Treating his bi-polar didn’t fix his abusiveness – a story from a survivor

This story is from one of our readers. Thank you for sharing it with us, dear sister.


When my husband and I got married I was 20 and in love. I knew he was bi-polar and I knew it ran in his family but I loved him and I believe we could work through anything. Looking back over the past seven years I am now trying to de-tangle what was the mental illness from the abuse. For six long years I thought they were one and the same and I held on tight to the hope that if only we could get him stable then our marriage would be good. I know that I wouldn’t have stayed for as long as I did if I didn’t think that I could “fix him”.

The first time he hit me was when we were engaged. He was depressed and I was trying to help him but only ended up making him angry. He closed-fist punched me in the face and gave me a black eye. He immediately apologized and swore that it was his depression and that he didn’t mean to hurt me. I forgave him and worked harder to be the support that he needed.

He would punch walls, break plates, and throw things at me when he got angry. (I have a scar on my face from a TV remote he threw at me. I had to get ten stitches.) He would blame it all on his illness and tell me that I needed to be a better support to him since he was ill. He claimed that he couldn’t hold down a job so I had to work, he couldn’t clean or cook so I had to manage the house on top of a full time job, and he couldn’t be bothered with the kids so I did everything and he did nothing but sit on the sofa and play video games.

My job gave my family full medical coverage so I immediately sought medical help for him. I scheduled his appointments, I drove him to his appointments, I picked up his meds, and I made sure he took his meds. We went though many different kinds of medication and I worked hard to find the “Magic Pill” that would make all of his symptoms go away.

I was forced to go to all of his appointments with him and praise him throughout the whole session. All of his doctors and therapists (he had several due to him “not liking that one”) said that aggression was part of the bi-polar and seemed to be oblivious to the abuse. Though in their defense he was very careful not to tell them anything that would incriminate him and I was too afraid of “getting him into trouble” to say anything. They weren’t overtly abusive themselves but they should have picked up on something.

Finally after much research and lots of trial and error we found the perfect medication. After six years of marriage I would finally see the fruits of my hard labor!

It was wonderful! For six months I had the marriage I always wanted. He was perfect, sweet, kind and considerate. He cleaned house, cooked, and even started talking about getting a job. He didn’t have mood swings anymore. He was even. He wasn’t impulsive with the money: even though he still always spent it on himself, he didn’t go on spending sprees and no longer had a problem with compulsive buying. On the other end he wasn’t depressed anymore. He didn’t sink into deep levels of despair.

He wasn’t bi-polar at all: he wasn’t manic or depressed, he was stable. But the underlying abuse didn’t fully stop, so I slowly started to realize that it wasn’t because he was mentally ill that he was mean, he was just mean and entitled. It was pretty easy to identify the abuse in some cases. I started standing up to him more. It was one thing to take abuse from someone who couldn’t help it. It was an entirely different thing to take abuse from someone who had no “excuse”.

Other than the manic “I’m on top of the world” followed by the depressed lay in bed all day and cry, he was exactly the same! He would still get angry and throw things at me and everything was still my fault. After six months his abuse picked right back up again. He stopped cleaning and cooking and he said that if he got a job then we would have to get a babysitter and we couldn’t afford that so he stopped looking for work. He kicked a door in during a fight and two weeks later he tried to kill me during another fight.

It was the first time he had tried to kill me. He no longer had his mental illness as his big excuse to abuse, so it had to be my fault that he was still angry. It started out as a “typical” fight but since I was slowly realizing that it was abuse and not mental illness I was no longer cowering to his yelling and throwing of things so it quickly escalated. He told me that he was going to leave and take the children, beat me black and blue, smashed my cell phone, cut the cord to the house phone, and told me that I would “Never talk to anyone ever again.” I knew he was going to kill me. I laid there unable to move praying that someone would come to my rescue. Then the police rang the doorbell and took him off to jail.

I am still trying to figure out the fog of mental illness versus abuse but I can see clearly now that it is two completely different problems. Mental illness doesn’t equal abuse and abuse isn’t caused by mental illness.

