:

Father, let your presence be known in our lives, for in You we find comfort and healing. May you open holy doors, send quickly your healers, and pour down your Spirit on our suffering people. We trust that You work together all things for the good of those who love You. Help us to trust You well. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

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Publication date: January 23, 2017