Spouse with Mental Illness

Parent Q&A

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  • My husband is seeking a therapist somewhere between Oakland and San Rafael.  He needs someone who is a very direct and openhearted person.  My husband is an adoptee and also has an anxiety disorder and is on the schizoid spectrum.   It is really important that he finds someone that has some knowledge of these issues and how they interplay. It's been difficult for him to find a therapist that he feels he can connect with. He already sees a psychiatrist but wants to add a therapist to address other issues.  Is there anyone who can recommend someone that provides mindfulness based talk therapy?  

    This isn't exactly what you asked for, but may help get you there.

    There's a group called NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill) with local branches in the East Bay, Contra Costa and Marin. All offer separate support groups for the mentally ill and family members, plus several other resources (help lines, training, etc.). It's a good way to meet people who have walked in your shoes and who can probably offer practical advice and referrals. You yourself might find NAMI a great resource for yourself--trying to help someone you love with mental illness can be taxing and difficult.

    I can't offer any particular suggestion on the adoptee issue, but there are a lot of on-line groups who discuss this actively. I've browsed them because my mom is mentally ill and was essentially abandoned by her parents and raised by resentful family members.

    However, I think you might do better to steer your husband for the time being towards NAMI resources, because some of the websites I've looked at regarding adoption are pretty contentious and include trolls who insist adoptees can't be loved like birth children--not very helpful to someone already coping with disordered mental and emotional regulation.

    It might help your husband to realize that the sense of being raised by people who can't relate to you is pretty common for those with non-standard mental processing, whether they are raised by birth parents or adoptive parents.



    Good luck to you and your husband and god bless your travels.

  • Eighteen months ago, my husband abruptly moved out of our home with no warning, telling me he had wanted to leave me for years. He went in a span of six weeks from being apparently loving to erratic, hostile, and angry, alternatively treating me either like an enemy or a buddy, spending money irresponsibly, and acting tuned out to the trauma and impact on those around him.

    He immediately took up with a woman I later learned had connections to a possible tantric prostitution ring and a background as a stripper. I was shocked when I really learned her identity.  I found out later that he had openly socialized with her even before I knew he was leaving me. He expressed no shame and no empathy, even though we share a young son. He blamed me for the affair. 

    It took me several months before I realized that his behavior had not just changed toward me. He lost interest in our dog and all of our mutual friends. His eyes had an odd appearance and he appeared to age rapidly. People we both knew commented that he looked weird or like he was on drugs and reported odd encounters with him.

    Six months prior to the onset of this radical change, he began taking an SSRI, in addition to a benzodiazepine. I begged him to see a psychiatrist to have his medications checked but he refused, often lashing out on me when I did.

    His behavior became worse and worse, but the lawyer I hired said he has not done anything that can help me gain more than 50-50 custody. This has been extremely traumatic to my son and me, as I must now coparenting with someone who appears to have the opposite personality of the person I married.

    He now has an unplanned child with the girlfriend, conceived eight months into the relationship and while they had broken up. His decisions are erratic and we are in a stalled mediation because he changes the proposal every time. He currently divides his time between two furnished rentals he shares with the girlfriend and the girlfriend and a roommate (who works for same suspected prostitution ring).

    I know this in some ways sounds like a "midlife crisis," but a doctor I talked to said this sounds like bipolar. Others have asked me if he is on drugs. Another doctor told me that a person can become addicted to an affair in the same way they might a drug. His sister, father, grandfather, and great grandfather all suddenly abandoned the family around the same age.

    Particularly devastating is that I now must share custody with him. Our son goes to a great school, which has helped him stay emotionally grounded, but the loss is prodound. I have had to stay low contact and keep communications in writing due to level of harassments, including long rants and accusations and overt cruelty. He recently took up an interest in hunting meaning he is keeping firearms in the house.