It’s funny how we don’t realize that our stories are that drastic until we start to put them into words. Like the frog boiling slowly I never noticed that the water was getting hotter and hotter until it all boiled over. But looking back I can see all things clearly and realize that it really was “that bad”.

[April 3, 2023: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to April 3, 2023 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to April 3, 2023 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to April 3, 2023 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (April 3, 2023), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]

27 thoughts on “Treating his bi-polar didn’t fix his abusiveness – a story from a survivor”

  1. Thank you for sharing this story. It never ceases to amaze me how much all of us really have in common. This is important information that some will take to heart and yet some will still think “There’s hope”. Praying for your continued healing and life that God has brought you through.

    1. Thank you, Tee. I know all to well what it’s like to hold on to “hope” but I have found that at least in this case the sooner you let go the better off you’ll be. I hope my story will save some people from a lot of pain.

      1. I held on to hope for way too long in my first marriage, and that was only after I realized things weren’t right. We were together for 15 years. This time around in my second marriage sadly I had to set up boundaries after a year of marriage when “Mr nice guy” disappeared and “Mr crazy” appeared. I hoped from afar that treatment and thing would work. All have failed. But we are safe and safely hidden. I hope that the hope stories you posted and others may also comment as a reply will help at least one person although I wish for it to help everyone who reads it.

      2. Dear Tee, I’m so sorry to hear of all you’ve suffered, but I rejoice that you are safe and safely hidden now. As you may realise, I married a second time and it was great for the first year but the second year it started to deteriorate ’til the real abuser showed through unmistakeably. So you’re not alone, there. Hugs to you.

      3. Thanks, Barbara, I am afraid I haven’t been good at updating you lately. 😦 But yes we are safely tucked away. Maybe I will get a chance to catch you up over the holidays. Blessings!

  2. He would blame it all on his illness and tell me that I needed to be a better support to him since he was ill. He claimed that he couldn’t hold down a job so I had to work, he couldn’t clean or cook so I had to manage the house on top of a full time job, and he couldn’t be bothered with the kids so I did everything and he did nothing but sit on the sofa and play video games.

    Switch video games with TV and this was my life.

    Thank you for sharing your story. I understand your pain, and I also understand not being able to see it clearly.

    1. Jeff S – you are welcome. I remember once you saying that your abuser would threaten to take her life if you left. Mine did the same thing. Our stories are so much alike. There is a stigma with divorce in the church, but leaving a spouse while they are ill is taboo in the eyes of almost everyone.

  3. Takes me back, a friend of mine had an abusive spouse also (at the time I was still searching for answers through church counseling, looking for anything really to cling to, as far as some kinda answer to his problem. I remember how much of every second of my life was consumed with “fixing him”….we naturally want our lives to go better so we work so hard to help him to stop. Of course naturally an abuser LOVES all the effort put right back into him. Whether he was suicidal, depressed, suffering from his “abandonment issues” or whatever is thrown in the fore-front, I was convinced if I could slap a label on it, he would be different, truly a false hope that brings only prolonged entrapment, and so much of that hope is misguided by trying to slap different labels on abuse)….

    Well my point was at my time of searching this friend of mine gave me a book about Bi-polar Disorder, and it also covered the Narcissistic Personality Disorder. My friend was already two years into deciding her spouse had mental illness….just by me describing my life, and having so many common threads she was assured my spouse had this same mental illness. Fortunately, somebody who stopped to help me, gave me something that actually helped us both. About one week later another person handed me the book “Why Does He DO that?” by Lundy Bancroft which led me too his book “The Batterer As Parent” [Authors: Lundy Bancroft, Jay G. Silverman, and Daniel Ritchie.] everything else just didn’t matter, I KNEW finally what exactly I was dealing with, and knew he was not mentally ill. So after I gave the book over to my friend, she was hesitant because she clung so hard to this “answer” she had found (plus she was a Stanford graduate, and her educated self did not want to admit she had actually made no progress in her spouses diagnosis). My point is really that she did not know but was certain she did, if some random person who DID know had chosen to not give me the Lundy book, her and I both would have drastically different outcomes for our own lives and our children’s lives. Abuse is sneaky, undermining, chaotic, puts on many faces to throw you off track, but the bottom line is, IT IS WHAT IT IS and the more we talk about it the clearer the face of abuse is to those who feel trapped, in return giving them REAL hope that they can escape it.

