I have known my husband over 20 years since we were teenagers. We married in 2007 and he was diagnosed with schizophrenia a few months after we got married. Since I met him, he was always very jealous and accused me of things and I always thought it was just because he loved me so much. I would go out of my way to prove to him I was not doing the things he thought. He has relapsed a few times over the years. Initially his diagnosis wasn’t sad for me. Instead, it was almost a relief because I knew that it was what caused the jealousy.
There is no doubt in my mind that I want to spend the rest of my life with him but I am so overwhelmed. It’s been a rollercoaster of dealing with his mental illness, intimacy issues, my childhood trauma, and other challenges. About a year ago, we were the closest we’ve ever been and things felt secure. Then, a couple months ago he started accusing me again of ridiculous things like being with my uncle or our teenage son’s best friend. He has been extremely agitated the last couple weeks and wants nothing to do with me. Part of me thinks it’s his illness but the other part thinks maybe he really doesn’t love me. He’s telling our son he wants to move to find work by himself. I don’t know what to think anymore or where to go for help. I’m dealing with anxiety that I am medicated for along with other things in my life. I’m trying to take care of him and the kids and work as I’m the main source of income. Recently my father was diagnosed with cancer and I feel like my husband intentionally picks bad timing for stress in my life to do this to me. When do I know I can’t help him anymore? I cannot live without him and I don’t want to, but I can’t figure out if it’s his illness or just him not loving me anymore.
A serious mental illness like schizophrenia not only distorts reality for the one suffering, but also for those close to them. I can see your confusion about knowing how he really feels about you and your relationship, especially when you can’t always know who is doing the talking. I honor your love and commitment to him and your family as you’ve sorted through two decades of difficult choices. While I can’t know what’s in his mind or heart, here are some thoughts on how you might care for yourself while you move forward.
I hope you have a strong support network in place not only for him, but especially for you. When his illness causes him to disconnect from the reality of your love and devotion, you need to know that you are being held up by those who love you. You can’t predict where the illness will take him, but you can create a predictable network of loved ones who intimately understand you and your situation.
It’s also important that you’re closely involved in his medical and psychiatric care. While I think it’s important to allow our spouse to manage their own health, when dealing with a serious mental or physical illness, it requires a different type of arrangement. It often works best to have someone case managing medications, appointments, and other treatments to help ensure compliance and consistency. I’m sure you already know this, as you’ve been working with this for so many years. However, it’s easy for these things to slip through the cracks from exhaustion and chaos.
If you aren’t already working with a qualified therapist who can keep a close eye on him and understand the nuances of how he shows up individually and relationally, then I strongly encourage you find one who can help him. While traditional couples therapy may not be appropriate right now, having someone who can help you sort through the confusing messages, set healthy limits, and make agreements regarding parenting decisions. There is simply too much for you to sort through without some outside perspective. You’re in a vulnerable position of needing him as your husband and needing him to be stable for the family.
You’re wondering when it’s time for you to stop helping him. While that’s a personal choice no one can make for you, I do think that you can make the choice to bring in additional supports that may not have been as necessary in the past. These individuals could be professionals and loved ones who can help surround all of you with support. In complicated cases like this, I’ve found it helpful to have someone other than you take the lead on organizing the support. Supporting a loved one with a chronic mental or physical illness will break you without the proper supports in place. I hope you can find the individual, marriage, and family support you need to continue forward with clarity.
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About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, host of the podcast, “From Crisis to Connection”, and creates online relationship courses. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
The advice offered through Geoff Steurer’s column is educational and informational in nature and is provided only as general information. It is not meant to establish a therapist-patient relationship or offer therapeutic advice, opinion, diagnosis treatment or to establish a standard of care. Although Geoff Steurer is a trained psychotherapist, he is not functioning in the role of a licensed therapist by writing this column, but rather using his training to inform these responses. Thus, the content is not intended to replace independent professional judgment. The content is not intended to solicit clients and should not be relied upon as medical or psychological advice of any kind or nature whatsoever. The information provided through this content should not be used for diagnosing or treating a mental health problem or disease. The information contained in these communications is not comprehensive and does not include all the potential information regarding the subject matter, but is merely intended to serve as one resource for general and educational purposes.