A very powerful story, told by Just Plain Ol’Vic. Thank you so very much for sharing your love story with me here. I would like to point out something very beautiful and very important, Vic said to me in his email: “… it’s far from perfect – but love is love, no matter what the trials are in your life.” What a wonderful thing to say. And it shows how deep love can go.
Recently there was a post on forgiveness that I thought was very introspective, well written and discussed many critical points (when referenced to an individual that is bi-polar). I wanted to expand upon this thought but from an alternate perspective; the perspective of a husband that has a bi-polar wife. Now first of all – my wife has nothing to apologize for, in regards to being bi-polar. I willingly choose to be with her exactly how she is and love her for who she is. What I am referring to is how forgiveness applies in our relationship when her mental health issues come to the fore of our marriage.
I believe my wife is technically Bi-Polar 1 but we do not know for certain (her therapist is not big into labels like that – fine with me) and has to deal with rapid cycling (multiple depressive or manic episodes). It is the manic episodes that have posed the biggest emotional challenge for me. So what defines a manic episode? Manic episodes can be characterized by certain behaviors such as: sleeplessness, irritability, inability to focus, excessive gambling or spending, substance abuse, hyper-sexuality and suicidal thoughts. It is a few of these that really tested the limits of what I have been able to deal with in our marriage. Before I go on, it would be best if I come forward and say that I am not 100% comfortable giving out a ton of details, so forgive me if I seem to gloss over some things.
So last year, when we having the biggest issues in our marriage, it was the result of the worst manic episode we have ever experienced. The first way it was characterized was in excessive spending. I wish I could say, looking around the house, I can see the physical reminders of that episode but I cannot. Literally there were thousands of dollars that I cannot account for and there is nothing to show for that massive spending spree. The second issue was her abuse of alcohol, which most likely amplified her manic episode. To this day I consider ourselves lucky that the damage was limited to partially trashing a new car. Thankfully my wife did not hurt herself or any innocent bystander. Her abuse of alcohol, in addition to being the the throes of a manic episode, also eroded her decision making process resulting her involving herself in a situation where the fidelity of our marriage came into question. Finally to top it all off, after things “cooled” down a few days later, I had to deal with two semi-serious attempts at suicide, which again the behavior may have been more alcohol fueled. This led to the decision that the kids and myself were the issue and she just needed physical separation from us all.
So the question becomes this: How do you forgive someone that spent thousands of unaccounted dollars, abused alcohol & wrecked a car while abusing alcohol, engaged in compromising behavior, was actively suicidal, lied about everything and topped it all off by literally moving out of the house because she did not want to be with me and the kids any more?
First of all, you cannot forgive what you don’t understand. I had to educate myself very quickly about my wife’s mental health issues. NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) has a ton of resources and there are some great books out there that deal specifically with being a spouse of someone that is bi-polar. Secondly, understanding that therapy is not just for someone with “mental health” issues. Finding a good therapist will allow you to get perspective that is as insightful as it is impartial. Hopefully you get to hear what you NEED to know, not what you want to know. Third, the support of your family cannot be underplayed. I have to say that I may not be here today if it wasn’t for my Mother-in-Law supporting me, giving me advice and letting me know my efforts were not unappreciated in regards to her daughter. Fourth, realizing that forgiveness does not mean there is a clean slate, no harm no foul, but there has to be remorse. You can have forgiveness that sets boundaries, that has expectations and that requires respect. Next is communication/honesty. If you cannot create an environment that invites open and honest conversations, that withhold judgement and prejudice, then you will eventually set yourself up to fail. The sixth thing is so simple that it is easily overlooked. You cannot forget about yourself. What are you doing to address your needs? It’s not selfish at all but critical. Finally, asking one simple question: Do you love your spouse? If the answers is yes, then let go of pride and ask yourself, what are you willing to do?
Speaking personally, forgiveness has been a long and drawn out process that is still ongoing. It started by relearning how to talk to my wife again. In talking with her, I realized that she was overcome by guilt and remorse about what she had done and put me (and the kids) through. We were also able to communicate to each other what our needs were if the marriage was going to continue and be successful. I learned how I was coming up short as a husband and she learned about what I expected from her. Coming to this understanding has allowed us to focus on specific therapies, group support and needed hospitalization to address the issues we were experiencing. We now TALK to each other every day. That may not sound that profound, but ask yourself if you really TALK with your spouse or just engage in idle chatter? All of this has allowed us to have increased respect for each other boundaries. Some of these boundaries include: no alcohol ever again, not being an enabler for her behavior, demanding our friends/family respect her mental health challenges and expecting honestly at all times.
One final revelation that I have had: I cannot “fix” my wife’s mental health issues. It will be a constant and lifelong struggle. She can be on the right medications, going to therapy properly and getting all the right support and still have a manic episode. You might as easily control the tides as a manic episode. Realizing this has given me some sense of peace. As long as my wife is understanding and remorseful about what a manic episode has wrought, then I can let go of foolish pride, forgive and move on with our lives.
Forgiving her in turn heals me…