    My friend and I went through alot together, she was not a Christian and in a way helped her to get out sooner than I did, she had less loose ends so to speak and her abuser never seemed to threaten her with taking her children, or he never contested the custody issue either. He was though the same as mine, where if you chose to leave him, you got NOTHING. Anyway she has a good ending to her story, successfully divorced, Facebook-friendly user, life has gone on for her as it should….even for us that have not been able to leave completely, and maybe our END has not arrived yet, the struggle is so much less of a burden when you truly know the TRUTH. The truth that ABUSE is rampant, the truth that many people have shared your same experiences, and most importantly that you are not ALONE in the battle.

    I apologize, my thought process does not translate so well in writing. I do want to say that through this blog, and everyone here, I see clearer, I do not doubt myself anymore. I have learned that it is my God-given right to stand against abuse. Also I do not need permission to flee from evil.

  4. ….I remember the volatile, nauseous fear I faced everyday coming home, it’s hard to put into words how it is possible for another human being to inflict such fear. The monster in wedlock just out of the blue woke up one day and decided to be nice….this lasted three months to the date….

    At the end of the three months I was just starting to be able to tell myself when coming home “It’s okay, things have really changed, shake it off”….the last day of the third month, he turned back to his normal, except he had been saving, stock piling, all his grievances, all his venom, quietly collecting what he could to unleash himself on us. That was the last time we ever physically lived in the same address, much less zip code….

    Of course I was so distraught and confused, while he choked me in front of my children, I cried out for help, the neighbors must of called the police, he called the church then threw the phone on the ground…. When police and then pastor arrive, he was still seething, everyone rushed to his side to calm him down, of course my kids and I are crying and hysterical…. After the pastor talk [tells] to police to leave, they did. Then he sat us all down and I ask my monster in wedlock “You have been normal for like three months, what has changed?” He look me square in the eyes and said “nothing, I just wanted to see what it was like”….proving he was very capable of his own choices, very aware of what he was doing at all times.

    Every time he would go to the doctor, whom he bonded with, he would get depression meds, only to set them out in open for me to see, then tell me “I am not taking those”….he also smoked pot and it got to where I thought if I turn the other cheek there, and not ask him anymore to stop, I thought if he was stoned, at least he would not be aggressive, or that life could improve….his behavior awarded him many special rights, I never asked for him to stop smoking, never asked him where he was for days, never asked anything of him, I took care of kids, all the house, struggled on food stamps and part time work, I was responsible for supplying my automobile, food, clothes for the kids….he worked but it was always unsteady, and the money was HIS. He had nine jobs in nine months, and every job there was an a***** he just couldn’t stand, so I also felt that if he just found steady work life would get better. So that too became my mission, supply him with an auto, all my money went to the best work clothes, tools, etc., I kept looking at handing over everything I had as a future investment. It may have been a future investment, but it was his future not mine or my children. The church just kept expecting me to lay myself down, to give more, expect less, make my home his sanctuary….blah, blah, blah.

    I still wake up every morning with that feeling of anxiety and despair, as if he is at my doorstep.

    [Paragraph breaks added to enhance readability. Editors.]

  5. So ya, take away his “explosive personality disorder”, his “addictive personality disorder”, his “depression” his “abandonment issues”, his “SIN”, his “”Bi-polar”, his “narcissistic personality disorder”….his “anger management issues”….he still is an abuser. In fact he may quite well have all of the above, but medication won’t stop him from stalking, threatening or abusing because it’s his choice to abuse.

    I remember Barbara talking about an abuser program, where the focus is trying to teach empathy to an abusive person. I do not think empathy can be learned, nor do I think there is a magic pill that produces empathy….abusers, as we know are very good at behavioral changes, anything external can be molded to their own advantages….if somebody is depressed, they can be a depressed abuser, or if somebody is Bi-polar they can be a Bi-Polar abuser, just like an abusive alcoholic, when he is not drunk, he is just a sober abuser. I am not a professional of course on any of the above, just my experience is ABUSE stands on its own accord.

