Anyone who knew him felt sorry for his wife. His frequently irrational demands and outbursts over trivial things made his children cringe. It didn’t matter that my friend worked long hours at the office, came home to care for five school-age children (one of whom had special needs), shuttled some to soccer practice, helped with homework, cooked dinner, washed the dishes and put away the laundry. When she collapsed onto the sofa after the kids went to bed, he assailed her with nonsensical tirades about how she was “so selfish” to watch television. There was no reasoning with him. Accusations and suspicions flew out of his mouth regularly. He was never physically violent with her or the children but the cycle of yelling and degradation were wearing.
He found it hard to hold down a job for long, and he often had problems relating to the other adults in his life. Finally spent, she told me simply that she had children to raise and his histrionics made for a very unhealthy and stressful home life and filed for divorce. She said they’d tried counseling only to realize that he suffered from a personality disorder but without his participation, she could not help or fix him. It was time for her to save herself and her children.
Many personality disorders go undiagnosed because the symptoms may be mild or marginal. We simply accept them as, well, part of someone’s personality traits. Not every moody person is bipolar. Not every person who talks to herself is schizophrenic. It’s often difficult to tell, without professional psychiatric evaluation, if a person suffers from a disorder. Often, we simply live with these “quirks.” But I wonder how many marital relationships struggle because of them.
Those who suffer from personality disorders or even mild mental illnesses may not realize it. They may feel perfectly fine with themselves and seek help only for accompanying symptoms, such as depression, anxiety or addiction. Therapists may focus only on treating the related conditions and overlook the underlying cause.
Causes of personality disorders include a genetic predisposition and early childhood events. How do you know if your spouse may suffer from a personality disorder? There are ten types of personality disorders categorized into three clusters. Upcoming articles will address each more in depth. But here they are:
Cluster A (odd or eccentric behaviors)
Paranoid personality disorder: irrational suspicions, mistrust of others, cold, intensely serious
Schizoid personality disorder: detached from relationships, aloof, limited range of emotions
Schizotypal personality disorder: fears people, avoids social relationships, paranoid beliefs, inappropriate reactions, talks to himself
Cluster B (dramatic, erratic or emotional disorders)
Antisocial personality disorder: manipulative, impulsive, lack of empathy or a conscious, disregard for rules, laws, morality
Borderline personality disorder: extreme “black and white” thinking, instability in self image and relationships, breaks off connections
Histrionic personality disorder: attention-seeking, inappropriate sexual behaviors, exaggerated/dramatic actions
Narcissistic personality disorder: need for adoration, uses others for gain, unremorseful, extremely success and power-driven
Cluster C (anxious or fearful disorders)
Avoidant personality disorder: feelings of inadequacy, avoids social interaction to an extreme
Dependent personality disorder: extreme dependence on others, fear of abandonment
Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (different from obsessive-compulsive disorder): rigid adherence to rules, excessive orderliness
Cluster A (odd or eccentric disorders)
Paranoid personality disorder
mistrust of others
cold, intensely serious
Schizoid personality disorder
detached from relationships
aloof, limited range of emotions
Schizotypal personality disorder fears people, avoids social relationships, paranoid beliefs, inappropriate reactions, talks to himself
Cluster B (dramatic, emotional, or erratic disorders)
Antisocial personality disorder manipulative, impulsive, lack of empathy or a conscience
Borderline personality disorder extreme “black and white” thinking, instability in relationships and self-image
Histrionic personality disorder attention-seeking, inappropriate sexual needs, exaggerated/dramatic actions
Narcissistic personality disorder need for adoration, uses others for gain, unremorseful, extremely success and power driven, intolerance for criticism
Cluster C (anxious or fearful disorders)
Avoidant personality disorder feelings of inadequacy, avoids social interaction to extreme
Dependent personality disorder extreme dependence on others, abandonment fears
Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (differs from obsessive-compulsive disorder) rigid adherence to rules, excessive orderliness
Perhaps you recognize your spouse’s difficult traits in one of the categories. Now what? Even psychiatrists agree that even “abnormal” personalities may not require treatment if they are functional. Consider these questions:
*Are personality traits or behaviors interfering with his ability to hold down a job, relate to others or maintain a stable, loving marriage?
*Do they cause chronic conflict within your relationship?
*Are they troubling his or your mind?
*How long has he had these symptoms?
Often times, people who suffer from personality disorders are labeled “jerks” due to their difficult and inconsiderate actions, and they end up drifting from job to job and relationship to relationship. If you feel your spouse might suffer from a personality disorder that is affecting his ability to function at work or maintain a happy, healthy marriage, discuss it with your counselor or psychiatrist. Further evaluation is necessary after which treatment (therapy and possibly medication) will follow. Meanwhile, please visit Bellaonline.com’s Mental Health site to read great articles about this often misunderstood and stigmatized health issue. You can post questions in the Mental Health forum where you can learn more about personality disorders and how they differ from general mental illness.
Where is my friend’s ex today? Impulsively, he remarried an unaware single mother who undoubtedly attributes his extreme demanding, histrionic ways to personality quirks. He refuses to believe he may suffer from any problem at all. Meanwhile, my friend focuses on raising her young family by herself with a new measure of emotional and mental peace.
"Stop being an a-hole! You're ruining your relationship!"
"Stop being a b-tch! You're ruining your relationship!"