How do I save my marriage OR how do I leave my wife?
September 15, 2020 1:19 PM   Subscribe

Lots of details below, it's long. I'll sum it up here. Been married 3 years to a woman who has struggled with depression her whole life. The depression has gotten about as bad is it can get and she refuses to get help. I've given her the ultimatum: Therapy or Divorce. So far she is opting for divorce. So my question is, what else can I try to save the marriage? And if there is nothing, how do I leave her without abandoning her outright or letting her manipulate my concern into a protracted event?

* We've been married for three years. She didn't tell me she has a history of depression so I was blindsided by it when it happened, but I did my best to support her.

* After about six months of her being suicidally depressed, after a few episodes and 911 calls, and after many refusals to get therapy or do anything else that constructive, I left and got a hotel. We talked, and I came back.

* She has been battling depression and suicidal ideation for the last 2 years since the above bullet point. Things have been degrading, she talks about suicide daily.

* She refuses to get therapy or try new things like meditation, support groups, reading books, acupuncture, or anything that is not her "trying in her own way."
Our lives are misery, every day is worse than the last. We get in frequent fights, she doesn't trust me (because I walked out once).

* Can't stand listening to her talk about offing herself daily while griping about the evil world and her worthlessness, all while trying to support us both, giving her daily lengthy foot rubs, doing all of the shopping, cooking, and most of the cleaning anymore. So I told her the we need to get therapy or we need to get divorced (We as in both of us, not just her).

* She is so far acting like she would rather get divorced than go to therapy and trying to lay a guilt trip on me. So my question to you guys is: Was there a better way to fix this than an ultimatum? What would you have done? At what point do I decide our relationship is toxic and end it? I've been with my wife for three years now. No kids. We both work from home so we are around each other 24/7. When we first met we were enamored with one another. We had common interests, compatible life-goals, made each other laugh and feel special, and could just be ourselves around one another. I proposed to her after about six months in and we got married.

The too-long part:

I never knew that she suffered from life-long depressive episodes. She never told me. Later she confessed that she hoped getting married to me marked the end of that stage of her life so she hid it.

About 6 months into our marriage her business started tanking and she got depressed. Really depressed. Fuck the world, trash the apartment (only her belongings), threaten suicide level depressed. I tried my best to be supportive. I was giving her daily hour-long foot-rubs, doing all of the cleaning, all of the cooking, all of the shopping, and watched as the person I fell in love with disappeared and was replaced by somebody who was hateful and mean.

This went on for another six months. She would spiral because of the smallest things. Somebody looked at her funny when we were out. She got downvoted on reddit. It got to the point where my life was a daily repeating cycle of playing nurse-maid, trying to get some business work done, and absorbing the vitriol that she constantly spouted about how the world and everyone in it is shit, how worthless she was and how she should just kill herself but won't because the idea of it scares her too much, all while rubbing her feet and never asking for reciprocation.

There were three occasions during this period where she got out of control. Screaming, destroying her possessions and threatening imminent suicide. I called her family, called the police, called the suicide prevention hotline. I soon found out she had been committed once for acting this way, and she knew exactly what to say to make the police leave and to not get taken away. After they left she would be angry with me, but it usually brought her down enough to get control of herself.

Finally it got the point where I couldn't live like that anymore. I just got up and left in the middle of one of her rants. Didn't pack, just took the car keys (my car) and went to a hotel. Over the course of a week we spoke and she agreed to get therapy and I agreed to come back.

She only went to 6 therapy sessions, but she was trying hard to kick the depression so I let it slide. The therapy seemed to make her more anxious. Shortly after that we moved across the country.

Fast forward 2 years. It's been a struggle. She is more depressed now than ever, still not working (I've been the sole provider for the last 2.5 years). Her outlook it horrible. Constantly talks of her desire to commit suicide and how she wishes she has the guts to do it. Constantly talks about how the world is a horrible place and everybody in it is hateful and evil. Her anxiety is so bad that she can hardly sleep, and when she does she has constant nightmares. The less she sleeps the worse it gets. She has panic attacks if I leave her by herself in the apartment so I rarely leave to run errands without her. I've fallen out of touch with every single one of my friends. I do all of the shopping. ~80% of the cleaning, all of the working (which is extremely hard to do as she requires so much energy) We get in fights about silly, mundane things. Since the night I walked out and got a hotel room she hasn't trusted me, so when we talk she doesn't listen. She hears what I say but concocts stories in her head about what I'm really thinking and feeling and that becomes her truth. Then she complains about feeling distance between us. I keep pressuring her to get therapy with me (both of us, not just her) - but she drags her feet or just plain refuses. She is unwilling to try anything. Meditation, acupuncture, reading or listening to books, support groups, church, you name it, I've suggested it but she is only willing to "try in her own way."

