“I know he’s a good man. I know he is. And I vacillate between wanting to be supportive and help him, to feeling totally crazy, to thinking that the only way I can survive is to do what a counselor once told me: ‘Run, Forrest! RUN’!”
My client, in sheer desperation with her husband, whose moods were always swinging like a wrecking ball, began our session with that opening statement.
I responded with great care… “I think looking at some of the major challenges of living with and/or around someone with severe mood swings could help you ‘understand’ what might feel like crazy emotions to you!”
Being married to (or in relationship with) a wrecking ball is NOT easy! It’s definitely NOT for sissies.
Research reveals that while about 40% of marriages are currently ending in divorce, the rates for those in marriages with severe mood swings, divorce rates are 2 to 3 times higher than that.
So…am I recommending calling it quits?
I am wanting to…
To be in the 15-20% of marriages that make it!
I believe it is possible. But it requires…
Healing of your wounds…
Cooperation from the wrecking ball (partner with mood swings)…
Healing the marriage wounds…
Starting fresh with new love, new guidelines, and new hope.
(A note…And we both know, from a great marriage to reaching a career milestone … that anything worth pursuing and doing well requires dedicated, intentional work … in order to then live in the bliss of that hard work! Our ability to chill out WILL happen with the attitudes and changes we make.)
That’s why I am here. Because I believe it is possible! And I want to help YOU, your partner, and your marriage! Let’s join hands, join hearts, and DO THIS!
But first, let me help you understand where many of the challenges come from.
1. The one with severe mood swings sees themselves through the 95% lens.
Studies indicate that with people suffering from severe mood swings, that they are balanced, and ‘OK’ (asymptomatic) about 50% of the time.
“The problem is,” I began explaining to my client, married to a man with severe mood swings, “There is so much damage done that their chaos and confusion has caused, with their unpredicability prevailing 50% of the time that they struggle with…by the time WE catch our breath, their ‘balanced/asymptomatic’ 50% is gone.”
By what my client began to share, I thought this woke something up in her.
“Oh my gosh, Dr. Neecie…you’re describing my dilemma perfectly. I notice that things are leveling out, and then I realize they’ve been leveled out for a while. But I didn’t notice. Because I was still recovering from the trauma of the last episode. I know that’s not fair to him!”
“Although understandable, it is not fair,” I explained. “But I would like for you to understand this. The person with mood swings sees themself, at least 95% of the time, as the person they are when they are asymptomatic (which is only about 50% of the time).”
“Is that why when I try to explain a ‘bad moment’ and how it’s affecting me, that the conversation immediately turns to how crazy I am? And that he’s just fine,” my client pleaded?
I shook my head yes as she continued.
“The other night when I was trying to explain to him that I was in primal survival mode, having panic attacks moment by moment, he immediately lectured me: ‘Well. Maybe you need to get into therapy and work those childhood issues of yours’.”
Her voice broke simultaneous with the tears.
“All this…when …
- I am the one in therapy.
- I’m the one watching videos day and night.
- I’m the one praying and trying to change myself to become better.
- All while he plays on social media, buries himself in sports, and could care less about what all of this is doing to me!”
“Truth,” I responded in empathy. I sat with her quietly while the sobs that had been buried deep within, poured out. I then responded quietly.
“I’m not defending the behavior; I’m simply trying to help you understand it. But let’s just get honest here. When you don’t like who you are during those mood swings episodes, and you see yourself as the one who was totally stable and asymptomatic for a month…wouldn’t you prefer to see yourself through the lens of stability?” I explained.
She nodded…although not without an eye roll. I continued.
“When we get to the healing and to setting limits/boundaries, we will address this again.”
I handed her a tissue and went on.
“But for now, it should make a little more sense why you end up feeling crazy. When that occurs, pause. Remind yourself that you are not crazy. That they are acting and making choices in full out episode of a thought process disorder. Yet, seeing themselves through the lens of being balanced. Convinced they’re ok. They’re good. You’ve got the problem.”
I asked my struggling client: “If you can remind yourself that is the truth, and have as much compassion as you possibly can, don’t you think it will help you feel less crazy?”
“It does. But can I call YOU at 2 AM when he’s on a rant about what’s wrong with me, so you can remind me that I’m not crazy?”
