Relationship Connection: My wife has schizophrenia and won’t get help

Stock image, St. George News

Question

My wife came from a broken home, was sexually traumatized as a child, and diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia shortly before we got married.

My addiction to pornography only made things worse, but I am in recovery. She, on the other hand, remains in denial and will not tolerate treatment.

I want her to get better but cannot force her to get help. What am I to do?

Answer

I’m glad you’re working a personal recovery program to address your addiction issues. This is obviously the first step in trying to build a healthy marriage with your wife. Even though she suffers from a mental illness, your own personal accountability for your mistakes will give you the clarity, strength and credibility to ask her to join you in a journey of wholeness.

Naturally, you want her to get the treatment she needs so she can function better in her life. However, recognize that this strong focus on her healing can make it difficult for you to recognize your need for help and support. Getting her into treatment will likely take time and, quite possibly, may only happen after a crisis.

Having the proper social and educational support in place for yourself will be a critical requirement as you work to get your wife the help she needs.

Since most people aren’t going to openly discuss the mental illness of a loved one, it’s best to seek out support from a structured group where it’s understood everyone is seeking help for these issues. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has educational materials and support groups that can help you navigate the confusing maze of living with someone who suffers from a mental illness.

This support will help you combat feelings of isolation and help you problem-solve decisions you need to make about how to care for her and your family. Living with someone who suffers from a mental illness is difficult because the illness shows up in behaviors, beliefs and day-to-day interactions. It can be confusing when you receive mixed messages from your wife about how she feels, what she wants and ways that she behaves. Proper education and support will help you see the illness from her perspective and give you increased empathy and capacity to reach her in a way that will make seeking treatment more likely.

With education and support in place, you are better prepared to approach her with a request to get treatment. Recognize that the more you understand about the illness, the less personal it will feel to you, and the better you’ll be able to accept her condition. Accepting the reality of her illness will help you respond to her in healthier ways so you can think more clearly about how to guide her toward treatment.

One suggestion for inviting her to start treatment is to spend enough time listening to her talk about what bothers her about her illness. With most mental illnesses, there are (sometimes brief) moments of clarity where the individual can recognize that something isn’t right. They may see the impact they’re having on their family members. They may complain about something not working in their life. They may struggle with consequences that have resulted from a behavior.

These are important moments to appeal to the part of her that wants to get healthier.

You can do research on providers, set up the appointment and offer to go with her. Reassure her that this illness isn’t her fault and that she doesn’t have to live like this. Work to depersonalize the illness and let her know that it’s something that’s happening to her. Most mental illnesses are treatable with counseling and medication. You will likely have to make this appeal multiple times, so please be patient.

I don’t want to imply in anyway that there is a formula for getting your wife or a loved one into treatment. This is complicated and you have to maintain a larger vision for what you’re trying to accomplish. If she’s behaving inappropriately, violently or endangering herself or others due to the mental illness, then you need to immediately call the police or take her to the emergency room of your hospital for an evaluation by the psychiatric unit.

Sometimes these crises are the only way a loved one will get treatment. The goal, of course, is to create enough stabilization in that setting so treatment will get some traction.

Stay connected!

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

Instagram: @geoffsteurer  

Facebook: facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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6 Comments

  • youcandoit August 2, 2017 at 9:57 am

    It’s very hard to deal with someone who has mental illness. I recently had to break up with my boyfriend of 8 months. He showed multiple personalities. I’m a white woman he’s black. Not that that mattered however I thought he was going through a cultural thing. 1 of his alters is gay, a gangster,a racist, a teenager, allegedly iq of 160 and on and on. He’s new to this area and has been in jail 4 times for assault on police officers, stealing a vehicle, destruction of property. He denies doing any of it. He would lie and not remember.He’d also get lost and not remember where He was. He is on SSI he told me he knows how to manipulate the questions the psychologist give. He claims he’s ex military. His mom is a physician assistant I checked it out that is true. He’s in denial of his actions I didn’t want to end up dead. When I told him it’s over he would still bother me as if we were still together. What am I supposed to do repeat myself to all of his alters? Yeeeeesh.

  • comments August 2, 2017 at 11:30 am

    I’ve got a friend whose husband is a schizophrenic. From what I’ve heard from her the treatments by psychiatrists are often far more brutal than just dealing with the disease. Apparently the types of meds he was on were actually damaging his health quite a lot. They manage to cope. They bought a few acres kind of out in the country and she tells me the quiet and just being out of the city has made him a lot more stable. The mental health system in this country is actually a failing system. And most of these psychiatrists, PAs, NPs, etc truly do not care about the well-being of the patient. There are ways to cope other than these heavy duty psych meds, but you’re going to have to put in the work, and lots of work, to find out what works best for your situation.

  • comments August 2, 2017 at 1:44 pm

    “You can do research on providers, set up the appointment and offer to go with her. Reassure her that this illness isn’t her fault and that she doesn’t have to live like this. Work to depersonalize the illness and let her know that it’s something that’s happening to her. Most mental illnesses are treatable with counseling and medication. You will likely have to make this appeal multiple times, so please be patient.”

    I think this is where some of Geoff’s mormonism is starting to leak out into his advice. Something to the effect of: “always trust ‘the proffesionals’. Always trust the men in white coats; they know what’s best. Always trust you bishop.” I’m not one of those that’s gonna say “all psychiatry and psychiatric meds are bad”, but severe mental illnesses are only “treatable” to an extent. Meds may very well be the best choice for the wife here, but don’t think that there’s an easy fix. If she’s severely mentally ill this is a struggle she will be dealing with for all her life, and if you want a marriage to work your going to have to struggle with her and find ways to cope. There are no “fixes” or “cures” for schizophrenia and the like. The best you can hope for is stability on a day to day basis. I wouldn’t even go as far as to call them “treatable”. The treatment is to suppress the symptoms of the illness to make the persons life more livable and stable, but likely with a schizophrenic, even with treatment, they’ll never be “cured” or “normal”. This disease will always be there and it’ll always be challenging. Get her to a psych, get her therapy, but know that the struggle won’t ever be over, and the professionals in the white coats will never actually “fix” her. It’s even possible they’ll make her worse, but if she’s in some kind of mental crisis or something, then yes, go to the psychs and get her on meds, just to get her stable if anything.

    “I want her to get better but cannot force her to get help. What am I to do?”

    It’s like I’m saying she’ll never actually “get better” in the sense of “being cured”. You’re in it for the long haul, buddy. It isn’t like curing an infection with antibiotics. She’ll always be mentally ill. And you’ll have to learn to cope.

  • mesaman August 2, 2017 at 8:20 pm

    If you can diagnose her then why can’t you treat her.

    • comments August 2, 2017 at 10:39 pm

      Is that the best you can come up with? Aren’t you supposed to be a “psychologist”???

  • ladybugavenger August 3, 2017 at 2:10 pm

    He drove her crazy with his porn. If she divorced him she would be healed! She’s not schizo, she married the wrong man and now her head is filled with bs. Divorce, divorce, divorce

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