‘I can’t cope with my husband’s bipolar disorder – should I leave him?’

‘His mood swings, temper and silence have finally taken their toll on me’ (Picture: Neil Webb/ Metro.co.uk)

Welcome back to The Sex Column, our weekly series that helps out people navigating the world of love, dating, and relationships.

Last time around, the experts advised a couple that just couldn’t stop arguing.

Today, we’re helping a woman who is struggling to cope with her husband’s mental illness.

Despite being together for nearly 30 years, she feels she can no longer put up with his unpredictable behaviour, especially as he is refusing to admit he has a problem.

But she’s worried about what would happen to her if she left him.

What should she do?

The problem:

‘My husband is bipolar.

We’ve been married for nearly 30 years and his mood swings, temper and silence have finally taken their toll on me.

We sleep in separate rooms and although I know it isn’t his fault, he denies anything is wrong with him.

‘He hasn’t seen a doctor about it in years.

‘He is the main earner and pays the mortgage. I’m on minimum wage, which buys the food, and I do all the cooking and housework.

‘He tells me he loves me but I’m only staying for our pregnant daughter, who will move out with her partner soon.

‘If I left him I just worry he would leave me destitute.’

What the experts say…

You have stood by your husband for a long time and accepted a vast range of behaviours and absences.

‘This would have made parenting your own children difficult at times,’ says Dr Angharad Rudkin. ‘Now they are older and almost independent, you are naturally left wondering what remains of your marital relationship.’

Living with a partner with mental health problems is incredibly hard, especially
if they aren’t acknowledging the situation.

‘Although mental illness involves intense feelings of fear, anxiety, sadness and confusion, it does not give someone carte blanche to behave abhorrently,’ says Rudkin.

But who is your husband without the mental illness? Why did you fall in love with him and what do you still love about him?

‘Would you still want to be with him if you could magically remove the bipolar disorder?’ asks Rudkin.

‘It can be difficult to separate the two – the behaviours linked to your husband’s natural temperament versus the behaviours that come from bipolar disorder – but that is what you must do to help you make your decision.’

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If your husband does not want to get the support he needs, he won’t change.

‘Marriage is a contract and, in business terms, contracts include provision for termination where one party is in breach,’ says James McConnachie.

‘Do you feel your husband is breaking the deal you’ve made? Not by having an illness but by refusing to acknowledge it while relying so much on you?

‘Your husband doesn’t pay the mortgage, you both pay it – you pay your share through your work for the family. Look up “matrimonial asset” on citizensadvice.org.uk or rightsofwomen.org.uk.’

He is legally obliged to ensure you are financially secure and a divorce lawyer will ensure this.

‘You could also seek help from the charity Relate about how it may be able to support you individually or as a couple,’ says Rupert Smith.

The experts

Rupert Smith is an author and counsellor

James McConnachie is the author of Sex (Rough Guides)

Dr Angharad Rudkin is a clinical psychology

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