Michael Phelps’ wife used to think ‘I can fix him. I can be his therapist’

Nicole Phelps has been with her husband, Olympian Michael Phelps, for 11 years, which include some very dark times for Michael. Nicole and Michael split before the Summer 2012 Olympics, one of the lowest points in Michael’s mental health battle, but the couple reunited in 2014. Now, married with three boys, they’ve been very open about Michael’s struggles and his mental health journey. In a recent interview Nicole said she and Michael were both greatly affected by the deaths of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna last year. Not only did the incident trigger Michael’s depression, but it caused Nicole to panic at the thought of losing him. However, Nicole recognizes that her role as Michael’s partner is to support him and not fix him, especially since that’s out of her control.

Nicole Phelps is opening up about supporting husband Michael Phelps through his journey to better his mental health.

“After Vanessa [Bryant] lost Kobe, all I could do was look at Michael and be like, ‘Can we please help you? Because if I lose you, I don’t know what I’m gonna do,'” the 35-year-old mother of three said. “Michael is the most amazing father and partner I could have ever asked for.”

“I used to think, ‘Oh, I can fix him. I can be his therapist. I can be what he needs,'” she shared. “But what I’ve learned is that you can’t take ownership for how they’re feeling, no matter how badly you want to.”

Michael, who has been forthright about his mental-health struggles in the past, told Today Parents last month that he has had some “scary ups and downs” amid the ongoing pandemic.

“Nicole loves me and wants to help. She wants me to get better,” the winner of 28 Olympic medals added at that time. “But she’s struggling herself. She needs that support as well. I know it’s hard for her.”

[From E!]

The feeling that you are somehow in control of a loved one’s mental well-being is difficult to manage. Many feel responsible for their loved ones, as if they could have done more. What Nicole is saying here is extremely important and I hope she continues to speak about it. Add to that Michael’s comments that those who care for us, like Nicole, need support as well. The impact of what the Phelps are discussing is huge.

In addition to each other, Nicole talked about Michael’s battles and how their sons coped with it. As children do, their boys, Boomer, four, Beckett, two, and Maverick ,16 months, are also affected when Michael is down and try to make him feel better. Maybe not the baby Maverick, but Boomer is getting more cognizant of Michael’s well-being. Instead of Michael play-acting or hiding it, per se, they explain to Boomer that dad’s having a tough day and needs a minute for himself, and that it is about dad and not him. Again, these are important messages. I’m really impressed with the work the Phelps family is doing on these issues and look forward to seeing where they go with it.


Photo credit: Instagram

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27 Responses to “Michael Phelps’ wife used to think ‘I can fix him. I can be his therapist’”

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  1. Mignionette says:

    This is NEVER any spouses job.
    It’s also important to note that she is just as dysfunctional for needing to be with someone she has to fix btw.

    It seems like her whole identity is tied up in Michael’s down to her SM presence.

    • Jess says:

      Huh? I didn’t get that vibe from her at all.

      • Lillyfromlilooet says:

        I believe that navigating a mental health issue between partners calls into play all the normal and healthy impulses we have to care for a hurting partner, and you have to learn how to handle it differently.

    • windyriver says:

      This is pretty harsh, and IMO, not especially accurate.

      Here’s a good SI background article on Michael Phelps from about 5 years ago, that talks in detail about his issues over the years. His relationship with Nicole is referred to about 2/3 of the way through, but the most interesting part is about his mental health journey.


    • steph says:

      That’s not what I got at all. I got more of she loved him and hard time watching him struggle. Kind of the reverse of a man watching the love of his life laboring to bring a baby into the world. No matter his feelings he can’t do much more than hold her hand and encourage her. The work is on her. Same with mental health struggles. The work is on the person who is struggling. It’s hard to accept that you can’t help.

    • Call_Me_Al says:

      “Just as dysfunctional” ?

      He is not dysfunctional because he has a mental illness. She is being open about her journey from taking responsibility for his pain to learning how to detach with love.

      I love this little family and the way they are sharing real stuff to destigmatize mental illness.

  2. Jellybean says:

    I can speak to the lifelong impact of a parent who suffered from depression. As a particularly empathetic pre-teen I would stay awake and watch for my dad to come home, convinced he was going to kill himself. These were moments when he had to get out of the house and walk until he was exhausted. Neither parent realised that I knew it came from a place of despair and it never registered with my older and younger siblings. It was a very lonely time and led to a need to be good and try to make others happy that has been quite debilitating. I would also like to point out that the feelings of guilt, if he had taken his life, would probably have wrecked us all. But if Michael had taken his life it would have been so much worse for Nicole, because she would have been destroyed by twitter and hounded for life by his fans for causing his death by leaving him. It always happens.

