Have you taken back your mentally ill partner and wish you hadn't? Or wish you had?
November 25, 2009 7:33 PM   Subscribe

Do you do this? How do I escape the pattern of going back to, because I can't resist helping, my (I think) mentally ill (or unstable/intense) husband. See, he's not all bad... Do you regret going back? Do you wish you had?

My husband of 17 years is one of those very smart, creative, super-funny people that are sometimes (not all the time) crazy. When I met him we were both had theater and music careers. I'd never met anyone like him and he pursued me to another country. We married, worked in the arts together, and had a child. Let me say this off the top, he is an awesome father.

But he is also the most 'intense' person I have ever met and I have, as my therapist says, "managed" him from the beginning. You know the dysfunction--making sure I never made him too mad, making sure he was okay with whatever we were doing... etc. He was a pothead and when angry, intensely angry (never physically). But he's also funny and smart... etc, right, you know....

By the time my daughter was four, I had basically checked out, was on the way out the door, when he woke up to that fact and got sober. He's been sober for 8 years. It's weird though, he's always held it up as an example of how he changed for the sake of the marriage and 'where was my change?'

Anyway, blah blah blah there were good times and hard times. He really stepped up and became an excellent husband and father. But I still sometimes managed him (his anger was under control), and watched as he seemed to build resentments and destroy relationships outside of the marriage, work relationships more than personal.

Flash forward to this past spring and summer where we had one friend die super young (42) and another diagnosed with cancer. He had the pressure of finishing his Masters... He stopped sleeping, became hypomanic, destroyed one of the most valuable professional relationships he had, displayed (mild but definite) delusions of grandeur.

Then 2 months ago he started an affair with a woman half his age (44 and 23) and left me in a frightening, explosion of verbal abuse witnessed by our 13year old. He set up a place of his own and she practically lived there. He has started drinking again, although I don't know how much.

That wasn't enough for my co-dependent self to call it quits. And now that it's settling down, and he can see that he and this woman have nothing in common, I am faced with the decision of taking him back.

And of course now he is smart and insightful and penitent. And of course I understand that I am certainly culpable in any relationship problems that led to an affair. Our daughter misses him. And I still love him. I do.

I believe that he is an undiagnosed bipolar and/or some other personality disorder and so how can I leave him? IF HE GETS HELP, how can I turn away? And the more depressed and distraught he becomes the more I feel sorry for him and can't imagine also taking his family away from him. Yes, I can suck it up and work on our marriage--I know I can--and I know that it will be good and bad again, like all marriages. But what if it all goes horribly wrong again in three years... Trust is definitely an issue, along with the list of resentments toward me that he has dredged up in our arguments and discussions. But those are issues for couples therapy....??? I am already seeing someone on my own, as is our daughter.

Anyone out there have a similar experience? Take your partner back and wish they hadn't or turned away and wish they hadn't? I miss him but I'm also kinda relieved. More than anything, I feel like I'm dying inside on a daily basis.
posted by Toto_tot to Human Relations (42 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
So you guys haven't been in therapy together? And he hasn't sought out help for his issues?

I would give it one more try, I think. For your daughter's sake, and for the sake of your family. Because you do still love him, and because otherwise you might always wonder what if.

My bias here is that I'm a child of divorced parents who wished her parents had tried just a tiny bit harder.

Good luck to you. This must be especially difficult during the holidays.
posted by bluedaisy at 7:40 PM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry for what you've gone through. But from the story you tell here, it seems he has already called it quits. What has he done to try to help the marriage lately?
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 7:41 PM on November 25, 2009

Adding: I mean give it one more try if he's actually, sincerely willing to seek help and sticks with it.
posted by bluedaisy at 7:47 PM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

I am certainly culpable in any relationship problems that led to an affair.

No, you're not.

An affair is a decision to unilaterally stop keeping a promise one made in the past. A person can have problems with issues in a relationship. That does not allow them to go back on a promise. If they must be with someone else, they should get a divorce first.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:50 PM on November 25, 2009 [20 favorites]

I am sorry for you pain, and from your posting, it seems like basically you're asking for permission to subject yourself to more of a fairly unpleasant relationship.

To be blunt, what type of message do you think you're daughter is getting about "normal" relationships? From what you've said, she's learned from your marriage that her job is: making sure I never made him too mad, making sure he was okay with whatever we were doing... etc.

