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Child’s Mental Illness Can Make Your Marriage Sick, Too

My child's mental illness stresses my marriage too. My son's step-father didn't used to feel like a step-dad. The tension is unbearable. Did this happen to you?

I’ve receive innumerable comments from readers about how their child’s psychiatric illness has taken a toll on their marriages. I’d be lying if I said my husband and I are the exception. The tension in our house has been thick enough to spread on a bagel, and over the course of this year, it’s gotten progressively worse.

Plus, I’ve noticed a definite tone to my posts lately. No longer optimistic, rarely showcasing the dry humor I’m infamous for, and mostly just a big written invitation to my Pity Party. When I started this blog, I’d hoped to make it a mix between informative, generalized posts and the more personal, happened-to-me stories. Lately, however, the personal, happening-to-me (us) are weighing on my mind, heavily enough to render me interested in little else.

Mental Illness Has Taken Toll on My Marriage

When my husband and I met, Bob was 3 1/2. The problems had already started, but hadn’t progressed yet (or I hadn’t pulled my head out of the sand enough to see them yet) to the point of professional intervention. I knew Bob was “difficult” and a “handful” but I also attributed those qualities to his high intellect, my ongoing tumultuous relationship with his father, and the adjustment of shifting between biological parent homes. I had no idea what we were all in for down the road.

My husband and Bob got on splendidly from the start. He treated Bob not like a stepchild, but like a child. When Bob’s problems necessitated meetings with preschool personnel and mental health providers, my husband was there, and felt the burden as heavily as I did.

I worried about how having a second child–a child that biologically belongs to me and my husband–would affect the dynamics in our household. I worried that having a biological child would distance my husband from Bob. I worried about how I would handle giving Bob the attention he demands and give a newborn, baby, toddler and young child the attention they needed.

My Worst Fears Have Come to Life

It’s hard to admit any of this–to myself, and definitely to the blogosphere. It’s harder still to admit I don’t have the first clue what to do about any of it.

In essence, all of my worst fears have been recognized. There is such an obvious void between Bob and my husband that I feel helpless to bridge. I empathize with both of them–a lot of the time, I don’t want to deal with Bob, either, because he is exhausting. But at the same time, he is my son, and I love him, and I want him to be happy and feel loved.

I feel pulled between opposing forces in my own home, 24/7. And worse, I feel responsible for everyone’s unhappiness–I put Bob in an environment where he is the elephant in the room; I brought my other son into a home divided; and I ruined my husband’s life by pulling him into my misery.

39 thoughts on “Child’s Mental Illness Can Make Your Marriage Sick, Too”

  1. Hi all, I love this post. It is so well-written. My situation is my boyfriend’s children are Bob in this post. They have PTSD from exposure to things with their bi-polar mother. They have the genetics of a father with depression, ADHD, and anxiety and a bi-polar mother. The combination of everything has been, as you said, exhausting. His daughter has PTSD, anxiety, depression, mood disorder and reactive detachment disorder (my personal favorite, said no one ever). She steals from me, hides my things, destroys and breaks things, just took a stick to my brand new car and scratched it up, lies, is angry, manipulative, you name it. His son has ADHD and PTSD. You can ask him to please not do something over and over and over again and it still happens. I want answers. I ask why and they say they don’t know or they just do it. My live-in boyfriend is in your situation knowing they do wrong but it is still his children. He feels badly for her illness and what she is dealing with. I feel guilty that I feel angry and resentful that I am so good to all of them and the kids, lie, steal, do things like dump out all of my soap, answer back, hide things, and break things almost daily. Then I feel guilty for feeling that way as they were dealt a rough hand with their genetics and what their bio mom exposed them to. I thought I had all the answers. My bio children are high honor students, excel in all their extra curriculars, are altar servers, etc. What I need to realize is each person and each situation is different. Sometimes no matter how hard you try, how many therapy, psychiatry, IEP meetings you have, you just have to realize you are doing your best and the rest is out of your control. It is very difficult and I see no end in site. It makes for a difficult family dynamic. It spills over into my relationship; our sex life, our communication (I communicate, he hides), my relationship with my children (they are exhausted also with their behavior and hearing constant turmoil) and I am forever frustrated or upset and have no one to talk to about it. It is like the saying goes, you never know what goes on in other people’s lives. I just want happiness. Unfortunately, all is see is things falling apart around me and everything we try is not working.

