What is wrong with my husband?
August 23, 2010 9:22 AM   Subscribe

Is my husband mentally ill, or just an asshole?

My husband and I have been together for about ten years, and have children. Up until the past 18 months or so, I would have characterized us as very happy.

He had a rotten childhood, and I know stuff from that is unresolved. I have tried, and tried, and tried to get him to go to counseling. He says he wants to go, but always backs out due to fear. I don't want to leave him if he is ill, I want to help. But his behavior is becoming increasingly erratic and frightening.

He has become extremely quick to anger, he yells a lot now, and swears. Tiny things set him off. He is extremely sarcastic and EXTREMELY defensive. He also seems to be getting increasingly paranoid.


"I need you to make an appointment to get the brakes fixed."

"I made two, and you had me cancel them both, so why don't you just do it so the time will be right?"



"Please don't yell at {child}."

"Oh, yeah? You told {child} to stop complaining about dinner! My parents did that to me! You are abusive!"

He has also begun accusing me of things that have no basis in reality.

"Why did you move my keys?!"

"I didn't touch your keys."

"Yes, you did. You moved them so I'll be late. I swear to God, you're out to get me..."

I am not exaggerating. Most of this stuff is verbatim.

So, help me out here. Does this sound like a diagnosable, treatable mental illness, or just him happy assholing around? Because I'm just not sure. I can't get enough perspective to tell anymore.

Oh, and I am quite certain (for reasons that would take forever to explain) that drugs, alcohol, and adultery are not at play here.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (37 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It is treatable, but he has to want to get it treated first.
posted by dubitable at 9:25 AM on August 23, 2010

The only reasonable response to "You're out to get me" from someone with whom you are in a relationship is "Get into therapy, or I'm leaving."
posted by Etrigan at 9:25 AM on August 23, 2010 [40 favorites]

Just because somebody is mentally ill doesn't mean they can't be a jerk too.

Yeah, it sounds to me like there is something going on there that would benefit from a mental health professional, but if he won't get help you have to do what needs to be done to protect yourself and your kids.
posted by TooFewShoes at 9:26 AM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

If this behavior is totally out of left field after being together ten years, there very may well be something going on with him. But there's no way for internet strangers to diagnose or make assumptions about your husband. You are the one who has known him for a decade. You have noticed that he's acting strange. You should consider going to counseling or couples therapy to figure out what's going on.
posted by phunniemee at 9:27 AM on August 23, 2010

I think you need to sit down with him and explain that you are worried about him and that if he doesn't mind, you would like to set up a doctor's appointment for him. Drive him to it and explain to his doctor with your husband there, that this is not the man you married and have children with and you're concerned about it.

My sister went through this where her SO was suddenly very verbally abusive, but once they got her started on some meds - instantly became the loveable person she'd always known.
posted by royalsong at 9:29 AM on August 23, 2010

You can't change somebody else's behavior or convince them to do something they do not want to do. Whether his treatment towards you is his personality or a result of something clinically wrong with him, it is important that you don't lose sight of you and your needs. Take care of yourself first and always. And then decide how to deal with his behavior towards you, regardless of whatever the cause of it is.
posted by iamkimiam at 9:29 AM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

It doesn't have to be unequivocally "mentally ill" or "happy assholing." There's a middle point there, bathed in context and current issues and the way he grew up, and I will bet you the issues lay there. And you know who would be able to get down to the bone on this? That counselor he refuses to go to.

Refusing to go to family counseling while clearly demonstrating a problem regardless of the source is practically saying "I am not interested in fixing this marriage because whatever." Let him know this. Because refusing to leave his side while he is ill and refusing to get help is enabling whatever the hell is going on with him and setting a very, very bad example for the children as to the proper way to treat a human being.
posted by griphus at 9:30 AM on August 23, 2010 [7 favorites]

I went through this with a boyfriend years ago. Things were great and then one day, bam! Paranoia, wild accusations, flying off the handle over minor things. Turns out he had decided to stop taking his anti-depressants cold turkey and without any help from his doctor. Sounds like your husband isn't on anything at all, but maybe he needs it.

