How should we deal with a Mean Spirited and Abusive Spouse? My wife may have Borderline Personality Disorder.

How should we deal with a Mean Spirited and Abusive Spouse? My wife may have Borderline Personality Disorder(BPD).

My wife of 20+ yrs. has had a mean and abusive nature about her and it has gotten worse especially lately toward the teenagers as they have added more stress just being teenagers. CAF Forum poster, Bkoz, posted some web sites that describe pretty accurately our situation. These are some of the symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder:

From the Web Site:

“Borderline Personality Disorder is a relatively recent addition to the American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Accordingly, the majority of practicing mental health professionals graduating prior to 2000 have not been trained on the diagnosis and the treatment of this complex disorder as part of their professional curriculum.”

There are 1-2hr. questionnaires that the Professionals use to determine if someone is Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

Here are some of the symptoms;

Mother In Law used a lot of shame to raise my wife and her siblings:

“Adults shamed as children fear intimacy and tend to avoid real commitment in relationships.”

“Adults shamed as children frequently feel defensive when even a minor negative feedback is given.”

“Adults shamed as children frequently blame others before they can be blamed.”

“Adults shamed as children often feel angry and judgmental towards the qualities in others that they feel ashamed of in themselves. This can lead to shaming others.”

“Mothers with BPD, for instance, are characteristically volatile and have difficulty controlling intense, inappropriate anger that is often precipitated by environmental changes and/or intense abandonment fears. Their strong outbursts of anger can be detrimental to the developing child, and many children of mothers with BPD are victims of verbal and/or physical abuse. Suggest that “a mother’s hostility, rage, and destructive behavior may be disguised as love, making it difficult for a child to trust his or her own perceptions of reality.”

“Being mean, cruel, or cold-hearted; verbally, relationally, or physically abusive; humiliating and demeaning of others; willingly and willfully engaging in acts of violence against persons and objects; active and open belligerence or vengefulness; using dominance and intimidation to control others.”

“a pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation.”

The Mayo Clinic:
“Relationships are usually in turmoil. People with BPD often experience a love-hate relationship with others. They may idealize someone one moment and then abruptly and dramatically shift to fury and hate over perceived slights or even misunderstandings. This is because people with the disorder have difficulty accepting gray areas — things are either black or white. For instance, in the eyes of a person with BPD, someone is either good or evil. And that same person may be good one day and evil the next.”

We have 3 children. Marriage has been sexless, .ie. meaning we are intimate less than 10 times/yr, she is Catholic but distrust the Church and very critical of the Church publicly and in front of our children.

Has anyone dealt with this Disorder before or have a list of books, web sites or additional resources.

I am not sure not sure if my next step is to educate myself or look for a Therapist/Counselor who could test/determine if my wife actually has this Disorder.

Bkoz - please feel free to jump in with additional info and thoughts you have compiled.

Not to be curt with an answer, but you would be surprised at just how many people do have a personality disorder. As I learned quickly while working in a psychiatric clinic, I gained A LOT of insight and teaching from the doctors on this particular topic and it is very sad. I needed to learn quickly how to deal with and interact with these particular patients, it became very exhausting.

It looks like from your description of your situation that there could be a strong possibility of BPD, but only by seeking out a psychologist and/or pschiatrist will you know the diagnosis.
Just from my experience I would encourage you to seek out one of the above rather than a counselor, you need to seek out a doctor. I personally would go to a psychologist first and tell that doctor your situation, after speaking with your wife of course. I would treat this gently as you do not know what the real diagnosis is, it could be multiple things AND some things you might not even know about, your wife as well. You’d also be surprised at what some good therapy can do, metamorphises truly.

The psychologist will want to see your wife and you, seperately and together, generally. A part of the diagnosis is your marriage state and that includes you as well…it takes two to tango as they would say.

I wouldn’t so much go head long into the psych. books until you contact a doctor and have a meeting.

Where I live there is a small group of Catholic doctors/counselors, what a blessing.
I would call your diocese first and ask them if they have any referrals.
Next, if you do have health insurance you need to call and ask to see if you have any mental health/behavioural health care coverage. It is a carve out of benefits seperate from your basic medical, so starting there will help. And then call the doctors, remember too that going to see a psych. doctor your’e going to be wanting a good fit, so if you aren’t comfortable after a couple of sessions you can ask to be referred out. You have that right.

God Bless You and I pray God leads you to the right doctor!

