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Living with a Mentally Ill Husband: How to Help Him Cope

You Finally Know What's Wrong with Him. Now What?

Even though we just met, I’m gonna ask you to do something kinda weird.

Ready?

Pretend for a minute that the problems in your marriage are not because of your husband being neurodiverse or having a mental illness.

Imagine that the source of your unhappiness is definitely not that your husband has ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), or narcissism.

Let’s say him being passive aggressive, bipolar, or exhibiting adolescent syndrome is not what keeps you sleeping in separate rooms, or has every conversation turn into an argument.

Suppose we could rule out that treating such a disorder would get you closer to feeling connected and cherished.

Imagine that it’s all just a big distraction from the real issue, which just might be something completely unexpected, like it was in my hurting, lonely marriage.

Let’s suppose those diagnoses are a gigantic temptation to focus on your husband’s faults instead of the things that you could change–the things that would really lead to having his face light up when you come home and him chasing you into the bedroom.

Now you’re looking at things through the lens of my experience, and the experience of thousands of clients who say it was theirs too. But we could only see it in retrospect–after we practiced The Six Intimacy Skills™ and started respecting our husbands and replenishing ourselves.

From this vantage point, it seems obvious that focusing on mental diagnoses was no help at all.

You may be reading this blog so you can be supportive and know how you can best help him with his disorder or deficit.

For me, the answer was to pretend it doesn’t exist.

Really.

Today it’s as if my husband never had a deficit disorder, even though he was diagnosed and medicated for an incurable one years ago.

1. What Unhappy Wives Have in Common

Having a diagnosis from the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) for your husband puts you in a club that I’m pretty sure you don’t want to be in–The Disappointed Wives Society

You might think that’s because they married men with crippling mental defects. It’s possible. That’s certainly one perspective.

Here’s what I do know for sure: Of the thousands of women who have come to me for help with their relationships, nearly every single one has a diagnosis for her husband.

This is something that unhappily married women seem to have in common.

Sometimes she read about a condition somewhere, or she took a quiz in a magazine on his behalf or took him to a professional for a diagnosis.

A wife will ask me if The Six Intimacy Skills will still work since her husband’s a narcissist and bipolar, let’s say. And she will frequently add that he also came from a dysfunctional family.

Her question for me is always, “Will The Six Intimacy Skills still work even though he has _____________ (fill in the blank with a mental diagnosis).

If you find yourself talking about your husband in similar terms, and it hasn’t gotten you the results you were hoping for, here’s the next possibility to consider if you’re willing: What if your husband doesn’t have any of those diagnoses?

What if there’s been a mistake and he has a 100% clean bill of mental health?

2. What You Focus on Increases, Including Deficits and Disorders

The reason I suggest you consider that idea is because even if he does have every symptom of ADD or OCD in the DSM, affirming that about him won’t lead you to a happier marriage.

In fact, affirming that someone has a disorder or a deficit is a criticism, and nobody ever got happier from criticizing her husband. So focusing on the idea that your husband has a problem is making you both feel worse.

Another reason to examine this belief is to find out if it’s serving you to affirm that your husband has a disorder.

My story about my husband’s mental illness was my justification about why I was so unhappy in my marriage. As in, “of course we’re having problems—he’s got Attention Deficit Disorder! Duh!”

Unable to find a way out of my morass, I found a story that relieved me of accountability.

But the story I came up with has a broken-down husband and a miserable wife in it. That’s not the fairytale romance I dreamed of when I was a little girl.

While the story suited our circumstances (as I saw them then), it didn’t come close to matching my desires.

What if I HAVE a diagnosis for my husband, and he’s taking medicine for it already?” you may be wondering.

Only you know for sure what fits for you.

“But what if my husband’s diagnosis is real? What if it’s the truth?” you might be asking.

It could be.

But whatever his shortcomings and ailments, they are not your shortcomings and ailments, and therefore they’re not within your power to control. Does it serve either one of you if the woman who knows your husband best in the world asserts that he’s mentally ill, deficient or disordered?