    Is like the myth that he is just angry, so what does everyone do? They cater and give attention to this needy, down-trodden person….the thinking is “let’s not hold him accountable for his actions because we do not want him to feel bad about himself, on top of all these other issues he has to deal with”….

    ….I have never seen, or heard of an abuser NOT abusing after an anger management program? In fact these programs make them angry. I have been told he was angry. REALLY????? Ya think??? Now that makes ME angry!!!! Sure he is angry, but as I have said before, HE DOES NOT HAVE A PROBLEM WITH IT, he objects to ME having a problem with it….

    So yes mental illness is very real, but if he is an abuser, when it’s all said and done, you will just have a well-adjusted abuser.

    1. Memphis – and in the end does it really matter? I think I hear you saying that as well. What I mean is, if a person is an abuser and thus the victim is getting hammered day after day, does it matter if mental illness or abuser mindset it the source? If the abuse keeps going on then the marriage needs to be over. I really don’t want to live with someone who hits me over the head with a club when I’m not looking and in the end it is the clubbing that is the issue, not the motive for doing it.

      And besides, as we have all learned, these people know what they are doing. They can turn it on and off.

      1. Jeff C – you are right when you say that it doesn’t matter, but the false guilt of leaving an ill spouse is a powerful motivator to put up with a lot. So knowing that you are not leaving an ill spouse but and abusive spouse who is also ill makes it an easer pill to swallow.

      2. Exactly. The behavior is so specific doesn’t matter what people attach to it, I mean as far as a nice fluffy non-incriminating name goes….if I said “My husband is an abuser” in front of a pastor? Well it was as if a third eye suddenly appeared on my forehead. The word seems to make people squirmy, probably because it resonates truth? Direct, honest, but somehow seems to offend their sensibility? It’s like calling an abuser a….well?….an ABUSER!!! The word is even too ugly for them to hear? Although verbal, mental, physical, emotional TORTURE can be tolerated, for example I could say “he punched me, he shoved me, choked me….he called me a *****!!!”….somehow those words were not so offensive? As long as it is a syndrome, or disorder, or disease!! Then and only then is it acceptable to call an abuser what they in fact are. How about if I said my MIW (monster in wedlock) has “abusive disorder disease syndrome”? OR ADDS.

        I remember sitting next to my MIW over and over when he became so shocked, appalled and hurt over me even suggesting he was abusive. Of course that was only in counseling, I would never tell him that while being alone with him. He even went as far as to write me a letter apologizing for all his ABUSE, and he even used that word ABUSE turned it into the pastor to give to me….keep in mind NOBODY remembered he JUST days before was forlorn over my cruel accusation towards him!!! He just used the word because he “heard” me say it then thought it would give him more leverage in forcing me to accept an apology. Also due to his willingness to own up to what he did in writing was yet another testimony to his sincerity for change. Then if that did not pan out for him, he would just tell people “I” made him write it, or when he was abusing us again he would tell us the “pastor” or “counselor” made him write it.

        So yes!!! He was, or is a complete nut job, absolutely crackers!!!! An abusive nut job.

        Counselors professional, and non-professional both seemed much more comfortable with him “HAVING” something rather than him “BEING” something. My experience was that most professional people feel the need to give it a more meaningful type name, “This pesky abuse thing keeps popping up!!! We must categorize it!! It has to be MORE than what it is!!!….” We went to MANY professional counselors and they always looked for the REASON behind WHY he was doing this or that….quite honestly a death sentence for an abused spouse.

        You’re absolutely correct….I think Linkin Park wrote a song titled “In the end it doesn’t really matter” [In the End [Internet Archive link]1]. God sees them for what they are, the truth is what is setting victims free from abuse. Sorry, like I have said I cannot spell, and sometimes I take awhile to get to the point of the matter.

        [Paragraph breaks added to enhance readability. Editors.]

        1[April 3, 2023: We added the link to a page containing the lyrics to Linkin Park’s song In the End. The Internet Archive link is a copy of that page. Editors.]

      3. Memphis, you’ve really nailed something here:

        Counselors professional, and non-professional both seemed much more comfortable with him “HAVING” something rather than him “BEING” something.

