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Friday, March 5, 2010

Bipolar Husband is Verbally Abusive

Dear A. B. Curtiss

“We met briefly after the panel discussion at BookExpo in Chicago in June sponsored by a publisher for whom I am a staff writer. As I mentioned to you after the discussion, my husband struggles with manic-depression. He does not use medication, and I would describe his condition as more “hypo” than “hyper”--more a sleep disorder than anything extreme. But after almost 10 years of marriage, it has become a real strain because we have a young child.

I really need some new strategies for dealing with his outbursts of intense rage and intimidation, which are so disturbing and inexplicable to our little one, especially when my husband is so wonderful and loving otherwise. He is increasingly unhappy and continuously blames every single problem he has on me.

Others might see the outbursts (a few times a year of verbal abuse and throwing things) as me staying in an "abusive relationship"; but it is slowly dawning on me that this is really NOT necessarily the case, but that these episodes are cyclical. We have a strong marriage with a deep abiding love otherwise, but I'm struggling with the fear that with our child in the mix of these temper incidents , our marriage will be torn apart.

He won't let me speak to him about this, so I need to get help on my own first. Can you point me in the right direction for finding a support network for spouses of manic-depressives? I know this can all be solved somehow through prayer. But I also know I need to have more information and support right now to figure out new strategies and simply understand better what I'm dealing with--especially for my dear daughter---whatever the future may bring.” J.J.

Dear JJ

That your husband is still raging at you means you are still afraid of his rage. To avoid seeing your own fear you blame your husband, and thus do nothing, yourself, to help the situation. Blaming never helps any situation. In blaming him, you are putting all your energy into analyzing him and how to get him to stop instead of figuring out how to protect your family (positive action) from his assault. (Read my chapter on Blame in Depression is a Choice) .

This situation is due to a basically weak woman--not in other areas of your life just in your primary relationship with a man-- don't argue with me I had the same problem as a young woman and no one could tell me in a way that I would have believed at the time. If you were not weak, you would not have this situation. He wouldn't have married you if you were stronger, this was the hidden “contract.” You need not be bound by this contract. It obviously doesn't work anymore for you.

My own marriage magically changed once I realized that I was afraid because, then, I thus could decide to be courageous instead. If you don’t know you are afraid, you won’t access your courage. The first thing to do is address your own fear. If you can't identify it, you can't handle it properly. What goes unidentified goes uncorrected. The answer to fear is courage. When you decide that you will feel and accept your fear, and take care of yourself, your behavior will be appropriate.

There is no specific behavior that you can figure out ahead of time in this situation. If you handle your fear first, your behavior has the most possibilitity of being appropriate. Only you will know at the exact moment whether appropriate means you will throw cold water on him ,or dial 911, so that he is put in touch with his bizarre behavior.

Every time he rages, it is like a knife into the heart's wellbeing of your child. Your child should be protected. It is not normal to rage at your loved ones. Your husband is only doing so because it works for him. He can control you by his rage, which makes him feel comfortable because obviously he believes, at some deep level, that he can't control himself. People only attempt to control others when they are emotionally dependent, and do not know how to access their rational brain when their emotional brain is raging. You husband is also afraid and doesn’t know it.

When rage no longer works for him he will stop doing it. If you have any more questions, please write again. As always, you are the only answer to your problem, stop trying to get your husband to fix it for you. Hope this helps. A. B. Curtiss

Dear A. B.

Thanks beyond measure for your answers to my questions about my husband's rage (a month or so ago). Your email came just at the right time, ON THE VERY DAY I had left home with my young daughter (and we stayed away for five days.

Your words were THE perfect response which I couldn't have come up with in a million years! You hit the nail on the head exactly and didn't pull any punches. We are in marriage counseling now and your insight has helped to guide us in the right direction. Things are going much better than I could have imagined, and although things certainly aren't easy, I'm more optimistic now than I've been in years. Thanks again for taking the time and attention to answer me so succinctly. JJ

Dear J. J. You are welcome, I’m glad things are going well for you.

Dear A.B.

