I have been dating my boyfriend (age 31) on and off for almost 3 years. Most of the time we have a very loving, affectionate and deeply connected, positive relationship. However, several times a year we go through shorter periods of extremely rocky times that seem to be triggered by his stress level surrounding change or physical discomfort (ex: when he gets sick, when he broke his finger, when he considered switching jobs, etc.). Most of the time, his triggers are centered around things that would bring anyone & everyone extra stress that may affect their mood or disposition, but his behavior often escalates to an extreme level that most people do not see as an appropriate reaction to the situation. His anger becomes explosive, his OCD tendencies become extreme (he freaked out on me for not noticing cracker crumbs on the carpet & failing to pick them up immediately), he begins to find a way to blame everything “wrong” on me or generally put me down constantly for insignificant things (my stuffy nose from allergies is disgusting & I need to do something about it or else tell him how sorry I am he has to see my tissues on the bedside table) as well make me feel badly about my own negative personality traits that he would usually accept openly in the past & help me work to improve (my anxiety, tendency to be late, etc.). He will also criticize me constantly for not “being there” for him like he thinks I should or “taking care of him” well enough. This angry and hateful behavior can and often will quickly switch to him becoming overly affectionate, loving and needy, whenever he senses that I am at my breaking point during these bad periods of time. The worst part is, when I try to address it his irrational behavior when I feel safe to do so, because he is in one of his softer, more open moods, he switches back to “mean mode” and turns it on me to make me feel crazy or he acts like nothing happened at all and barely reacts to my attempt at a serious conversation unless it is in a joking/jovial manner.
Currently, we are in the midst of an extremely bad patch – the worst yet. I know this has been triggered by my accidental pregnancy & our subsequent decision to get married & have the baby. Obviously, this situation would stress anyone out, but when he is lucid he is so excited and cannot wait to start a family & claims he was going to propose to me soon anyway. He still expresses his joy over the baby & our future & swears he has no reservations, etc.- but he began taking out his stress & anger on an “imagined” financial strain due to our pending additional costs of having a child. I say, “imagined” because just like anyone having a baby, we have to make some financial changes, but we are very comfortable & able to financially manage all of this without too much problem. I have tried to be very understanding of his financial worries, imagined and/or real, but it seems he just wants to use this as a scapegoat (claiming he cannot marry me until I stop spending X amount on clothing, or I will be a bad mother if I cannot sacrifice what he deems to be “expensive” beauty products – all changes I am willing to make for his comfort level, but when I try to explain I cannot have him yelling at me for buying a pack of socks he freaks out even more).
His irrational reactions to stressful situations is the very reason we have ever been “off” in our relationship – I ended our relationship about a year ago for several months over similar circumstances & believe I would do the same thing for the last time now, if not for our unborn baby. I want to make this work more than anything now & I do still love him deeply, just not this part of him.
I have had several psychiatric professionals who are friends or family members suggest his symptoms sound like a personality disorder, maybe even specifically BPD. After reading a lot on the subject, I agree. However, I cannot force him to see this & get help as he is in major denial right now & truly believes I am the one who has gone insane. Any suggestions on how to get him the help he desperately needs?
A: Thank you for your detailed explanation of the situation. I think the current conditions may be favorable for a consult with a couples therapist. The fact that the two of you are on the threshold of becoming parents can usher in a need for future planning, not the least of which should be how to cope with the stress that comes with the care for a newborn. I would not push the agenda that he is the one with the issue, but rather identify that you are feeling it would be helpful for both of you to go in together to see someone. This will allow for three things: First it makes it a we, not a you, thing which is easier to negotiate; second, it promotes future planning rather than past errors; and finally it has the well-being of your new child at the core. The find help tab at the top of the page will guide you to someone in your area.
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 25 Apr 2012
Tomasulo, D. (2012). Is Fiance Mentally Ill?. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 18, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2012/04/25/is-fiance-mentally-ill/