      4. Yes, the word “abuse” can quiet a room full of people.

        I also liken it to the breaking of wind. When someone breaks wind, everyone pretends it didn’t happen. When someone utters the “abuse” word everyone pretends it didn’t get said.

    2. Memphis – thank you for taking the time to tell me your story. I am sorry that you had to go through all of that and are still suffering because of it. Your last line made me laugh because it is so true.

      So yes mental illness is very real, but if he is an abuser, when it’s all said and done, you will just have a well-adjusted abuser.

      That is exactly what he had become on the medication. A well-adjusted abuser. No more mood swings, just cold, calculated abuse.

    3. Memphis, as I hear more and more of your story, it just continues to push the envelope of what I’ve heard before from other survivors. That part about how your monster in wedlock (LOVE that phrase!) decided to be really nice for three months, just to see what it was like….! That’s amazing. He did abuse in technicolor, 3D, surround sound, extremis — in every possible dimension.

      Apart from this one from Bethany, and now yours, I have only heard one other story of an abuser becoming really nice for a few months, and then reverting to his normal. This was a pretty typical abuser who was a non-Christian but his wife got converted (so she said to me) in a Pentecostal church. She invited him to services and he eventually received Christ (so she thought). He was baptised pretty much straight away and immediately began to speak in tongues. For three months after that he was a wonderful husband, the man she’d wanted him to be in every respect. And he was a keen Christian and certainly showed fruit in his reformed behaviour towards her. But at the end of those three months (I think it was three, it’s a long time since I heard her story) he reverted more or less overnight to the monster he used to be. And the nice guy never came back.

      But that story has the Christian “conversion” element to it, which yours doesn’t. Your abuser just cold-bloodedly decided to be good just to see what it was like, without any frills or fancies of Christianity thrown in, and then decided he’d had enough and stopped. Uugh.

      1. I had this happen, Barbara….my ex “got saved” a dozen times. And then, he would be kind to me for a while (two weeks? a month?). But, then, he would leak. It was like the abuse was bursting through the seams and he couldn’t hold it in anymore — too much work. Our counselor would be so sure that his salvation was genuine each time and I would get my hopes up. It was so dis-heartening and so disappointing every time.

      2. True very calculated. But he did USE quite effectively the “Conversion Method”, like Megan C he had been “saved” and “”baptized” almost bi-weekly, he discovered the pay-offs were huge, the encouragement he got, the support, the non-questioning, as long as he was sincerely trying, I was the b*****!!!! who refuse to see his efforts, and then condemned for having an unforgiving heart. The MIW then applied his twisted knowledge of Scripture, something about how God requires us to forgive seven hundred times….and this [was] what he was entitled to regardless if he had any intention of seeking true repentance….that would of course take a miracle, in the case of the MIW that was never going to happen.

  6. LOL, I’m just picturing a sad and poignant image:
    Wife secretly visits the psychiatrist of her abusive husband. She says to psychiatrist, “Can’t you please please find some way to stabilise him? I want to leave him because he’s abusing me, but I want to leave a stabilised abuser, not an unstable one.”

  7. Hey, Bethany – we don’t realize how far from “normal” we have drifted. I remember waking up to this one day after years of inner church turmoil at the hands of wicked, power-control hungry “Christians” and realizing “this is totally botched. This is not how it is supposed to be. This is abnormal!” It went on for so long that one time when we were on vacation in Montana and I was going into a grocery store in a small town, a man and his wife (strangers) smiled at me and said “hey, we see from your license plates you are from Oregon. How are you doing?” Hard to describe the feeling as it was like experiencing something totally foreign to my experience. What was that foreign thing? NORMAL…. People just being kind.

    1. So true, Jeff C, I had so many awakening moments in the weeks after separating from my abuser. I was in shock to find out how far from “normal” I had drifted over the years!

      1. Yes! So true….and the further I get from my abuser (space and time), the MORE I realize how abnormal and sick it was.

  8. Bethany — thank you for so bravely sharing your story. You are an incredible lady who has been through so so much. Your life is precious. Big hugs.

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