I'm sorry to trouble you, but I need some help again. I am looking for some advice, support. I am looking for some perspective, clarification, validation--anything that might help me go in the right direction.

I do not have the support I need to cope with my marriage to a man who suffers with bipolar disorder and refuses to take medication or, in lieu of that, even to try any other remedies of any sort (such as an anger management class, psychotherapy, reading Depression is a Choice, or ANY other ideas). He has however been going to marriage counseling with me for a couple of months--and this is a big step for him. But in therapy he has said that manic-depression is NOT an issue in our marriage, and that he does NOT have a problem with rage either.

Today I found out about a support group for families of bipolar sufferers, and I told him I intended to go tonight, mentioning the time. Big mistake. I thought he'd be happy for me. Instead, he chose to lecture me for over 4 hours, telling me that's NOT the problem in our marriage, and that I'd be wasting my time. He made it impossible for me to arrange child care so that I could go to the meeting (He teaches a class at the same time) and then he left for his class in despair and anger.

I feel I am in an abusive relationship, where he rages at me on a regular basis. It has improved some, because he doesn't threaten me with bodily harm, break down doors, etc., or keep me trapped in the house like he used to. But he does still make it impossible for me to speak, and he goes on and on, telling me I have to listen. The cops came over recently just because he was so loud. Funny that they came over then, but didn't come a year and a half ago, when I actually feared for our safety and my child and I had to run away.

He has been saying for 10 years that I am selfish, uncaring, uncompassionate, and that he is a nonentity, that I don't respect him or care about his feelings. He has been frustrated with his job and it only gets worse over the years. Our financial situation is getting worse and worse. He says he has given up everything in his life for me until he has no identity and nothing left to live for. He says he only stays with me because of our daughter .

I feel I am doomed to be his human alarm clock, and I can't count on him to help with child care, etc. etc. because I never know if he's going to be asleep or awake. He can't get to meetings, to work, etc. unless I wake him up. (Alarm clocks don't work.) And I never know when I try to wake him up whether he is going to rage at me when he awakens. I sleep alone at night because he stays up all night most of the time “working" in his office.” He self-medicates with cigarettes and pot.

There are times when he is absolutely convinced of things that didn't happen. I don't know how to deal with this “gaslight” experience that happens every once in a while. It is very disconcerting, and I wish I knew how to diffuse it without an argument.

About a year and a half ago, when I left for 5 days with my daughter--we ran from the house in desperation due to a manic outburst in which he ripped my shirt to shreds trying to keep me from leaving. It was horrible then, and we went to therapy together. I thought things were getting better. I read your book and it truly saved me. My husband refused to read it. Every time I try to be optimistic, then another incident happens where again he tells me he's so unhappy, and that I'm not living up to my responsibilities in the marriage--that he gives and gives and gives and gets nothing back.

This is all a great tragedy -- because he is a loving, highly gifted, fun-loving, generous man yet I have watched become hollow and bitter and distant. I just don't know when, or if, I'm supposed to give up. I want to do the right thing for our daughter. I so often think about living apart, I think this is the only option, just because I long and yearn for peace and stability in my life.

I hate to blame bipolar disorder and make this "all his fault." It isn't. But I don't deserve this, nor does our daughter.. I actually remember those 5 days away as peaceful and tranquil. I'm so tired of being yelled at and accused of things I am not. Over and over I have tried everything I can think of to show him I love him, I have tried for years to be more loving and compassionate and caring. According to him, I'm making no effort and I don't care.

I know you can't tell me what to do. But any sympathy, anecdote, or support you could muster would be FOREVER appreciated. I know I can only change myself and not him. What am I doing wrong. JJ

Dear JJ.

ALL I can go on is your letter so let me answer you as best I can within the context of your letter.

YOU SAID “He has however indeed been going to marriage counseling with me for a couple of months--and this is a big step for him--but in therapy he has said that manic-depression is not an issue in our marriage, and that he does not have a problem with rage either.

MY RESPONSE: What does your marriage counselor say? If you have been going to a counselor for some time they must have some idea, or diagnosis of the problem. Ask them for their diagnosis of the problem. I wouldn’t bother labeling his behavior bipolar. I would agree with him that his bipolar is not the problem.