We both laughed in unison.
We did what I will speak more about when we get further in the series. I made an audio recording for her to play to herself at 2 AM.
Do your best to remember these are the moments when you begin to feel crazy. Your spouse/partner is simply seeing themselves through the lens of who they are when their life is in stable mode. Why? Because it’s hard for them to see themselves as a wrecking ball.
(A note…yes, it’s so predictable to use the frog on the stove till the water slowly heats to a boil. But, partner/spouse patterns build slowly over years until we come to ourselves, wake-up, and realize…this stuff hurts! It has always hurt! And abnormal is abnormal! Boiling sucks! Time for a pattern change and a neuro-synapse-rewire. We will get to that! I promise!)
Please remind yourself that 99% of the time, they’re not trying to make you feel crazy, they’re actually trying to make themselves feel less crazy by using frustrated verbiage that (at times) seems to have no end. While to them it feels like a perfectly conclusive point.
Yes. But a bit of understanding and holding onto your own sanity, goes a long way!
2. They are defensive, and reticent to take responsibility.
Doctors John and Julie Gottman have done the largest sample, and longest lengths of research on relationships than anyone in history.
They developed a protocol from research results, that could predict relationship success or demise with about 86% accuracy. (They call them relationship masters vs. relationship disasters).
A significant piece of information that we learned from their research, and use in couple’s therapy around the globe, is what they call the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Those are the four things that are seen most often in relationship failures.
Other researchers indicated the prevalence of defensiveness on the part of those with severe mood swings.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons why marital failure and relationship failure is far above the national average when it comes to people with severe mood swings. Familiarity breeds (not only contempt) but weird wired…mood swings.
My client asked with a mixed expression of relief and sadness at the same time. “So, you’re saying that it’s over? That there’s no reason to even try?”
I quickly responded: “No. I’m suggesting you become one of these statistics in the smaller percentages of relationships that make it. That’s why you and I are here together!”
And since you are reading this, I am writing it for you.
To bring understanding to your situation.
To help you heal from the damage done.
And help you create a rich and fulfilling relationship.
So back to unearthing defensiveness and my curious client.
“When speaking to your husband, whether you’re asking him if he took the trash out, or if you’re trying to explain how his careless words have damaged you…you will likely hear a response filled with defensiveness and explanations,” I informed her.
“OMG! So, you have a Nanny Cam in our house!?”
We both had to laugh. She continued.
“Not only does he defend everything from my broken heart being a puzzlement to him, and taking out the trash equal to ditch digging with a pickaxe, even if he were to recognize that he had made a mistake, he rarely to never takes responsibility for it,” my client complained!
Once again, with the look of relief that I understood, and a look of sadness indicating she felt no hope of anything changing.
I leaned and continued.
“And remember what we spoke about last time. That 95% of the time, he sees himself through the lens of that 50% of the time, and believes he’s in a ‘balanced’ state.”
Hope lit her eyes up a bit, as I pressed on.
“And when he does see that he is agitated, or defensive, he would prefer not to see it. I’m not saying that it’s OK, I’m just asking you if that makes sense?”
“Yes, it does make sense. But I feel like a conversation that should last 30 seconds ends up going on for 30 mins or 2 hours by the time he finishes denying, defending himself, or if he’s backed into a corner explaining himself until he feels better about himself,” she said with exasperation.
She stared at the floor regrouped and continued.
“Just like the other day, I was asking him if he had made an appointment with the doctor because he has been coughing all night every night,” she explained.
“He blurted out: ‘I guess I’ll just never be perfect enough for you. I don’t mean to keep you awake all night!’ AND…that was just the introduction to a 2 hour poor me, defend myself, explain myself conversation with me.”
With great empathy, I responded, “I understand that it’s exhausting. I understand it’s hurtful. And I am certain you long for just one minute when he could validate you or consider you.”
With tears again, she explained, “Yes! YES! I just wish I mattered to him in any equation for just a moment!”
I responded, “We will get to that and get to dealing with the defensiveness. But the first step is understanding that people like your husband, are fighting for their value in life when they get defensive.
It’s not your fault…
You didn’t cause it…
You can’t fix it…
But you can help…
And we’ll get to that!
And we will also get to … how you can work on that in your marriage!