Since you are the expert on your own life, only you know the answer. But if letting go of the diagnosis for your husband feels as difficult as parting with a precious family heirloom, ask yourself what it is that has you so attached.

3. He’s Still The Man You Chose When You Said, “I do”

Yes, the diagnoses probably provided some insights. They can be fascinating. But what difference has it made to have that insight? Does it make him a different guy than the one you married?

Are you telling yourself that you wouldn’t have married him had you known about the diagnoses, like I used to?

Because you were pretty excited to marry him at the time and he was the same quirky guy.

Whatever you decide, I know from my own experience that focusing on his problem is still a distraction from your own power to change your attitude or approach.

Every second that we spend discussing his defects is another second of your life that you’re missing––just as I was missing my life while I was focused on making sure my husband got Ritalin for his deficit disorder.

His mental issues are simply not your concern.

Ask yourself how you’ve benefited from carrying around your husband’s diagnosis.

If you’re not finding it’s helpful in terms of making you happier or more connected as a couple, consider throwing it out like an old pair of shoes that never fit to begin with.

You married a man who’s not perfect, but he’s perfect for you.

If what you want is to enjoy that feeling of excitement, passion and connection–like the partners in crime you were when you were dating–consider dropping the diagnosis.

4. But How Will Things Ever Get Better?

If you’re worried that your husband may always be a slob, or be uncomfortable at parties, or never be a good listener, or never get along with your sister, I have great news. Those problems will get better as you get better at being respectful, starting with giving up this particular criticism of him.

Instead of brooding about what’s wrong with your husband (let’s face it—not a great pastime!), spend your energy making yourself happy.

That’s where the changes come in. And they are big changes.

Focus on being respectful. There’s no respectful way to tell someone they’re narcissistic.

Here are the kinds of transformations I see when a wife starts practicing The Six Intimacy Skills.

The formerly emotionally unavailable husband seems much more available and interested in his wife because he no longer has to validate his own self-worth in light of all the criticism he’s getting.

The formerly bipolar husband seems a lot calmer and more level when he’s feeling appreciated and sees that his wife thinks he’s capable and smart.

A husband with PTSD from his time in the service and always seemed angry responds with tenderness and starts sleeping better.

In other words, love really does heal. And knowing how to nurture love in your home can go a long way towards making it a playful, passionate one.

By Laura Doyle

Hi! I'm Laura.

New York Times Bestselling Author

I was the perfect wife--until I actually got married. When I tried to tell my husband how to be more romantic, more ambitious, and tidier, he avoided me. I dragged him to marriage counseling and nearly divorced him. I then started talking to women who had what I wanted in their marriages and that’s when I got my miracle. The man who wooed me returned.

I wrote a few books about what I learned and accidentally started a worldwide movement of women who practice The Six Intimacy Skills™ that lead to having amazing, vibrant relationships. The thing I’m most proud of is my playful, passionate relationship with my hilarious husband John–who has been dressing himself since before I was born.

35 replies on “Living with a Mentally Ill Husband: How to Help Him Cope”

Wow, you’re way out of line Laura. The ‘formerly bipolar husband’? Seriously? You obviously know little to nothing of this (actual) diagnosis. How about schizophrenia? Does your ‘way’ work with that too? Love and respect can’t/don’t cure mental illness. Medication might help if he’d take it. Respecting someone who sometimes physically and emotionally abusive and other times withdrawn and shutting me out … very difficult and once fear takes over there’s no talking yourself out of it … so you just walk out – self preservation.

I don’t expect you to post this comment, after all you want to keep your gang of followers. I have to say, I started out respecting you and your ideas but the more I read from you – the less credibility you have with me.

Maraya–Surprise! I’m approving your post. I respect that you have a different experience than me, and I’m sorry to hear that it doesn’t sound like a pleasant one at all. I’m a big advocate for marriage, but when you’re not safe (and with physical abuse it sounds like you weren’t!) I certainly endorse a divorce so you can get yourself safe. For me, the physical abuse is a bigger headline than the mental illness, although I get that they may be intertwined.

