If you are planning to have a baby there are thousands of books you can buy to help guide you through the process, or at least to help you understand what to expect. The same is true of relationships there are endless streams of books proclaiming how to better your sex life, to how to communicate for intimacy, to how to combine household resources. The angles and titles are endless, but there is no book “What to Expect When Your Partner has Schizophrenia.” I actually just went to Google and searched that title and several articles came up, but I can assure you even if there are a dozen articles (as opposed to thousands upon thousands) they never would have prepared my husband and me for a marriage where schizophrenia plays a role in our lives.
My husband and I are going on two decades of marriage and everything we have learned and managed to overcome has been by trial and error.
The single most important thing we learned early in our relationship is that for someone with paranoid schizophrenia trust can be a literal life saver. When I am psychotic I don’t always trust my husband, in fact, there are times when I fear him, but I have always had moments of clarity in the midst of the storm and during those moments I have been able to ask for the appropriate help.
However, it has not been an easy or bump-free ride for him or for me. No one prepared my husband for the time that his bride, who was psychotic, would insist upon splitting up all the financial assets because she wanted a divorce. No one told my husband there were times that he would need to seal up his heart in a box and just take care of the crisis (my illness) at hand. Of course it wasn’t possible to really seal up his heart, and those incidents caused him wounds that are still painful to remember.
Separating the person you love from their illness is not an easy job. It is messy. Things get confusing, and sloppy. “Did she say that because she is psychotic, or does she really not love me?” Words strung together like that and said either casually or with venom can fillet the heart, drop it on the floor, and then fling it into the fire. When the psychosis is gone, and the person you married is staring at you again, those words still linger. Your grilled heart blackened.
During times when I am experiencing paranoia, delusions, or hearing voices, my husband has never said to me, “That isn’t real. You are imagining that. It is all in your head.” Because I trust my husband, and he has never responded with anger towards me when I am ill, there are times when he can use a gentle reasoning that can often bring me back from an episode of paranoia – not always, but enough times that it is one of the best tools (besides medication) in our tool bag.
I always encourage people with schizophrenia to try for a normal life and that means having a long term intimate relationship if they want one. We didn’t know that I had paranoid schizophrenia when we got married (I was diagnosed for over ten years with bipolar disorder). If we had known the real source of my problems, we may have been able to seek out some answers or guide posts. Although we had no map we have managed the darkest terrain I know with courage, compassion, empathy, and humor. It is true we have been injured along the way, but so far the injuries have been treatable with grief, understanding, and love.
If we can navigate this unknown territory, others can too, and my husband and I will do our best to leave a few crumbs so others can stay on the path and experience one of life’s greatest gifts – a partner to love.