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Should I Give Up On This Marriage?


Dear Dr. Schwartz:

My husband was dignoised with Bipolar disorder in October and since then he has been prescribed Lamatil and Welbutrin for his depression and constant mood swings. So far it has been working but only to an extent.

First, I need to fill you in on our situation. I work at the least 50 hours a week, and he stays home with our 19 month old baby and then I have two boys from a previous marriage, ages 11 and 9. Over the course of our relationship, he has been violent with me resulting in physical as well as mental abuse towards me. However, since he has been taking his prescribed medication, his abuse has almost stopped. I say almost because on certain occasions he has yelled at me by name calling, and on two occasions he has forcebly touched me. Last night we were lying in bed and he was wanting to engage in sexual activity. I had taken sleeping pills to sleep because of the constant stress I am under of being the sole provider for our family. I was tired and asked that he let me sleep tonight and I would be more than willing to do something tomorrow night. This turned into one of his episodes where he started lashing at me about everything I have done wrong in my past as well as cutting me down by saying I am a horrible mother to our son and my two other sons. This probably went on for hours. After he went on and on for hours he told me that he doesn’t want to be with me anymore and that I should look into getting divorce papers set up so he can sign them today! I just wanted to sleep because I was tired. He also told me that he wants sole custody of our son because he doesn’t want him to be raised in daycare and that I would not be a good enough mom to him because I work everyday.

 What am I to do? I have read many articles about Bipolar Disorder and it only tells me to be supportive and not to do anything that will encourage his episodes. Well, how am I susposed to do that when he wants nothing to do with me? I don’t want my marriage to end. It has been a long and hard road for us, but for the most part of this struggle the last few months he has been on medication I have remained happy for the most part. I am torn. I don’t want to lose my son or my husband over this and I don’t know what to say or do that will make this whole thing better. I also have no family support because of his past episodes my family will not have anything to do with me.

I am a hard worker and I do get tired very often, but I feel that between work, children and my husband I am exhausted. Please give me some advice because I don’t know where to turn and I just want someone who will listen to me. Further, this is such a personal matter that I don’t want to involve my co-workers in my personal affairs. Thank you in advance for any advice you can give me, and feel free to contact me at I would really really appreciate it.

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  • Dr. Schwartz responds to questions about psychotherapy and mental health problems, from the perspective of his training in clinical psychology.
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  • Always consult with your psychotherapist, physician, or psychiatrist first before changing any aspect of your treatment regimen. Do not stop your medication or change the dose of your medication without first consulting with your physician.

It is a very encouraging fact that your husband is responding well to his medications and is better able to control his impulses. One of the many things that psychiatrists do when treating patients with Bipolar Disorder is to meet with family members in order to help them understand the illness and learn how to cope with the illness. I think it might be a good idea for you and your husband to meet with his Doctor, as a couple, so that you could work on the best ways of handling some of these issues.

Your husband also needs to learn about his illness and how to handle his emotions when he is upset about something. For instance, it seems that he is not happy with the amount of time you spend at work. Even though it might be necessary for you to work that much in order to support the family does not mean that he is not allowed to be upset about it. It seems he misses you and may feel he does not get enough time, attention and love from you. Well, Okay, nothing wrong with those thoughts and feelings. His problem is that when he expresses his anger he loses control of himself.

What to do about this?

In addition to a couple of joint therapy sessions with the Doctor he could benefit very greatly from cognitive behavioral therapy. I know someone on a personal and not a professional level who has Bipolar Disorder but went for CBT, along with his medication, and learned how to live and function so well that the doctor was able to reduce his medications. He is truly living a happy and well adjusted life because he understands his illness, uses what he learned from CBT and adjusts himself to those situations that can upset anyone.

For your self:

Of course you are under enormous stress because you have to be the sole supporter of the family. However, I do not think that sleeping pills are the way to go. Instead I want to recommend that you see someone for psychotherapy and that you talk to your Doctor about the possibility of anti depressant medications that might just help you learn how to reduce your stress and sleep better.

Along these lines I believe it would be a good thing for you to learn meditation and yoga to help reduce stress.

One more thing: I understand that you are exhausted by all the hours of work. However, it is really important that you have liesure time so that you can relax, get away from stress and have time to enjoy being a wife and mother. One of those enjoyments has to do with a satisfying sexual relationship with him. In other words, the sexual part of the marriage is not just for your husband but for you, as well and as I am sure you know.


I want to invite you to join our new community at Mental Help Net where you can post about the issues of living with someone who has a Bipolar disorder and receive support.

