I'm Married to the Personality Disordered; What Do I Do?
Updated: May 4
In an earlier post, I addressed what to do when married to a narcissist. This post, however, reflects new insight that views this issue from a more comprehensive perspective of love.
A personality disorder (PD) is a set of false beliefs that a person developed as a child in order to cope with a situation where very little, if any, real love was shown. The following PDs usually tend toward a controlling attitude, although occasionally they can be in the controllee position in a relationship.
The three controlling PDs are:
Obsessive-compulsive: this PD is based in fear. This person lives in the future, uses control to manage his fears, and is usually very tight with money.
Narcissistic: this PD is based in anger. This person lives in fantasy, uses lies and manipulation to feel power, and is mostly concerned with achieving identity from the high opinion of others.
Borderline: this PD is based in sadness. This person lives in the past, creates drama in order to feel alive, and is known for creating chaos and/or accumulating stuff.
PDs are considered to be intractable in the mental health world, manageable but not curable. I believe that, in God’s world, even a PD can be healed. However, it is very unlikely that a controller will choose to give up his pride to the degree that would be required to ask for real insight.
So what do you do if you discover that you are married to a person whose True Self is so inaccessible?
We need real love. We need connection, respect, kindness, delight, and hope. We, rightfully so, expect to experience most of these aspects of love at least sometimes with our spouse. With a PD, however, these times occur very seldom or not at all.
Often you spend your entire marriage trying to make your spouse love you:
If only he would change ….
If only she would read this book ….
If only he would go to counseling ….
If only she would listen to what I need ….
If only he could truly see me ….
If only she could remember what I asked her to do ….
The problem is:
I don’t show him enough love ….
I’m not patient enough with her ….
I demand too much ….
I should be more forgiving ….
He needs more grace ….
She is only a child and needs more understanding ….
He will learn if I just give him a little more time ….
You seem to not learn that a) you cannot make your spouse change and b) no matter what you try to change about yourself, nothing gets any better.
Your hope refuses to die.
You can certainly leave your controller. It is better to leave than to continue hoping for change in vain and banging your head against the wall.
Or you can do three steps:
See your spouse as she truly is. Recognize that she is still caught in childhood, barely managing life as an adolescent would. He requires all of those around him, especially you, to give him what he needs to keep his system functioning. Accept that your spouse is not able to change right now, maybe ever, and there is nothing that you can do about that. Because your spouse has free will, there is no amount of love that will make him want to treat you any better. There is no amount of grace or mercy or kindness that will satisfy the insatiable child in her or convince that child that she is lovable.
Stop spending all of your time and energy trying to make your spouse show you real love. Open your eyes to the other people in your life who are offering love to you already. Your son shows you compassion. Your neighbor tells you truth. Your job encourages you to create. Use your time to develop real love relationships which offer connection and truth. Use your energy to pursue creative opportunities that make you feel alive and hopeful.
Set boundaries with your spouse. She may not be able to give you real love, the positive emotions, but you have no obligation to put up with her giving you constant negative emotions. Setting a boundary with a person who is functioning almost exclusively in a childlike state is an act of real love. He won’t like it, but the alternative is to allow him to believe that he has unlimited power over you. This allows him to never change and to use and abuse you unchecked. Use grace and mercy to set these boundaries. There will likely be many.