    I wonder almost daily if I was married to a sociopath and didn't know it, or if he is sick. And if he does have a mental health issue, am I doing enough to protect our son? Despite the guns, sex worker connections, erratic behavior, and personality change my attorney said there is nothing we can do. My therapist takes the stance that unless he lost his job we can't assume he is mentally ill, although a doctor I talked to said this is not the case. We have a coparenting counselor who my attorney said ideally will make the recommendation himself.

    Has anyone had a similar experience? Was there a diagnosis? 

    Hi There,

    I could have written your posting. To this day, I don't know for sure what came over my husband. He had a loose diagnosis of bipolar, but in the end, he seems to be a run-of-the-mill alcoholic. Vodka addiction. He went to 5 or 6 month-long or longer treatment centers without breaking free of addiction. Not until we are divorcing and I have attached emotionally to another man did he stop. He too, spent profligately. Had multiple affairs, with other addicts, alcohol and meth... He even brought the meth addict into our house and tried to have sex with her.

    It was absolutely crazy.  Now he's 4 months sober, living 3,000 miles away on the East coast and back to normal... So to answer your question: I think for my ex it was a midlife crisis (his father had died) and he realized that all his life he'd been working to be successful and rich to impress other people, especially his DAD, and when that didn't happen, he collapsed and the worst in him oozed out: sex, booze, general Trumpyism.

    When I had given up hope altogether that he'd get back to normal, he recovered. Just like that. But there has been so much damage to our relationship that neither of us ever talks about staying together...

    What you need to do: go to Alanon meetings. Read Codependent No More. Get a therapist for yourself. I did all the above and it's helped so much. If you want to talk and share, I'd be glad to talk to you. Been in Hell and back.

    What you describe has MANY of the features of bi-polar illness. It's often triggered by anti-depressants (like SSRIs), but it can also happen out of nowhere, and yes, there's a family connection. 

    Of course, there could be other causes; a third-hand diagnosis isn't worth much, so you need more information and better guidance.  There's no single test. Plus different people manifest the symptoms differently. If it is bi-polar illness, I have some advice and insights for you.  Here is what I have observed-

    -- a manic person can seem almost demonically possessed and vengeful. They may even look and smell different and give off a jittery energy, and they are erratic, destructive, and full of spite and contempt. The lengthy phone diatribes are classic.

    --Even "experts" (doctors, therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists) may fail to spot or misdiagnose mania.  Often police are much better at spotting it.

    --They are reckless with money, so check and protect your credit score (for loans, new credit cards, etc.) and your bank account and open up new ones in your name only.  Bankruptcy is not uncommon, so protect your financial autonomy.

    --"My therapist takes the stance that unless he lost his job we can't assume he is mentally ill" -- Oh, dear. So not true. Your therapist is astonishingly misinformed and has little experience with bi-polar illness; if you need advice and insight into dealing with your husband, you've gone to the wrong place.  Someone in the manic phase may have astonishing powers of productivity and masking ability.

    I suggest you contact NAMI (National Association for the Mentally Ill) to see what support and information they can offer, and to get an idea if indeed your husband is bi-polar.  They have local chapters.  Almost certainly someone there has also has trouble with co-parenting and divorcing a manic spouse, and they are your best guides. Perhaps they can suggest a path to supervised visits with your spouse or full custody of your child. You may need an attorney more experienced with family law, divorce, and mental illness.

    Secondarily, contact your county mental health board and your city to see what resources they can offer (this may be a waste of time, but you won't know if you don't try).  Speak with the local police re your concerns for your child.  You can request a welfare check on days your husband's behavior seems extreme.  The police can't interfere without reason, but you can set the stage so they know what is going on and will be alert if they see reckless behavior.

    See if your son can get some counseling and support at school or elsewhere.  He must be in terrible distress at the change of personality and the chaos in your family.