Like others have said, we can't know this. From my personal experience and what you've told us, however, it sounds like mental illness. But if he won't get help, you've got the rest of your family to think about. If you have to leave, you have to leave. Hopefully he'll be willing to consider treatment.
posted by katillathehun at 9:33 AM on August 23, 2010

In the most calm manner possible, you need to tell him about his behavior and the effect it's having on you. It is worrisome behavior and he needs to be called on it because he needs to stop.

He also needs to be made to understand that your ability to deal with his behavior has reached the breaking point. Ask him what it would take to get him to make a therapy appointment and go to it. Impress upon him that this has begun to endanger your marriage and it's not something that can be put off anymore.

I know this sounds harsh but if he's allowed to keep doing this, it will get worse. He needs to be called out on it, and firmly, and soon. He needs to get into counseling.

I know you want to help. You want to help because you love him, and that is a wonderful thing. But there is a difference between helping and doing all the work. You can't help him to do something he's not actually doing. Nothing you do is going to change things until he gets some perspective on the damage he's doing, and that might make him decide to effect the change he needs to.

In the meantime, please listen to and believe this: This isn't your fault, and since you didn't break it, you can't be the one to fix it. You can help him, if he wants help and is willing to put in an effort. But you don't deserve to be treated like this.

If none of the above convinces you to take decisive action, then consider this: Without corrective actions taken, and soon, his children will turn out like him and they won't know why. Please don't let that happen.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:36 AM on August 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Obviously we can't know for sure. But this kind of behavior coming on suddenly sure as heck sounds like mental illness to me.
I hope he gets help. But when you consider whether to leave or go, make sure not to put your husband's health above yours and your children's, if it comes down to that. Having a paranoid angry parent in the household is not good for kids.
posted by phoenixy at 9:36 AM on August 23, 2010

No way to know abotu his mental fitness. But your examples show some alarming examples of the four danger signs of bad relationships.

The vignette about the keys is particularly alarming. It's called "negative interpretation" and it is a lagging sign of real trouble (As opposed to "escalation" (yelling) which is a leading sign.) If you experience an increase in this behavior, get some help soon, regardless of whether he is crazy or just "assholing around."

These kinds of behaviors are just plain toxic. Do not even entertain the idea of grinning and bearing them. The most loving thing you can do for the two of you is get some professional help, even if it's just you going at first.
posted by cross_impact at 9:38 AM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

You are where I was about six years into my marriage (I was 35, husband was 46, we had one young child) after issues related to childhood abuse started coming to the surface for my husband and his siblings. Here's what I wish someone had told me then -

- You can't fix this. Likely his actions are the result of his unresolved childhood issues which has led to depression or other mental health concerns. But you can't be the one to diagnose or treat this. Call his doctor and let them know your concerns.

- Don't tie yourself into knots trying to accommodate his anger (walking on eggshells, trying to avoid conflicts, making excuses when others express concern over his explosive temper.)

- Be calm but be direct about the impact of his actions on you. Let him know that you have concerns about his angry outbursts, tell him you are afraid of him. Tell him when he hurts your feelings. Suggest he go to the doctor but don't force him to go.

- Make a plan for when he crosses the line. Figure out what the line is - when he berates the kids? when he breaks something? when he hits you? When he crosses the line, leave with the kids. This may be what it takes for him to "get it."

I told my husband that I would leave him if he hit me and that I was afraid of him and our marriage would end if he didn't deal with the issues. He ended up getting counseling, getting meds, and finally reconciling with his father.
posted by eleslie at 9:38 AM on August 23, 2010 [10 favorites]

I agree with everyone that says we can't tell if your husband is ill, but from my personal family experience it sure sounds like he is. Unfortunately, knowing that does not necessarily help - he may be ill in a way that stops him from getting help, and you will have to do whatever you need to do to protect yourself and your children from the awful effects.

In my experience it is not possible to get treatment for someone who doesn't want it, so your only option may be to leave with the children. Without children you could consider staying and continuing to try to help, but their protection comes first.