Best of Luck


More "Ask Dr. Schwartz" View Columnists

  • WD

    I am a male that can relate to many aspects of this letter, both in my current and former marriages. My ex-spouse had bi-polar and was responding to medications to a degree, but still had some issues that I decided, after many years, I could no longer deal with. I chose to end that marriage. I went through a messy and expensive divorce, and later remarried. In my case, the cure was worse than the illness. My current spouse is so insecure, selfish, and abusive, that I deeply regret leaving the first. The saddest part is that my ex- would often be remorseful, while my current spouse refuses to ever admit any wrongdoing, and refuses to see a counselor. I now realize that my ex- is the one that really cared about me all along, but I was blinded to it. So it appears I am now destined to a life of misery. What a fool I have been. I want no sympathy, for I deserve none. But my ex- does. My only point here is that I want to warn others: Don't tolerate abuse, but be careful about leaving, as long as your bipolar spouse does show remorse and wants help, and even more importantly: Don't leave a spouse thinking there's someone better out there. There might be, but if you let that be a motivation for divorce, you'll be vulnerable to making my mistake. I thought I was smarter than that. I wasn't.

  • Denise

    My bi polar husband and I were married for 22 years. He was misdiagnosed for years, and I lived in misery, literally walking on eggshells, all the time. When his attacks became physical more than verbal (which were bad enough), I ended up in the hospital. That was the catalyst that drove me to seek a separation and ultimately , a divorce.

    One would think that was the end, but it was instead the beginning of a very long, miserable fight. Reason is not a component in abundance of a bipoar personality. Divorcing him became tortiure for myself, and our sons. He stalked us, cried, harrqssed, vented, and threatened all of us.

    A compulsive gambler- he cleaned out bank accounts and gambled away our whole savings for retirement, and college fund for our sons.

    He refused to work or pay support at all. He slept with anything with a pulse and gambled and lied , took out credit cards in MY name and took out cash advance to the limit and left me to deal with it. I had to work and support HIM and supply medical isurance.! (court mandated) All this while I was revovering from injuries he caused to me..which included double disc herniations and lung damage.

    Here's some thing you need to consider- if he's been deemed "disabled" may have to pay alimony . (no kidding)

    After 9 years of this...I'm alsmot divorced- but he's refusing to sign- even now- becasue he says " He loves me".

    If you decide to seek a divorce, secure the best attorney you can find, and DO NOT RELENT on anything...becasue's our passive personalities and enabling...that allows them to overtake us. Don't let him do it. Make your decision..and if it is to move on- protect yourself and do so.

  • Anonymous-1

    I am married to a beautiful woman that I love very much. The relationship has been subject to a lot of rocky periods of what I have been tagging as selfish behaviors or our mutual inability to communicate. I have no doubt that this is a contributing factor.

    I do however have some very deep concerns and am wondering if my wife is bipolar. She has been prone to deep depression for a very long time, having been treated with Prozac on and off for more than 20 years.

    In her first marriage she reportedly only missed hospitalizatio by repeated counseling visits to her Psychiatrist and by showing improvements. She still holds that she was "made sick" by her husband's unfaithful lifestyle and abuse of her. When we were first married her unhappiness was attributed to the fallout of a bad divorce.

    Recently though the blame has shifted to me.

    We go through honeymoon periods it seems, that can last several months. Everything is fantastic. I am reportedly a wonderful husband and she tells everyone highly complimentary things about me. Typically something will come up that she wants or is experiencing. It has been a purchase she desires or a life event like not being invited to her son's wedding. I can see where there is reason for being upset. But in each case I seem to be the one who gets the brunt of the storm. The purchase is justified and I am mean or controlling for not blessing it. I have not supported her through a moment of hurt and then begins the personal attacks with outlandish character assinations and accusations from infidelity to abusing family and friends to being controlling or worse than her ex-husband, being a poor christian and a lot worse and in isolated incidents physical attack.

    Historically, I would sometimes defend myself verbally or try to explain my position and this always led to horrible escalations of the incident.

    These incidents seemed to be much further apart in our early married years and often limited to her just being sad for a days. Usually they would blow over and did not have a disaterous impact to our lives

    Prozac seems to be her favorite medication. I have commented that her lack of sexual drive is a concern. In some cases she has went off the Prozac, even for years. But eventually she returns to a General Practitioner and she is back on it. I have talked to her about some kind of accompanying therapy but she refuses and the stream of personal attacks on me, surely has not been effective.

    The last few years it seems to me that the "out of control" side of this is getting much, much worse.