    • Megan2 says:

      @jellybean I’m sorry you grew up with that worry, and I know how it feels to be constantly worried that a parent is going to kill themselves. After my mom died, my dad just completely lost himself; he started drinking and stopped taking care of himself and had several serious health scares (diabetic) that involved paramedics and hospitals. For the first few years, I was pretty sure almost every day that he was going to kill himself either by suicide or just not taking his insulin. When he passed away last year, my first thought was that he had drank himself into a coma and been unable to react when his blood sugar plummeted; he was still mourning my mom 12 years later you see.
      I love that people are starting to talk about how it’s nobody’s job to fix their loved ones, and how it DOESN’T mean that we don’t love them. I spent years trying to fix my Dad, be there for him… often to my own detriment. We were estranged at the time of his death, for a lot of reasons but mostly because when I started getting help for my mental health issues I realized that his expectation of me to fill mom’s place as the family caretaker was breaking me down. I wish he had been able to get help for himself, but truly only professionals can be neutral enough to help people with real mental health struggles. I miss him terribly, and I’m so sad that he couldn’t find any happiness, but ultimately all I could do was love him from a distance and wait for him to realize that he needed help.
      I hope Michael and his family keep talking about this. It’s so important; mental health issues AND the expectations that they can be fixed if you just live and sacrifice hard enough for someone are literally killing people and destroying families.

      • MagicSlippers says:

        @Megan2 I am a long-time Kaiser/Celebitchy reader and have several times started to chime in but never have. Your post about what you experienced with your father and the toll mental illness in our lives ones can take blew me away. Thank you for sharing that. It can take a long time to understand the dynamics in our families and figure out what isn’t our fault. You’ve done so much work and I just wanted to pop in and say I see you. ❤️

      • Megan2 says:

        Thank you; your comment is so kind. I know we’re all internet strangers, but it really meant a lot to me today.
        Stay safe out there. ♥️

  3. fluffy_bunny says:

    I lived in Baltimore during the Athens games and when Michael went to college. He was a fucking mess. I applaud him and his wife for realizing he needed professional help and getting that help and being open about their struggles.

  4. Bee says:

    It’s helpful for them who have such a large platform and public recognition to talk about these issues & how nuanced it is. I appreciate it & I know millions others do

    • Noodle says:

      @bee, there are so many families going through this, including parts of mine, and it’s important to hear/see that we aren’t alone. I honor his and her courage for talking about it. There’s a stigma involved, as if people with depression and anxiety aren’t trying or their families aren’t taking it seriously. You can do everything right and still be afflicted. The effects on the family systems are tremendous, and overwhelming. We always talk about the importance of mental health and access to services, but it isn’t until you’re in those shoes that you realize how effing EXPENSIVE good mental health services are. Apart from medications (which are prescribed through a Dr, although the costs of the meds can be prohibitive), a lot of services aren’t covered by insurance, or if they are, they cap your total number of appointments. My loved one sees a Dr for $100 per session each week, and that’s a discounted price after we already maxed out the allowable visits (12 per year) through insurance. We are looking into neuro-feedback as an accompanying therapy, and it’s like $200-300 per session. Even if someone wanted to get therapy or medication, realistically, they may not be able to afford it and that’s a shame. We are looking at a nationwide case of PTSD from this pandemic, and I don’t see it getting better without accessible, affordable services for everyone.

  5. Becks1 says:

    I’m glad they’re talking about it – honestly, I think the olympics should provide some sort of mental health services for athletes – I know Michael’s issues arent entirely tied to his career as a swimmer, but it plays a part.

    Side note – they completely stole my Christmas card picture, right down to the matching jammies – as in, those were are our matching jams for the picture LOL

    • Ange says:

      They do during as obviously mental health can have a massive impact on performance (even then I’d argue it’s more about making them able to perform rather than offering meaningful help) but much like veterans there isn’t much in the way of support once you’re done. I don’t think that’s right at all either, you’ve got someone who has put themselves under tremendous mental and physical strain for years with not many other outlets then suddenly cast them loose once they’re no longer useful… It’s not hard to piece together why so many struggle.

  6. Merricat says:

    We have to stop telling the myth of “all a brooding, moody man needs is a good woman.”