I'm so sorry, mental illness can be devastating.
posted by anadem at 9:41 AM on August 23, 2010

I said something before in a similar thread that I think applies. When it comes to abuse, ("don't even start with your bullshit" as described above, quick temper, swearing, yelling at you, etc) and the individual is not accepting any help, any diagnosis, especially a lay diagnosis (also know as making excuses for someone - in my case it was his borderline personality diagnosis along with drug addiction) is really often a "so what" diagnosis.

Mental illness (or his own past childhood traumas) may be driving this behavior. Or, it might not be - he might just be an asshole. But even if it is, there comes a point (I don't know if you've reached it - how hard has he fought therapy/doctors, etc?) where you just can't base your decision on the fact that it might be the illness's "fault." So what - you're being abused and you don't need to be. Sad, because sometimes mental illness may "cause" abusive behavior - but that doesn't mean you have to take it.
posted by Pax at 9:41 AM on August 23, 2010 [5 favorites]

It sounds like he's got a lot of defensiveness. I would not call that paranoia, which is something way different. Essentially, some emotions he's having from his past are hurting him and when people are hurt they get angry.

I'd start with kind words at a time when he isn't facing anger issues at that moment.

Next, at some other time, I'd tell him very camly that you are hurt when he gets angry. If he blows up, say it is too hurtful to talk with him when he is angry and go outside on the stoop for a breath of fresh air. Every time he gets angry, you say that you are always willing to listen to what he says but it hurts when he is angry and get your space.

If and when he goes to counseling, reward him a lot. Let him know how happy you are with the decision.

From experience, this works.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:42 AM on August 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

The only way anyone with a chronic mental health disorder benefits from treatment is to voluntarily engage and remain engaged in it. If your husband is refusing to engage in treatment and has never had a psychiatric evaluation before then any diagnosis determination by lay persons is going to be speculative and essentially useless from a clinical perspective.

That said, the way mental health professionals deal with clients who are resistant to treatment is to allow them to be resistant to treatment, maintaining an open line of communication with them so a dialog about the value of treatment can continue to take place. Over time, the person may come to their own conclusion that they want to engage in treatment, and in the case of people with severe, chronic mental health disorders this realization may come after the repeated suffering of consequences for not managing their disorder, i.e., contact with the criminal justice system or inpatient psychiatric hospitalizations. At each point of contact with the system a social worker or other mental health professional will ideally be there to discuss the experience of negative outcomes and present treatment as an ongoing option. That's when real change happens, when the person has made their own decision based on the consequences of their own behavior that they need to learn how to manage their symptoms.

If your husband has begun to experience symptoms of a chronic mental health disorder (I'm not saying he is; nobody can based on what is written here) and is resistant to treatment he may be at the start of a long and slow process where his condition could worsen considerably before he finds a stable place as a result of getting some treatment. Or, his condition could worsen and he could remain unstable and resistant to treatment. Or, his condition may not get much worse and he may be stable enough without treatment to not need to engage in it. In any of these circumstances he would be difficult to deal with as a partner, and you would be presented with determining how you are going to deal with being in this kind of partnership, or if you want to be.

In the criminal justice system we make these determinations regularly (i.e., where does the mental illness stop and where does criminal behavior start) and it's never black and white. I manage the mental health caseload for a courtroom giving treatment to felony drug offenders, and the only way these determinations are made is in light of all relevant information. What is the diagnosis? What medications are prescribed? Is the client taking them? Is he attending and participating in treatment, and is the treatment he's receiving adequate to meet his needs? Once all of this information is laid out the attorneys argue their positions, the judge listens to them, and then makes a sanction decision based on the client's history, the details presented, and the suggestions of the treatment and legal teams. It's all very grey area and case-by-case; there is no rigid formula for determining whether behavior is or is not driven by mental health symptoms. Mostly the court is attempting to determine if the behavior was driven by symptoms sufficiently such that this should be taken into consideration in determining a lesser penalty, or not.

Hope that helps.
posted by The Straightener at 9:57 AM on August 23, 2010 [6 favorites]

Honestly? It sounds like you need to send the kids for a playdate somewhere else when he's going to be home, sit him down, and have a talk.