Anyway, sorry to hear about your dreadful experience with mental illness in your marriage. I applaud you for choosing self-preservation when there was physical abuse. That’s not easy to do.

What about when your wife has the mental illness? I’ve tried to pull her out of the muck and mire. It never worked. Your article “women five reasons your divorce is your fault” fits her perfectly. She blames me for all the problems in our marriage.

My experience with dealing with cluster B traits are that the afflicted can’t even fathom the thought that they may be afflicted with them.

At times we all exhibit such traits, the healthy ones of us recognize and evaluate our own negative behaviors when they manifest themselves. Many times it’s what your partner does that triggers those behaviors, and I believe that is what your speaking to with this blog. Basically be a part of the solution, not a source for the problem.

If one suspects a mental illness, is it not better to exhibit desirable behavior toward the suspected afflicted & observe if there is any change or reduction in the behavior? If there is, then the diagnosis is incorrect & you were actually a source of the manifestation of the undesired behavior.

Even if there really is an illness, maybe changing the way you handle it, may bring about a more tolerable situation.

I think where many get wrapped up in is the need to say, ” you first”. A tit for tat mentality. That NEVER works.

Keep up the great work, I’ve shown your blogs to some wonderful women and they love what you are doing.

Laura
You are on point! No medicine or therapy can beat a wife that practices and lives these principles. When my husband is on the verge of a blow up its consistently always 100% he’s screaming at me for “no respect”. Sometimes I didn’t get it before it got there…..and there’s the gap where most wives need support….but a man with no respect most often loses his mind coz someone in his castle is putting him down.

I can attest to the perils of diagnosing your own husband….and also I have seen how PTSD is handled waaaay more successfully with an SW wife and how it gets worse by the anti or the controlling woman…..it’s almost predictable that ignoring that truth is akin to dumbing yourself down as a wife that has power in her marriage to turn it around….we women can often be so difficult and hardheaded and programmed to the opposite

Thank you for your work. However, I live with a man who can not give or receive love, he is “never wrong” and most of what I say is interpreted as “criticism”, is withdrawn, and chooses to be a bully- mostly an emotional bully although he has threatened me physically. I have been married 30 years and have done a lot of work in this relationship. I am now getting healthy myself, inside. I don’t believe he has the ability, so far, to look inside and be honest about how he destroys love and intimacy with those around him. I know I’m not perfect and have set about to change some things. Here’s the problem I see with what you are saying: when things are terribly wrong inside another person, it doesn’t help them to act like nothing is wrong. Things shouldn’t go well for a manipulative bully. A manipulative bully shouldn’t have a wife smiling and jumping into bed with him. His controlling, manipulative, angry ways shouldn’t win. Should they?

Liz, Sounds like it’s been a rough time for you living with him. Of course manipulation and bullying are never winning behaviors. I can see why you’re feeling you don’t want to reward him.

He may not deserve love and affection, but you don’t deserve to not smile, or to go without sex either. And since you’re married your fates are bound together.

Given that, you might consider an experiment: What if you decided to be the most pleasant, respectful wife you could be by employing the Six Intimacy Skills for a while–let’s say a month or two–and see if he responds to you differently? If he doesn’t respond by being more thoughtful, tender, loving and playful, you can always go back to the way you’re doing things now.

That was my logic when I got started with the skills, and I felt just as hopeless as you. Now my husband makes up songs about how beautiful I am every day, so I’ve never looked back. I don’t miss my old marriage. This one’s better. And I had the key the whole time.

