As a divorce attorney, I meet a lot of mentally ill people. Some of them are my clients. Some of them are the spouses my clients are divorcing. Sometimes, it is clear that neither spouse is really mentally whole. Mental illness increases a person’s chance of getting divorced by anywhere from 20 to 80 percent, depending on what the mental illness is, and what study you choose to believe. I am not talking about incident triggered depression, which so often accompanies divorce and, I believe, can be a perfectly normal reaction to divorce. I am talking about mental illness which causes the divorce to occur.
We all have a breaking point.
Some of the divorces are nasty, with the spouse who is more functional, treating the other in demeaning and cruel ways, and repeatedly telling them that they are “crazy”. However, most of the time, the functional spouse has an enormously difficult time grappling with guilt, relief and worry about what will happen to their spouse without them. This is especially pronounced when the person who is ill is the one walking out of the marriage. You can’t force someone to remain married in Texas, even if it is clearly in their own best interest. I often also see a lot of love remaining, even after terrible treatment.
A point is reached where they cannot remain healthy themselves if they remain in the relationship.
That doesn’t mean that these marriages can, or should be saved. We all have a breaking point. For many people who are watching a loved one battle mental illness, a point is reached where they cannot remain healthy themselves, if they remain in the relationship. Most of them have had to accept that they are unable to help their spouse. I will also say that this breaking point should be reached a lot earlier if children are being harmed.
So, if your spouse is battling mental illness, should you be considering divorce? That is a highly personal question and there is no magic formula to provide an answer.
However, I can give you some other questions to weigh in the balance when making the decision.
Consider these Questions…
1. Are children being harmed by letting the marriage continue as it is?
2.Does your spouse recognize that they are ill?
3. Is your spouse genuinely doing the best they can to cope with the mental illness?
4. How well are you coping? Take this question seriously. There is a lot of wisdom in the airlines’ directive to put your own oxygen on first. Are you sinking?
5. Are you genuinely a help to your spouse? In other words, is the misery being divided or multiplied?
6. Have you ever discussed your concerns with your spouse?
7. Have you explored other options, such as medication, counseling (personal and marital), paid help?
8. Is this a situation where a guardianship is a plausible possibility? (only a lawyer can help you with this question)
9. Is your spouse divorcing you? If so, the question of whether to get divorced has been answered, and it may be time to accept it.
One last thing to consider, that you are free to ignore if it offends you: if you are religious at all, pray about the decision. It may well be time to file for divorce, and it may bring you a great deal of relief in the end, but it will not be an easy answer, and you will want the reassurance that the decision was not made lightly.