Considering Leaving Bipolar Husband
My husband was diagnosed with PTSD (not military-related) and bipolar disorder approx. 5 years ago. In retrospect, many of his problems pre-date our 20-year relationship; some used to seem like quirks or immaturity, or he would find ways to justify them. These days, I barely recognize him. He only socializes with select people and keeps them meticulously separate. He spends his evenings in our basement tinkering, avoids me and becomes obsessed with “projects.” Conversations always turn into long rambles/monologues by him. He stays up until early morning, then sleeps until afternoon and hurries in to work for a couple of hours. This has cost him his only “proper” job since college and he currently, once again, works just part time for a friend. We have a 1-year-old daughter whom we both love tremendously. I take care of her besides working full time; he usually watches her for 1-2 hours per weekend while I run errands but doesn’t try for more. We agreed years ago he would contribute what he could financially, but I can never rely on it. He has lots of credit card debt. Worst of all, he will lie to avoid conflict; I have been surprised by new debt several times and struggled to help pay it off. Our finances are long separated. He has bought 4 guns for hunting over the past years without telling me (after previously imploring me, “Never let me own a firearm”). Now he laughs off my concerns. Snooping on him has helped me detect a few nasty surprises, but I hated doing it and stopped. He sees a psychiatrist regularly and has been on medication since his diagnosis. He is also supposed to see a counselor but often quits for months at a time until things get extremely bad. I’ve seen counselors for myself, but he thinks I paint an unfair picture of him, so their advice never leads anywhere. Couples therapy did not work because he felt put on the spot and wouldn’t talk. He does not want me to become involved in his treatments and does not understand why his illness would impact my life. I spend my free time happily with my daughter and friends but without him. I know he is sick, and I feel terrible, but I constantly fantasize about leaving him. It makes me sad to think of our daughter witnessing this dynamic in a few years, and I’m unwilling to do any more for him. Divorce/custody could turn ugly since I’m from another country, but I’m running out of hope in our marriage. Any feedback/advice?
A: Thanks for writing in with your question. Living with someone with mental illness can certainly be difficult and comes with its own set of challenges. Have you attended any support groups, such as ones connected with National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)? This may be helpful for you no matter what you decide to do about your marriage.
There are several things that concern me in what you have said. I believe that everyone has a right to privacy and their treatment should be their own, but it concerns me that your husband doesn’t want you involved at all and does not understand how his illnesses could impact your life. He is either very naïve or has something to hide.
Furthermore, you have stated that he is not invested in his own counseling, dismisses advice from your counselor and refuses to speak in couples counseling. It appears to me that he is either in denial of the marital problems or doesn’t care enough to try to fix them. Either way, if you don’t put your foot down, things will continue on this path.
My advice would be to have several consultations with divorce attorneys, especially considering the international issues that might apply, so that you know more fully where you stand legally. In the meantime, if you are up for it, I’d approach him one more time and ask him to attend couples therapy with you. Sometimes an ultimatum is necessary, such as, “I’ve been in touch with an attorney and I am prepared to leave you but would like to give marital therapy one more try.” It might be helpful to allow him to pick the counselor so he feels he has some control in the process.
If he once again refuses to go with you or does not follow through consistently, you have nothing to feel guilty about. You wouldn’t be leaving because of his illness; you would be leaving because he is unwilling to work on the marriage. And honestly, based on what you have said here, I’m not even sure you owe him one more try. I hope it all works out for you no matter what you choose.
All the best,
Dr. Holly Counts
Counts, H. (2014). Considering Leaving Bipolar Husband. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 22, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2014/05/27/considering-leaving-bipolar-husband/