Tell him succinctly, and without blame: "I want to talk to you, because lately your personality is changing. I don't know if it's because you're unhappy about something, or you're feeling stressed, or this is just the way you are right now, but I'm concerned that it might be something more serious. We've talked about you going to counseling before, to work out issues from your childhood, but now I need us to go to couples counseling because this change in your behavior is really starting to scare me."

If he balks, tell him: "Look, husband, something's wrong and looking into it is your responsibility as a husband and as a father. If you're telling me nothing's wrong, then you prove it: stop behaving the way you've been. Stop yelling at me, stop accusing me of doing things to hurt you, and stop behaving like an asshole. If there's nothing wrong, you should be able to stop. If you can't stop, then something's wrong and we need to find it and fix it. The only thing we can't do is leave things the way they are."

In short, for the moment forget about the behavior itself (so you don't get into the weeds of giving him examples and then arguing about those) and focus on your concern for his well-being and his responsibility to the family. If he still balks, then it's time to start treating it like the abusive relationship it seems to have become.
posted by davejay at 9:59 AM on August 23, 2010 [23 favorites]

Anecdatapoint here. Childhood friends of mine had a really bad childhood after his dad started getting really violent and bad-tempered. It got pretty bad and he broke his wife's arm with a 2x4 -- on the backswing to hit his kid with. He finally went to the doctor and it turns out he had, in addition to a difficult childhood, a brain tumor. With its removal and lexapro, he's doing much better. IANAD, and I'm not sure a doctor could diagnose your husband over the interwebs. That's my point.

Here's what I am hearing, though:
* His behavior has significantly changed
* He's paranoid and yells a lot.

No matter what the cause, it sounds like it's concerning you and that's enough. If there's a trusted other in the family to help you help him to the doctor, that might be helpful for you to help him get on board. Personally, I go for the "rule-out physical illness that can have behavioral symptoms" first. Even though drug use is off the table, a full workup may be a good "first pass" and may feel less threatening to him than a therapist.

Please trust yourself and your gut -- in your consideration of him and in determining your own safety. Ultimately, he is responsible for his own betterment, but you two have an entwined life, love and children. Understandably, that is not something to easily walk away from.
posted by Sweetdefenestration at 10:13 AM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry you're going through this. No matter what diagnosis may or may not ever be made, it sounds very much as if your husband is behaving in ways which significantly impede his achievement of his own important goals (being a good husband and father). This by itself is an excellent reason for him to see a therapist. Obviously, however, he's resistant to doing that. Therefore I have two suggestions:

-Consider making an appointment with a therapist for yourself. He or she (assuming you find someone you like and feel comfortable with) can help you cope with the stress of your situation, and also help develop strategies for persuading your husband to get the help he needs. Also, if there's a time when your husband is willing to meet with a therapist, he might be more amenable to seeing someone you already know and can vouch for, or attending a joint session with you.

-A good starting place for receiving mental health care is a visit to the GP (assuming he or she is relatively aware of these issues and not hostile to psychiatry etc.). If your husband is increasingly paranoid, he might be more willing to see his own doctor, who he knows, than a stranger. You would need to speak to his doctor in advance of or during the consultation so he/she knows what's really happening. While a GP doesn't directly provide mental health services, he/she could probably help your husband along with this process and provide referrals if necessary.
posted by unsub at 10:14 AM on August 23, 2010

Are you absolutely sure he is not using (abusing) alcohol or other drugs. The presence of some of the symptoms of mental illness are certainly exacerbated by alcohol/drugs. Are you really sure drinking is not involved. That does not answer your question but it is an important piece of information in helping you steer an appropriate course. And as has been said--assh..... and mental illness are by no means mutually exclusive. I would more likely be suspicious of a mental illness if some other things are present--generally deteriorating social/work relationships, impairment in general or specific cognitive skills, rapid emotional shifts, progressive deterioration in behavior, significantly increasing/decreasing social contact. The point that has been made--if he will not, you need to see some one to help you objectively assess where you are and need to go.
posted by rmhsinc at 10:16 AM on August 23, 2010

He sounds like a child in a man's body with emotional baggage from his childhood. Probably has a lot of inner conflicts going on that spill over into his relationships - (it actually becomes an addiction at some given point - where there's a payback/reward of hormonal influxes mostly of adrenaline that stimulate him and where he's perpetually either looking for a fight or basking in the afterglow of one, complete with the pounding heart on the upswing - and later with the depression and moroseness with the downswing.