I am new to BPD myself. I have found the forum at very helpful. So far (haven’t finished yet) the book “Walking on Eggshells” has been helpful too. I bought it at borders books but you can find it online too.

I started seeing a counselor recently about a loved one who I suspect has some personality disorder (not sure if its BPD or another one) doing the same thing you are doing; trying to see if this person has BPD or not. Be aware, a counselor will NOT diagnose your wife simply by your testimony. Instead they will try to help you talk through things and do some healing on your own too. Since I know they wont help me figure out if my loved one has BPD or not, I try to use the counselor for

#1 Validation - Having a loved one with a PD can make you feel so isolated and alone and make you question yourself for thinking they have a problem.

#2 Healthy ways of coping - For me, learning how to deal with the situation in health ways is important. The book “Walking on Eggshells” will help you do this too.

Hope this helps! God bless you!

I would second what Khrystyne said about getting an official diagnosis before you delve into how to deal with someone with BPD. The diagnosis isn’t made on the basis of how the person was parented, and just because your MIL was shaming to your wife it does not mean she has BPD. Your wife may simply be an abusive person, and she may be that way because of how she was parented, but not necessarily have a mental disorder.

There is some degree of oversimplifcation in a lot these websites, and there is a tendency that some publishers have to suggest that if you were parented in some way then you must have a personality disorder. But in fact, a lot of people are parented poorly and don’t have personality disorders or adjustment problems. On the other hand, BPD is being reclassified by some doctors as Emotional Dysregulation Disorder, and there is evidence that the disorder is completely biological in some cases, and not the result of abuse.

There are a lot of symptoms that come together in BPD, and not everyone presents the same way. If your primary observation about your wife is that she is abusive, then in that case, you can suggest counseling and suggest a diagnosis. In reality, though, she may refuse to evaluated. If that is what happens, then you are left with the question of how you as a husband deal with abuse, and don’t worry about diagnosing her.

What a psychologist would probably suggest to you at this point is that you seek counseling for yourself and your children regardless if your wife seeks treatement, because your wife’s abuse has affected the whole family system. You may never know if she has a mental illness if she doesn’t seek treatement, but you can decide how you are going to deal with the abuse.

Roger, I feel sadness for you, your wife, your teenagers; and ask the Holy Spirit to heal and protect you all, and to help you all to find the best understanding, the wisest means and responses to deal most wholesomely and helpfully with your inter-personal family relationships, and each of you, your healthy and loving perceptions of yourselves and each other.

God bless,

Warmly, Trishie

My thoughts and prayers are with you.

All I will say to this is that there is a limit one can, and should take.

If the roles where reversed, (male with a possible Boderline Personality Disorder) what would people say?

Just a thought.

It all depends on how well she is able to control herself. I had anger management issues for a long time until I finally was diagnosed and put on meds and given counseling. I haven’t really lost my temper since then. It is a total transformation.
Try to see your wife as ill and in need of treatment, and also as a child of God. I would ask her to go see a psychiatrist.

Over the last 10 years I have had to deal with personality disorders in my immediate family. I have spent a lot of time getting caught up on this issue. Reading, counseling, etc.,. It is so complicated. My best advice is to do what I ended up doing and my situation and things have improved greatly. I started going to daily mass (4 - 5x/wk), I then started spending at least an hour a day in front of the Blessed Sacrament (praying the rosary, reading about the church,etc.,), Then, I started going to confession at least once a month. I have been really trying to stay in the State of Grace. If I sinned I was back in the confessional booth the next day. I also, for almost a year, fasted on Wed and Fri. ( I want to get back to that). My situation has improved. My wife has really joined the cause and now she is going to daily mass and Eucharistic Adoration and always listening to Catholic Radio. I am praying that the children will follow our lead. The Church, I believe, is a cure for all personality disorders. It takes you away from the self centeredness of the disorder and focus’s you on His Church and Heaven. I will say a prayer for you today. It is a very long road to be on, but I am, by far, better off today than I was two and a half years ago.

It doesn’t matter if she has a personality disorder or is just plain old mean.

What matters is she is **abusing **your children.

To allow that behavior to continue is itself abuse. Your first allegiance and duty is to **protect **your children.