Is this how you want for her? And to know that her partner can leave her and the family but she should take him back? I hope not.
posted by dzaz at 8:03 PM on November 25, 2009 [26 favorites]

This only happened two months ago. Do you have the slightest reason to believe he is actually getting help on his own and addressing or acknowledging his problems? Maybe you shouldn't even think about going back until after you know he has gotten help and has been working on everything by himself for a while.

You also need time away from it yourself to get some perspective on what you've been living with.
posted by dilettante at 8:06 PM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

I favorited bluedaisy's recommendation because I agree with it based on what you've told us. However, taking him back and letting him move back in right away are not the same thing. Get to a good marriage therapist and start piecing the relationship back together with the understanding that there needs to be real, quantifiable change before he will be allowed to occupy a husband's place in your home and heart again.

Good luck.
posted by chihiro at 8:11 PM on November 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

Has your husband picked up the phone and called anyone yet? Is he attending batterer prevention, substance abuse, or personal therapy at this time? If not, he takes no responsibility. He knows what his choices create: 1. You walk out the door when your child is 4, 2. He starts a relationship with someone he later realizes he is not compatible with (Maybe the ol' lady will take me back?), 3. He was sober for 8 years and had a beautiful relationship with his daughter (She will need counseling too).

What have you done with your time while he has been out philandering? Have you gotten to know yourself? The person you were before you were constantly managing someone else's erratic behavior? The person you were before you were a mother, because if you do a divorce right, you can share custody of this beautiful young lady and she will grow to be healthy and happy and make good decisions, and you will find you will wake in the morning with your own day at the door (and yours alone).

I do not advocate splitting families. It will be your choice. No matter the decision, this MeFite will support your decision. No decision is easy nor quick. Trust your gut. If you go back, and it you find you had your life partner all along and it was worth the gravel bits in the teeth, w00t! If you go back and find three years later that you are tired, please refer to the above (Remember you). And if you leave right now, and work out a progressive approach to split-family living, I wish you well on your journey. Sit down and read that book you have always wanted to read. Spend time with those friends that miss your face. Go on a vacation with your daughter.

Regardless, be good to yourself, and be well.
posted by psylosyren at 8:14 PM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

One more thing: Also remember, with separation comes all the emotions one feels with the experience of grief and death. All the emotions. Except that person is still there, and through shared custody you can watch your ex-mate succeed or fail. Look good and talk sweet. That is not a good feeling, especially when the decision has been made- No, I am not going back.

And yes, I have been through this. I am sorry that you must to, also.
posted by psylosyren at 8:21 PM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

...must, also.
posted by psylosyren at 8:21 PM on November 25, 2009

My bias here is that I'm a child of divorced parents who wished her parents had tried just a tiny bit harder.

My bias, on the other hand, is that I'm a child of divorced parents who wishes, desperately, that they had divorced earlier. I'm a child of a man who had psychological issues not too different from what you, OP, describe. I'm a child of a man who could explode in anger, spewing abuse at anything and everyone, who could become obsessed with anything, who made you walk on eggshells. I was a child who never knew what was okay and what wasn't, who learned to be terrified of even the slightest rebuke, who didn't understand how to stop being meek. I am an adult who still sometimes has trouble interacting like a normal person, who can become easily intimidated by older, taller men.

I'm not going to tell you to leave your husband, for your sake or your daughter's. I'm not going to tell you that he can't get better. All I'm going to point out is that my mother spent years trying to make things worth with my biological father, and those years are a dark, painful time in my memory, in her memory, in our entire family's memory. My life was affected in undesirable ways by my mother's acceptance and forgiveness of my biological father's behavior.

Now, let me make this clear: my biological father, once, loved me. He really, really did. He wanted to be a good father to me, and he wanted to raise me well. There were some times when he succeeded, brilliantly. But, in the end, someone who cannot be trusted, who cannot be expected to act sanely and compassionately, will, more often or not, be a bad influence. It may not be that person's fault that they are unreliably loving, but that does not change their ability to act as a father, as a husband, as a caring human being. This, at least, is as much as my life experiences, whatever they're worth, have taught me.
posted by Ms. Saint at 8:26 PM on November 25, 2009 [33 favorites]