    1. Hi Mel, I’m glad that you found Angela’s article helpful and sorry that you are going through so much. Unfortunately, parenting children with mental illness can be very hard on all our relationships. It sounds like you are really stepping up to provide the support and resources your boyfriend’s kids need, but what are you doing to take care of yourself? I’ll tell you, I’d never make it without the help of my support group and my own therapist. I have three kids with mental illness and my daughter’s boyfriend with bipolar also lives with us. Like you, I’m getting them all layers of support, but still, some days are impossibly hard. I belong to a support group for parents of kids with bipolar and have seen a therapist for a decade. They provide several benefits to me. As we share our “horror” stories together, those other parents remind me that I’m a good mom and let me know that I’m not alone. They can also offer tips or advice stemming from their experience. My therapist reminds me of how far we’ve come, lets me vent, and helps me focus my thoughts about how to keep moving ahead. I’m not sure I’d have made it without those supports. Please don’t suffer through this alone–support can ease the burden. HealthyPlace provides a good resource page to let you find help. https://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/resources/mental-health-hotline-numbers-and-referral-resources/ Clearly, you are an involved, supportive and caring mom to these kids–now go find a place to get the support and caring you deserve.

      1. Hi-
        You are correct. I have not taken care of myself and I am very involved. It has been extremely difficult. There always seems to be something new that pops up. I am frustrated. I am frustrated the school is not assisting enough with his son’s scolastics. It is an endless paper trail. By the time the 45 days are up and if they decide they may or may not help and have a meeting half the year is over. I just feel like a dog endlessly chasing its tail sometimes. The thought of hormones coming into the mix with them in a few years is an ugly one. Lol.

  2. I am at these crossroads also especially about choosing child over marriage. I admitted that my child is destroying it but I am made to feel its him or my husband. I choose one or the other I will never be happy again. I truly believe they both have the best of me but I have constant heart ache from both. I’m put in middle. My family says out my son away and my Christian upbringing says no. I can’t have both and feel I should let my husband out of the mkisery. I’m just so lost as a Godly person about what I should do

    1. My heart goes out to you Rhonda. I have been in several support groups for moms of kids with mental illness and your dilemma is common. I know many moms who believe that God chose them to raise this difficult, fragile child and they are unwilling to “give up” on that child. Yet, many of the fathers in this situation feel overwhelmed when they can’t “fix” things and then just want to make it go away. My husband and I were once at odds about how to handle our children with mental illness. Before you give up on your husband or your child, look for help. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has free family support groups; HealthyPlace.com has a resource page of hotlines and links at https://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/resources/mental-health-hotline-numbers-and-referral-resources/; and individual and/or family therapy can help you find the support you need. In our case, therapy and education have allowed my husband and I to get on the same page, create a plan to deal with our child’s behavior, and find a way to reconnect with one another in a meaningful way. We’re now a team. I urge you to find professional help so that you do not have to sacrifice your marriage or your child, and don’t have to shoulder the burden all by yourself. Even if your husband will not seek therapy, you go. It will give you the tools you need to start working with the situation, and as you progress maybe he will feel inclined to join in. Good luck.

      1. Hi Susan, You are correct I am very involved. I have never missed a therapy, a show or an IEP meeting. I have not gotten support for myself. My boyfriend tells me to do so as venting to him is not productive. He looks at it as it is putting him on defense rather than we are a team in this together and arguments are the result. Their therapist tells me to get out of my head as it is not personal. When negative hurtful behavior is directed to me more than anyone, it sure feels that way. Peace to you all.