    Take very, very good care of yourself.  This can annihilate your inner resources and exhaust you. Feel no guilt if (right now) you hate this new person, it's not your real spouse.  And do not blame yourself for not spotting whatever it is, this illness is as powerful and destructive as an earthquake and harder to predict.

    My heart goes out to you and I wish you stamina, strength, fortitude and luck.  You can survive this.

    Find a better lawyer.

    Maybe a psychotic break. 

    I'm so sorry. This sounds terrible. 

    He needs to see a doctor. I haven't had this happen, but do know someone who went through a period recently where her 50-something husband started acting erratically, calling prostitutes on his work trips, screaming at her in front of the children - all very uncharacteristic behavior. After several months of increasingly worse behavior, she got him to see a doctor, and there was an unusual sudden-onset problem with his brain chemistry. I think they had to do blood panels and an MRI to diagnose. I'm sorry I don't have more details on what exactly the diagnosis was and what he's taking now that seems to have stabilized him; this is someone I "know" through a message board, not in real life. I don't know that there's a way you can compel someone who's already gone so far off the deep end to see a doctor and get bloodwork done, but ruling out a medical issue seems necessary.

    Also you need a different lawyer who is willing to be more aggressive. You didn't say how old your son is, but is he old enough to testify in court about where he'd like to live and how much contact he wants with his dad?

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Forgive or Divorce husband with mental illness?

May 2016

I have been together with my husband for over 10 years - from the moment we started talking it was like talking to a best friend. We often joked that we were the most nauseating married couple around.

He wasn't ready to have a child, but after our marriage I pressured him into having our first child, worried about my fertility. Soon after our child was born, he became consistently irritated and angry - and was eventually diagnosed with depression.

We moved to the bay area so he can be closer to his family to see if it would help with his depression (even though I didn't want to move). The move did help for a while - but he got worse, and was eventually hospitalized for suicidality.

After his second hospitalization, I realized that it's so peaceful and calm if it's just me and my child. I don't have to worry about our toddler ticking him off or him getting upset about the messy kitchen.

He loves me to bits. I can't figure out if I love him or I just am used to taking care of this moody ''teenager.'' He has been in intensive therapy and uses those techniques actively but still slips and yells but very, very rarely now. We have been in couple counseling for months with minor progress. I should also add that we both work long hours, but I do majority of the household work. His excuse is that he works even longer hours than me, and that he needs rest for his mental illness, which is true.

My issue is, I can't forgive him for the physical stuff. He shoved me and threw a cup and shattered it many years ago while we were still dating (and I still married him, ha!) He kicked me (moderate kick, on my leg, nothing that would leave a mark) in a rage while I was breastfeeding our baby. He threw and broke our Roomba when he was angry. When we were packing to move, we got into an argument over how to pack the boxes and he grabbed my hand so hard that it drew blood (minor scratch). The book ''Too Bad to Stay, Too Good to Leave'' says if it happens more than once, probably better to leave. At the same time, he has made progress with his therapists and multiple daily medications, and it hasn't happened for over a year. So it's getting better. But hard to forgive.

I don't have any close divorced friends with children to consult. My husband told me ''you don't have the right to tell me that you want a divorce'' after I told him 2 weeks ago. He is also helping out around the house a whole lot more since then (so he changed??)

I am interested in a mediated divorce if he agrees. Financially I have a steady job with decent income - which will of course be chipped away greatly if I try to rent anything near our current house which belongs to him (his parents paid majority of it). I just worry the effects on our child a lot - I know in theory it's best to have divorced happy parents but our child loves all three of us together, so much.

Should I forgive the physical things if he's gone to therapy, apologized, and is controlling himself now? Where do I get more information on real life after a divorce with a child so I can make the right decision? I don't want to wait and regret. Too squeamish to leave

I can't tell you whether you should divorce your husband or not, but I can tell you what it feels like to live with a mental illness and ask-- If he had another acute, lifelong illness, would you divorce him over that?