Reading your story, it really hit some chords with me. Sounds like my ex, but I wasn't with him as long, we were never legally married, and don't have kids. Turns out he might be bipolar (still working that out). I can definitely understand wanting to stay with a person like that because when they're "good," they're so awesome to be around.
If he's willing to get actual help and manage whatever mental illness he may have himself, instead of you "managing" it for him, maybe you could think about letting him back into your life, Don't let him move back in right now for the sake of yourself and your kid. He can stay living away and if he is able to make it right, then he can move back in.
Of course, for many people, an affair is a dealbreaker (it is for me, at least in theory), so it's also very understandable to decide to end it for good. Honestly, it would probably save you a lot of grief in the end.
posted by ishotjr at 8:30 PM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Go to this website. It is for people who live with and love someone who is depressed or bipolar. I stumbled onto it six months ago when dealing with my husband's major depressive episode and saw myself and all our weird relationship oddities discussed by other people who do EXACTLY THE SAME THINGS you are doing in terms of taking him back but not wanting to, walking around on egg shells, etc. It was a tremendous help to me.

In my own case, I took him back, nursed him, cared for him, put up with his unreasonable demands to make the relationship work and, in the end, he left me for another woman anyways. However, I got through him being a complete a**hole with the advice I got from this website. Good luck.
posted by eleslie at 8:31 PM on November 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

He stopped sleeping, became hypomanic

Here, you have it.

Let me frame things this way. It is possible that you going back could be damaging to HIM. He needs an incentive to decide for himself to seek help, to seek any necessary treatment, to take responsibility for his actions and his health. Meanwhile you have the responsibility to provide stability for a child.

Yes, it's possible and even probably that many of his behaviors are a result of sickness. But being bipolar does not mean one has to be an ass, and he needs to take as much responsibility as he is able to. And that is more than you would expect, probably. I would suggest to you that you talk to a counselor who can help you determine what the healthiest course of action is for all of you. But speaking as someone who is certainly not an advocate of divorce, I do know that sometimes a longterm separation is in the best interest of ALL parties. Don't get sucked into fixing him because you cannot. He has to want to get help and he has to be selfmotivated to do what he needs to do. You cannot do it for him and it is not healthy for your daughter to have to deal with him in this kind of state. And not healthy for you either!
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:45 PM on November 25, 2009 [6 favorites]

I haven't read the answers, so please forgive me if anyone else has already said this, but:

You alluded to being co-dependent. Yes, you sound that way to me too. And if you are, that is probably why you are caught in this cycle of pattern of not being able to resist helping your husband.

But have you ever actually made a concerted effort to overcome co-dependence, long-term? I think you need to talk to a therapist about your co-dependence, go to Al-Anon, and read everything you can get your hands on about it. (Pia Mellody and Melody Beattie have written useful books on the topic)
posted by Ashley801 at 8:47 PM on November 25, 2009

This is a really key time, because whatever you do now sets the tone for all his future indiscretions. Forgive him too easily or without making him prove (as in concretely) that he is capable of changing his behavior and you (and your child) may end up going through this over and over again.

Going to therapy together is a pretty fair initial requirement before you will consider taking him back. From there, your therapist can help you set the gameboard for what will follow. It's tricky to do this on your own because what you want or will tolerate may change from one day to the next -- when you're going through an emotionally traumatic time, you are not the best judge of what is right, fair, or satisfying in the long term.
posted by hermitosis at 8:50 PM on November 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

Just one data point for you:

Those hypo-manic, not-sleeping, delusions-of-grandeur periods around ages 35-40 happen to a fair number of men. I had one, and so did my brother.

They typically wear off after 4-6 months, but if not, need to seek help.
posted by mikeand1 at 8:53 PM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

All dysfunctional relationships are made up of two people. Not one. Two. (I'm speaking from experience.) It's just that your husband's dysfunction is more visible. A codependent's addiction is usually in the form of addiction to people who create drama - addiction to alcoholics, drug addicts, people with mental illness. Children who are trapped in dysfunctional families don't have a choice - there they are; but adults have the choice to participate or not participate in perpetual drama.

I would suggest that you do some more therapy and attend some Alanon or Codependent Anonymous meetings before making any decisions about getting back together with him. Coda meetings really helped me sort out a lot of stuff. Also, at some point, you just have to decide if you and your children really need a bunch of drama in your life or not.
posted by gt2 at 8:54 PM on November 25, 2009 [4 favorites]

or what Ashley801 said.
posted by gt2 at 8:56 PM on November 25, 2009

“You appear to be saying, Socrates, that not even money is wealth if one doesn't know how to use it.”

“And you seem to me to agree that whatever can benefit someone is wealth... Then unless one knows how to use money, let him thrust it so far away, Critoboulus, that it isn't even wealth. As for friends, if one knows how to use them so as to be benefited by them, what shall we assert they are?”