Well the sad thing is, I have tried being physically intimate with him anyway. I have been to seminars about how to be respectful. I have taken online courses on respect. Respect is a 2 way street. He can have a lovely intimate time and afterwards, he can distance me in a pretty mean way. I believe he is an unbonded human being. I am thinking I shouldn’t judge your “intimacy skills” until I look into them. So, I shall do that. Thank you for all your work! I’m sure you have helped many people. At this point, he must decide how he will live and what his marriage will be as far as he is concerned. I have no power to change him, only to influence him by who I am myself and just what I will allow. We are so estranged that when we have tried to be intimate, it is pretty broken. :'(

Liz, Sorry to hear about the struggles in your relationship–sounds rough! I can hear your hurt and anger. I too tried lots of different solutions before I discovered the Intimacy Skills and was astonished that they were nothing like anything I’d ever learned before. Just from what I read in your post, I can see a lot of potential for your romance to be great again. I’ll be interested to hear the results you get by using your influence. Let me know how it goes!

Dear, Dear Laura, many years ago I read your book and I saw an interview you did on tv. You gave me permission to let the control go, and that was exactly what I needed in my life. Then a couple of years later, I decided to diagnose my husband as bi-polar. Well, needless to say, I nearly left him a year ago. But then I said to myself, “What if he isn’t bi-polar? What if he is just being pushed away by my expectations of him being bi-polar and is reacting the way he knows I think he should?” Does that make sense?! So I have let the diagnosis go. A week ago I read your comments about many wives diagnose their husbands with a mental illness. Wow! It just totally confirms what I am learning, feeling, doing! I am happy to report that my husband and I are doing really great! I still need to “find the good things”, but it is so much easier. Thank you, once again!

Rhonda, thanks for the sweet note. Congratulations on your success with your marriage! I’m so impressed that you decided to look past that diagnosis. Sounds like you’ve got a good man.

Laura, first I want to thank you for the article which you post and the blog. And, I think you are right on with the current topic of diagnosing one’s husband with mental illness. Many people suffer from mental illness … some are diagnosed and others aren’t. Many other people suffer from personality quirks that make living with them difficult. I think that accepting the person as he is and realizing he can’t be fixed is huge. The only person you can change is yourself. And, the constant complaining, criticizing and controlling only makes things worse. Years ago I joined AlAnon because I was afraid my husband had a drinking problem. To my surprise, the program centered around ME and the ways I reacted and lived my life. I began applying the things I learned and my life became more peaceful. I am sad to say that my husband’s problem continued to get worse and eventually it was necessary for my to leave him for my own safety. BUT, I did it with compassion and kindness and by that time I learned skills to live by life in a happier way. Today, I am married to a wonderful man .. funny, smart, supportive … but he has some of those “traits” … maybe OCD … maybe ADD, a temper and I find myself relearning the practices of the past. I think you are also correct in pointing out how husbands feel we don’t respect them. I love and admire my husband, but I hear that complaint often. I think sometimes I try to overmanage things as a way of helping and that may contribute to the problems.

Laura’s books and blogs are extremely helpful in showing me my actions and behaviors and also urging me to do nice things for myself. I am very grateful.

Virginia, I’m glad you find my books and blogs helpful! Congratulations on your marriage to a wonderful man–and for focusing on the one person you can change: Yourself.

Thanks Laura for your blog.as i told you before My husband is bipolar.we were totally in love but suddenly i started to show him little affection and his mood changed a lot.he use bad words to me and later was an infidelity from his part.we are separated but i want to save My marriage.is it posible Laura? How can i get your books?i would like to buy surrendered wife and kill the counselors
I know that My lack of affection was negative for us as a couple.is there any chance for restoring My marriage?
Thanks Laura.

Mercedes, sorry to hear about what you’re going through. The good news is there is absolutely a very good chance you can restore your marriage. Reading the Empowered Wife is a great start, and you can get it at Amazon.com or you can read the first chapter online for free here:
The Empowered Wife: Six Surprising Secrets for Attracting Your Husband’s Time, Attention, and Affection
I also invite you to have a complimentary discovery call since it sounds like you could definitely use some support:
https://lauradoyle.org/marriage-relationship-coaching
Hang in there, Mercedes! You can revitalize your relationship and make it magical again.

when my husband and I dated I had already studied the skills. We fell in love and it was perfect. I was very easy-going and didn’t mind that he choose my meal at a restaurant and even the dressing on my salad. He choose the color of my nail polish. I was happy to let him be in control as I was confident because he choose me! But when we got married he choose who I spoke to and where I would work and where I would shop and I once bought a small garbage can for the bathroom and he through it out. He said it was ugly.
I am independent and do things that keep me happy. He doesn’t seem to appreciate that and criticizes me for going to bed early.