What difference does it make what you call the behavior he is doing? Just deal with the symptoms one by one. You are entitled to a diagnosis of what is the problem with your relationship, and what is the counselor’s assessment of possible outcome and treatment suggestions. If they are counseling the public, they must be able to make a diagnosis of the problem for which they are counseling, and suggest a course of treatment, or else what good are they?

If you counselor says your husband has problems and refuses to handle them, then you will not have a normal relationship, or have one that might prove dangerous to you, then obviously you must make your decision accordingly. You must take care of yourself rather than trusting your safety to the whim of your husband. Does your counselor diagnose the situation the way you do? If so your course is clear. If not, then you need to ask the counselor where you are wrong. They should be able to give you this diagnosis and advise you of a course of action in order for you to see the situation in a different way from your letter.


Instead, he chose to lecture me for over 4 hrs. He made it impossible for me to arrange child care so that I could go to the meeting (he teaches a class at the same time) and then he left for his class in despair and anger.)

MY RESPONSE: You chose to listen to a lecture for 4 hours. You did not choose to take care of yourself or your child. You chose, instead , to succumb to helplessness, and blame it on your husband. Would you have allowed him to shoot you, or stab your child? Would you have said your husband made it impossible for you to protect yourself or your child from him stabbing ?

No, you would have saved yourself and your child somehow because your consciousness has been raised to understand that you are not supposed to let someone stab you.. But your consciousness of what is reasonable treatment does not rise to the proper level to include what your husband is doing to you by lecturing, raging, and preventing your doing what is in your best interest etc.

YOU SAID: He has been saying for 10 years that I am selfish, uncaring, uncompassionate, and that he is a nonentity, that I don't respect him or care about his feelings. He has been frustrated with his job and it only gets worse over the years. Our financial situation is getting worse and worse. He says he has given up everything in his life for me until he has no identity and nothing left to live for. He only stays with me because of our daughter.

MY RESPONSE: Ask your counselor if you have some doubt that your husband is wrong. It sounds like hateful, fearful raging to me--raging which is designed to control you, in lieu of his controlling his own life. Obviously, he is succeeding in controlling you since you believe that you have to listen to him..

There is no need for an adult to choose to listen to someone abusing them. Well, you might agree to listen to someone rage at you for five minutes to let them get it off their chest, but 4 hours is clearly excessive. If he’s going to rage that long, he ought to do it in some emotional release group. Obviously you are not the proper facilitator for your husband’s emotional release at this point. Do you believe that you have to listen to someone who is berating you? Why do you have to listen? Because they are forcing you to listen? You are choosing not to take care of yourself so that you can blame your failure to be happy on your husband.

YOU SAID: I feel I am in an abusive relationship, where he rages at me on a regular basis.

MY ANSWER: Why would you allow someone to rage at you? It is not your husband’s fault that you stay around to be raged at. It is your fault. It is your husband’s fault that he rages. But it is only abusive because you stay around to listen to it. You are self-abusing by choosing to listen to it.

YOU SAID: I feel I am doomed to be his human alarm clock, and I can't count on him to help with child care, etc. etc. because I never know if he's going to be asleep or awake. He can't get to meetings, to work, etc. unless I wake him up. (alarm clocks don't work for him.) I never know when I try to wake him up whether he is going to rage at me when he awakens. I sleep alone at night because he stays up all night most of the time “working” in his office. He self-medicates with cigarettes and pot.

MY RESPONSE: His problem is that he can’t wake up on time, that he rages and self-medicates. Your problem is that you think you have to be somebody's alarm clock, and that you have to allow him to rage at you. Why? You are enabling your husband to get improper relief from controlling your life, and thus you are preventing him from seeing his inability to control his own life.

Ask your counselor about this. It seems to me that you can’t handle your husband’s raging, depression, poor work habits, ingratitude and hostility without becoming upset and unhappy. So clearly you must either be able to do that, or (and especially if your counselor feels that your unemotional equanimity and cheerfulness in the face of his problems might cause him to escalate his behavior to physical abuse) then you should get out of there.