She recently admitted to me that she believes that I have fallen in love with somebody else because I am on my phone a lot. Even though I almost never leave her presence. This really hurt considering the sacrifices I've been making for her. I tell her that I've never even thought of cheating on her but she persists with "I wouldn't blame you if you were," "It happened in all of my other relationships when things got bad" and other questions that tell me she isn't listening to what I'm saying. We constantly get into fights because she reads some intention in my words or deeds that just isn't there. It's like talking to a wall. We are both miserable and it gets worse daily. I'm finding myself filled with resentment. I miss having joy in my life. I feel like I'm spending my days nursing somebody who doesn't want to get better, just waiting for them to get up the courage to kill themselves. I wake, try to work, massage, run errands, try to work, argue, cook, clean, and sleep.

so, during our latest fight I told her that I'm done. "I'm tired of living this way. Both of our lives are misery. It gets worse every day. Either we get therapy or we get divorced."

That was a day ago. Since then she has been moping around and won't engage me. She says that she is sad that "you want to divorce me." Apparently she is so unwilling to get therapy that she would choose divorce instead (I believe it to be a bluff). At this point I can honestly say that if I had it to do over again, I would have never befriended her - let alone married her. I did though, so I am committed to trying to make it work - but I can't be the only one putting in the effort any more.

Sorry for the long post. I know there are tons of these posts and I'm just another snowflake, but if you've made it this far could you please let me know your thoughts? I'm mired in it so it's hard to think objectively. How should I handle this going forward? And if I do have to leave - if she tries to "call my bluff" - how in the heck do I do it - we live literally across the country from her family, she is broke, has no car, refuses air travel, and I can't afford a hotel for an extended period. Best I can think of I would rent a UHaul, packe her stuff up, and drive across the country with her? That sounds miserable.

Thank you, love you guys here at MeFi
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (38 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best I can think of I would rent a UHaul, packe her stuff up, and drive across the country with her? That sounds miserable.

sounds a lot better than another year of this, though, doesn't it?

this isn't what marriage is supposed to be like. It's sad that she has this problem, but this isn't something you can fix, she's refused to even try to do what she might be able to do to make it better, and I can't think of a single reason to keep her looped around your neck. You only get one life. Don't spend yours on this.

I think what you should do is call a divorce lawyer, explain the situation, get the ball rolling on the separation per their instructions, and get their input on what the separation logistics ought to look like in your jurisdiction. They will have something to say about who needs to move out, who needs to pay for what, etc.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:27 PM on September 15, 2020 [33 favorites]

The point of giving someone an ultimatum is that you mean it. As in, since your wife is not going to therapy or working on her issues, you will therefore leave and get divorced. If you really meant what you said, your decision right now is very simple. You said it yourself: she has chosen divorce. It's time to go. What she does and how she manages is no longer your concern, if you're leaving her. She's an adult. She'll figure it out, or she'll ask for help from someone else, or her family will bail her out - she is no longer your responsibility when you have decided to leave.

But from what you write, it seems like your ultimatum wasn't authentic. You gave her the ultimatum in hope that it would scare her into going to therapy. But it didn't, and now you're stuck, because you don't actually want to get divorced yet. You still want to work things out. You still want to try engaging her or persuading her or [insert new idea] or [insert fresh effort]. That's okay - you are not morally obligated to get divorced right now. You are allowed to take as much time as you need and go through this process of negotiating your relationship in whatever way you think is best.

But what you need to do now is to be honest with her (and with yourself) that you aren't ready to leave this relationship yet. You still want to see if you can do something that can change her. Your first step has to be to tell her this, and apologize for giving her an ultimatum that you did not truly mean.

Your second step should be to get therapy for yourself. You are having trouble setting boundaries and making decisions in this relationship. Your mental health has suffered as a result of your wife's issues. You need support, a space to focus on your own health and wellbeing. You are thinking and behaving as if you are in constant turmoil (because you are!) and you need to be in a calm, balanced emotional space in order to communicate honestly with your wife and make good decisions about your relationship. It's time to stop trying to get your wife to change and focus on getting yourself to that balanced space. Back off from her. Look inward, and take care of yourself.

I'm sorry you're going through this. Take care, and good luck.
posted by MiraK at 1:30 PM on September 15, 2020 [34 favorites]

If you need it, this internet stranger gives you permission to divorce. You have done a ton to try to help your wife, but you can't be the only one trying. This is not how marriage is supposed to be. Call a lawyer and start figuring out how to untangle from this misery.
posted by merriment at 1:33 PM on September 15, 2020 [26 favorites]

I'm struck by the title of your post. Ideally, saving your marriage shouldn't be something you have to do on your own. I think it's telling that you didn't write "how do we save our marriage?"

I think I would be curious to ask your wife what concrete, behavioural changes she would be willing to make in order to save your marriage (therapy, medication, or even commitments to behave in a more tolerable way if she did continue to be severely depressed). I would be clear with her that "trying in her own way" was both too abstract and not really working.

I don't think the depression is the problem here. I think the problem is that she isn't willing to contribute anything, behaviourally, to the well-being of the marriage. Of course depression impacts motivation and can even shift cognition so that it's harder to take the perspectives of others, and I'm sure behavioural change feels futile or terrifying to her. But this aside, it doesn't seem sustainable to try and maintain a fulfilling relationship if she won't participate in things that might actually sustain it.
posted by unstrungharp at 1:47 PM on September 15, 2020 [14 favorites]

Oh Christ. I'm so sorry this is happening to you.

