For far too long, I thought my wife was just a nagging, irritable, moody bitch. I felt like her party girl lifestyle, deep sadness and hostility were signs she wanted to escape what she believed was an awful marriage.
Day after day, I had no idea what woman I would wake up to. On the worst days, I could literally watch an almost Jekyll and Hyde-like change. I would watch the emotional build-up progress, feel the tension between us grow, and then the snap would come. What I did not know then was my wife was dealing with several undiagnosed mental health issues. The warning signs were all there, but neither of us had a clue what these signs truly pointed to.
We were caught in a vicious cycle because neither one of us was aware of the internal struggle my wife was facing on a daily basis—until our marriage finally shattered.
Nine years after we were married, my wife was finally diagnosed with Bipolar 2, manic depression and massive anxiety, a wicked trio of mental health issues that sent her on an intense emotional rollercoaster and left a tidal wave of emotional damage to everyone in caught in the wake. It is not just the person who suffers from the symptoms and extreme behaviors; everyone close to them suffers too.
I unknowingly watched my wife unravel for years with a feeling of total helplessness. Nothing I could say or do would remedy whatever situation we faced that day, week, month or year. If anything, my efforts only amplified her emotional state until we were caught in a vicious cycle of attack and defend. There were the anxiety attacks, jumps from deep sadness to manic hostility, exhaustion, long hours of sleep, indecisiveness, forgetfulness, her need to control every aspect of the household, blaming others and especially me for failures, the addictions to everything from excessive spending, alcohol, gambling and even street drugs at the end of our marriage. There were no words I could say or actions I could perform that helped bring my wife back from her panic attacks, the depths of emotional darkness when she would get depressed, or halt the venomous onslaught of blame for everything that was wrong with our marriage.
I had known about the panic attacks before we even married. She had them from time to time while we were dating. As these attacks became more frequent, especially after the birth of our first child, I became more frustrated with them; and treating her anxiety and panic attacks as something she could just deal with, as a case of overreacting to something that was not that big of a deal, or just silly, childish behavior.
From the time we met, and through the first three years of our marriage, my work hours were long and kept me out of the house six days a week. It was not uncommon for my wife to call a few times a day to tell me how the baby was doing during the first few months after giving birth. But the calls started to become numerous, sometimes more than 12 a day. My wife would be sad, agitated and lonely, all in the span of a workday. She would often demand I come home immediately. The argument would start with me telling her I couldn't. She would respond that I was the boss and could leave whenever I wanted. My rebuttal would be a firm reminder that somebody else writes the checks, and to get that money every week, I had to fulfill the required duties demanded by the company paying me.
Working 14 hour days, six days a week was not only demanding, it was outright exhausting. It was always a relief and a reward to come home to the welcome arms of my wife, the smell of a wonderful dinner, and as the children grew, their joyous squeals of delight that I was finally home. But the dinners and warm greetings from my wife became infrequent. Instead of the intoxicating aroma of her home cooking and an affectionate greeting, she would be preparing to go out with friends, leaving me to feed and care for our young children. As these nights grew in frequency, arguments would ensue between us over her right to get away versus the need for her to stay home with the family. From her perspective, I was at work all day having fun, while she was stuck dealing with the children and deserved to get away.
My wife's exhaustion and long periods of sleep became more frequent and noticeable after the birth of our first child and worsened with the addition of each new member of the family. When the demand of my work, added to my wife's demands for me to be home, became too great of a burden to bare any longer, I chose to stay home and pursue a new, less stressful career that would allow me to be at home while fulfilling my wife's request to join the workforce so she could get out of the house more often. This, however, only amplified tension between us. She disapproved of my choice, and I disapproved of her staying gone more often as she continued a near nightly routine of socializing after work.
As time went on, and this pattern of sleeping and exhaustion continued, I treated it as part of her excessive drinking and would confront her about the behavior. The vicious cycle would start again by blaming me for not getting a real job so she did not have to carry the entire load of the family.
Then there were the manic episodes like tearing the bedroom, bathroom or a closet apart in an intense all-day effort to clean what she believed to be filthy, cluttered or disorganized. These episodes grew in frequency after I started staying home with the children. It was insulting for me. I worked hard every day to keep the house clean and the children cared for.
For the duration of our entire marriage, whether I was the one bringing in the income or not, my wife asserted herself as the financial manager. There was little disposable income in our household, but we made more than enough money every month to keep a roof over our heads, the lights on and the water running; but month after month, we were always behind.
Any attempt I made to intervene or assist in managing the bills would be met with hostility and turn to a vicious argument. It was a constant fight to assert my point that we needed to pay important things like rent, utilities, and insurance before spending on luxuries like clothes, toys, eating out, or drinking at the bar. My wife would counter by putting the blame on me. If I only made more money, or if I would give up my silly dream of becoming a writer and get a real job.
Our fights would end in a stalemate, nothing would get resolved and no compromise would be made. So it would happen, month after month, the late fees would pile up on the past due bills, insurance would lapse, the landlord would call about not receiving the rent, and the utilities would be shut off frequently.
For almost two years, my wife went through a cycle of what she believed were physical health issues. Her panic attacks intensified and became more frequent to the point she was experiencing two or more daily. Then she started to have numbness in her face and down her arm. Her blood pressure started to become dangerously high, spiking daily for no reason and lasting for hours. My wife would find herself in the emergency room every few months, and almost weekly at one point. Test after test by doctors and specialists could find nothing physically wrong. When they would suggest psychological causes or possible issues with her mental wellness, she would refute their suggestions for counseling. Instead, she chose to self-medicate with the anti-depressants our family physician could provide within his professional means.
As the years went on and the constant tension between my wife and me mounted, it felt as if she was withdrawing herself from our children as a punishment meant for me. The excuses that she always had to work, the staying out with friends several nights a week, and the long hours of sleep created a painful distance between not just her and me, but the children as well. My oldest daughter had reached an age where she was the first to start noticing that mommy was never around. My wife's physical and emotional absence from our children had become so accepted, that even when she was home that they assumed she was gone.
By the last year of our already crumbling marriage, any type of comfort or affection I tried to give my wife was refuted and treated as just another attempt at sex. She started to gloat about flirtations with other men and the attention they paid her. The growing distance between us and the vicious cycle of attack and defense had reached a point of toxicity. We could not even have a conversation without it turning sour. My wife would eventually start an affair with a coworker and began using street drugs as a means to fill the emotional and physical void left by the destruction of our marriage.
My wife had to crash before it became clear just how severe her mental wellness had deteriorated. As a husband, I bear a huge bag of guilt for not seeing all the signs and not doing everything in my power to help her and salvage our family. I will never know if our divorce could have been avoided, though I still hold onto the hope my wife and I can renew the love and family we once shared.
For anyone out there feeling as though you may have reached the end of a miserable marriage, but still hang on to hope like I have, let my cautionary tale enlighten you. We are always concerned for our physical wellness, but very few of us pay attention to the mental wellness and its effect on marriage.
Written by Eli James Yanna
Eli James Yanna runs a blog called Daddy’s Duties, a site dedicated to the male perspective of life as a stay-at-home father. The stories tell tales of how Eli deals with being a full-time father coping with a messy divorce and caring for three precocious girls, one beastly little boy, and a sixteen-year-old son, too.