Does my spouse have a mental disorder?

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker


I have been married to my husband for 10 years. He is a child abuse survivor and has been going to therapy for 7 years. I have always wondered if he was suffering from a mental disorder based on his childhood. Since the birth of our first child, I feel like he has regressed and needs medication. We have gone to marriage therapy for 4 months now & that is getting us nowhere. He has acknowledged he cannot have chaos in his life. However, he doesn’t believe he is controlling. He believes I put him in that role, I make him control things so he can be like my father. We cannot have any form of “clutter” out anywhere in the house. He obsessive does laundry and sprays the kitchen down with bleach (a lot of bleach). He has “rules” about what we can talk about; no work, no friends, no family. Lately, if he isn’t working, he is sleeping. If I am away from the house & our daughter is with me or sleeping, he masturbates online with live sex shows that he charges on the credit card. This happens every time I am out, never fails. However, according to him everyone is doing it & he has to because of the lack of emotional intimacy we have in our relationship. He has no friends left, his brothers & sisters do not talk to him anymore. Over the last year he has started to isolate our daughter my friends & family. First it started with the holidays, no one was allowed to visit for the holidays or he was going to divorce me because I do not put my family first. Then no one could celebrate our daughter’s birthday. My parents are no longer allowed to watch her because he has decided my mom is a fruit cake. He will not leave our daughter with anyone, because he doesn’t trust their motives. I cannot visit family with my daughter because her emotional health is at stake & that isn’t a risk he can take. He has told me I need to work on my relationship with our daughter (she is 2). According to him, I am not fully engaged at all times like him. He has accused me of trying to force dolls on her because I am fulfilling a need for myself. Mind you, I am a teacher with a Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education. I could fill up pages with examples. I am at the end of my rope with him, he thinks he is doing great because he is in therapy. I think he has gotten worse. His issues are controlling my life & my daughter’s life. I want a simple, normal life & this feels abnormal. I think he needs medication & I want to contact his therapist. I think he has an undiagnosed mental disorder. I do not know what I should do.

A: What you have shared here is very, very serious. Your husband is isolating you and your daughter. He is controlling who you will see and how you live. It may be that he thinks he is being protective of his family. In fact, the only person he is protecting is himself – probably from overwhelming anxiety. He is withdrawing into a world where he has absolute control and no real realationships. I worry that the only person he wants to be close to is his little daughter. If he doesn’t have a really good internal compass for what is appropriate, he could expect too much from her or he could expect the wrong kind of relationship.

A therapist can only work with what he or she knows. If your marriage therapist doesn’t have this information, it is not surprising that the therapy isn’t going anywhere. Being “in therapy” for a gazillion years won’t be helpful to your husband unless his therapist knows how he lives and what he is demanding from the people who love him. If you think that telling your marriage counselor the real facts of your relationship will make your husband angry enough to potentially hurt you or your daughter, it’s time to take some time apart. Another approach would be to insist that your husband let you come to one of his therapy sessions to explain what you are seeing. If he is unwilling to let you either attend a session or call the therapist, it is yet another reason to take time out. Nothing will change unless you stop covering for your husband and he starts being honest with himself and his helpers. Medication alone won’t fix this situation. Accomodating him as much as you have been isn’t helpful either.

Either you love this man a tremendous amount to keep trying or you have slowly adapted to a situation that most people would find untenable – or both. For the sake of your daughter – and yourself – you need to stop accepting your husband’s rules and make a life that is more normal. If your husband gets some real treatment, based on real information, he may be able to join you in making a real family.
I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 3 Jul 2007

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2007). Does my spouse have a mental disorder?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 24, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2007/07/03/does-my-spouse-have-a-mental-disorder/