So, I am going to weigh in based on my life experience... as someone much like your wife. I didn't disclose my mental illness (bipolar 2) to my boyfriend until we started dating - we were best friends and I didn't want to scare him off. I confessed at the beginning of our relationship, he took it well, but then I experienced a massive career setback that really fucked me up and send my depression into overdrive. I was also diagnosed with CPTSD during this time due to my extremely traumatic childhood. I fell into a deep hole. Couldn't find joy in anything. Couldn't find anything to look forward to. Got angry and broke stuff. Raged at my boyfriend for not magically making me happy. Was convinced he was cheating or wanted to cheat bc who wants to be with someone as worthless as me. Threatened suicide and went to the psych ward. After being released, boyfriend said he loved me but he couldn't live like this. Obviously my therapy wasn't working. He felt like a caretaker when he wanted a partner. He said I needed to do something to change the dynamic of the relationship and heal myself, or he would leave.

Here's where things are different: his ultimatum scared me. I don't know if he would have followed through and left honestly but it was a wake up call that my life was out of control. I called my psychiatrist and asked him to refer me to either inpatient or intensive outpatient psychiatric program. Got referral to the latter, quit my shitty job, and did 8 grueling weeks of intensive DBT every day. It was hard. It was scary.

It changed my life. I am so much better. I am happy. I am. I longer suicidal. My relationship is on the mend. For the first time in years, I am optimistic.

Your wife is not able to accept her life is out of control. Depression can do that to people. Her brain is trying to kill her. But as long as she doesn't accept this fact and take real steps to change... then I 100% give you permission to divorce and leave. Her life is her life, you can't force her to change if she doesn't want to. You are suffering. You don't deserve this. Life is short. Its ok to leave, and you are not responsible for anything she chooses to do if/when you leave.

Hugs. This is so hard. I am so sorry. Please feel free to MeMail me if you want to talk more about this privately.

posted by nayantara at 1:53 PM on September 15, 2020 [57 favorites]

I mean the world is kind of in an awful state. So sure, some of that is depression talk, but I'd be deeply suspicious of anyone who didn't see a lot of horror and tragedy out there right now.

I don't know what's right but I do think you seem to want to try a little longer, even though it sucks. So in the mean time maybe you can work on yourself and also try to understand a little bit about 'her way' (while still encouraging scientific medical treatment). And perhaps engage with her a bit on the fact that: yes this world is full of wretchedness and the forces of evil are active and visible. Maybe I'm just a cynic but fuck: times are weird and rough, and maybe she can learn to help you too as/if you decide to work on finding a way for your marriage to function.
posted by SaltySalticid at 1:55 PM on September 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

When we talk about abusive relationships, we often immediately think of physical or sexual abuse, but it is also this: a spouse with severe mental health issues, who failed to disclose them to their partner, who refuses to seek medical care, even though it is having a negative impact on others in their lives.

I mean the world is kind of in an awful state. So sure, some of that is depression talk, but I'd be deeply suspicious of anyone who didn't see a lot of horror and tragedy out there right now.

Please don't try and excuse away years of severe mental health issues by saying that the world is shitty right now.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 2:03 PM on September 15, 2020 [56 favorites]

A teacher of mine once gave me the very sage advice to never, ever let anyone emotionally blackmail me.

I'm telling you the same thing right now. She is emotionally blackmailing you. Her state is not your primary responsibility, your own well-being is. This internet stranger gives you permission to take care of your mental health and eject from this situation.

There is a lot going on here that is bad-faith, that is definitely mental illness, and I could get into it, but for the moment: it's okay to take care of yourself.
posted by Medieval Maven at 2:04 PM on September 15, 2020 [14 favorites]

Perhaps you still want to try. Perhaps you are finished and need to leave.

It's okay if you need to leave. It's okay for you to have needs and boundaries, even if your wife guilt trips you or refuses to accept your needs.

You can't force her to change or go to therapy. You can't force her to do anything. You can only make your own choices.

It sounds like you are close to or at some kind of threshold or breaking point. I am most struck by this sentence from your post: At this point I can honestly say that if I had it to do over again, I would have never befriended her - let alone married her. I did though, so I am committed to trying to make it work - but I can't be the only one putting in the effort any more.

I'm sorry you're dealing with something so hard. I'm glad you're posting this question here and hope these answers are helpful. I don't know how to disentangle yourself logistically but I think that asking this question is an important step in the right direction--keep reaching for support, keep asking for perspective and help. You need help too, through all this.
posted by overglow at 2:08 PM on September 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

or anything that is not her "trying in her own way."

I just got mildly triggered by this. Someone who is dead now kept insisting that he was going to do things his way. Literally the ONLY thing I could reply to this was "Your way isn't working."

