Martin was blown away by Gina’s exuberance when they met on campus for the first time. Her smile and boundless evoked enough courage in him to invite her to a baseball game 9 years and three children ago. On this sunny April afternoon, Martin, an easy going and patient man, quietly explained to his attorney why he was contemplating leaving his extraordinary wife of almost a decade.
Gina was a brilliant web designer who started her own business. A passionate lover. A dedicated mom who organized everything from summer camp schedules to the socks in the sock drawer.
“I just can’t go on like this. I love her but I am at my end.”
He began to notice the first year of their marriage. One day Gina would be on fire about an exciting new creative project and the next she’d be in despair, declaring her business doomed. Over time her moods became increasingly erratic. She had taken on so much with the birth of the twins, he tried to be understanding and thought her depression was normal.
Things worsened. Longtime friends quit calling. A huge fight with the kindergarten teacher left Gina uninvited from chaperoning the zoo field trip. The twins tiptoed through their days in failed attempts to ward off another long rant from mom incited by their childhood transgressions. Martin somberly recalled Gina gleefully decorating for their youngest’s birthday party until the wee hours of the morning, only to rip down balloons in a rage while their 4 year old sat tearfully among her little friends.
Something was wrong. Couples therapy led a path to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. There was hope. Until Gina refused to take her meds, refused to see her doctor, refused to acknowledge there was any problem at all. After all, she argued, her business was booming, the children were doing well in school, and she had grand plans for a trip for two to France. What could be wrong?
The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) reports that 1 in 5 Americans will suffer from mental illness in any given year. About 25% of cases of chronic mental illness are diagnosed somewhere between the ages of 14 and 25. Divorce is complex, and mental illness makes it even more so.
Martin felt he had done his best. He got educated and understood that people could live well with mental illness. He let in support, including seeing his own counselor. He was compassionate, understanding that Gina was suffering, and yet clear about what behavior he could live with and what behavior he could not.
Martin had remained steadfast through the years of roller-coaster living of Gina’s untreated health. He was worried about their children. It was time for advice about his options and to create a plan.
Marriage is a partnership of commitment of each spouse doing their part to be healthy and whole. A diagnosis of mental illness does not have to mean the end of a marriage. Divorce is the decision to be considered when one or both of the parties have come to their end.