“Wealth, by Zeus,” said Critoboulus, “and worth much more than oxen, if indeed they are more beneficial than oxen.”

“Then enemies too are wealth, at least according to your argument, for whoever is able to benefit from them.”
—Xenophon, Oeconomicus 1.13-14

I always really liked this way of looking at it. The book, Oeconomicus, is just about household management; that's what "oeconomicus" means in Greek.

To manage your household – and the 'household' that is your life – properly, you need to keep in mind perennially that you must use your friends and family in such a way that you're benefited by them. That's not selfishness, not if you do it right – the very best things we get from other people are things we couldn't get anywhere else, things which we can share in with them. But that means being firm with ourselves and the people around us and recognizing that, for example, spending time with someone who does us absolutely no good is a misuse of the resources available to us. And if we learn how to "use" other people correctly, we can even get benefit from people who are our enemies; we can learn lessons from their mistakes, they can motivate us to be better people, and they can remind us that our safety and sanity are important.

It's one of the most difficult things in the world, but what you need to do now is examine yourself and make a considered decision about what good this man himself is doing for you (first and foremost) and for your daughter. Keep in mind that no decision necessarily means completely cutting him off or 'taking his family away,' as you put it; there are options that include you two being separate but which would allow him to see you and see your daughter regularly. You just need to focus on the benefits which being married to him have provided you, as well as the harm it's done. Clear your mind of sentimental connections and nostalgia: on a day-to-day basis, what actual good has this done you, and what harm has it caused? And keep your mind open to the possibility that separation, at the very least, might be the most practical option for all three of you; for you, because it might improve your chances for sanity, for your daughter, because it might do the same for her, and for him because it will mean that he won't have a chance any more to continue doing these terrible things which he's bound to regret the moment he has any chance to reflect on his actions, and will have space to 'freak out' and get his head together without slamming into the people he cares about.
posted by koeselitz at 9:04 PM on November 25, 2009 [6 favorites]

One more consideration. If you are working hard to "manage" your husband, the chances are very good that your daughter has also learned to "manage" her father. That is not healthy for her - she needs to work on growing up herself, not constantly modifying her behavior and denying her own feelings to keep her father from getting angry.

Maintaining two households for a while will give you both a chance to get some distance when you need it and allow your daughter to spend time with him but also to leave when she doesn't feel safe.
posted by metahawk at 9:20 PM on November 25, 2009 [4 favorites]

IANAD IANHisD IASMOTI (I Am Some Mope On The Internets)

'k, that's out the way. Do you think that he's an alcoholic? Does he think he's an alcoholic? Has he ever been to AA? Have you ever been to AlAnon?

A hallmark of alcoholics is resentment, drunk or sober. That white-hot, burning rage, that stuff is fueled by alcoholism. (note I didn't say alcohol-wasm; it's alcohol-ism, that resentment thing is, and it's onboard whether he's sober or not, if he hasn't dealt with it effectively.) I've known any number of alcoholics, and watched them in action, as it were, many of them from close-up; I have a tiny clue of what alcoholism is. Do you? Does he?

Do you think he's maybe got the manic depression illness* going on? Does he think he's got the manic depression illness going on? Has he ever been to a shrink? Have you ever seen a social worker behind this stuff?

A hallmark of manic-depression is that white-hot, burning rage, flaring like a star burns; those explosions that are splattering off the sun all the time, arcing high and coming back down -- is that familiar to you? And intense. Jesus h. christ on a crutch are people with manic depression intense. Like, REAL intense, that whole burning like the sun kind of intense. Great fun in the rack, the best person by far to be with in an art museum, but tire-some sometimes when you're drying the dishes or what-have-you.

More. Lots of people who have that danged manic depression illness become alcoholics. Check it out -- alcohol is a great anti-psychotic, it soothes that flaring fire, but, oddly, also stokes it. It's a great anti-psychotic but not an elegant one, and not the one your neighborhood shrink is going to suggest to treat mania, to address that side of the illness.

More yet. Lots of people who have that danged manic depressive illness burn through relationships when they're flying. And they hop into the sack with whoever's close at hand, when manic. They're risk-takers. And they're often in the creative fields, which is where you met him.

I have no idea if any of those are going on in his case. But it does look like a duck. Talks like a duck. Walks like a duck. Might be a duck, you know?