How shitty to have used you in that "she hoped getting married to me marked the end of that stage of her life so she hid it." If she was telling the truth that is; mental illness, by definition, does not want to heal itself, and perhaps she just wanted to have you (and your stability) in her life so that she wouldn't have to try to get better.

My god, listening to suicidal thoughts daily? "Either go hospitalize yourself right now or I'm outta here."
posted by Melismata at 2:12 PM on September 15, 2020 [13 favorites]

For context, I am the person with depression in my relationship, and there were many years I spent dealing with various levels of suicidality. (I won't go into those here. Those who know, know, and I don't want to cause hurt or harm.)

In my opinion, and this may come off as unsympathetic, the bare minimum requirement of the depressed partner is that they want things to be different and are open to the idea that there may, somewhere, be something that works. There is a profound difference between "I hate this and I want things to be better and I'm afraid they never will be better and I don't know how long I can hold on" compared to "this is how it is and always will be and I will not do or try anything new to address it".

It's less a matter of "put your own oxygen mask on first" and more that if you're trying to swim carrying a boulder, you will drown. Period.

I feel a lot of compassion for your wife, and also for you. It sounds like you've put a lot into trying to help her. I, for one, would not blame you at all if you decided that you can't stay in a relationship with her as long as she's unwilling to consider trying any new approaches.
posted by Lexica at 2:14 PM on September 15, 2020 [31 favorites]

For me the biggest red flag is "Later she confessed that she hoped getting married to me marked the end of that stage of her life so she hid it."

That says to me that she expected you to fix her, when her subsequent actions show she's not willing (or perhaps not able) to take any steps to help herself. Fixing her is not a thing you can be expected to do.

Another internet stranger giving you permission to divorce, here.
posted by humbug at 2:15 PM on September 15, 2020 [9 favorites]

But what you need to do now is to be honest with her (and with yourself) that you aren't ready to leave this relationship yet.

To me, this assumes facts not in evidence. From your description, this relationship has run its course. I don't know what else you can get out of it, how you can possibly find joy again. When you are with someone experiencing mental health issues, but not attempting to treat those issues in any way, it is super sad. You are probably in a grieving process. But the truth is the longer this goes on, the chances your SO will attempt to do anything to seek help get smaller and smaller. If I were you, I'd seek individual therapy and look for a way to exit this relationship, the sooner the better for both your sake.
posted by JenMarie at 2:20 PM on September 15, 2020 [6 favorites]

Find your own therapist ASAP, someone to help you figure out your own wants and needs, to see what's realistic and what's wishful thinking, and to work through the experience of living with someone with untreated depression.

And even before that, get a free consultation with a lawyer to understand you and your wife's rights and responsibilities. You're not obliged to get divorced, just because you talked to a lawyer, but it might give you some guidance about the practicalities, especially around where you or she live and what to do with belongings and bills. (I am not a lawyer; talking to a lawyer helped me understand what my options were, and this might be particularly important for you as the sole breadwinner, depending on state and circumstances.)

Two and a half years of constant suicidal ideation and also refusing help, refusing to do any kind of demonstrable work? That's rough. Perhaps ask yourself: how would it feel if it was exactly like this in another two years? That might give you an answer for what you want to do now.
posted by epersonae at 2:41 PM on September 15, 2020 [11 favorites]

It sounds like you got married too quickly, before you really knew her. It's probably best to go through some life shit together first.

She needs help yet is unwilling to get it, even with your guidance. You've done your best to motivate her and help her but you can't give anymore and what you're sacrificing to help her is both burning you out and somehow never enough. So how you get out of that is you have to start living your own life again instead of spending all of it taking care of her. You definitely need to be seeing your friends regularly and going to therapy yourself, at a minimum.
posted by internet of pillows at 2:50 PM on September 15, 2020

I've fallen out of touch with every single one of my friends... She has panic attacks if I leave her by herself in the apartment so I rarely leave to run errands without her...There were three occasions during this period where she got out of control. Screaming, destroying her possessions and threatening imminent suicide.
I'm surprised no one else flagged the last part in particular. If she were male I bet people would be telling you to leave the home now for your own safety. You're being isolated from your friends, your activities outside the home are restricted. Her behavior towards you, albeit in part due to this illness, is broadly exploitative and verging on abusive in some areas.

Look... I'm conservative about stuff like this, I believe in marriage as a life-long commitment and in the "for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health" part of the vows. Your wife is clearly very ill and in need of both intensive short-term treatment and a longer-term maintenance plan. She is also clearly not keeping up her end of the bargain now and maybe never was. She didn't tell you about her serious chronic illness until after you got married. Even with your support your wife has refused to engage with any kind of change or treatment via healthcare or community resources.