I was with a man for 7 years that has BPD. I cannot tell you the damage he has done to me and my children, (not his children)
I put up with emotional, verbal, physical and financial abuse from this man.
It has torn my children and me apart. My family is in ruins and terrible things have happened to my once, happy and well balanced children. We are all suffering from it still and I ended it two years ago. I am imagining it will take many years to recover.
When I finally got out, I looked back and saw it all for what it was, and I went into a deep depression. While you are living it, you are simply trying to survive and your mind downplays the abuse, just so you can get through day to day.
Living this everyday will be damaging your children for the rest of their lives.
Noone should put up with abuse of this kind. And they very rarely seek help or get better.
My biggest regret is staying as long as I did. It is no way to live.
Your children deserve better…

By the way, The Facing the facts forum was a God send to me… It was the only place that people understood what I was going through.
Join the forum and find out as much as you can. It is a wonderful place and the people are very supportive. I found it just a lifeline to me and I met some fantastic people.

I think that if there is a recurring theme on dealing with people with personality disorders it is this; You can not change them. You might (and should) attempt to involve them in professional counseling. She will most likely reject counseling, however. Or agree to it, but quit after a few sessions.

The only thing you can control is yourself. That includes things like setting boundaries around what you are willing to accept. That might be something like “I will not participate in any conversation where I feel as if I am being mistreated”. When that happens I will leave the situation, whether that means hang up the phone, leave the room or leave the house.

The other thing you can do is learn her triggers and attempt to avoid them. And learn to not escalate. BPDs often have irrational explosive reactions to seemingly nothing. The natural tendency is to explain or rationalize with them. BIG MISTAKE. Instead, learn to validate their feelings (not their behavior or rationale, but their feelings). This can be very difficult to do, but can go a long way to defuse potentially explosive situations.

And, of course, counseling for yourself can be very helpful. A good therapist can really help you make sense of things and give you practical advice. Also, people in relationships like these sometimes exhibit co-dependent tendencies and could use help in maintaining a healthier approach.

Also, having a friend that you can talk can be very therapeutic. I went through a long period of time where I internalized things and ended up in an unhealthy place with times of depression.

Thanks everyone for your advise, insight and prayers for my family and I.

A couple of things I have started today.

  • Contacted Catholic Social Services for referrals of Catholic Psychologist - None in our area but there are a couple of PhD Family and Marriage Therapist, so this may have possibilities.

  • Checked on insurance coverage for Mental Health treatment - We have Insurance.

  • Continued reading on-line a little, but it is exhausting.

After thinking further about my strategy I have two plans on paper:

Plan A - I think my wife understands there is some sort of problem. This past weekend she raged at the children and had all three of them in tears for and hour or two. So I think she may be open seeing a Counselor. Because her Psyche is so feelings based, I am not sure she would be open to tele Counseling or would stick with that mode of therapy.

Probably over the weekend I will bring the subject up of general Family and Marriage counseling and see if she will go, then find the best person in town to see. If we can get started like this I think a good professional will be able to see a Personality Disorder trend and I will be able to meet with the Dr. one on one. Because no one knows for sure if this is BPD until a formal evaluation is done.

Plan B - If she will not go to Counseling, then I’ll seek out the best Therapist I can find either local or tele Therapist for myself and children.

Will continue daily Mass as much as possible, say the Rosary, attend Confession on First Saturday’s, and continue asking our Lord for his mercy and blessings.

This has been and continues to be a heavy cross to carry in life and if anyone has additional thoughts and ideas please post. I am sure there are many other families struggling with Personality Disorders.:o

Buy a small video camera. Film her in action. Identify and name unacceptable behaviors as they arise. Teach your children to do the same.
Footage is hard, irrefutable evidence. Footage is something everyone can look at and analyze and that can’t simply be written off or minimized or reduced to a case of he-said, she-said, it-takes-two-to-tango… and footage doesn’t need to grant you its cooperation to go for professional help.

I admire your determination. I admire a man who will stand up and fight for his family. Keep up the intensity. I definitely like your Plan A. I have attempted something like this with my wife, but she has been uncooperative. There is no doubt that the most favorable outcome will involve therapy for her. If your wife does see that there is a problem and recognizes that she has played a role in it, that is good. Does she feel remorse or ever apologize after her rages? If so you may have an opening that will lead to her being cooperative in family counseling. My wife blames me 100% for everything and feels that her actions are totally justified. Thus, she is not the one who needs help.

If Plan A fails, Plan B would definitely be worthwhile.

Also, check out the forums on the website (also referred to as “Facing the Facts by Jules11 above). Go to the “Message Boards” tab and open up the “[L4] Staying: Improving a Relationship With a Borderline Partner”. This will open up a discussion forum which you may find informative. But also, on the right hand side of the screen you will see an area titled “Lessons”. Spend some time reading those lessons. There is a lot of great information and tools there.


