When a partner is mentally ill...

An unhappy couple with their backs turned on each other after fight.

Photo credit: Nation | Pool

What you need to know:

  • My psychologist friend said that we should all seek whole health, mental and physical.
  • A periodic physical and mental check-up means whole health, for you and for your marriage relationship.

A reader wrote to me asking what do because he had discovered that his wife of six years had mental health issues. He did not elaborate much, but said that it had now become very hard for him to keep his vows, because the beautiful happy girl that he once knew was now a dangerous, unpredictable angry creature.

He said that she was paranoid, scrolling through his phonebook and calling random ladies and insulting them.

His two children were happier away from home and from their mother and cried when they realised they were heading back home after a day away.

Diagnosis and stigma

A spouse with a mental illness is by all means a tough call. True for other illnesses as well, but the main challenge with this one is the diagnosis and stigma.

First of all, you are not a psychiatrist and therefore not in a position to diagnose mental illness, a personality disorder or even a stress disorder.

Secondly, even though you might suspect that they are not mentally sound, you cannot just jump ship. This is someone who, most times, is not even aware of their illness and needs you most at this time.

I did not have a solution for the gentleman but guided him to a few professional counsellors in my circles.

I researched on the same to satisfy my curiosity. I got to learn a lot more about such issues as personality disorders, which resulting to me doubting my mental status and that of my husband. I also started ascribing labels to people I know.

Do not bother opening the journals on marital pathology, a term I still cannot decipher after hours of reading. You will have a migraine by the time you shut down your computer. 

While explaining the case of the gentleman to my friend, a clinical psychologist, I threw in my own concern.

“I have been reading a lot about mental illness and personality disorders. I think have some personality disorder.”

She listened, quietly, which made me worried. I had hoped she would at this point laugh and dismiss my concerns.

“I am still reading before I conclude what my personality disorder is, and is it a mental illness? The personality disorder, that is,” I explained.

She laughed. 

“We all have traits. Don’t self-diagnose,” she said.

“I know, even my husband has some of something,” I insisted. 

“Don’t diagnose him too. You may have clinically significant traits but perhaps not a full blown personality disorder.”

Doctors excel at ambiguity

That is the thing with doctors, both the physicians and the psychologists; ambiguity. Until and unless they have a lab result or a mental assessment, they will neither dissuade your from your persuasions nor agree with them.

I told hubby about this discussion and my suspicions.

“Do you think I have some kind of personality disorder?” I asked him.

“Is that a trick question? Are you picking a fight?”

“Aha! That means you think I do,” I replied.

“I didn’t say that.”

“But you didn’t deny it too,” I retorted.

“Karimi, what are you on today?”

“Then you do. You have the personality disorder.”

He laughed.

“See? Who would laugh about such a serious issue? Do you know there are people who enter a marriage all fine but end up with a mental instability because of it?”

There was a beat, before he responded,

“I entered with all my hair intact but now it’s greying and receding. And yes, I do need to see a psychiatrist.”

My psychologist friend said that we should all seek whole health, mental and physical. A periodic physical and mental check-up means whole health, for you and for your marriage relationship.

Karimi is a wife who believes in marriage. karimigatimi@yahoo.com