With mutual respect, care, and accommodation it is very much possible for people with serious health conditions—physical or mental—to have successful relationships and marriages. What you are dealing with now is not what that looks like. Please see a therapist on your own if your wife will not attend marriage counseling with you. This will help you clarify your own feelings about the situation and, if needed, work out an exit plan. Please have a consultation with a divorce attorney so you understand your rights, responsibilities, and options. Because your wife is ill, you should especially prioritize compassion and fairness towards her in a divorce. But this internet stranger says you don't have to live like this. It is okay for you to save your own health and well-being and leave.
posted by 4rtemis at 3:29 PM on September 15, 2020 [22 favorites]

Get out now. It's not going to improve, you won't get past this. I'd honestly be worried about my own safety at this point. The depression is one thing, the manipulation is an entirely different thing and is more concerning. Her behavior is abusive and you need to leave.

You've given it all that you can, it's ok to go.
posted by mikesch at 3:58 PM on September 15, 2020 [8 favorites]

This sounds horrible. She sounds incredibly manipulative and controlling. She has some kind of mental illness, yes, but is it depression? Are you sure of that? It sounds like it could be something else. Though I'm not sure a formal diagnosis matters. You've lost touch with your friends and you don't feel like you can even leave the house without her doubting your faithfulness. This isn't okay. She's running your whole life with her threats. I don't think it's a coincidence she waited until after you were married to behave this way.

The thing is, I don't know if you meant your ultimatum, but I think you should mean. I don't think you should take any more responsibility for this woman or her mental health. I don't think you should drive her across the country because I think her desire to control you will only escalate. Truly, I am worried she would try to hurt you both.

I think you should get into therapy and reach out, right away, to friends you trust. I think you should find someplace else to stay. I think you need to get as much of your stuff out of the house as possible. Then I think you need to call her family and tell them to come deal with her. I think you need to cut off all contact with her.

Basically, I think you should behave as if you were a victim of domestic abuse. I think you might be. I don't know if she is depressed or using this language to control you. This is terrifying, and I am worried for you. I think you need to get out right away.

I know it feels terrible to walk away from a marriage, but you can't live your life like this. You will feel so free and so much better with some space. It's okay to leave, and it's time to go.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:04 PM on September 15, 2020 [10 favorites]

I am bipolar and have had several very low lows where I had to struggle with very intrusive suicidal thoughts. I have been hospitalized in this condition before. I could never imagine threatening suicide constantly because I know it is very distressing for my partner. I would only say these things if I truly meant them and I needed immediate help.

I have also been in abusive relationships.

I am so sorry you are going through this, but this reads to me like textbook emotional abuse. Even if she hasn't actually said that she'll go through with it if you leave...that is the message her actions are sending. Please get out, for your own safety.
posted by zeusianfog at 4:50 PM on September 15, 2020 [6 favorites]

oh man sorry about my typos earlier I was on my phone. ack.

Please do feel to MeMail me if you have questions or just need to vent.
posted by nayantara at 5:12 PM on September 15, 2020

It's ok to leave. It will hurt, but that doesn't make it wrong. You can't keep living like this.
posted by disconnect at 5:25 PM on September 15, 2020 [4 favorites]

I don't even need to read the other replies, because I know what they say. That's how patently obvious it is that you need to extricate yourself from this situation. I'm really sorry. I know how it feels to love someone who is totally incapable of loving you back because of their own issues.

Someone I really respect once taught me a lesson that's been invaluable to me: once you make a hard decision, buckle down and take an irreversible step, and then you won't be killing yourself about the decision anymore. That part will be over. Only you know whether that step is "drive her across the country" or "pack up my stuff and file papers" or something else.

If it helps, it seems pretty likely from what you've said here that you're enabling her more than helping her. Huge internet hugs to you.
posted by nosila at 5:41 PM on September 15, 2020 [10 favorites]

If you choose to leave--and I think you should, unless you still love her and truly want a future with a non-depressed her and she commits wholeheartedly to immediate, intensive inpatient treatment, followed by all recommended outpatient care and getting a damned job--talk to a lawyer before you make a move. If she hasn't been working for years, you may be on the hook to continue supporting her financially after divorce. Some level of support when leaving a sick spouse may be warranted and may make leaving a bit easier on you psychologically, but a lawyer can assess your particular situation and identify potential pitfalls.

I have some compassion for her, having dealt with depression myself for more than twenty years, but the way she is treating you is awful and you don't have to keep taking it. Wanting to be better for the people I love and who love me has been my motivation to do the difficult work and dig myself out of the hole over and over again. If she doesn't want that, you can't save her and you sure as hell can't save your marriage.
posted by xylothek at 6:30 PM on September 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

It is okay for you to leave and stop suffering, even if she doesn't stop suffering.

Separation is a step before fully divorcing. I don't necessarily recommend it, but I think a strategic retreat is better than no change at all.

I do recommend that you get at least a little therapy (over the phone in your car?) to deal with some of the guilt-inducing things your partner is saying to you.