So. I see no reason to be all in a big hurry to get back together. As someone noted upthread, if you just stumble right back into your marriage, neither of you have much incentive to make any changes, much less pretty drastic changes, which are what appear to be called for, at least from my seat here on the internets.

Do you have to split the blankets?

Not just yet -- you really do love this guy, I'd bet dollars to dimes he really loves you, too, and knows at least in some way to some depth how much jive you've gone through due to his instabilities and lunacies of various sorts.

IF -- if he is an alcoholic, that's likely going to have to stop. But mere cessation of drinking is but a start, so I've been told, he's not going to deal with that flaring resentment gig of is just by setting it down, in fact, it might get worse if/when he's got nothing to ease the pain of those resentments. (Resentments eat a persons soul (lack of a better word, you got a better word than soul, insert in here --> ________ and continue reading.) Resentments eat peoples soul, rots them, it's like pouring acid into a leather sack; not designed for it, it'll carry lots of other things just fine but not resentment.) Regardless he's an alcoholic or not, he's acting like one, and you don't want to live with that jive anymore, and I don't want you to, nor does anyone else, including him, if/when he can see it. All that trash needs to be dealt with before you welcome him back into your the loving warmth of your marriage, the green, green grass of home.

IF -- if he has that pesky manic depression illness, that's going to have to be dealt with. And it's not something he can deal with by seeing a therapist or finding Jesus or taking up knitting or whatever else, though of course all of those things are just spiffy. But manic depression is a physiological illness, same as any other chronic, progressive, potentially fatal illness, and it is addressed with medications, it's addressed with psychiatric help. A good social worker or psychotherapist can help, too, to help him see what's happening in his life, to give him a perspective that you cannot.

YOU -- get thee to a therapist. (I mean, come on, this is Metafilter; you knew I HAD to say that.) Get your butt to a good therapist, pronto. A marriage counselor, too, both alone and with Mr. Intensity. Maybe the counselor first, okay, okay -- swell. But you've been living in a highly charged, un-natural, unhealthy marriage for just the longest time, and therapy is called for. I had those heart attacks, I went to physical therapy. Speech therapy (I was dead a long time, and no oxygen to the brain -- can't you tell?) I went to therapy cuz I'd been compromised, I was hurt by what I'd been through. So I got therapy, right? I guarantee you've been compromised, hurt by what you've been through -- I can't say if your man is alcoholic or manic depressive or both or neither, but I can damn sure say, without a doubt, that you've been hurt by this whoile show, in ways that you don't (yet) know. But I hope you get on track to finding out. And AlAnon, whether he's alcoholic or not, you can get boundless help there, free, and meet some others who've walked through fire for love.

I wish you both -- um, nope,all three of you -- the very best of luck. The best could very well lie ahead.

Have fun!

*Following the lead of Kay Redfield Jamison here, on calling it the manic depressive illness rather than bipolar, the user-friendly, stigma-removing name used by many people today. Her reasoning is that it's not just two poles, there's variations all over the place, plus you can be on both poles at the same time -- that's called 'mixed states' and golly, is it ever interesting to watch; you get the mood (black) and the thoughts (negative) of depression, fueled and fired by the energy of mania (intense); it's like flying an airplane full-speed into the ground.
posted by dancestoblue at 9:32 PM on November 25, 2009 [8 favorites]

I can't help but think that this husband wants to reestablish himself with "his family" simply because it did not work out between him and the younger woman. Just because he is smart, funny, "ill" and the father of your child does not mean you have to make this decision immediately, does it? It really comes across that you have a great deal of uncertainty about how you feel.
His being manic or whatever...should not give him any kind of free pass to run the whole show. You WANT to give him a get out of jail free card because of illness. What will stop him from using this illness excuse for future indiscretions? Taking him back at this juncture can make you seem very doormat-y. You would be wise to proceed with utmost caution. You deserve time to sort this out and if he can't understand that then it is clear that he is STILL thinking only of himself. If he is smart enough to get a Masters degree...then he should be smart enough to let you process what had to be the most heart wrenching ordeal of your life. It may be more "convenient" for him with his substance problems and his "illness" that he have you forgive him and reestablish your lives--but on the other hand.....what about YOU? What about your feelings? If you can't be an EQUAL in this relationship you are always going to suffer. For some reason, reading in between the lines, I think both you and your h think that he is somehow more worthy, more gifted, more special, more "everything" than you. Why else would you let someone treat you so abysmally. There is too much emphasis on him in your post...and not enough on you. Maybe you are the one who should be getting a degree and taking up with a twenty something. Just a thought.
posted by naplesyellow at 10:56 PM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

My mom is bipolar. Those are classic symptoms. My feeling is that an undiagnosed bipolar is nearly impossible to live with.The good news is that medication and therapy will help tremendously. Some of the more egregious behavior may be symptoms of his illness. I'd see if he's willing to get help.
posted by bananafish at 11:22 PM on November 25, 2009

I believe that he is an undiagnosed bipolar and/or some other personality disorder and so how can I leave him? IF HE GETS HELP, how can I turn away?