I am bipolar and there is no cure. I live with the symptoms daily-- people may not see it, but I struggle daily to do things other people don't think twice about. I take multiple medications which are a huge help, but those have their own side effects and I worry about the long term burden.

I go to therapy twice a week, and check in with my psychiatrist at least every 3 months. All those appointments could be spent doing something fun-- or doing household chores, but I have to do them to keep my head above water. It isn't a luxury, it is really hard and hard work. Therapy isn't a hobby.

I'm sorry you've experienced physical problems with your husband. I can admit that I've lashed out (not in the same way) physically as well. I've thrown things, I've said CRAZY things. I have huge impulse control (bipolar and ADHD are often co-morbid) issues. However, like your husband, these are largely in the past because of therapy, meds and things like reducing stress. And I remember these incidents and *feel awful* about them. It is scary to feel like that. Think about what it would take to make you break a roomba, etc. and *that is what your husband was experiencing.*

Mental illness is real. It impacts families, but I can tell you the person suffering from it has it worse because it is compacted by the guilt and frustration. the ''why can't I just'' etc. Ask yourself if you would divorce over diabetes, or cancer, or MS, Rheumatoid Arthritis, or Parkinson's Disease. What would you do if he did? Hire cleaners, expect him to work longer hours then you and do more housework?

If you want to divorce, divorce, but don't do it because your spouse has an illness. You say he didn't want to have a kid and you pressured him into it. He was hospitalized! Put yourself in that situation. What would it take for you to be hospitalized. You say, ''Should I forgive the physical things if he's gone to therapy, apologized, and is controlling himself now?'' But would you ask these questions if he had a different disease?

I'm sure he thinks it would be easier to not have to live with himself as well-- that's what being suicidal is. But he can't really divorce himself, now, can he. bipolar isn't a moral failing

Your situation struck a chord with me. It's really hard to break the cycle of domestic violence / co-dependency but you CAN do it. My husband was not physically violent towards me but he did break things , say things, that I later learned are just as abusive. Emotional Abuse is just as bad. When he breaks something, it hurts because it's like he is doing it to you. Please try to talk to someone about your situation (a therapist) because whether you leave him or stay - I would dig deeper into how you can create safer spaces for yourself. I think you realized yourself that when you stood up for yourself, he backed down. Try to be safe for yourself and your child's sake. Please try to talk to someone who can help you to survive and thrive and recognize when you MUST leave.

In my case, my husband finally agreed to go to anger management and it was that, combined with ME going to therapy and learning to love myself, changed our lives for the better Good luck to you. Survivor

You know your husband best and in your heart you should know what feels right from reading what you just wrote it seems like a very scary situation and at any time it could just become worse and worse so I suggest that you leave and raise your child the best way that you can and that way you could sleep at night knowing that you're okay knowing that you're safe and there's no more arguing or physical abuse or verbally abusing going on. And this can effect your child's behavior in the future. I think it's time you start thinking about your self and your own happiness, this has been going on for years. You will never be happy if you continue to stay. H.

As a person who suffers from depression I am grateful for my husbands' and family support. I too remember irritable mood swings when my baby was small, demanding and I was sleep deprived. Things are much better. My husband, in-laws, doctors and therapist have helped me get here. However, that said I would never physically harm anyone, especially those I love, and would never expect my husband to continue living with me if I ever threw, grabbed, hit or kicked anything or anyone.

When your husband says ''you have no right...'' to ask for divorce, it is emotional abuse. You have every right to express your feelings on how his behavior hurts you and your family. Discrediting a partners feelings and needs is a tactic abusers use to maintain control. You have given him many chances. Although he is in therapy, a good step, it is a long road, many years if ever, to normalcy. Please consider if you want your child on that bumpy journey every day of their childhood or at a safer distance where everyone can thrive.