I hope that you both can be happier.
posted by puddledork at 7:16 PM on September 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

Can you fly a member of her family to you to be her support during the separation and divorce, or to at least be her driver back to be near them?
posted by bashing rocks together at 12:29 AM on September 16, 2020

> Can you fly a member of her family to you to be her support during the separation and divorce, or to at least be her driver back to be near them?

yeah if her family don't already know how ill she is, they probably should - this will depend on how good your relationship is with them, but it could be really helpful if you were able to call one of her close family members to share what's been going on

you already know that you can't do this all by yourself, it's way too much for one person to bear - whatever happens in the longer term it seems essential for you to separate for some time while you're not her sole carer, so that you have the chance to get your own head straight

maybe her family will know what kind of help she needed to pull out of previous depressive periods?
posted by rd45 at 2:51 AM on September 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

This is abuse and manipulation. You need to get out. You don't deserve this.
posted by daybeforetheday at 2:52 AM on September 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

What you describe sounds awful and I'm sorry you are going through this. Based on what you have written, I think you should separate from your wife, regardless of what steps she takes to manage her mental health. You can hold your wife accountable for her behavior toward you over the past 2 years, while recognizing that mental illness is contributing to that behavior.

You don't mention having a therapist already, so your first step is to find one. If you already have one, great. Use therapy to get the emotional support you need now, and to work through your guilt about leaving. This will hopefully guide you through the sticky questions you have about the end of the relationship with compassion for yourself and for your wife, who is clearly suffering as well.

Next, figure out your financial picture (income, assets, savings, debt), both currently, over the term of the marriage, and going into the marriage. Having accurate amounts and a financial timeline of the relationship, including your wife's earning history, will make any legal advice you get more accurate.

Then find a lawyer. You may have to consult with a few before you find one you want to work with. Be honest with the lawyer about your concerns regarding your wife's mental health, her ability to support herself, and your ability to support her after the relationship ends. Those are perfectly reasonable concerns, and any decent lawyer will be able to protect your interests while giving you options that take those concerns into account. Make sure to ask about legal implications of practical questions (who moves out; should you get a separate bank account; how do you divvy up your paycheck). I would also ask about issues specific to being married to a mentally ill person, including voluntary/involuntary holds; restraining orders; and, honestly, SSD for your wife.

These three steps should give you a good understanding of the separation/divorce timeline, and strategies to manage each stage. Go into this with the expectation that it will be hard, and that your wife's mental illness will likely make it harder. You can't control her behavior or the way she reacts to the end of the relationship. You can control how you engage with her. You will need a plan that you can execute even under extreme emotional duress, because historically, that is what your wife has used to keep you in the relationship.

Use your planning time to reconnect with family and friends. Tell the ones you trust about what is going on in your life and let them support you. I say this because I fully expect that your wife will escalate her behavior when you leave. You will need their support to stick to your plan and extricate yourself from the relationship.

Again, I'm very sorry you are having to make these hard decisions. I've been on every side of this equation, even as the family member called in to collect their mentally ill relative, and I know that it can feel hopeless. I wish you the best of luck.
posted by ailouros08 at 5:57 AM on September 16, 2020 [10 favorites]

Yeah, you are being abused and it will only ever escalate from here, and if the genders were reversed you probably would have gotten even more support to leave sooner. Get a therapist, get an attorney, make a safe plan for leaving physically that doesn't subject you to even more abuse in the moving process. I say this as the much more severely mentally ill person in my own marriage - this is not fixable and you don't deserve to be abused like this, and her illness is no excuse at all for her behavior. Your previous instinct to leave was right, and you are in no way responsible for her actions enduring or after that process, regardless of what she says or does about it. I'm so sorry you're going through this.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 11:40 AM on September 16, 2020 [4 favorites]

I just want to say this in plain language, on the same track as bluedaisy: I am worried for your safety. I'm worried for your wife's, too, but the way she seems to be threatening suicide as a way to manipulate you makes me worried that she will hurt you and then herself.

I'm not 100% sure of your gender, but I know that whether you are male or female, you will probably have a harder time accessing help when dealing with a female abuser. I hope you can find some resources and reach out to any of your friends who might be willing to help you. At this point I would like you to ensure your own physical safety before tackling anything else, including a cross-country move.
posted by fiercecupcake at 12:12 PM on September 16, 2020 [5 favorites]

I agree that this is absolutely not a salvageable situation, especially in light of your statement that you wouldn't even befriend her, much less marry her. I don't know where you live, but if you're in or near NYC, I can recommend an excellent lawyer who's the stepmother of a friend. I've sent other people to her and they've been very glad I did. Feel free to MeMail if you like.
posted by holborne at 2:14 PM on September 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

Bless you for hanging in there this long, but this is untenable for you both. You are not equipped to deal with this, and she won't seek the help she needs. My heart hurts for you. I could write a lot here, but I think everyone else has it covered.

If you can, reach out to her family before you go. But go.
posted by widdershins at 2:31 PM on September 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

As you've come to realize you can't help your wife see the light. We can only help ourselves and you've been there for her for years without joy. No layperson is equipped to handle or help this behavior. She is manipulating and draining you and needs professional help and a major epiphany. You have gone beyond the call of duty and no person should have to suffer in this kind of environment. Daily threats of suicide is horrible and there is no doubt your wife is suffering mightily. If not from clinical depression, perhaps ingrained destructive thinking patterns.

