Maybe she is. Since the term ‘crazy’ is a catchall, knowing what constitutes what you mean by ‘crazy’ is useful because it maps out specific behaviors and traits. It helps everyone get clear on where normalcy is left behind and crazy comes in. Both genders can exhibit crazy behaviors or be diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder. Because I work with men, I’ll be writing about wives and ex-wives here.
One version of ‘crazy’ looks like this: During the course of your marriage, before you’re considering divorce, or at each other’s throats, you call your wife to ask what time she’s like to go to dinner and she explodes with rage. You are shocked by her reaction, though it may have happened many times before in response to other benign questions, and feel clueless as to what you did wrong. You may even know that she can be explosive, that she is moody, but still there is some part of you that questions yourself. This hooks you in subtly to try harder next time, to say it in a different way. No one wants to be raged at or have a kind overture rejected in this way. It feels like failure on your part.
You’re on vacation, relaxing and you both seem to be having a good time. Maybe your kids or friends are around. Then you look up from the book you’re reading and she your wife is unhappy. Nothing has happened. No one has said or done anything that you can see to prompt her to be unhappy. You ask her what’s wrong and she says, “You know what’s wrong” but you don’t. You think everything is fine and so do the others. She cries and leaves the room.
It’s your son’s 6-year old birthday party and your mother is coming over to be part of the festivities. Your mother is kind and easy-going and has always been respectful to your wife. Your mother calls you three hours before the birthday part to tell you your wife has told her without explanation not to come to party. Your mother’s sad about it but knows better than to argue. She had asked if your wife needed help getting set up and offered to come over early to help. Your wife tells you your mother is critical of everything so she can’t stand having her around. You’re dumbfounded. Did you miss something, you wonder? Is your mother not who you think she is? Last week your wife said your mother was the sweetest woman on earth.
These types of scenarios are typical of person’s suffering from borderline personality disorder. Their inner world looks and feels very different from that of normal people. Living with a borderline personality spouse creates anxiety, self-doubt, eroded self-confidence, confusion, uncertainty and can eventually give rise to anger and rage in you.
What’s important to know is that you didn’t create your wife’s personality and you can not control it. Her wiring is different than yours. She can be triggered rapidly by things you wouldn’t give a nod to. Her reactions have an instinctual feel to them – her life is set in a survival play. At times the play is behind the curtain and she is pleasant, fun, charming, but along comes a trigger – that she is not conscious of – and up goes the curtain and the survival play is on. She is cast as the victim. At times she will fight to defend her life, at other times, she’ll collapses, cry and beg. Others (and that may be you) are cast as adversaries or rescuers. Your role can fluctuate between the two. Once she regains her inner equilibrium often at the emotional cost of others, the curtain goes back down on the survival play until the next real or imagined threat is perceived. The Playbill doesn’t tell you when the next curtain time is. It just happens when it happens and that’s what makes it so difficult to be married to someone with this disorder.
The juxtaposition of what looks like normal behavior with crazy behavior in the span of days, hours or minutes makes you feel off center. The focus must always be on them, consciously or not. Over time, you too begin to be on guard. Kenny married Marisa two years out of college. They followed the usual progression of having children, buying a house, then another bigger house, vacationed in lovely places, etc. Kenny never understood Marisa and wrote off her erratic behavior to her menstrual cycle, the stress of raising kids, and just being female. When the kids left and he spent more time with her his excuses for her behavior didn’t work anyone. A friend asked him why he seemed so angry lately. Without thinking, he blurted, “Marisa is a b—h! I’d give anything not to be married to her.” Wow, he thought. He didn’t realize he was walking around with all this anger.
There is much written about borderline personalities but not enough about the real effect it has on the people they live with. The inner life of a borderline isn’t enviable. It is a true disorder. The inner and outer life of a spouse married to a borderline (who isn’t actively engaged in psychiatric treatment) isn’t enviable either. By understanding the symptoms connected with this disorder and the effects it has on you, you have information you can act on rather than live in reaction to.
Some common symptoms of borderline personality are:
- A pattern of intense and unstable relationships with family, friends, and loved ones, often swinging from extreme closeness and love (idealization) to extreme dislike or anger (devaluation)
- Impulsive and often dangerous behaviors, such as spending sprees, unsafe sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, and binge eating
- Intense and highly changeable moods, with each episode lasting from a few hours to a few days
- Inappropriate, intense anger or problems controlling anger
- Having stress-related paranoid thoughts
Book resource: I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me