Help for the spouse of someone with mental health issues
October 15, 2012 5:07 PM   Subscribe

I really need help with being married to -- and raising a young child with -- someone who's living with long-term anger issues, depression, anxiety, and OCD (obsessive fear of doing violent things). I feel alone, sad, exhausted, and in way over my head.

My wife has just started individual therapy (one session so far) and we started relationship therapy last month (several sessions so far).

All these issues have been clear for a long time and have been very seriously impacting me. Now that we're finally getting professional help, my wife is opening up to me about thoughts and instincts that are even more (to me, with no experience of mental issues) disturbing and hard to understand. In my initial googling, I've been starting to understand more about OCD, especially, for example, the idea that saying "I'm constantly scared I will [do violent act X]" is quite unlikely to translate into actually doing X.

I'm already very exhausted emotionally, fairly disconnected from my wife, and very concerned for our relationship. (We have a young child, who is a primary reason for putting everything I've got into surviving this and building back a marriage.)

Things that could help me:

- any advice about living with these issues;

- any advice about repair/health for a relationship where these issues are just now starting to be addressed after years of emotional damage from them;

- pointers to online support groups for spouses;

- pointers to help/advice about raising young children up in this context;

- thoughts about how to help my wife open up to the relationship therapist about the seriousness and extremity of some of these issues and the thoughts I've heard from her, which I believe he must hear before he can get a better idea of my experience/perspective and how to help us.

Thank you.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I realize that your family is doing a lot of therapy already, but I think you should have your own individual therapist to talk to about how all of this is affecting you and your mental health. You need someone who is there only for you, with whom you can vent and break down and rage and express all your feelings, and with whom you can work to find ways to maintain your own mental well-being while supporting your family. It's great to have a relationship therapist, but when things are serious like this, you need someone who is all yours to help you advocate for yourself, and to be a sounding board for your own feelings.
posted by decathecting at 6:03 PM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

National Alliance on Mental Illness

Through the Looking Glass, a resource center for parents with disabilities

Here is some information on parenting with OCD. It includes some information about common clinical experiences of children with a parent with OCD.

You might want to ask your therapist about "intrusive thoughts" or "inappropriate thoughts." These kinds of thoughts, in which a person has violent or otherwise inappropriate thoughts about things they have no desire to do, are a very common symptom of OCD. They do not mean that your wife is going to harm you or your child. She might feel very guilty and afraid of these thoughts. A therapist who is experienced in treating OCD might be able to suggest ways for your wife to interrupt/disrupt or otherwise process these thoughts and for you to support her in that.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 6:10 PM on October 15, 2012

Assuming that your observations re: depression, anxiety and OCD are accurate I think it might be very helpful for her to see a psychiatrist as well as a therapist--OCD can respond to certain talk/behavioral therapies but its intensity and duration can be significantly ameliorated by the proper drug regime. I also strongly recommend NAMI and a classic "self help" book by Albert Ellis called 'How to live Successfully with a Neurotic". I know it sounds pejorative but it is a classic. BTW, Ellis and Harper originally conceptualized what is now called CBT.
posted by rmhsinc at 6:47 PM on October 15, 2012

One thing you need to do is get your partner to agree to tell you when she is feeling "off", for lack of a better word, so that you can accurately gauge the seriousness of what she is saying. Sometimes an outburst is just letting off steam, and other times it is for reals. This allows her to vent without feeling like you'll take it seriously, and let you take it seriously when she is communicating something important. Because the worst thing that can happen is the opposite.
posted by gjc at 7:26 PM on October 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

I have a spouse with, hrm, myriad issues and problems. And we have a daughter, who is now 11. My husband is healthier now than he has ever been, and we've come a long way, but there have been some tough times. I don't have much to say about getting through yourself, I'm not sure what I did was the right way to go (muddle through). But for my daughter, I've been really honest with her about her dad, sometimes to the point where I was maybe too close to the line of oversharing. I started talking to her about it when she was really young, and kept having conversations that were more and more sophisticated as she was better able to understand. It's helped her, I think, to understand that it wasn't as simple as "my dad is a jerk." And it helped her to see how hard he works to overcome all his crap. Co-parenting with a screwed up spouse (I say that with love, I love my husband immensely) can be really exhausting, I'm sorry you have to do it, and I wish you luck. For us, it's gotten a lot better over the years, I hope it will for you, too.
posted by upatree at 7:54 PM on October 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