    To summarize, the last few months have been the worst ever. Repeatedly, she has developed "big plans" for large purchases. The total is around $10,000.00 in the last 3 months alone.There are a number of items involved from holiday in portland to see her grandson with generous budget to christmas shop for them while visiting, a designer purse, cashmere cape with fox trim and other items.

    Some of these suggestions certainly have emotional connotations like a trip to see grandson.We are going through a job transition in a very uncertain economy. Less expenses not more is prudent.

    For the designer purse she told me that it took her "all night" to formulate a plan that included returning some of her designer clothes and other items, plus receiving an early Xmas present in cash and other money to add up to the cost of the purse. My response was, "if we have to do all that, then we cant afford it".

    The war was on. I was controlling, mean, discounting her hard won plan that took all night and a long day of repeated vile invictives that drug up every wrong thing I had done for the entire time we had been married.

    She left the house.

    I phone my sister who is a Nurse and has witnessed my wife's tyrades before. We discussed this behavior and what one should do about. My wife found out about my discussion with my sister and the war escalated to divorce, seperation, counselling while separated.

    My short answer was that counselling is necessary. (no kidding).

    So now she will stay but only on the condition of counselling.

    The light switch turned on though. Suddenly the next day I am handsome, a wonderful father, a good provider, the lover of her life and apparently quite sexually attractive.

    There are more details of course. But I think I need some help managing this.

    Anyone got some thoughts and responses?

  • Michele Marie Friend Metiva

    My name is Michele Marie Friend Metiva and I was diagnosed with Bipolar 1 in 1998. I had lived half my life without any idea that I could possibly have mental health issues.

    My first marriage was unsuccessful and I attribute it to the fact that I was not diagnosed, therefore I was self-medicating with alcohol, and I was extremely hard to live with sucessfully.

    Please read my article I have written titled 'Can people with Mental Illness successfully marry?'

    This article should help all of us and our families live a certainly basically normal life.


    Michele Marie Friend Metiva

  • Pam Kerchner

    What are you saying? It is NEVER a good idea for anyone to stay in a releationship where Physical violence has occured and in front of children, She does not say whether her Husband is also Physically and Verball abusive to the kids. I disagree with your answer and the BEST solution is to remove herself and her children from the home immediatly she can go to a shelter if need be but never never place risk in front of a relationship. OMG, what is the world coming to if we cannot be STRONG enough to know that this is placing her children in danger of following the same path of destructive behaviours. Her Husband needs to achieve some level of stability on his own and work on cognitive skills that will help dispell and release his own fustrations and stress, but to place the burden on her to perform sexually if she is exhausted and tired WOW!!! He has the problem not her shes trying to cope with a SICK person and you're telling her to stay and take it. SHAME on you. The family needs immediate assistance and counseling in NEUTRAL territory until her husband has exhibited the ability to manage his illness

  • Allan N Schwartz

    Dear Pam Kirchner,

    You make a valid point about getting out of a relationship in which there has been physical violence. Under normal circumstances I would have suggested that. However, this woman stated that she did not want to lose her marriage. In addition, her husband was only recently diagnosed with Biplolar disorder and is responding quickly and well to medications. There are small children here, including a small baby. For these and other reasons, I suggested things to do that might save the marriage and keep him on the road to recovery. Yes, domestic violence is wrong and, yes, people should leave. But, things are rarely black and white in this world. This is a case where the husband is making huge strides towards dealing with a newly diagnosed mental illness. He and the family need a chance. At least, that is my opinion. I surely understand and accept your opinion as valid.

    Dr. Schwartz

  • SD

    WD- thank you for sharing your thoughts. My wife recently became manic, her first episode ever, and exhibited similar symptoms (and did similar things) as your ex. A few days after expressing how much she appreciates and needs me (during a more lucid moment of her mania), she left and is pursuing a divorce. She is still manic, and I'm hoping she comes down from it and calls off the lawyers, but I am still faced with the dilemma of staying with her or taking care of myself.

    I love her deeply, and know that I would find fulfillment would we remain married. But this time has been hellish for me and though I don't blame her at all for her actions because she's sick, I know that I can't handle another experience like this again. I know there could be a life ahead of me, a second chance. Your comments were very helpful for me to organize my thoughts and recognize some of the issues that are important for my ultimate decision (should she want to reconcile).

    Thanks again

  • Anonymous-2

    Each and every one of the "helpful" people that are giving you "free" advise, have a personal gain.They will be nowhere around when you really need help.