    • lanne says:

      Amen to that. I count myself as someone who always thought it was her job to “fix” people, including men. We need to teach girls that “fixing” their partners isn’t their job, and for men not to expect women to “fix” them, as many do. How many men refuse to go to therapy, thinking that their partners will “heal” them, and that’s their job? How many times do men post about wanting to “find that special woman who will be everything to me and never leave my side?” We have to STOP romanticizing the “broken man” mythos. I bought into that shit hook, line, and sinker as a kid it it brought me only grief. It’s not our job as women to “fix” or “change” men. I’ve read that part of the problem is that women have friends with whom we discuss our emotional issues, but men really don’t–men expect to get their emotional needs fulfilled by their partners. That’s who so many men misinterpret their relationships with their women friends. The woman thinks, “this guy is a friend and I can tell him my problems” and the man thinks “I’ve been “friend-zoned” and she’s just using me–why won’t she sleep with me when I’ve been so nice to her? Doesn’t she see how much I want to be with her? Why else would she be telling me all this stuff? Nice guys finish last. She just wants to date jerks instead of seeing the nice guy standing right here.”

      A person, man or woman, with emotional problems beyond their ability to manage needs professional therapy. A woman can’t “love a man back to health.” She isn’t “selfish” if she won’t try to do that (you don’t love me enough).

  7. Tiffany says:

    I totally see where Nicole is coming from, I have been there myself. The difference is she and Michael seem to be working on it and that is good and works for them.

    I was watching a program the other night, a anime, and one of the characters said to someone, that they love by the way, ‘I hate when you are unnecessarily considerate’.

    I almost fell out my chair because in my over 40 decades on this planet never heard it before.

    • megs283 says:

      @Tiffany can you elaborate on that quote more? I’m not getting your point and I would like to!

      • Tiffany says:

        The character went so far above and beyond for those around him, that it was at his own everything. Mental health, happiness, social being. All of it.

        His mother told him that after giving him something that he clearly needed but was thinking he did not deserve to ask for.

        I was just thinking of women all over the world who is like this, thinks like this and how we really need to stop.

  8. megs283 says:

    I really like and appreciate how they are so open. People might think that he has it ALL – I mean, 28 Olympic medals!! He can arguably be called one of the best athletes on the planet. And if the best athlete on the planet struggles with mental health, it shows every other athlete that it’s ok to seek help and be open as well.

  9. Molly says:

    Nicole is very wise, and it’s something I need to hear myself. My spouse suffers from mild depression (much more this year), and I do not. I’m constantly trying to insert myself into it all. “What can I do? How can I help? What do you need and I’ll do it!”

  10. steph says:

    I think what I love most about the Phelps’ is that they are sharing their journey as it’s taking place. It shows the ups and downs and how relationships are affected in real time. A lot of celebrities don’t mention their struggles until they’ve conquered them, which is their right. But it helpful to see that it’s not a straight path and that you’ll hit roadblocks in real time.

  11. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    I come from a long line of depressed souls with addiction issues lol. My husband does as well. So my three boys were really doomed the second they were created! But we fight, we cry, we crazy love and hug and laugh at our sarcasm and cynicism. We’ve learned to embrace the positives (love of education, books, music, instruments, technology, art, architecture, etc.) It’s weird cuz we’re kinda renaissancey and eclectic which helps to constantly heal and keep us out of our own heads and misery lol. When one of us is down, regardless where we are, the others jut in and out like a well-rehearsed jazz routine lmao.

    So yeah, it’s nice to see others living through their difficulties in their own best ways. Together. Apart. Whatever you have to do to get to the next hour. Day. Week.

  12. ravynrobyn says:

    This really resonates with me today.

    My husband of 37 years was FINALLY correctly diagnosed with several severe mental illnesses several years ago. As we both suffer from severe depression & ADHD we felt we had more in common than not. But there was always something darker that haunted my husband.

    After his diagnosis, I found NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) & this organization saved both of our lives, and our marriage. They have separate groups for those with mental illness and their caregivers while fighting to destigmatize mental illness. I learned SO MUCH about my husband and the way his brain does/doesn’t work. I learned what I was doing and how I was treating him was wrong for both of us. I learned that even though he was the visible patient, I have the right to express my feeling and set boundaries.

    I’m not affiliated with NAMI in any way, just a true believer and a huge fan.

  13. JustBe says:

    I love this web site! I really appreciate all of the open and honest comments in every post, but especially about topics that so many people don’t talk about. Thank you all for sharing your stories.

    I too deal with anxiety and (relatively mild) depression. I also struggled with codependency in my relationships. I’m moving pass codependency and learning to accept the way that my brain works with anxiety/depression. I appreciate what Nicole Phelps says here because, as women, we don’t hear this enough. You can absolutely love someone, but it is still necessary to create healthy boundaries and understand that you can’t fix them, only support them in their efforts to be better or just stable.