  3. My husband and I married when my son was 11, he is now 19. He has been struggling with depression, anxiety for a few years now and just recently getting angry very easily. He will not see a counselor and will not take pharmaceutical drugs because of all of the side effects that come with them and because he saw his sister react badly to them. one of the reasons he doesn’t want to see a therapist is because he doesn’t want a mental illness associated with his name because he still doesn’t know what to do career wise. The other reason is because he doesn’t believe that they really care and says “they are just selfish judgemental people”. His anger was really getting to him and felt like it was effecting his friendships so he told me he needed help, but again doesn’t want to see a therapist so I called a crisis line and they recommended I take him to a Naturopath. He saw one a week ago from yesterday and the Dr. gave him some herbal drops called rescue remedy and amazingly enough they really helped him for a few days, because he was feeling better (probably from the high if finally getting help) he was sticking to the diet, exercise and supplements the Dr. recommended then day four hit and all of a sudden the drops weren’t helping and he got really frustrated and suddenly started and anger outburst. I just couldn’t take it anymore and went in his room and yelled at him telling him to stop it (I deal with depression and anxiety issues also, amongst other health issues). I know I shouldn’t have yelled at him, but the passive approach just hadn’t been working and I felt like I shouldn’t have to listen to that, because it gets my anxiety going. Anyway my husband (his step dad) came upstairs and put him up against the wall and told him, he better never yell at me again and started telling him that he is lazy and that enough is enough etc. my son fell to his knees so distraught we ended up taking him to the emergency room for a psych evaluation. The Mental Health counselor waivered back and forth whether to have him hospitalized or not but in the end decided since he was willing to keep seeing the Naturopath and following his treatment plan that she would let him go home. That was the time that I found out how terrible Mental Health care help is in Washington state. Apparently they only hold them for 48 to 72 hours. What freaking good is that going to do? He would need to be hospitalized for at least one month, giving time for any medications to begin to work and to make sure that he was safe from suicide while adjusting to the medication. if I or she would have had him involuntarily admit him he said that would have taken away any little bit of self respect he had left and he would have committed suicide when he came out. GOOD LORD. Then yesterday my son came home telling us that he asked his boss to start gradually removing him from the work schedule. He told us that he just didn’t feel comfortable going to work every day (as a Chinese restaurant delivery driver) not knowing what mood he was going to be in and didn’t want to end up getting fired. It’s really sad because he has been at his job for 2 years come October. Then he started talking about how he feels etc and somehow my husband ended up telling him he’s lazy again, amongst other things that were not helpful at all and I just kept motioning for my husband to stop saying things that were only making him feel worse and finally my husband said he’s sick of this crap and my son got upset and started went upstairs which pissed me off and my husband said “this is going to be our first fight and it’s going to be a bad one”. Which of course upset my son and said “please stop fighting over me, it’s okay I don’t want you guys fighting because of me I’ll just leave”. He did, he packed his suitcase and went and slept in his car, luckily his sister who lives with my son and her dad (who my son hates and won’t talk to) talked to him for a long time last night and today brought him some food and his helping him as best as she can (she’s got mental illness issues too). It’s so hard because now he doesn’t want to come here because he said he doesn’t want to be a burden on us and he doesn’t want to cause problems in our marriage). I love my husband and don’t want to lose him, but knowing that my son could be suicidal I don’t want to lose him either. I just wish my husband wouldn’t say some of the things he says, just to listen to him without commenting would be much more productive but he just doesn’t understand mental illness and how it works. I just don’t know what to do! May God bless all of us!

  4. Wow, I have to say that my heart goes out to everyone. Believe me, I know how difficult life can be parenting a mentally ill child from an early age. I have to say however, and many may not agree but I believe, particularly if you are the step parent (as I am the step father to my wife’s daughter) there comes a time when you say enough is enough, you have given as much as you possibly can, financially and emotionally and it’s time to move on. I am on the brink of doing just that. I have just retired from a career of 40 years, worked hard, have very successful children, have no drama in my life whatsoever except my step daughter who suffers primarily from schizophrenia and will take everything from you until you have nothing left and then she will look for others to take from (emotionally and financially). It’s such a long story, that I don’t want to bore you with the details but I have been as many step parents supportive and involved since she was about 10 years old (now 26). She has an able bodied (and not emotionally ill to a serious degree (my lay opinion of course) long time boyfriend who won’t work, abuses her both emotionally and physically (as she does him), they have an eight and four year old who they are rotten parents for (just one more phone call away and CPS will intervene), I could go on. In the last three years we have spent at least $20,000 to try and help them but now they are penniless, homeless, and can’t get a house or an apartment due to their criminal, legal, financial issues so what now? My wife understands that I do not deserve this, that I have hung in their over the years more than most would and understands if I have no choice to leave but she cannot totally abandon her daughter even knowing that she will always be handcuffed in life by her actions. I have hung in as long as I can because I love my wife but at 63 and after a long career, I deserve happiness too and it is upsetting beyond words that I may have to leave to have it. But that is the way it is. I do believe that at some point if you are someone like me, despite the love you have for your spouse, you must engage the brain instead of the heart or you will die with many regrets. Its time to move on. It did help me to read what others are experience and see that so many people are dealing with this heartache. Of course I also have a couple of friends who deal with this too but have also moved on for their own sake and to be able to enjoy life the best they can with the years they have left. Thanks

    1. Wow just like me. Not many words and I have no other but to leave to be at peace. My step son brakes window out. I am PTSD and have my mental ills also. I think in time it some one will get hurt me or him. Thanks for you writing what you did. My wife i love very much, but I need a life. I have tried to help all I can.