  • jc

    My wife (BP type I w/psychosis) of 25 years was discharged from an 8 day involuntary hospital stay two days ago. This was her second involuntary hospital stay & was the result of her refusing to take an atypical antipsychotic prescribed by her psychiatrist at the onset of her manic episode. The first hospitalization, 10 days, occurred slightly more than 1.5 years ago,

    She has no insight into her disorder & does not acknowledge a problem exists but rather engages in self-absolution & projection of blame on to those closest to her.

    I am giving her six months. If she does not assume primary responsibility for the management of her disorder, I intend to divorce her. Then she can be free to do whatever she wishes. Most likely she ultimately will be residing in a mission or on the street.

    I am age 62, recently retired, & figure on having another 20 healthy years. I have no intention of permitting the crap that I have taken from her to be my life story. Ball is in her court.

    Oh ... the wife, the psychiatrist, the hospital, and the therapist beat around the bush, invoke HIPAA privacy rules to exclude me from the process. All of them just want me to pay them money. Screw 'em!

    Life is great for those of us who are strong. Be strong!

  • Anonymous-3

    From my personal experience, I will adivice all normal people-- just RUN from your Bipolar / Schizophrenic spouse --- it is a permanent genetic uncurable mental illness . Life is too short, find a normal partner & live a normal life. These bipolar people need to stay in mental hospital , should not be allowed to socialize with normal people.

    Dr. Dombeck's Note: That's a harsh assessment. It is not the conclusion that all people in this sort of situation come to.

  • Tyler

    You sound like an uneducated fool. Bipolar disorder is an ILLNESS just like cancer!! Many people struggle to maintain as normal a life as they can with this illness and many are extremely sucessful. Do yourself a favor and google successful people with bipolar, under there you will find a few interesting names. So before you make such a dumb comment, I suggest you reflect on your own personal issues, as it seems you may have quite a few!

  • Alison

    I think you missed the point bud. The lady told the man NO to sex, and he turned around and berated her! He manipulated and hurt her for her denial of his sexual gratification! That is not a bipolar problem, or a self-control issue: it's a personality problem. He's very high on the narcissistic, anti-social and borderline scale, if you ask me. No pill is going to cure that.

    Basic sensibilities are parceled out unevenly at birth, if you are with a man who disrespects you, expect it to continue. Leave, or not, at your choice!

  • Allan N. Schwartz, PhD


    Under normal circumstances I would agree with you about the husband in the "advice case" above. But, these are not normal circumstances because this man was diagnosed with a Bipolar disorder. The nature of this disorder is that, undiagnosed and untreated it causes people to behave in ways that are unpredictable and that, once balanced with psychotherapy and medication, they look back on and cannot believe they did.

    Ten years ago I treated someone who went flying down part of a mountain, on skis, that was totally prohibited because of the trees and danger. The physical damage done to this person was radical and nearly life ending.

    Once diagnosed and medicated the individual admitted that they used poor judgement or no judgment at all.

    Think about it.

    Dr. Schwartz

  • Terrielle

    Dr Schwartz,

    I do not disrespect your education and experience, however, I do not believe that you have personally ever experienced being a woman, a mother or a smaller person that is living life with a larger, stronger human being who could at any time blow up and extinguish your life in one way or another.

    Your advice to this woman who is working 50 hours a week, trying to maintain a relationship with her three sons and her "husband" while being under the gun to perform in every way shape and form, including probably cooking, cleaning, mothering, shopping and sex with someone that probably calls her every name in the book and who has chased all of her family and support away. When she now probably has little self esteem left and has been reduced to nothing but a slave to what most of us would consider someone that is insame...your advice to this poor creature is to go get on medication and go see someone like you???? How pompous, how self centered, how egotistical and how male of you!!!

    I lived with and was in love with someone like this off and on for several years. It was always my fault or my responsibility. It took me a couple of years to reach inside of myself for the strength that I have naturally to defeat the crap that he had placed there from yelling ugly words at me and basically playing with my innocense.

    This woman needs no advice to start taking medication or seeing someone like you! She needs a damned good lawyer, her family, friends and some encouragement to drop this jerk, regardless of whether he can help himself or not. He is destroying respect from her sons towards her by the way that he treats her and probably the things that he says about her in her absence. The atmosphere is not a good one for children and yet you advise this poor woman to take medication.