This is long-term unraveling and it needs to be addressed from all ends. Unfortunately there are those on the spectrum that would never admit that *THEY have the problem, it's always someone else's problem. That's very hard to deal with. If he is at all, open to getting clear on his past and how it is effecting his present, then by all means support him. For you, you need support as well - Al-Anon is helpful as is Codependents Anonymous. Both have literature online and groups IRL. (That site is entirely devoted to the issues you're dealing with - I think it could be very helpful for your to understand the dynamics better). Good luck.
posted by watercarrier at 10:28 AM on August 23, 2010

Interesting. You say that drugs, alcohol, and adultery are off the table. Obviously you know that the first thing we're going to think is "He's cheating on you."

I assume, then, that you're aware of the mechanics of how that works. If person A suddenly becomes ravingly paranoid and is constantly accusing person B of random shit out of nowhere, it's often because person A knows that he's guilty of doing (or having done) something very naughty.

Adultery is the first thing that comes to mind, in the context of a marriage. Drugs and alcohol next. But there's a whole wide range of stuff that could be going on, from embezzling to a secret gambling addiction.

I actually think he's playing the "bad childhood" card simply because he knows it's a trump card.

You say he won't attend counseling on his own. Will he attend couple's therapy? Would it be acceptable for you to go to therapy to discuss this with a trained professional? Whatever's going on here, I think it's beyond the scope of what you can do on your own, especially if there are kids involved.
posted by ErikaB at 10:46 AM on August 23, 2010

I was going to mention the tumor possibility - it's strange that it's such a sudden change. But I wouldn't rush into assuming that's the case. He needs to see someone, and I wish you the strength to be able to stand up and get him to realize the situation isn't normal.
posted by symbioid at 10:47 AM on August 23, 2010

From MeFite who would prefer to remain anonymous:
In dealing with someone else with abrupt mood swings and increasing anger/paranoia, it turned out he had no valid memory of the incidents. To him, his behavior was reasonable and civil (eg, he remembered inquiring as to why something was X way--instead of what he did, which was angry accusations about that thing being X way). So I'd suggest that your husband may not be remembering these events the way you are. Perhaps it would help if you tell him exactly what he has been doing, maybe even make a recording if you can manage it, and approach him at a time when he does seem reasonably levelheaded to ask if he remembers how it really went.

If he's overwriting these incidents in his memory, and he can be shown how they're very hurtful, it may be enough to convince him to try counseling or meds. If he's convinced that what he's doing is fine, then obviously he doesn't need help; maybe it'll help to show him that what he's doing is NOT fine.
posted by jessamyn at 10:56 AM on August 23, 2010

One possible cause you didn't mention is stress over money. Is the money tight? Are you doing okay or barely making it? Creditors calling at all hours of the day and night? Is his job stable or have there been multiple rounds of layoffs?

If it's money, I suppose you can take some comfort in the fact that you wouldn't be the first couple that did fine until the money ran out.
posted by ob1quixote at 11:02 AM on August 23, 2010

I am actually concerned this could be medical. Not that mental illness isn't medical, but something else going haywire in his system.

I am not sure, however, that given the examples you've shown us that he will accept "I think you should see the doctor, because I am concerned that you're very ill" as genuine concern, and that it won't spark more paranoia.

Getting him to a doctor also has the side benefit of having a medical professional suggest therapy if there's nothing wrong with him.

On preview, it could also be some kind of substance abuse. But, getting him to a doctor could also help confirm that. I know you are sure that it is not, but damn, people do some weird things sometimes and manage to hide it so, so well.
posted by micawber at 11:34 AM on August 23, 2010

What sticks out to me as a red flag is that these changes had a pretty quick onset. Yeah, having a crappy childhood can mess you up, but usually the behaviors are evident way earlier.