  5. To Barbara & all brave ppl who said something. It’s so shameful or just not talked about because most the most, better yet the most important are in denial. I met my awesome hubby when his daughter was 15 his son 3. At first to me the differences were clear but… I didn’t want to be dick and point it out.
    So what do we do? Bottle up. So time passes, & 1 day his father says, ” I used to pinch my brother just to make him cry. ” I said ,”0h.” (that’s not nice) OK. Ring ring. Baby mind #1 calling.. :: umm John you need to now take her I cannot anymore. John & I had MY at the time 5 yr old his son was 6. Now the reason why mom could was apparently daughter pulled the steering wheel while mom was driving to cause an accident. Now just recently my fb was hacked by daughter & she decided to wrote herself a mean note. Not only that. Oh no. She took it to grandma with tears.
    Now I hadn’t seen this because I never wrote it. Immediately within the hour I drive myself to grandma’s where the tears were. I needed to see what I supposedly written. So daughter hands me the phone. ( my presence did not seem to help) hand me the phone.
    1st clue @ the time this was sent I posted one of the last videos or pics of MY daughter at boxing cobra kai then my phone died. Not only that my husband was right next to me. & I bi*ched about it dying because I couldn’t record anytime. So how was I able to send this message like 30-? Min after my phone was already dead?…. Hmmm so I further investigate I find out how to check if anyone has attempted to try and log in to fb… & SUUUURE enough a different phone attempted and succeeded to log in..I send this to grandma like loook ! AH HA! GRANDMA SAYS: sometimes when were mad we say things but that’s in the past… Um no.
    So present time: son now 11 soon. Since the we met you can clearly see the jealousy. Even the pictures say it. I’ve noticed it and tried to gracefully give space respect and patience. Time different options therapy meds more therapy with pastors we respect. & they all agree to separate so we have a system. ( FYI My husband is also bipolar II gone through hell 1/2 but I admire and love 39 years old I’m 30 I’ve given him 8 years of dedication & MY LIFE BUT HIM & MY DAUGHTER “OUR.” HAVE AN AWESOME BOND. 3 years on meds and stable now. ) HE EARNED THE NAME DADDY WHEN SHE WAS 1 1/2. NOW this is where it starts.. When they were like 4-5 son says.., ” can we just throw (_____) in front of a car so she can die?” Husband and I look at each other. Husband says,”no that’s my princess.”we address it and state its not ok to say such things. Because their mean or not nice. Ect
    #2 I was watching both soon and my daughter at the park. For some reason there were red long squared bricks by a tree. My daughter wasn’t looking and I caught him landing one at her with all his strength. Luckily he missed. When my husband came home I addressed it & I believe I told his mom. But both felt like I was just being asssh*le really. So time goes their playing.. & son says I want to kill (____) I want to say he even told her at one point he was going to. So I said.. For her safety were good. Let’s listen to the professionals & u guys have guy time well have girl time. But oh the desire to co-exist as 1. Darn it. We try it a while ago. And it starts with the boo ing of her during her baseball games & cheering for the other team loudly enough to you hear he clearly is NOT cheering for you.. I mean do you laugh it off and just say oh brothers. Go freaking figure.. Or correct it? In this cases the arguments would start. Yes very stressful on marriges. Now I said OK I’ll desire when I want too co mingle and if it gets intentionally maliscious then I’m out. Like I’ll see you tomorrow ( we also have shortage sleeping arrangements. ) the pastor and therapists said you and daughter go somewhere safe. I said than you for dating this out loud now I know I’m not an assho*e and there issssss something different here.
    Call me anything you’d like if you must but if great grandma RIP committed suicide she was bipolar her uncle also suicide & bipolar his daughter just diagnosed & refuses meds according to grandma. ADHD and meds have been administered at least 3 different attempts that I know of. I strongly feel it’s bipolar as well.. I mean it’s not ridiculous to think. But because grandma and baby ma #2 don’t think so it’s NOT.
    Well today May 21 @2:13 am let me say today was stressful.
    I spent since yesterday trying to connect and be cool with his son be there how I can and have him have a blast while he’s here. My daughter loves him doesn’t remember the bad or awkward. So he says things to her when he’s over it. When he’s done with our company. He will be a sweetheart at the beginning enjoyable loving caring funny. I love it. But then he’s quiet then energetic life a fire cracker then says things that are hurtful towards my daughter like. Your not my sister your just my stepsister I have a real sister & i love her more. While we listen in awkwardness like wtf why do you feel the need to randomly say that? We all wonder in our heads & look at each other like who’s going to say something me expecting dad to step in. & he does we speak again and state being mean is not necessary. That legitimetly hurt her feelings @ some point soon would argue that my daughter did not have my husbands last name. Again to hurt her feelings. And today while my husband wasn’t with us for a moment he asks me and Daughter, “where’s your real dad.” a valid question. I respond with, “to your sister in her heart your dad is her dad. “he quickly changes the conversation loudly disregarding the emotion of it all. Then about 1 hr later soon says,” where did your team last name come from.? ” assuming the one that is not the one she’s claimed since she was 3 ish. I wosa.. But the hubby catches it. Son is clearly saying this to be hurtful or attention? For what ever reason. Dad addressed it we state & talk about it. We state that we all know he knows he knows this to be mean on purpose & it’s not OK. We go our separate ways for the day..

