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Dr. Paul LatimerIn the unstable world of mental illness, it is not surprising that existing marital problems can complicate things further, or that new marital tensions can be created.

Many of my patients who come to me with anxiety or depression also have significant problems in their marriages. Whether they recognize it or not, these difficulties are often major contributors to the symptoms of the underlying illness.

When one partner is very irritable, moody or depressed, it is easy to see that this can make life difficult for the other partner. Other tensions arise depending on the disorder. For example, there is a problem if one spouse is anxious or phobic about social situations and the other wants to hold dinner parties every weekend.

Family vacations could become an ordeal if one partner experiences anxiety and a travelling phobia.

In these cases, education about the illness, appropriate treatment, and some understanding on both sides can help to ease tensions.

Unfortunately, many times psychiatric illness isn’t the cause of marital problems, but existing problems are complicated by, or exacerbated, as a result of the illness.

Marital therapy can help partners to define their problems and may also enable them to recognize which ones can be resolved and which cannot. Sometimes, differences are irreconcilable, and once partners realize this they can either learn to work around these differences or decide not to.

Many people don’t give enough serious thought to the qualities they should look for in a partner. For example, it is not uncommon to find couples who have nothing in common but have not recognized that this can be a problem in a long-term relationship.

Sometimes, this problem becomes acutely noticeable once the couple is finished raising children together and realize they no longer have anything to talk about, or to do together.

Another common problem in marriage occurs when the two individuals have different life goals. One partner may want to have a family and settle down; the other may be more financially or career oriented, and tensions abound.

It is important to think about what you want from life and what qualities you would like in a partner as well as those qualities you do not want. Figuring this out before you get seriously involved with someone can save you some heartache.

Changing someone’s basic personality is not going to happen.

If marital problems arise because of substantial differences in personality, there is often little or nothing that can be done to change it and couples either need to learn to accept each other’s differences, or there will be irreconcilable tension.

Although marital therapy can be helpful, it shouldn’t be a never-ending process, and good therapists will indicate their limitations. Once the therapist has done all that can be done to help, it is up to the couple to decide how they will proceed.

Although separation and divorce are always painful, it can be the best option for some couples and their families.

Dr. Latimer is president of Okanagan Clinical Trials and a Kelowna psychiatrist.

mental illness, marital problems

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