I completely agree with decathecting - it would be really helpful for you to have an individual therapist (and make sure it's someone who is knowledgeable about OCD). The therapist will be there to help you manage, and to help you figure out the best way to be in the relationship.
posted by insectosaurus at 7:56 PM on October 15, 2012

Okay, she just started therapy. What kind of therapy is she receiving? If it's not cognitive-behavioral therapy, she needs to find another therapist. I'm in CBT for obsessive-compulsive disorder right now. It is the only, only kind of therapy that has ever helped me. I've had OCD since I was a small child, so that's over 20 years of useless therapy. That was a colossal, awful waste of time. Your wife does not need to waste any more time, at this point.

If she gets into CBT, and she is really willing to do all the work that CBT entails, she will almost certainly improve. And seconding rhmsinc: It wouldn't hurt for her to consult a psychiatrist for medication, as well. Therapy will go more easily if she is willing to go on some medication and even herself out a bit.

She is not going to go through with her violent thoughts, as scary as they sound. Hmm. Some women develop that sort of OCD after having a child. Did she have any postpartum issues that you can recall?

As for living with her: My husband has a fair amount of experience living with me, and I can tell he wants to tear out his hair sometimes. He attended a therapy session with me, in which my therapist explained how he could help me get better, and how he could stop enabling my OCD crap when it rears its crazy head. You should also see your wife's therapist, and ask what you need to do (or not do). I try to let my husband mentally check out from my issues as often as possible. You should be allowed such breaks, in my opinion. It's OKAY for you and your kid to spend time away from her, to refuel your sanity.

You need to be kind and gentle with yourself right now, and while your wife goes through treatment. She needs your helps, yes. But don't let it suck you under, too. Get your own therapist. There is no way you aren't having your own depression issues, since you're having to cope with all of this.

And remember: Even though she is mentally ill and undoubtedly suffering a great deal, there isn't any excuse for inflicting "anger issues" on you or your child. She is still responsible for her crappy behavior. The way for her to take responsibility, is to get proper treatment and commit to it fully. If she is not willing to do that, you should consider if you want to put up with this forever.

I also think that it's okay to lay it on the line with her. She gets help, or your relationship will be destroyed. If she is not willing to discuss these issues with your relationship therapist, it's okay to tell her, "You have to tell the therapist about your problems, or this therapy will be a waste of time, and our marriage will end."

Good luck. I know how much this sucks for both of you.
posted by Coatlicue at 8:33 PM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

People have already said what I was thinking, but I'd like to add my vote for those things: NAMI, personal therapy, and as for your child, explain and keep an open dialogue of what the deal is. Talk about it and explain it from a compassionate point of view. It's hard to the draw the line between when someone is being sick and someone is just being an asshole, but I think it's better to try to figure out those grey areas than just feel like your parent is a jerk.

It's a tough spot to be in, but it's good to be asking these questions. Best of luck.
posted by lurking_girl at 7:15 AM on October 16, 2012

I have some experience with this. And honestly, what we had to do was set some boundaries. While it is lovely in theory to say that we love each other and should share everything, in practicality, there are things he says when he is upset which I simply cannot handle hearing. Rationally, I know that the mood will likely pass, that he does not sincerely mean it and it is just the depression talking and so on, but emotionally, I have my limits to. I can handle 'I am upset' and I can handle 'I am in a dark place right now' but I draw the line at 'I should just stop taking all my medicines and let nature take its course because nobody will miss me when I am gone and if I die, you will get over it.'

And further, my adverse reaction makes it worse for *him* too. It dials up the stress level because now he has to deal with my upsetness, and then he gets worse and says even more and so on. So...the bargain we made is that certain things, he keeps in his head, for both our benefit. If he really has to share those thoughts, that is what the therapist is for, but there are a few lines he has to force himself not to cross, even if he is upset. And for the most part, he can do it. There have been a few slip-ups, but usually, he remembers.
posted by JoannaC at 4:00 PM on October 16, 2012

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