Confused, that sounds oppressive! I wouldn’t like that at all. But the Skills are not just about relinquishing control–they’re also there to help you honor yourself and teach everyone (especially your husband) how to treat you.

Sounds like an “ouch” when he threw out the trash can, for example, and when he criticizes you for going to bed early. I’d love to see you get some support around getting back to “we fell in love and it was perfect.” COnsider having a complimentary discovery call here:
https://lauradoyle.org/marriage-relationship-coaching

Letting him pick your meal when you were dating doesn’t mean you have to let him pick where you work and who you talk to. Everyone needs freedom. It’s a basic human requirement for happiness.

I do agree that positivity and respect can go a long way to making a partner feel happy in a relationship. However, mental illness cannot be cured by a partner’s positive attitude. My devoted, loving husband of 18 years left me and our two boys after suffering from PTSD and depression for a very long time, and yes, he is ex services.

We did attend marriage counselling after a severe episode a number of years ago, and it helped us to understand and continue with our marriage for another ten years. However, after losing his job his mental health declined until his brain went into safe mode effectively wiping out the past twenty years of our marriage. I have been told by professional counsellors that because our marriage was so happy it lasted a lot longer than others in a similar situation, and that there was absolutely nothing more I could have done to help him, or save our marriage. I feel that it is important for readers of your blog to understand that if their relationship fails, it doesn’t mean they are to blame or that they could have done more. A relationship takes two people, both should be respectful of the other person’s feelings and one person should not have to walk on eggshells to please the other.

Unfortunately, living with a partner with mental illness can be scary as their behaviour can be irrational and frightening. Everybody in the family has a right to feel safe so as awful as it may sound, sometimes the only choice left is to live apart.

Devastated, I’m sorry to hear of your separation in your marriage, and that it’s been so scary and hard! I agree that safety is of utmost importance, and that you can’t have intimacy without it. I trust that you know what’s best for you and your family.

I don’t advocate walking on eggshells to please someone else, that’s for sure. Just bringing all the respect, trust and gratitude that you did in the beginning. Even if he is the one who needs to change and has all the problems it can work wonders.

It’s not easy to break up your family, so I’m sure you have excellent reasons.

My wife, who got her psychology degree a couple years ago, has got it in her head that she is now qualified to make assessments. Because she is looking for a scapegoat for why she is not happy with herself or her marriage, she has decided to focus 100% on instructing me on the psychological syndrome she has determined I embody. Aspergers Syndrome is her weapon of choice. She has declared that myself, my daughter, and just today added my father as a “serious” case of this syndrome.. She likes to note that because she has determined that me and my family have this , we suffer from “deficiency of mind” and if i would just acquiesce and go along with her analysis that I will then have the “one and only” path to a tender loving marriage.

This is nothing more than emotional blackmail. Quite vicious, In my opinion. Can have her charged with practicing clinical psychology without a license?

I read the entire blog to my wife and she disagreed with all but one sentence. She also may be sending you her own reply. She’s absolutely convinced that she has become an authority on Asbergers and dismisses your analysis because you are not a “specialist in Asbergers ” She also said to me “if your attitude about Asbergers doesn’t change things are going to be bad for you ” That kinda sounds like a threat, doesn’t it?

Bradley, I’m sorry to hear. Sounds pretty miserable. It’s no fun for either of you. I still remember how lonely I was when I was making up diagnoses for my husband. I thought it could help my situation, but of course it never got to the real problem, which was my own relentless control. For me, there was no relief until I looked inward, and my husband and I are both happier for it. I can’t say what would be best for her, of course–only she knows that. But I can relate to being a porcupine wife. It’s no fun.