If you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the problem. It doesn't matter how nice a guy he is when he's rational. He clearly isn't rational much of the time. You can't have a relationship with an irrational person. Some people might be able to do it but you evidently are not that person at the moment.

As for your daughter. Are you, by role-modeling your own behavior, teaching her how to take care of herself? Are you teaching her how to be brave, honorable and happy? Are you showing her how to separate her problems from other people's problems? These things are essential to the spirit. She can have a relationship with her father whenever he chooses to be rational. Hope this helps. A. B. Curtiss

Dear A. B. Curtiss

Thank you for your very pithy answer to my concerns. You are a lifesaver, and so compassionate and generous to take the time to give me so much information. Once again you are right on target and pull no punches.

As of Friday, I have left my husband for a safe haven, and I am taking one day at a time. I have a place to stay until next Friday. Then I hope somewhere else will materialize, hopefully a house-sitting arrangement since I can't afford rent with my minimal income. My daughter is staying in her own bed each night, and somehow my husband and I have been able to negotiate each day what to do for her with our one car. He’s incredibly angry. The more peaceful and centered I get, the angrier he gets.

I don't know if we can ever reconcile. If so, it will be a long way away. In the meantime I focus on the good, and what is best for our daughter. The therapy session today was painful but good. JJ

Dear JJ

It is good to remember is that great fear is exhibited in two ways, great anger and great denial of great anger. There is no other way. You would do well to get in touch with your own anger and act it out harmlessly by some emotional release work. Then you will not be so traumatized by your husband's anger, which you unconsciously identify with because your own is hidden from you. I'm not preaching here. I went through it myself, figuring it all out in hindsight, and am just pointing to the path out of the maze.

To confess here, I still have a problem periodically with being angry at my husband for all those years that his bad temper frightened men and our children, and it takes a lot of effort to reflect back upon my own cowardice and ignorance and accept that as well. Then, when I have confessed to my own sins, it is easier to accept the historical past of my husband’s anger and his ignorance and his sins. Sometimes, in my arrogance, I forget that we are all on the same path. A. B. Curtiss

Dear A. B.

Thanks once again for your answers and ideas. Your generosity and compassion are appreciated. and I'm honored and amazed. I am trying to remain as quiet as possible, and now I need to find another place to go to stay quiet. I’m committed to separation. I don't know if we can stay together or if it's worth it. But I want to do what's best for my daughter. I won't act rashly, no matter how alarmist are the others around me.

How did you stay together with your husband after all you went through? Didn't all your friends say you were nuts for staying in a verbally abusive situation? I am grateful for our separation so far. I can see it's already helping each of us to cease blaming the other, and look within to do what we must. I'm not sure my husband has the maturity to do it. But I know I'm ready. I'm centered, peaceful, resolute. I am exploring my own anger and weakness too. It's a new beginning. Thanks again.

Dear JJ,

In the beginning of my marriage, and for a full twenty years, I was very ignorant. Although some small changes worked for the better, it was a struggle. I grew up in an alcoholic culture so my husband handled his pain with alcohol, and I handled my pain through depression, and manic activity when the depression lifted.
We never had money problems because it was my husband’s goal to be financially secure, and he was very responsible about this. My husband was gone most of the time at work, and the children were in bed by the time he came home at night for the first ten years. So we struggled through the week-ends by the distraction of friends over for parties.

I protected the children from our fights. But I finally did get divorced after twenty years, three children were already grown and gone, two were in their teens. I moved back after about 8 months, so the divorce wasn’t really legal because you are supposed to be separated for a year.

Why did I move back? Because I realized I wanted my family back. I wanted my husband back. I always was a sucker for a handsome man. He has a wonderful sense of humor, he is the most honest and loyal person I have ever known (except for when his temper was leveled against me). I have found him, after all the years I have know him, to be absolutely incorruptible. In short, I thought if I couldn't make it with this man, who could I make it with. I figured I could handle the situation unilaterally. I figured I could just handle my own pain, and give my husband what he wanted regardless of how I felt hurt about something, or that the situation might be unfair.