You have the right to stay away from people who hurt you emotionally. No matter what the reason for their doing so may be.

He left you. Don't let him back until he gets help and demonstrates that it's working. You can love him without letting him move back in.
posted by yohko at 1:03 AM on November 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think that you are lucky that he left you.
My personal experience is much like your own. 15 years.
Me, classic codependant. It was me that left, then went back after another half hearted suicide attempt.
Ex, semi functional borderline personality disorder/bipolar pothead alcoholic.
The best thing I have ever done for our daughters and my own well being was (with some encouragement from the court) to go no contact for 12 months. Or more.
It's not easy.
You need support.
It's a hell of a lot better than feeling like you're dying every day.
posted by Duke999R at 2:03 AM on November 26, 2009 [5 favorites]

Please seek professional counseling for your daughter.

I'm going to directly connect this childhood management of fathers that I suspect she's learned as a coping/survival mechanism with drug use, eating disorders. It doesn't happen for all girls, but just bc Aunt Sue's little girl escaped that doesn't mean it's not a trend in the aggregate.

I don't have access to the library today, but my choice of studies (anthropology/sociology) was heavily influenced by having grown up in a home that was similar enough to what you describe.

Teach your daughter that you deserve a helthy relationship, and she's more likely to create a healthy romantic relationships for herself. That's pretty well accepted t this point. The continuation that most people miss is toleration of bad bosses, crappy friends, and other situations where people could be nice to you but choose otherwise.

I've had the bad bosses and crappy 'friends.' I wouldn't wish either on anyone.

To reiterate: therapy isn't a foolproof prevention for this, but it gives her a fighting chance.

(finally, all the stuff people say about your needs is true, but as a codependent, I'm willing to bet you don't gave much practice putting your needs first. Putting your daughter first is the next best thing. Get you both to therapy.)
posted by bilabial at 5:01 AM on November 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

I believe that he is an undiagnosed bipolar and/or some other personality disorder and so how can I leave him?

He makes you walk on eggshells, explodes in anger, starts affairs, goes back to alcohol — and then blames it on you with his "list of resentments toward [you] that he has dredged up in [your] arguments and discussions"!

Your daughter is about to embark on that phase of her life where she will begin to explore dating and will model her expectations on what she sees. How can you teach her this is okay? How can you stay?

His reasons for acting this way don't matter as much as the effect his actions have and the likelihood that they will continue to happen. It sounds like you and your daughter would both be healthier without having to walk on eggshells all the time, and your refusing to take him back might be the wake-up call he needs to make real changes instead of blaming it on you.
posted by heatherann at 6:31 AM on November 26, 2009 [6 favorites]

Wow. You just described my parents. Almost to a tee. My biggest concern in what dzaz and metahawk mentioned about your daughter. I have two sisters, and guess what kind of relationships they ended up in? They both ended up with boyfriends/husbands that they were managing. One sis figured thugs out, ditched the guy, and now is married to a good guy who isn't making her walk o eggshells. The other sis is still with a guy she has to manage.

I don't claim to know what is the right decision and I don't envy you, because no choice you make will be easy or feel right. But what you need is control. Not to control him, but to feel like you are in control of your own destiny. You don't seem to feel like you have that right now. Any situation where you did take him back would have to involve you being in charge of you. When you're managing someone, you aren't in control of yourself, they are.

Good luck. You can get through this and be stronger for it.
posted by azpenguin at 8:47 AM on November 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow, I am so overwhelmed with the time and consideration and excellent advice that you have all given me. So much to think about.

I agree about thinking of my daughter and modelling positive relationships for her. I just wanted to mention that she is seeing a therapist (as am I) but also that my husband and I are/were very conscious not to fight in front of her. But, of course, I'm sure she also has learned things about managing him and his frustrations and she's seen him angry but she never saw him be abusive. (Other than that one night and, well, I know, one night is enough) I guess I just wanted to assure you that my daughter wasn't living in a hell-- in fact, because we never fought in front of her, she was completely blind-sided by his explosion that night.