The feeling that life sucks and the world is terrible is one way to view the world. Her mind is stuck on this immature and false notion like a broken record and only she can have the realization that her thinking is faulty. In her mind she believes she can't cope and it sounds like she is merely using you. You do all of the physical and emotional heavy lifting while she sits and complains that the world is shit. It's childish behavior. We're all at different levels of mental health. Some of us who are not so healthy use others to stroke us and fill our emotional holes. Wounded people are self-absorbed people.

Can she see outside of herself? Does she care about your welfare? Is she concerned about what she is bringing to the relationship? Her behavior may not be intentionally selfish but it's still selfish. The daily threats are very immature and are damaging to you both.

Has anyone told her she is being ridiculous? Has anyone told her what she is saying is bullshit? It may sound insensitive but this is all stupid and ridiculous.

You're a giver and she's a taker. You have to decide if you're okay with a one-sided marriage. It's okay to break free from this marriage with compassion for yourself and for your wife. In her current state she shouldn't be in a relationship. She needs to help herself and you need to help yourself because life doesn't have to be this way.

I think you should leave but if you stay, stop giving her foot rubs, doing her work, and treating her like a fragile soul. She might enjoy being fragile and you may be enabling bad behavior. Tell her what you won't tolerate. Walk away. You don't have to listen to daily threats or pity-parties. Call her out on her bullshit.
posted by loveandhappiness at 7:49 AM on September 17, 2020 [3 favorites]

Everyone else said what I wanted to say. You can leave, you should leave, you owe it to yourself to leave.

I just want to send you an Internet hug. It's easy in this kind of gaslight-adjacent situation to internalise that you've done something wrong. You haven't. You've been good and you've tried so hard. Please be gentle with yourself, please take care of yourself. I wish you luck and good things to come.
posted by Cozybee at 2:33 PM on September 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

I know it's easy for us as internet strangers to tell you to leave, but I think everyone in the thread is right to say you should leave. If it helps, I'm saying this as someone who is similar in emotional temperament to your wife, so much so that I've seen discussions like this written about me (it's so weird to read). Sometimes as the partner you can end up in the situation where you think "but she's not trying to be abusive she's just in a lot of pain" and feel like you can't leave, which leads you to ignore the advice everyone is giving you. I think that would be a mistake.

It's clear you love her and want to help, but you aren't in a position to do that. Whether she intends it or not, she is hurting you quite badly. Staying with her and absorbing her pain isn't your responsibility, and it's not going to help her get better either. If she's like me, there are things that can help (medication, therapy, etc) but you can't force her to seek that help, and I'd imagine she gets extremely defensive if you try to pressure her to do so - or at least that's what I did in her shoes. I think you need to accept that her problems aren't within your jurisdiction. You don't have the power to fix them, all you can do is look after yourself. And it is so clear from everything you've written that you are in a lot of pain too. You need to make the choices that will let you survive, and like everyone else I think that means leaving. I wish I could offer advice on how to do that, but I don't really know. You have my endless sympathy though. This is hard on you.
posted by the tulips are too red in the first place at 2:16 PM on September 18, 2020 [4 favorites]

The feeling that life sucks and the world is terrible is one way to view the world. Her mind is stuck on this immature and false notion like a broken record and only she can have the realization that her thinking is faulty. You do all of the physical and emotional heavy lifting while she sits and complains that the world is shit. It's childish behavior. We're all at different levels of mental health. Some of us who are not so healthy use others to stroke us and fill our emotional holes. Wounded people are self-absorbed people.

Ummm...this is not how depression works. It's an actual illness. It's not "immature" and "childish" behavior. This kind of thinking and stigmatizing language is what keeps sick people from getting help. And help is not people yelling at you that your thinking is faulty because's an illness. Not "immature" and "childish" thought patterns.

I just wanted to correct that misperception in this thread because it's ableist and gross and if I had seen it when I had severe depression, it would have caused me harm.
posted by armadillo1224 at 5:36 PM on September 18, 2020 [8 favorites]

Look into inpatient DBT programs, definitely.

*Trigger warning for discussion of similar patterns of mental illness to what has already been detailed by the poster above*

So, this doesn't just sound like Depression -

The level to which you still feel enmeshed and responsible *for* her, the extent to which she regularly threatens self-harm *to* you to gain reassurance, the extreme fear of abandonment (unable to leave house without her having a panic attack, and you left to stay in a hotel over 2 years ago, against a background of her destroying house several times, but you are the one who cannot be forgiven, right?)...
So, these are sound more like BPD.

This is important for you to know, not for the sake of diagnosing her, because only a professional is going to do that. Also, that might not happen anytime soon or ever, if she doesn't want treatment.
However, it is very important that *you* know if you recognise that as being the pattern of the relationship that you are in, because unlike depression, BPD is very directly a disorder of interpersonal relationships.
It's main unhealthy expressions are *in* the relationship with a loved one, and when it's unhealthy to the degree that is is abusive, there are very very common pattern to that abuse, to the pattern of people feeling like they have to rescue their partner (from themselves), and if that is the case for you, as a person being abused in this relationship, understanding it will help you establish HOW to get safety for yourself, and to understand what will actually help your partner.
Because a lot of the ways you are trying to help at the moment? Have probably been dictated by this illness (whether that is BPD or depression), and are not actually helping (if they were helping, things wouldn't be this bad, right?).