It feels normal to him to complicate things.”
I added: “Please know I’m not defending him. I’m sure he does an A+ job of that without any assistance from me! I’m just helping you understand!”
She nodded with relief.
If you’re reading this … and this is true in your life, I’d like to suggest that in the meantime, you have as much grace as you possibly can for the defensiveness that challenges your day to day living.
Until we get to addressing their defensiveness in future blogs in this series, I’d suggest that anything you need to bring to their attention, that you do so in writing (text, email, written note), or recording (voice text).
Do it in this format:
When ______ happens, I feel _______, would you be willing to __________________________?
This is the example I worked with my client on about the trash getting to the curb every week:
(“When we don’t get the trash out, it’s so hot outside that it gets really stinky over two weeks. Then I feel annoyed and grouchy. Would you be willing to take it out right after dinner on Monday evenings?”)
Until we get to the healing part (and the revising the defensiveness in your marriage part) … this process will make a world of difference.
A difference that both of you need and deserve!
3. Their desire to make you feel crazy is a form of self-validation.
“I don’t care what you have to say about this one. I just want off the crazy train! If I’m the one who’s crazy, tell me. If he’s the one who’s crazy… would you please tell him,” She demanded as she thrust her cell phone towards me!
I understood completely.
I hear this countless times a month from spouses married to or in relationships with someone who has severe mood swings.
I smiled and nodded as I said: “You won’t like this, but the truth is…neither of you is crazy!”
She retorted: “You’re exactly right that I don’t like it. If he was crazy, I could perhaps put up with this kind of treatment from him better,” my client declared while tears began to stream!
My heart broke for her.
For her tears.
For her despair.
(A note…I don’t know if my tears about the same thing began in the womb, or when I was in the first grade (the first time I consciously remember it).
My heart understood and knew the despair because I was born into a family, to a father, who had severe mood swings. Perhaps, to prepare me for such a time as this. But I really do understand feeling crazy as the result of the swinging moods that felt like a wrecking ball to me as early as first grade.)
“It may or may not help you to know this, my friend, but there is no malice intended when he says these things that make you feel crazy,” I explained.
“When he does it, there’s a desperation for self-validation. You won’t see it. What you’ll see is irritation, agitation, condescension, and maybe even some disgust and contempt. When I realized they are simply offloading onto us what they feel about themselves, hoping they will feel better, it did not make it OK for me. But it gave me a moment to have enough compassion to center myself and respond in a healing way,” I shared.
She responded, “I’m certain that I’m not responding in a healing way. But I’m tired. I’m weary. I’m exhausted. I feel worthless. I’m depressed. I’m having panic attacks when he walks in the door. I want to do the right thing. I really do! I just don’t know how to do it, I’m not sure I have the strength or courage to do it, and I don’t know if it would make any difference.”
I responded, “That’s exactly why I’m committed to this. Those of us on the other side of the wrecking ball need an opportunity to heal. Then we can have compassion to help our partners and say, ‘We’re one of the statistics of those who made it’.”
Remember, this, my friend, if you are reading this, you’re not crazy.
The person with the wrecking ball is not crazy.
They’re seeking relief from their feelings of worthlessness.
And relief from not being able to operate the way they would like to.
Will they ever be a part of the healing?
More about that later but let me plant a seed of hope for you here. With good medical evaluation (and medication, if needed), with good therapy, and with support…and with your love, from a healed place of wholeness… Absolutely things can turn around!
Yes, living on this side of the wrecking ball of someone who is not getting the help and treatment they deserve…can be devastating.
But you can heal.
(I’m not suggesting that you stay in abuse by any means). But if there’s even a spark of love left, there is hope.
You may need a microscope to find the spark, but I bet it’s still there.
Please follow me through this series, because I’m living proof, that not only can you heal, not only can your marriage or family situation turn around… but you may be able to share your experience and help others in the same position.
Isn’t that what life is supposed to be all about? We heal. We help others heal. And the world becomes a healthier place.
(A my friend in AA recovery says … “Belief is what you see in other people. Faith is what you see and find in yourself.”
I believe and I have faith:
- That the wrecking ball can be retired
- That this can turn around in your life
- That you can find that sweet spot in your marriage (or relationship) again!
Let’s do this … together!