DEAR AMY: I have a husband who, I believe, has bipolar disorder. He refuses to get treatment. He was treated years ago, while married to his first wife, but refuses to seek treatment now. We have been together for almost 11 years, and married for seven years. His behavior is unacceptable and I don’t know how to get through this without divorcing him, which is something I really don’t want to do. He has many good periods where he is kind and helpful. In general, he is a good husband. However, when the mania strikes, he turns from good husband to demon spawn. He becomes very critical, demanding and verbally abusive. He talks continuously without forming rational sentences. He verbally attacks my adult children by yelling at them and telling them they are lazy or stupid. My sons won’t have anything to do with him anymore. Sometimes he apologizes afterward but, for the most part, he doesn’t realize he’s been torturing those around him. Short of divorce, what can I do to get my husband to seek the help he needs? I don’t know how long I can survive never knowing when the next outburst is going to occur.
DEAR ROLLERCOASTER BRIDE: You have accurately described what it is like to live with someone with untreated bipolar disorder. If your husband was diagnosed and treated previously, he should seek treatment again.
You cannot force him into treatment. But during a time when he is calm and well, you should describe your own situation, ask him to get help, offer to go with him to see a psychiatrist, and attach a consequence if he doesn’t. Tell him you want to stay married and see him through this, but that your relationship is on the line.
You should leave the house when he rages and becomes verbally abusive. Don’t return until you know he is calm. Give yourself a deadline where you promise to reassess your own situation.
Tell your sons that your husband is not well; comfort them and let them comfort you.
You need support. Professional counseling would help you. The International Bipolar Foundation has a description and list of symptoms, as well as a list of resources for your husband and you (ibpf.org).
DEAR AMY: My siblings and I caused our mom to lose the most devoted man she met since our parents divorced. This man enjoyed our family, and loved our kids as his own. He was with Mom for several years. My siblings and I argued with him over a very petty matter, and then made Mom feel that it was either him or us. She chose us. Mom then impetuously jumped into a new man’s life, a man we then fussed over and accepted. This man then became demanding, caused her financial loss. They then parted. Our judgment was wrong, Amy. We should have overlooked the issue with the first man, who loved her. Their lifestyle was a good one; they had a lot in common and the families got along well. I feel so guilty now for the part I played in them breaking up. It may be too late for a reconciliation with the person who always put Mom first, but if he reads this, maybe he will return! Mom is trying to date again, when she could have been settled with that caring, solid person who loved her.
Ashamed and Sorrowful
DEAR ASHAMED: You owe this man an apology. Why don’t you offer it directly to him? Hoping he sees this in the newspaper is a very indirect and risky way of taking responsibility for your own behavior.
It’s great that you realize the extreme impact of your choice to emotionally manipulate and control your mother. I hope you’ve apologized to her, too.
DEAR AMY: As a daughter whose father left most of his estate to his wife (my stepmother), as my husband’s second and younger wife; and as a lawyer, you should inform “Left Out” that her stepmother could be legally responsible for all her father’s medical bills should he, for example, develop Alzheimer’s and require years of care. Spouses in most states are held accountable for these medical bills. Children are not. Nursing home care is very expensive!
DEAR DAUGHTER: I did tell “Left Out” that her stepmother would likely be responsible for her much-older husband’s care, and so receiving the proceeds of his estate would be appropriate.