The decision to end a marriage is painful.  When a spouse has a personality disorder, the road to resolution and recovery will likely take longer than the typical divorce.  But for many people entering a divorce, their spouses haven’t been formally diagnosed with any mental defects whatsoever.  Many more haven’t come to the realization that their spouses have a personality disorder and instead, chronically blame themselves for failing to be more supportive.  Typically, the “healthy” spouse is the one bearing the burden of guilt, both during the marriage and through the divorce.

The issue of personality disorder often comes up in divorce consultations.  Potential clients, while dealing with their spouses’ deficiencies for years, sometimes decades, are ready to attribute to a personality disorder as the reason the marriage has ended.  While personality disorders are tremendously serious and can wreak havoc on the psyche of those in close proximity, there may be an over-diagnosis by those going through divorces.  The words, “my husband is a narcissist” or “my wife is obsessive/compulsive” or “I think she has borderline personality disorder” are likely being muttered in the offices of many family law attorneys across the Commonwealth as you read this article.  Of course, a personality disorder is an actual, medically defined thing.

Diagnosis of a Personality Disorder.  The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or commonly referred to as DSM, is the manual used by clinicians and researchers to diagnose and classify mental disorders. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) published the newest version of the DSM called DSM-5 in 2013.  According to the DSM-5 “Personality disorders are associated with ways of thinking and feeling about oneself and others that significantly and adversely affect how an individual function in many aspects of life. They fall within 10 distinct types: paranoid personality disorder, schizoid personality disorder, schizotypal personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, histrionic personality, narcis­sistic personality disorder, avoidant personality disorder, dependent personality disorder and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.” Personality Disorders are Axis II disorders while more “serious” Mental Disorders (Bi-Polar disorder, Depression) are Axis I.  While it’s important that you understand the technical definition and criteria of a personality disorder if your spouse has one, ultimate diagnosis should be left to mental health professionals whenever possible.

Educate Yourself on Diagnosis and Treatment of Personality Disorders.  If you’re in an intact marriage and living with a spouse whom you believe has a personality disorder, you should do your research and get to the bottom of the issue one way or another.  That involves educating yourself on the symptoms and treatments of the applicable disorder and encouraging your spouse to seek out help from a mental health professional.  There may be, after all, a way to treat and improve the symptoms and that’s a benefit to your spouse and your marriage. As a professional knowledgeable of mental health issues and how they manifest in marriages and through divorce, I believe you owe it to yourself and your spouse to make a good faith effort to learn about the disorder and to understand how it might be combated short of ending the marriage.

Manage Your Mental Health While Dealing with a Spouse with a Personality Disorder.  Nobody ever said marriage would be easy, but dealing with a spouse with a personality disorder sure can seem like more than you bargained for.  But, when entering the marriage you both did it for better or for worse, so if you’re dealing with this, you’ve got a duty to try and make life as good as it can be.  That includes focusing on you, too.   Educating yourself also involves learning about the best ways to maximize the happiness and fulfillment in your life, while living with a spouse with a personality disorder.

Particularly because the internet houses a mass of misinformation on this subject, I encourage you to seek out a good book on point.  One such book is entitled Out of The Fog, by Gary Walters.  In this book, Walters opens by saying, “Living with a personality disordered individual can feel like living in a FOG.  Fog stands for Fear, Obligation, and Guilt.”  While you shouldn’t expect a book to resolve the issue, some initial validation of what you’re living with is a healthy first step.  Seeing a great therapist is a sound second step because, although the treatments of personality disorders are very limited, ongoing discussion with as support who understands the struggle can be a key part of finding happiness.

Obviously, people dealing with the personality disorder of a spouse can reach their limit.  Even very dedicated and understanding spouses can conclude that holding the marriage together is not worth the abuse.  Yes, I am a divorce lawyer and I’ve now represented over a thousand clients.  But, I have no interest in pushing a client to file a divorce when he or she is not ready.  My role in an initial consultation is that of an educator and to be supportive and encouraging to any glimmer of hope in keeping the marriage intact. I ask every potential client if he or she has tried therapy, either couple’s counseling or individual therapy of some sort.  If there’s a reasonably likely way to save the marriage, that option should be pursued before filing for a divorce.  Of course, it does take two parties to agree to seek help together and sometimes one party won’t play along, never mind admit there might be a problem to begin with.

If you do believe your marriage is over and you believe your spouse has a personality disorder, seek out the consultation of an experienced divorce and family law lawyer, preferably a lawyer with experienced handling complex mental health issues.  Understand the definition and symptoms of the personality disorder and explain to the lawyer how you’ve concluded the disorder exists, whether you know it to be diagnosed at any point, and how the disorder has manifested in the behavior of your spouse.  Explain how accepting or resistant your spouse has been to his or her diagnosis and treatment and be sure the lawyer understands your concerns, particularly concerns of safety.  Personality disorders are very real and the right divorce attorney in your case will understand the dynamic and how it will likely come out in the divorce process.

Our attorneys not only have experience handling sensitive divorce matters such as described above, but are also trained and have extensive experience handling cases with complex mental health issues. If you are living with a spouse with a personality disorder and want to get educated on your rights in a divorce, schedule a free consultation with our team by calling 978-225-9030 during regular business hours, or complete this contact form and we will contact you back at our earliest opportunity.