         What also comes to mind is if you can seek out some prayer group support through your parish or maybe a parish down the road. In the past I had joined a nice Orthodox charismatic prayer group that really helped me heal and cope with life in general, they were a God send to me. I experienced healing, spiritual support  and Gods LOVE (which in itself is healing!). This group I might add was under direction of the parish priest, so there was nothing flighty and unapproved. ;)

         It's easy to get excited about possibly finding a cure with a name that if 'fixed' will solve your problems. Your'e venturing into uncharted territory and I would treat your wife as if you yourself had a "problem". Respect and dignity, because I haven't met anyone yet who doesn't have some form of brokeness that NEEDS GODS LOVE, and I believe this is what God wants to sharpen in you. In psychology God is the primary therapy that needs to come first and then the doctors He uses to administer what needs to be prescribed. Otherwise, the revolving door of the psychiatrist/ologist goes back and forth, the patient becomes in bondage to a certain degree. 

           If the man had the problem I would say the SAME THING, get some help and God Bless You! But the two are one, so you do have a problem, focus on Christ....always. This is no time for pettiness and bickering, we are at war and the family whether it is the domestic family or Church family NEEDS the love of God. Let me tell you, the adversary ALWAYS goes for the Wife, the heart of the home, Eve? Sound familiar? Now it's time to step up Adam, be the man you were created to be. :) What an oppurtunity God is giving you to love HIM.

:wink: I hope this helps.

Thanks Khrystyne,

I really appreciate your’s and everyone else’s caring support and advise.:tiphat:


My husband suffered from anger, depression, mood swings, being extremely defensive and wanting to be blameless, etc for many years. It increased in intensity as the stress in our lives increased (we have six children). We were all “walking on eggshells” all the time–but that was not a solution. Even if I tried to be perfect, something would set him off. He was never formally diagnosed with one specific disorder, but BPD was suspected, along with Bipolar, IED (intermittent explosive anger) and more.

Like you, I turned to my faith. I prayed more and more. The Rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Constant outpouring of prayer from my heart. Holy Mass and frequent Reconcilliation. I did not understand why we were going through this. I repeated “Jesus I Trust in You” many times throughout the day. The Lord did not abandon me.

After one climactic violent episode, he entered psychological counseling and began attending AA (drinking had been his form of "self-medicating). AA sparked his faith and he entered RCIA (he was not Catholic). This period was still extremely difficult. Modern psychology pushes medication. He tried over a dozen meds. We gave each one a period of several months to see if getting up to “a blood level” would help. Some meds made him worse. Some meds made him almost comatose. We went to counseling together and separately. We spent a lot of money. The roller coaster of trying to fix the problems through medication and counseling lasted two years.

Finally, he came to the realization that WE did not have the answer–only God had the answer. In fact, God IS the answer. He himself began more frequent prayer, Holy Mass, Penance. We prayed together. We read Neal Lozano’s “Unbound” and he attended an “Unbound” conference. One day, he approached me in tears. He had an epiphany. He felt like someone took goggles off of his eyes and he could see clearly for the first time. He apologized. He admitted his wrongdoings and took responsibility for blame. He promised to change.

After that day, he WAS different. Not perfect (nor am I), but there has not been an aggressive outburst since. He remained on meds for a while, but is now med-free. It is truly miraculous.

It CAN happen for you and your family too. It won’t be the same path that I described, but stay close to the Lord. Beg the Blessed Mother for intercession. Have faith. You are not suffering in vain. Good will come of it. In the end, all will be well.

I will pray for you and your family.

Interesting that you mention financial abuse. My ex-husband has/had BPD and he exploited me financially. His behavior was like that of a small child when he wasn’t having a temper tantrum. I had to interact with him as if he were a child.

I cannot stress how important this is if you are married to a person with BPD. These people become delusional and will lie and twist the truth. If they are charming and personable, they will succeed in turning everyone against you and you will have no evidence.

My ex-husband had me arrested 13 years ago for slapping him by going into the bathroom and slapping his own face, then manipulating our daughter into lying to the police. She didn’t tell me the truth for years. By the grace of God she sees the truth about everything now and understand he has problems.

What triggered that incident was an argument that “I started” about his refusal to get a job. When I demanded that he get a job or get out he told me he was going to have me arrested. This is the kind of logic these people have, and of course, nobody believed me because it didn’t make sense.

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