Laura – “Yes, the diagnoses probably provided some insights. They can be fascinating. But what difference has it made to have that insight? Does it make him a different guy than the one you married?”

Be careful here. Some people have radical shifts in mental health, especially after trauma, and your spouse is no longer the one you married.

War veterans do change, often for life.

My wife changed after our 13-year-old died (which was followed, unbelievably, we were hit by a flood a month later). I was soon avoiding her, as she swore our daughter had been murdered, kept exploding at me if I told her what the coroner or the funeral director said, and kept telling me how I had mistreated our daughter while she was alive.

Looking back, I see PTSD, and probably a major depression (she has abandoned me and our surviving kids).

There are times when changes occur, and you nee to re-evaluate whether you will tolerate being someone’s metaphorical punching bag for life.

Thank you for sharing this, Artemis. Your point is well taken: people can change, especially after the kind of trauma you describe. My heart goes out to you and your wife. I’m so sorry to hear of your suffering and how your wife became unrecognizable and abandoned the family. It’s hard to imagine what you have been through. I have tremendous admiration for clients who have honored their marriage vows in the face of trauma, supporting their spouses through the healing process. I hear that’s not a fit for everyone and trust each woman and man to be the expert on your own life.

What about a husband who is physically ill? My husband’s joints are very painful when the weather turns cold and wet, so I know it’s not psychosomatic, but there seems to be no way to help him. He has been taking more responsibility for his health lately, eating better and getting medical advice. But when I offer help or suggestions, he gets offended, and if I do nothing, he justs walks around wincing and moaning (from the pain).

Hi Lara,
I notice in your book and blogs a lot of talk about the man’s addiction/mental illness. But what about the women? As a wife with aDHD, depression, and anxiety/emotional dysregulation- I don’t feel there is enough advice geared toward us. Telling my husband ‘whatever you think’ all the time is his worst nightmare, he’s dying for me to be proactive, make decisions, and tell him what I want. It’s me who struggles with housework/getting a job/all those things that women tend to nag their men for, and as a result, he finds it hard. to love and respect me. I have a hard time regulating emotions, which means practicing intimacy skills and not disrespecting him takes SO much work, especially because we have a lot of relationship trauma. it’s not a matter of a simple AHA, I didn’t think of that before…He’s also an alcoholic and has an anger problem, so when I slip up I receive an onslaught of stonewalling, isolation, and words that would lead the most sane person off a bridge. What advice can you give to the wife who struggles with all the issues that men tend to have, and has mental health challenges that interfere with using the skills? Thanks

Hanna, this sounds SO hard. Even trying to show him respect with all you’re navigating must be really tiring. And the backlash if you don’t is so painful. You shouldn’t be stonewalled or spoken to that way, especially on top of all you’re already dealing with.

You are not alone. Many women on our campus deal with such issues, and it’s amazing to see how they have turned things around with the right Skills and support.

Here’s a free Roadmap of the steps that have helped them so you can fix your relationship too!

What about a husband who has a sex/porn addiction and has cheated all during 40 years of living together and marriage? I found out he has had affairs since the very start of our relationship. They are mostly online but also in person whenever he gets the chance? There is much more to this story but th bottom line is I’m 72 years old, I don’t want to divorce, I I just want him to stop as he has promised over and over again that he would.

Oh Beth, that is devastating. I’m sorry to hear you’re going through this heartbreak. Especially after 40 years together! That’s not right.

I remember when my husband wouldn’t keep his promises and how frustrating and painful it was to be stuck like that. Turns out, I needed a community and coaching to get unstuck and fix my marriage. I would love to get that for you. You deserve to not be alone with this.

Your timing is perfect for our Mother’s Day special, so I’ll send you some info. You too can turn things around and inspire your man to keep his promises.

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