That worked for a while. By handling my own pain, I found that much of my problem was my own pain anyway. But sooner or later, my husband's pain was too much for him, and as good as he had it, he erupted on me from time to time. And, to be fair, I was probably doing unloving mean, and aggressive things without realizing it.

Over time this built up. Finally I realized that nothing was going to work until I became aware enough to see that my feelings of being hurt by my husband's rage meant that I was still controlled by it. Little by little I had to separate out my hurt and see that my hurt was my projection upon my husband. I couldn't handle the reality of what was. I still wanted to change reality, and didn't want my the reality of my husband being angry at me, from time to time, for no reason. That seems reasonable, but that was not the reality of my life.

The reality was that, from time to time, my husband was going to be angry with me for no reason. As I became able to accept the reality of what was happening, and that it had nothing to do with me, and that I could take care of myself without getting my husband to change, I handled his anger in appropriate ways.

Once he was faced with the reality that I was no longer impacted by his anger, and it had little or no effect on me, his relationship to his own anger changed. He was stuck with acting like a fool on occasion, and I took no part in it. As long as I was okay myself, and didn't need anything from my husband to feel okay, my relationship to his anger was always appropriate. Sometimes I screamed back at him, but not in anger or fear. It just seemed appropriate to match his behavior like a game, but I was not seriously in the game, and could just walk off with a disgusted look. Sometimes I laughed and said “Whoa, somebody's out of control here.

“There is no way to have a right answer or appropriate behavior response ready because reality is always a surprise. Little by little my husband realized that he couldn't control me to get what he wanted from me. He was left with having to control himself to get what he wanted from me. So long as your response is not coming from anger or fear, it will be appropriate. Still, my last child was terribly impacted from my husband's anger, and my abandonment via depression and mania, and I am dreadfully sorry for that.

At the same time I came back into the marriage, I went back to graduate school ultimately became a psychotherapist. But the whole time my children were young, my only tools were crying, begging my husband to change, or depression followed by mania. We muddled through the best we could.

You are ten years ahead of me in taking the bull by the horns. Good for you. Don't plan too far in the future. Take the days, even the minutes, as they come. Insist upon the truth of any situation and the truth will reveal itself to you. Call upon your courage, ask for understanding and humility. We don't have to win all the time, we can often prosper by learning to take defeat well. We don't always get what we want even when it is reasonable. But we ALWAYS get what we need--reality. Reality never hurts. A.B. Curtiss

Hello A. B.

Perhaps you recall that we met at the Book expo in Chicago a few years ago, and that we've corresponded by email several times over the years--including the spring when you were extremely helpful to me when I was separated from my husband. I followed your advice. I am indebted to you. We have weathered a very difficult time. We'll happily celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary in a few weeks! Trusting all's well with you. Blessings in this new year, J. J.


Anonymous said...

I know that this is an old post...but reading through it is really helping me cope with my current situation. About 6 months ago, the psychiatrist of my then-fiance (now-husband) retired. My fiance is diagnosed bipolar, and prior to our relationship had been through a couple of hospitalizations. After his psychiatrist retired, he found an opportunity to fight his diagnosis, and shortly after convincing his new psychiatrist to lower his Abilify dosage, he was off of the meds and heading into a full-blown manic episode. He has been under-medicated since about March 2012...our wedding was set for June 2012. I sought out his family to express my concerns about his abusive and unpredictable behavior at home (they had been in situations when he was younger when they had to involuntarily admit him to a hospital) and was told that his behavior was likely just a reaction to the stress of the upcoming wedding.

I withstood months of abusive behavior...and at times...frightening behavior. Small things would send him spinning off into screaming and unbridled rage. I have been seeing a therapist consistently for about a year and a half, and although I spent a lot of time in therapy working on coping mechanisms to deal with his behavior, I spent almost every day in fear, or crying.

I went through with the wedding...something for which I will never forgive myself. We had been in couple's therapy for months before the wedding, and as his mania worsened, our sessions became more full of his irritability. His shame from his actions kept him from speaking freely about the challenges we were facing. He lied to me about attending his own therapy appointments, and on a day he was supposed to be seeing his therapist, I got a frantic call from him. He had skipped therapy and had done drugs with some of his friends. Recently I found out he was meeting another woman behind my back.