    -Yeah it’s hard meds help A TON!!!
    – IF IT HELPS LITHIUM & DEPAKOTE & INVEGA TRENSA ARE HIS REMEDY. (4 MY HUBBY)
    -THERAPY
    -SEEING A DR. every 2-4 weeks
    -ACCEPTANCE (BEING IN DENIAL MAKES IT HARDER ON OTHERS ASWELL)
    -ZZZZZzzzz. It’s hard but for me is worth it. As long as my daughter is safe & LOVED. SORRY FOR ALL OR ANY MISSPELLED STUFF IT’S NOW 2:39 AM

  6. My son, not long ago came out of the air force diagnosed with affective disorder and pipolar 1 – He recently had an episode, and refused to take his medication. He started taking his medication, and now he’s doing much better. It’s been three months. My husband, the stepdad want him out of the house. He’s my son I want to be there for him. Get him established, on a routine. Help him get in depended. I feel if he can’t take his medication on his own something bad could happen. I don’t want him to end up in jail or something.

    I do love my husband and want to be alone with him, yet I feel my son needs me now

    Can anyone help me?

    Thank you

  7. I was blamed for all the problems. So, if both boys have ADHD and dad was never informed or involved.  It would be true of thier version being a strict parent. Again the person who knew and did is getting away with being accountable. You don’t let a child go through middle school like K did…do nothing…especially when mom knew K brother had ADHD. I am totally devastated but not suprised. Mom has never been honest do to her mental illness. Older brother never treated.

     As a parent we are to to alert our child’s pediatrician to all personal history of ADHD. The sooner we are aware of potential signs of ADHD in your child, the sooner we and child’s doctor can respond. We can begin treatment and therapy early, which may help  child learn to cope with the symptoms of ADHD better? 2011

    K will need a formal evaluation to see if he has ADHD. This involves a health professional doing a clinical interviews and using rating scales and other important information. (Father) This is especially true if K had a sibling, parent or other close blood relative who has ADHD/mental illness. Why now? When she knew a long time ago and all problems 6, 7, and 8 grades?

    Regardless of whether K is diagnosed with ADHD, there are many ways to help him at home and in school. PAST 5 years mom has NOT helped K made everything worse for him the entire family. Known major depression and anxiety…unk ocd..

    My days were hard enough in army…always felt there was something wrong with my family. After I retired…I felt and witnessed even more. I cried more, went to work all stressed out.  They burned me out from not knowing the truth and not being involved with the mental health behavior issues. I lived like I did not exist to them. Very much the past 12 months…dad is ATM to mom and boys

  8. I recently got married to a woman with a 8 at the time now 9 year old son that has ADD, ADHD, SPD, emotional issues, and slight autism. At first I was able to deal with things and my marriage was great but now he has gotten older he has gotten worse. He cries because when he doesn’t want to do certain things and blames it on his issues. He constantly is calling himself stupid and saying things that a child his age shouldn’t say. Everything is a struggle from getting him up in the morning to doing his homework to going to bed. He doesn’t listen at all and I’m fusrated and I’m loosing hope. My wife and I are always arguing because of him. I know there are some things he can’t control but in my opinion he is somewhat lazy and acting like a spoiled brat. I need some advice before I loose my mind.

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