I agree with others above that you need to speak to him about his behaviors. By focusing on the behaviors and concrete examples, it will make him feel less judged. Maybe you can get him to get an MRI or something. The possibility of a tumor or something else physically wrong in his brain jumped out at me immediately because of the quick onset.

No matter what, I highly recommend going to see a therapist/counselor yourself. Even when you don't have a husband who is acting crazy, being able to bounce ideas and situations off a professional is really helpful - doubly so when you're in a situation like you are now!
posted by radioamy at 12:44 PM on August 23, 2010

With the same caveat as everyone else: Get him to a professional, and maybe see one yourself.

That said, I want to agree with anonymous answer via jessamyn. My father, who had always had a history of mental illness, took a drastic turn for the uglier when I was a teenager. (It turned out the meds he was on were not good for anxiety---or rather, were very good for *causing* anxiety.)

He did not remember the nasty things he had said and done. To this day, his memories of that period are completely divergent to everyone else's. He literally does not understand why we have a strained relationship---he sees no cause at all for me to be resentful of him.

So, if you can, be very explicit about what he is saying and doing. "At this time, in this circumstance, you said X." This may cause an epiphany; it may cause more ugliness. However, if he doesn't remember what he's doing, I'm not sure anything other than that kind of explicitness will do anything, as it's fairly easy to brush off the general.
posted by PMdixon at 1:29 PM on August 23, 2010

Doesn't matter if he is ill or a butthead. Either way, this behavior needs to be addressed. You need to set some clear boundaries and take action.

Because this is not good for you and it isn't good for your kids. It is bordering on abuse if not already there.

I have to work with someone like this and it is incredibly unpleasant. And that is just here and there at work. If I had to live with that.....well, I couldn't.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:31 PM on August 23, 2010

I agree with micawber. He could have some sort of organic brain issue. You might want to encourage him to see a GP and have a full physical. If he lets you, it might be a good idea if you go with so you can describe his personality changes.

My hunch is that he didn't suddenly become a jerk. The car key tirade seems especially concerning. Sometimes people with dementia become enraged and blame others when they start having problems with their memory. I know this scenerio is unlikely since he isn't in the typical age bracket for this type of problem, but seeing a physician would be a good first step in uncovering the cause of his probleems.
posted by parakeetdog at 1:39 PM on August 23, 2010

I want to underscore that the reality may be that NOTHING you do will work. Many answers offer strategies for convincing, cajoling, persuading, revealing to, influencing, or otherwise having the situation get better because of -- him. But my favorite answers in this thread are those that focus on how your actions can create a tolerable situation for you regardless. Sure, try to persuade him or get him to understand. But don't let endless trying be an end in itself. Understand that these symptoms reflect some level of irrationality, and that same irrationality may come up even during calm and loving times. Be prepared to give up if your kindest attempts to discuss this transport you back to paranoid-fighting land. It's possible that nothing you do will work. It's not that you're doing it wrong. You could say the perfect thing at the perfect time with the perfect proof, and still, nothing. Ultimately this is his problem to solve. Resolve that somewhere deep down in yourself. Then make a backup plan: think about what you are not willing to put up with if he does not deal with this and it gets worse, and what you will do if that occurs. Best of luck, and I'm sorry this is happening to you.
posted by salvia at 3:16 PM on August 23, 2010

Just want to chime in agreeing that this could be mainly something physical (though the effects may be exacerbated by the childhood issues).

My father went through a similar period, mostly after I was out of the house, but in retrospect I can see the beginnings of it when I was still in high school. It turned out to be mostly caused by a thyroid disorder, which wasn't diagnosed until someone finally managed to bully him into going to the doctor after years of increasingly obnoxious behavior. They zapped his thyroid, did some blood tests, and gave him some pills, and now he's mostly his old self again.

