Appropriate Guilt?

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Q. My husband is depressed, has a mood disorder and pain disorder along with anger issues and refuses to seek help: I have been married for just over a year to a man that I have known for 8 years. He was injured in a car accident in 2001 and has been receiving Social Security Disability payments along with Worker’s Compensation.

In the beginning of his disability (back injury) he was cooperative and was active in going to his doctor’s appointments, making appointments, meeting with his lawyer, etc. We lived in California for the first five years. His care was excellent in the beginning and then we got caught in the typical WC run around. He had a IDET and another laser surgery on his back in early 2004, but WC did not approve the follow-up physical therapy that was needed for him to regain strength in his back so he could resume a semi-normal life.

Well, his back was re-injured while he got up from a chair in December of that year. He became severely depressed and angry. He began to be ‘non-compliant’ according to WC. He was set up with a pain management doctor who referred him to a psychiatrist. He didn’t like the psychiatrist for he was more interested in our sex life than anything else. We drove 30 minutes each way and saw him for about 15 minutes, although he was billing WC for the whole 50 minute session.

We moved to Texas in hopes of starting again with a new pain management doctor, a new spine doctor and a new psychiatrist. Of course, he was willing to go to the pain management doctor for the pain medication that he is addicted to (he claims he is not). He got a new MRI that showed two degenerative discs and two herniated. His pain doctor referred him to both a spinal surgeon and a physical therapist. He had one visit with the physical therapist and he was in bed for two days. I expected this and the therapist told him that we would be sore. He was a no-show on his next appointment.

He went to the psychiatrist one time and refused to go again because he “didn’t like what she had to say”. Now I have been kicked out of the master bedroom and sleep on a twin mattress on the floor in a storage room upstairs. He verbally assaults me and refuses to do any work around the house. All he does is sit in bed watching ‘his’ big screen HDTV (I forgot to mention that he spends money to make himself feel better). The shades are always drawn so he rarely sees sunlight. The TV is always on except for when he is sleeping. We are broke because of his spending, yet I did send some money to my parents to hold onto for me in case of emergencies.

On top of all of this, my 14 year old daughter was recently diagnosed bi-polar and was hospitalized due to cutting herself. He swears she is faking it. The day after she was committed, he started yelling out of the blue, saying that I said things I never said. I remained calm (honestly) and he had an entire argument with himself and the things he ‘thought’ I was saying. I kept reiterating that I am not mad and I didn’t say what he accused me of.

I can’t live like this anymore. I want a divorce. Then the guilt sets in. I know that he is unable to take care of himself. In Texas, he would be given 30 days to move out all of his items and leave the house. I will get to keep the house due to the fact that I owned it before we got married and that my daughter is bi-polar and needs consistency. His items have been in the garage since we got married and not one box has been unpacked. He lives on energy drinks and junk food. He refuses to take his high cholesterol medication even though his cholesterol count is over 1000 (YES….1000!). He has no contact with the outside world, and has even stopped taking to his own children (21 and 23).

I am getting my ducks in a row so that I can file for divorce, but what can I do to get him the help he needs? His mother doesn’t believe any of this, yet refuses to visit him because the way he has treated her the last time he saw her. He is expected to get a settlement from Workers Compensation, but part of that has to pay for the bills he has racked up. There will not be enough money left over for him to pay for a house outright and his credit is shot, so he won’t be able to get a mortgage. Are there any agencies that can help with the situation? Are there support groups that I can engage in. I am at my wits end and need to focus on my daughter.

Any advice you have is greatly appreciated! (If you need to shorten my question, I understand).

A. I believe what you are asking is how can you leave your husband and not feel guilty about it. There are no support groups to help those who are feeling guilty about leaving their spouse. You either feel guilty about leaving your husband or you don’t. You either have a reason to feel guilty or you don’t. Leaving your husband is either the correct choice or it isn’t.

If you are leaving your husband because he refuses to care for himself or to get the help that he needs and you have exhausted all of the ways in which you have tried to help to no avail, then leaving him might be the correct decision. In other words, if you have tried every means that you know of as a way to help and he still refuses your help and the assistance of others, then it may be time to file for divorce. Your husband has the right and the choice to destroy his life but not yours. It would be inappropriate and unhealthy for you to stay with him and suffer alongside him while he stubbornly refuses help.

If you wrote me a letter in which you stated that your husband was trying to get help and was on his way to recovery but you were too inpatient to stay with him until he recovers, then I would have a different answer for you. In this aforementioned example, it would be morally wrong for you to leave your husband while he was ill and working towards a recovery. Feeling guilty about leaving your husband in this hypothetical situation would be appropriate. But you did not write to me about that situation, you wrote about a circumstance in which your husband is refusing help from both you and doctors, to the point where he is making your life and the life of your daughter, miserable and almost unbearable. It would not be fair to you or to your daughter to stay in this situation if your husband has no intention to get help or to change his behavior.

You situation is analogous to the family who is dealing with a drug addict. By using drugs, the addict slowly destroys their life. Those around the addict are having their lives affected as well. In these situations, the family often has the difficult task of learning how to shield themselves so that their lives are not negatively impacted by their loved one’s drug use. If the drug addiction become overwhelming and the addict chooses not seek help, family members are faced with the very difficult choice of severing their relationship with the addict until he or she decides to seek help. It is never easy for family members to have to make such a choice but they quickly recognize, for the sake of their own mental health and well-being, that it is a necessary measure and the only correct alternative.

If you have not alerted your husband that you are considering filing for divorce you may want to bring this to his attention. Perhaps you can try a separation or moving to another location before you consider divorce. It is possible that if you go to your husband and tell him that you are thinking about leaving him it may prompt him to get help. If you have tried this and you have exhausted all other possible ways to help or to salvage the relationship and nothing has worked, getting a divorce may be your last and only option. And if this is the case, there is nothing to feel guilty about; you have tried all that was possible. You cannot force an individual to get help when they refuse but you also do not have to be present when their decision not to get help puts your life or the well-being of your daughter in jeopardy.

I hope this helps. Please consider writing back and letting me know how this situation works out. I wish you luck.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 1 Sep 2008

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2008). Appropriate Guilt?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2008/09/01/appropriate-guilt/