One quarter of all Americans suffer from some sort of mental illness. Emotional disorders range from mild anxiety and depression through severe schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
Mental disorders can cause relationship problems and lead to divorce. There are special issues involved in divorcing a mentally ill spouse.
If depression is involved, you must be concerned she will harm herself. On the other hand, if your spouse has a Borderline Personality Disorder, he may fly into a rage and become violent if criticized.
Moreover, your narcissistic spouse may project his mental disorder onto you, and claim you are the one who is mentally ill and needs psychological help.
Who is Mentally Ill?
The first issue a divorcing couple must resolve, is who actually suffers from a mental disorder.
You may think this should be obvious, but it’s often not. If your spouse alleges you are really the one with mental problems and you feel he’s the one with a mental illness, it can become a “he says, she says” situation.
Narcissistic or paranoid individual may project their disordered thinking onto their spouse and accuse the healthy one of being mentally ill to defend their own damaged ego.
A narcissistic or paranoid person will usually deny he has emotional issues, lie about everyday events, and blame his spouse for the marital problems.
If your partner says you are mentally ill, and you believe you are just fine, make an appointment with a competent psychologist and get a professional opinion about your mental state.
If the expert gives you a clean bill of mental health, then you can be pretty sure your spouse is the one causing most of the marital problems. However, he/she may not agree to enter treatment to fix the problem.
In that case, you may need to file for divorce.
Mental Illness and Children
Mental illness can have a negative effect on children in at least two ways: first, they may feel distant from their mentally ill parent and be afraid of him or her. This problem can sometimes be handled through counseling.
However, if the mental illness effects a parent’s ability to care for his children, that will affect custody arrangements. A mentally ill parent may require supervised visits and will almost certainly not be awarded primary custody of the children.
However, only in severe cases should the mentally ill parent be denied any contact with his children. It’s in the best interest of the mentally ill parent and his children to have some supervised contact.
Guilt Over Divorcing a Mentally Ill Spouse
Often, a spouse feels responsible for taking care of her mentally ill partner, and experiences guilt when she thinks about getting a divorce.
However, guilt’s not a healthy reason to stay married.
Find out if your spouse is willing to enter therapy, take medication, and work at getting better.
If he/she refuses to seek treatment, don’t feel guilty about leaving him/her.
If they won’t help themselves, how can they expect you to fix them?
You are responsible for your own happiness, not the mental health of your spouse. Talk with a counselor and get a reality check.
Divorcing a Bipolar Spouse
Manic-Depression or Bipolar Disorder is characterized by extreme mood swings. During manic moods, the person feels great, has lots of energy, makes grandiose plans, ignores ordinary rules, may engage in sexual adventures, and usually spends lavishly.
During intervals of severe depression, suicidal thoughts must be taken seriously. Bipolar disorder can be managed by lithium or anti-depressant medication.
However, individuals diagnosed with this disorder may neglect to take their medication. Others self-medicate with alcohol or drugs.
Spouses with Bipolar disorder may break the law, ruin your finances, and can be a danger to themselves. If they won’t get psychiatric help and take their medication, you should divorce them.
There are many different mental illness, and each type can produce unique marital problems and divorce challenges. The first step in deciding to divorce a mentally ill spouse is to engage a psychologist and discuss the situation with her.
Get a personal evaluation to clarify whether your spouse’s allegations about your own mental health are true. Once that’s settled, try to get your mentally ill spouse to see an expert to get treatment.
If he/she won’t do that, make plans to divorce in the most compassionate way possible. This will usually mean opting for a collaborative divorce rather than litigation.
However, if there is a serious threat of violence, then you should file for litigation and ask for a protective order to keep you and your children safe.