Someone with severe BPD is hurting, really hurting.
They are intensely afraid of abandonment, they NEED someone to love them, but they need that particularly strongly because they don't really *believe* or they cannot maintain belief that they are loved. They'll believe it for a moment, but then it feels intangible.
So it's a dysfunction of interpersonal relationships, because someone with severe untreated BPD will constantly require 'proof' that they are not going to be abandoned, and that they are cared for/loved. Unfortunately, sweet gestures don't really cut it for someone really ill. At it's worst, well, you could be lying when you say you aren't going to leave them and you do love them right? So how do they REALLY prove you are going to stay? Well, they give you a reason to leave, they do something horrible, (because they think they're horrible anyway), and only if you stay through THAT (through them abusing you), do they maybe actually mean it when they say they won't leave.
Except that will only work briefly.
The proof will only last so long, they have to check again and again and again that you won't leave. That's abandonment, but what about love? What is the most unhealthy way you can imagine to get *proof* that someone loves you?
This is where empathy is, unfortunately, weaponised. Saying I love you and being 'loving' might be fake. If you love and empathise with someone, the 'proof' is that it hurts you when they are hurting. That you are distressed and concerned if they are in danger.
So, in order to check that you *still care & love them*, someone with severely untreated BPD, will often hurt/distress themselves emotionally, or physically. And unlike other many other-types of self-harm, which is often hidden, it will be where you can see it. They will particularly threaten to hurt themselves, or commit suicide, because you getting distressed and trying to stop them hurting themselves, is *proof that you care/love*.
There would have been a golden patch at the beginning by the way, with an obsessive back and forth of loving feeling, love bombing almost, everything shiny and great, but this is just the flip side - because everything is black and white, there are no shades of grey, and contradictions cannot be maintained. It's all good, or all bad, and people are all good or all bad - and the switch from one to the other will give you whiplash.
It's a particularly common pattern for people who have been badly abused as children, because BPD *is usually a trauma response*. Imagine for a moment that the person who is supposed to love you and care for you, hurts you. As a child, you still NEED them to love you. Abusers often hurt someone, then switch into consoling you after hurting. That seems like 'love'. So you switch from understanding love as someone who *won't* treat you badly, to only understanding love as someone who is sad when you are hurt. Also, your abuser switches from 'Good Parent' to 'Bad Parent' regularly, and you switch completely in how you regard them, because you need the good parent, but also if you remind the 'good parent' that they were anything other than good, then they will probably switch to 'bad parent'. You develop black and white thinking. Abusers want you to be dependent on them, and want you emotionally dependent on them, so you don't self-soothe because they will resent it.
This is not the only reasons for BPD, but you can see how some of the trauma behaviours are adaptive, in an unhealthy context.

What actually helps BPD?
So, first thing is, that you CANNOT emotionally self-soothe for another human being (that's why it's 'self'), and you cannot keep 'proving' love in unhealthy ways.
DBT skills are actually GREAT as general therapy for most depressive illnesses, but absolutely essential for BPD, because it starts at really basic skills. Not in interpersonal relationships, but in building the internal skills that are causing an internal emotional void.
So first, identifying emotions internally (rather than as things that get reactions from others). Really basic emotional literacy. Practicing the emotional skills that were stunted for some reason as a child and teenager (and lots of adults never got much practice at this!). Identifying your own emotions is crucial before you can actually identify other people's emotions. Working with emotional *self*-soothing. And eventually getting to the point of identifying other's emotions, so that you can believe that others can 'show' they care for or love you, in ways other than being hurt by your pain, because you can also self-sooth your own emotions, and will automatically try that, rather than looking to someone else to soothe them for you, always.

Anyway, DBT program. A great idea regardless of what is going on. Like, these a long programs, like 4-8 weeks.

You can't make her choose to want to get well. As much as you've tried to save her, she would probably be healthier when *not* in this relationship, ironically, because she wouldn't be looking to you to fix her emotions for her, which you physically cannot do. You DO still care, and you want her to be ok (and it seems like you felt like abandonment might be the one thing that feels real to her, but it is more real than getting treatment or therapy).
The far worst thing than being in a relationship with someone with severe untreated BPD, is to be the person with potentially untreated BPD, because it is incredibly internally painful.
So, if there's a chance that's what is going on here, then put your effort into, more than saving your marriage, helping her get treatment. It's a disorder that involves looking to the romantic partner to save/fix them, so you cannot play that role healthily.
posted by Elysum at 1:40 AM on September 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'm thinking about you, anonymous OP, and I hope you've been able to make some positive moves.
posted by fiercecupcake at 8:47 AM on October 5, 2020

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