I have found a free psych clinic that I can point him to -- but then he has to take the next step.
Anyway, thank you all.
posted by Toto_tot at 9:08 AM on November 26, 2009

Oh honey, I feel for you.

Let me just say that not fighting in front of your daughter is admirable, but that's not the only behavior that can damage a child's ideas about healthy relationships.

If she sees you, day after day, tip toeing around your husband, pushing down your own desires out of fear of angering or offending him, that will influence her future relationships with men.

Don't let him come back. He'll probably come to you and say "Look, I'm getting counseling. See? I'm better." in a couple of months, or maybe even sooner than that. That's not nearly enough time for someone to change what's probably been decades of bad behavior.

If he's anything like the folks I've known who've behaved like this, he'll go to therapy until you let him come home. Then he'll apologize profusely and promise to be better, after which he'll decide he's all better and never go again and everything will go back to exactly the way it was before with you and your daughter walking on eggshells around him.

Point him in the direction of therapy, not as a prerequisite for coming home, but for his own well being. Then say good-bye and move on with your life.
posted by burntflowers at 10:47 AM on November 26, 2009 [5 favorites]

He needs to be on meds that work and he needs to be taking them consistently, if he does have bipolar disorder. Taking them consistently for months and months. Then think about taking him back. It is a sickness but that doesn't mean you and your daughter need to suffer from the sickness your husband has. Especially not your daughter, she has no choice and you need to protect her above and beyond what you do to protect your husband.

If he were under the care of a shrink, he would have been able to head this manic episode (and if he's moving out of your house, it's manic, not hypomanic) off at the pass and it would have never gotten this bad. But he's not under the care of the shrink, so you can't say that the same thing won't happen again.

Best of luck--
posted by kathrineg at 8:20 PM on November 26, 2009

Again, a preface of I'm sorry for your situation. Been there.

But after you got a lot of good advice, you said:
I have found a free psych clinic that I can point him to -- but then he has to take the next step.

Why is it YOUR job to find him a psych clinic???

You wanted advice, here it is: for your daughter's sake, get rid of him. No contact. File for legal separation (if in your state), work out custody arrangements. Create a life without this destructive force.

Do it for your daughter and stop trying to take care of this man.
posted by dzaz at 4:27 AM on November 27, 2009

It sounds like you are willing to put a lot of effort and work into your relationship and he just isn't. The mental illness (which is just armchair analysis) is sidetracking you and allowing both of you to blame his behaviour on something other than himself and his choices. Take that energy you were spending on him and focus it on yourself (and your daughter) to create a happy life for yourself.

I suspect you have been the financial glue as well in your marriage - I'm sure you know the expression throwing good money after bad. Please be sure to get legal and financial advice to protect yourself and your daughter. I know it is hard on top of all this emotional upheaval, but you are strong enough to get through this to the other, healthy side. Good luck.
posted by saucysault at 7:14 AM on November 27, 2009

Response by poster: Again - thank you for your support.
He called yesterday to say that he has broken up with this 23 year old girl (who has emailed me to assure me it's over--I actually believe her)
And now he is begging me to work on it--not to move back in but work on it... but he continues to blame me for the demise of the relationship, for what led him to have the affair. sigh.
We talked about him seeing a psych before I will consider any move toward co-counseling and he has both said yes and also disparaged it.
Now, the work begins for me to stand strong and not slip back into taking care of him. He keeps saying negative and/or hurtful things... but then also makes sense and is really charming.
posted by Toto_tot at 5:07 PM on November 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Uh, people, if he is bipolar and he does get proper treatment he can absolutely be a good husband. Let him prove he can get help before we advise this woman to totally flush him...
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:09 PM on November 27, 2009

I agree St Alia but since he hasn't even taken the first step of looking for a Dr (let alne making an appontment with the clinic she found him) he is showing through his actions that he does not take her concerns seriously but will instead fall into the old distructive patterns. Maybe he can be a good husband one day - but he is the only one that can make that happen and talk is simply not enough.
posted by saucysault at 6:35 PM on November 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Well, depends on where he is in the cycle if he is even capable of that at the moment, unfortunately. She might want to enlist his family to help encourage him to seek treatment. In the beginning that's probably necessary.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:38 PM on November 27, 2009

but he continues to blame me for the demise of the relationship, for what led him to have the affair. sigh.