    Thank God that I never asked for your advice or I would still be with that ape that confined my life and degraded me daily. Thank God I went to my family instead of a stranger! Thank God that I still believe in God instead of learning how to "meditate" as you put it. Thank God that I am not with that dark minded man anymore and thank God that even though he destroyed my niativity and innosence, that I can see clearly when someone is thinking only of the book that they read, the education they received and the wrong mindedness that they have developed by not incorporating real life, the effect on all, the other possibilities of handling situations and the person that is crying to you for real help.

    So you are saying to her...."Oh yeah, just take some heavy duty medication, go see one of my colleages, as we are the only ones with answers and keep allowing this looser to hurt you and your children emotionally, and keep working 50 hours a week and be sure and help your poor wittle husband who is driving you insane and abusing you.....don't even think of leaving the poor poor man......we can fix him and YOU with drugs.

    My advice to readers is to use common sense, not drugs. To go to people who care about and know you for someone to listen to you rather than hiring someone that does not know or care about you.

  • MaryK

    While I understand wanting to support someone with mental illness, because I have bipolar myself and have been very ill, it is not OK to justify physical or sexual assault because a spouse has bipolar disorder and is starting treatment. From the woman's description, he has improved somewhat but when she asked him not to pursue sex with her that evening, he got angry and chewed her out for hours. And then he may have sexually abused her anyway, given the comment she made about him touching her in ways she doesn't like.

    However, I do understand Dr. Schwartz's point about supporting a mentally ill loved one who is getting help. The problem is that he did not provide real-world suggestions for practical help.

    Psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey does this. Torrey is one of the most famous psychiatrists in America. He is very familiar with the way that mentally ill people are ignored and mistreated. He knows that violence can result when the mentally ill person is not on medication or otherwise in treatment. And he realizes that family members are very often most vulnerable to abuse, even though the cases that make headlines occur when a mentally ill person attacks a stranger.

    Torrey has a sister with schizophrenia who tragically has been ill for over 50 years. He knows that family members often end up providing care and he works with them to help ensure their safety. For more information, please see the website for the Treatment Advocacy Center,

    Full Disclosure: I do not know Torrey or anyone else involved with that group. I just am familiar with their work and think well of them.

    Dr. Schwartz means well, but I think the woman could benefit from a referral b/c the Treatment Advocacy Center has been "in the trenches" for a long time and they help many frightened and desperate family members, as well as ill people themselves.

    There is also a middle ground between living with violence and getting a divorce. A formal or informal trial separation is a possibility, which would give the wife a chance to calm down while she observes how well her husband deals with treatment.

  • Anonymous-4

    We all have a finite amount of time on this earth...

    Noone should have to put up with or deal with abusive matter what the 'diagnosis' or reason is...

    It's totally unacceptable...

    Another 'quack' giving unrealistic opinions...

    Lady, take your kids and go!

  • rolfen

    Hi Ms. Stressed mum with a bipolar husband.

    It's good you're working and all, taking sh*t from your husband who doesnt work, paying the meds for him, you, your family. But obviously you cant sleep well, so as Dr Shwartz said, you should pay some more money on psychotherapy, take more serious meds, do yoga, exercise. Of course you must not cut short on any previous assignements, that is caring for your family, paying all expenses, keeping your husband satisfied, doing the divorce papers for him too (since he cant do them himself) asking around for help, and of course without the help of your own family.

    If that doesnt work, then come back and ask for more help, and you may be given more a couple more things to do.

    Oh, and do these divorce papers, would you? You dont want him to be mad again, do you? Make a gift to yourself, would you?

  • Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

    While I want to thank everyone for their comments about the E. Mail question by this woman, I also wish to remind readers of the fact that this person stated repeatedly that she wants to keep her husband and child. It is not for me to give advice whether she should stay or leave, especially since she clearly states her preferences.

    Remember, I do not disagree with those of you who advise her to leave the marriage but, that is up to her.

    Dr. Schwartz

  • cindy

    I totally feel for you! I am just wondering why people don't talk about all the nasty things that are coming in a package with a Bipolar person?!

    I am married with a high functioning Bipolar person but still there are things that makes me unhappy.

    And yes, looking from the outside you should get divorce and move on with your life but when you have a child things are getting complicated and people decide to still be in the relationship with a Bipolar person from different reasons.

    Anyway, I am disapointed that nobody talks about the poor decision making, the pornography addiction, the substance abuse, the dual diagnosis , the hypersexuality, the anger and irritability , the procrastination, the non compliance with the medications......and the list can continue .......

    Maybe if the spouses know all of this from the start they would understand that yes the Bipolar person can change here and there but only if it is on the right medications witch for some people takes a lot of trials and tribulations and a lot of CBT in the same time.


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