Three days after returning from the honeymoon, I told him I felt I needed to go stay with my parents for a little while. He told me if I left, he would file for divorce. I didn't want to stay with him...because if I stayed and withstood the abuse, it would ultimately be my fault for staying--just as you have wisely pointed out.

I made him leave the house five days ago. He went to his psychiatrist and let me come with him--his medicine has been increased, but I don't want him at home until it is back in his system. This enrages him and he has demanded that I let him live in our apartment and that I should move out...even though I pay the rent. I won't let him come back, though. He has delusions that I am keeping him away until I get "permission" from my therapist for him to return..which is absurd. He says I manipulated his psychiatrist into requesting to see him again in two weeks...another ridiculous claim.

So even though he has done these small things, I don't see a commitment to his health and desire to get well. He is still blaming everything on me. It proves to me that his desire to get better to please me is not a strong enough foundation...he needs to want this himself. As much as I am ashamed of this, I think we will likely divorce. I feel like it is my fault, although my family and friends assure me it is not. I just feel like I need to protect myself...

Anyway, it is nice to know there are others who have been through the struggles that this awful illness can cause.

Anonymous said...

Wow, my life, great advice and I plan to start following it tomorrow. It is so clear, why couldn't I figure out how I allow him to do this twenty years ago!!

Anonymous said...

I empathize with you, and feel really bad for you. I too have a family member who has baffling personality traits, that I just now realized stem from the fact that he is bi polar.

Over the years I hadn't spent alot of time with my father. I did very well in school. I worked hard. I began working as a teeanger, and have always held a job.

My father is a loner. He has always exhibited some traits that made me suspicous that he was manic depressive.

He never sleeps, he has extreme energy, is in an up mood, and has no empathy for others who have normal to moderate energy.

Enter me. I have always been very happy. Since I was a child I felt that life was a gift. Most people called me silly, upbeat, kind, and good.

I had alot of friends.

Getting back to my fathers bi polar issues.

Starting around age 17 I realized that I sleep really well. I always got a good nights sleep.

When I graduated and spent more time with my father, he started exhibiting strange behaviors.

Now, it could be that I never spent much time with him, when I was in school.

I realized that he has explosive anger, that is inappropriate, that verges on manic rage.

His rage is so inappropriate that it's frightening and baffling.

When I looked up symptoms, to my shock, my father meets all the requirements for Manic Depression.

He cycles between extreme happpiness and disturbing rage and violence.

When he is manic, he is delusional aobut himself. Not so much his abilities, but he becomes narcissistic, and vain.

To the point where when he comes down from his mania, he becomes vindictive and mentally hostile.

Sound familiar to you? It should. Your husband does some of the same things my father does.

He will not listen, I feel because manic depression cannot be solved with talking.

He needs to see a doctor. My father was diagnosed with some undisclosed mental illness and my mother never told me.

He was diagnosed in his teens.

We clash he and I because I was a very happy, well balanced kid, who enjoyed life, was very pleased by it.

I had never met a depressed person, almost like when someone has never met a gay person.

Little did I know my father is raging depressive manic.

It's still very hard for me to wrap my mind around it.

You cannot spend any time with him. He will falsely earn your trust, and then destroy you.

His personality is very similar to Lou Reed, famous rock musician, and Tom Cruises father, and Tom Petty.

Scary violence, threats to harm, patterns of destruction. The man is evil.

His mania masks it because the person who witnesses thinks that he's happy.

He's manic.

So sorry to hear that another persons life is being destroyed by the evils of mania.

Sad. Because I am a very mentally healthy person. I do not ever mood swings.

The only time I can't sleep, I am wiped out. I am not more engergized, I feel like I am on death's door.

My father Bi polar DNA skipped me, and my sister.

We're both matter of fact, and calm, not very up.

I don't ever like being nervous. I notice when I feel a little nervous.

Bipoloar people do not notice what they are putting you through.