Uh, no. If he wants to heal things, that stops now. If he won't....I won't blame you a bit for bailing out totally.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:39 PM on November 27, 2009

Toto_tot: “We talked about him seeing a psych before I will consider any move toward co-counseling and he has both said yes and also disparaged it.”

The thing I'm glad about is that you didn't say anything like "yes." That's something I think we here should have told you (maybe somebody did... don't know) but: it's really, really important to keep yourself from committing to anything or promising anything. Make any and all decisions at this point between yourself and your therapist, not in the face of his pleading. Know also that whether it's going to be possible to move toward closer relations at all is going to depend heavily on what he does in the next weeks and months; whether he sees a psychiatrist or not, whether he establishes very stable and consistent habits or not, and whether he starts moving forward and becoming capable of looking back on what's happened with a certain amount of perspective are all questions you'll need to keep at the front of your mind for the time to come.

I also have to say that I don't know if that will be healthy for him. Speaking purely of his healing and his benefit, I know that he probably can't get his mind around all of this yet, and what to him must be a huge, vague, almost undefinable demand to "get better" and "be a better husband" before the family can reunite is likely to be a pressure that actually adds to his difficulties. That's why he's already making small complaints about the requirements of the agreement you two are starting to sketch out; because his problems are his problems and are so close to his face they're blocking his view, it'll be hard for him to see the steps he needs to recover as anything but a little bit arbitrary and strange until he's actually recovered. (That would be true for any of us.) Though you'll be tempted to, this isn't something you can explain to him; you can't tell him what he needs to do, and you can't tell him why he needs to do it. That's his journey to travel.

So I have a feeling that it might be best for you to stick to blanket, absolute, completely general agreements that you know you both can live with. You sound like at the moment you're prepared to approach considering what it would mean to try to put the family together again, and I really admire and respect that. Since you have a tendency to feel pressure to simply take him back, and since (as I said) he will probably feel an unbearable pressure to "be good" or "get better" without always knowing what that means, why not give yourselves some breathing room so that you can make better decisions about all this and take it slower? Say something like this:

"Look, I will not take you back into our home for at least a month / two months / etc (whatever feels most comfortable for you) - because I need time to think about this, and because you need time to heal a bit. Daughter can travel between us freely, but she'll stay with me to give you room to think. But during that time I don't want to cut off communication, so we can see each other once / twice a week (again, use your discretion) perhaps to have dinner as a family. I'll use that time to think about what I want and need, and you can use it to think about where you are in your life."

It just seems like one huge source of pressure, on you and on him, is: what are we going to do tomorrow? If you just throw tomorrow out the window and give yourself a set number of weeks out into the future, it seems like it could take some of the pressure off. Also, it seems like it'll help both of you if the psychiatrist can help you decide some proper benchmarks, some good signs that he's doing well. That way you won't be tempted to see something that's not there, and you'll be more certain of yourself if you decide to move forward with him.

A caution: even with some pressure taken off, this will be uber-tough for him to do. No false hope. It might turn out that you need to move on alone. A psychiatrist can help you decide to approach that reality a lot better than I can.
posted by koeselitz at 9:06 PM on November 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm married to a bipolar woman, and one of my best friends is bipolar. The disease is actually very serious. Hypomanic episodes can lead to all kinds of unbelievable actions that are way out of character, affairs being one of them. My wife had an affair during an episode, and stopped it when she came down from it; this is before she was diagnosed and I had actually gotten to the point of filing for divorce. Without treatment and medication I think it's not worth you trying to take him back, because you won't be able to reason and relate to him in a way that you absolutely must be able to in order to have a healthy marriage. The upside is that the illness is very treatable.

To diagnose bipolar, a psychiatrist will put him through a full psychiatric evaluation, which takes some time (several hours a week for weeks). If you do think about taking him back, make as a prerequisite that he does this. Maybe he's bipolar, maybe he's just a dick, but at least then you'll *know* rather than simply suspect, and you can move on from there.
posted by kryptonik at 11:27 AM on December 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

kryptonik, you're right, but I think I should mention that a lot of psychiatrists will tentatively diagnose Bipolar I in, say, an hour and start treatment right away.

Will they be right? I can't say, but they'll definitely start some sort of treatment ASAP, and it probably won't take weeks.

Of course, I am not a doctor and I don't know the OP's husband, and the OP's husband has to go to the doctor in the first place.
posted by kathrineg at 1:52 PM on December 6, 2009

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