It's certainly possible that he's just being an asshole, and it could be mental illness, but there really are a lot of physical maladies (some of which are quite easy to treat if he can get diagnosed!) that can trigger this sort of inappropriate behavior.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 3:43 PM on August 23, 2010

There appears to be a lot of good advice here (I've only skimmed the thread). I just want to point out, as a physician, that he may indeed have a physical (brain) or mental illness, and he needs to be evaluated by a physician (family practice or internal medicine) or a psychiatrist, and not a psychologist or family/marraige counsellor.
posted by neuron at 5:03 PM on August 23, 2010

He has become extremely quick to anger, he yells a lot now, and swears. Tiny things set him off. He is extremely sarcastic and EXTREMELY defensive. He also seems to be getting increasingly paranoid.

This man is overwhelmed by his pain, and he lacks the coping skills to maturely resolve it. Unfortunately, he also lacks the skills to articulate this to you in an adult manner, as well as the ability to recognize what change(s) in the last 18 months has triggered the PTSD associated with his pain.

What you can do to help him. Tell your husband that you're concerned about him, and ask him to consider reading this book. Then don't bring up the book again until he does so on his own. Ask him if he found anything relevant or helpful in the book. Don't press him for any more detail than he is comfortable sharing. If/when awkward questions arise that are beyond your capacity to support him as a wife, not a therapist, gently ask if he would consider seeing a therapist with a background in family issues as described by that book to find more answers. Make an appointment for him, and let him know you are willing to accompany him to the office to make sure the environment is the best one for him. Support him to be patient through the therapist-matching process, and then let him take the reins on his mental health from there. Do not bring up the therapy until he communicates that he is comfortable talking about it. If the therapy is successful, then one day he will.

Until you reach the end point, make it clear by reinforcing firm boundaries that although you love him, you do not love being abused by him. Have a plan to reinforce your boundary, e.g. "We are going to my mother's until you are calm enough to speak without yelling. I am willing to hear what you have to say, but I need you to speak to me respectfully if I am going to be able to hear it." Or something to that effect.

IMO child abuse can make people mentally ill. Give him the opportunity to know there is help for victims of child abuse out there, including male victims, before his abuse-driven illness kills the love in your relationship. Don't worry that the sudden onset of his symptoms spell doom for his prospective recovery; you don't know all the details of his abuse history, and what may seem like benign changes in your day to day lives could very well be triggering PTSD unidentified in your husband. Be patient. Be strong. And best of luck!
posted by human ecologist at 8:17 PM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't have time to read all the comments on this right now, but I will just relay my sister's experience. She had 2 kids with and eventually married a guy that, in my protective brotherly way, I thought seemed like a decent guy.

A few years after marrying and seemingly normal behaviour, he started exhibiting extreme paranoia: holding a glass up against a wall so he could listen to what the neighbours were saying about him, taking his 5 year old daughter to the park then whispering to her, after an innocent couple walked by, "they were talking about me", which made my niece cry to her mother that "Daddy's crazy" (and is making me tear up typing this now)

She implored him to seek help, but he refused. She got community services involved who showed up unannounced to assess him, but of course he acted totally normal (that option may not be available in your country)

She eventually left him, took the kids, and he now has no access right at all to them.

Summary: if you think the relationship is worth continuing with,implore him to seek help. If he refuses, leave him.
posted by Diag at 1:13 AM on August 24, 2010

Nthing the tumor possibility. My uncle was always really patient, but then his personality rather suddenly changed. I remember being shocked when he verbally blew up at me about (seriously) hoarding my popsicle sticks. A few months later he got diagnosed with brain cancer and died like six months after that. I don't know that taking him in sooner would have saved him, but earlier's pretty much always better, right? So, seriously, I think you should get him tested.
posted by randomname25 at 8:18 AM on August 24, 2010

So, if you can, be very explicit about what he is saying and doing. "At this time, in this circumstance, you said X." This may cause an epiphany; it may cause more ugliness. However, if he doesn't remember what he's doing, I'm not sure anything other than that kind of explicitness will do anything, as it's fairly easy to brush off the general.

A small note about this: I have a relationship with someone who often says horrible and/or inappropriate things, and later claims they don't remember saying those things. This went on for quite a while. Ultimately it turned out they had a painkiller addiction, and once they got control of it, the tendency stopped. Then it started up again, and yep, turned out to be a relapse. So, don't be so sure to rule such things out.
posted by davejay at 11:52 PM on August 24, 2010

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