I'm so sorry to hear you go through this. As a survivor of emotional abuse (PTSD from my past relationship before I met my husband, has partly lead to my current issues of depression) I know how hard it is to sort out the facts and see exactly what you deserve; peace, love and understanding. Please be kind to yourself at this time. Lastly, consider reaching out to others for support, friends, family and maybe online forums such as Daily Strength.. You are not alone, you matter, (((many hugs))). Amy

It's wise to proceed carefully, think it through & get advice. Divorce and raising a child alone are hard. I did it. On the logistics/financial front I see a couple of positives though: you have an income and so does he so you won't be paying him spousal support. If the house is in his name, I think it's considered community property & any equity would be split. If getting both your names on the deed is in process, wait. It's worth taking time to consult a lawyer and analyze how you would live after divorce - how you could make it. Definitely with an unstable partner, do this work privately.

You say forgiveness is the issue but perhaps trust is important too - trust that he is safe and whatever percentage of an equal partner you need, trust that he will take on being a father and not hold it against you. A relationship with a child is a much higher bar. The behavior you describe is abusive, and you minimizing it is part of the abuse cycle. Educate yourself on this pattern - check out Patricia Evans' books. More work is needed to untangle the issues and work with the abuse. First step is naming it and him taking responsibility for it maybe by working on his own with a men's group. You need a therapist who will not equalize his abuse with the normal imperfections and bad patterns couples have.

The mental issues... I'm sorry, that would be hard for me to take. Did they exist before your child was born? If not, wow.

I think it's worth therapy, seeing a lawyer privately just because you will be the primary caretaker possibly without the house and away from your family, you need to take care for yourself whatever you decide. Abuse escalates when the partner leaves or talks about it. Take some time with this. Best of luck.

My heart goes out to you. I've been there.

It is exhausting to be in a relationship with someone suffering from mental illness; it takes a tremendous toll because the spouse becomes a caregiver, with heavy responsibility, lots of judgment, and little useful guidance or help. Most of the advice and ''support'' you get is completely unrealistic (''it's not his fault so you have to forgive all his behavior) and ignores your feelings. The burden of the relationship and its pain falls entirely on you and you get no room to feel your own feelings.

Your feelings are entirely natural. You thought you married a partner, but now you have a second child who takes up all the emotional air in the house. There's no joy and the sense of mutuality is gone. Of course you wonder if marriage is worth it.

I think you are right to be concerned about how he'll respond if you push for a divorce, but even if you divorce, you'll have to deal with him as co-parent, and sound as if that could be difficult. So focus on making the situation more tolerable and getting your needs heard.

I won't advise whether you should or shouldn't divorce. Maybe you'll feel different later, maybe he'll change. Maybe not. What you need right now is support, safety, and a safe place to work out issues.

Consider attending NAMI and Al-Anon meetings (even if he didn't go to AA, you may find many of the steps are useful, and you may come to see that your husband isn't just depressed, he is what is called a ''dry drunk.'' You need a place where you can say how you really feel (angry, alienated, frustrated, etc.) without judgment. If they can be useful, turn to family and friends to help with looking after and providing support for all of you--keeping your husband busy and feeling important, making your daughter feel she has many adults in your life, letting you feel less alone. The more supported your husband feels, the more stable he's likely to be.

You do all the housework--hire household help as needed. Live your own life. Join a class, go out to a movie, do whatever you need to do to cultivate a space where YOU come first.

And get some sort of counseling. See if his counselors will do some sessions with you both to work on improving his behavior; that also makes you a presence in therapy, asking for your needs to be attended. And/or get couple counseling or individual counseling. Do what you need to get through this time.

And yes, at the same time, quietly investigate your options for leaving, and be VERY careful; delete cookies and search history from your computer (better yet, use a computer at a friend's or the library); put cash somewhere safe; talk to a lawyer and pay cash. Reading what you've written, it sounds as if he's petulant, not dangerously violent, but nonetheless you will feel better knowing you have some options.

I wish you healing and good luck. --Sadder & Wiser