You have a very unique perspective about infidelity that I appreciate, even though it directly contradicts everything I’ve tried to convince myself of to stay with my wife.
My wife had an affair at work, literally at work, for almost a month. After she was forced to finally confess by taking her phone and threatening to text him pretending to be her, she attempted suicide by trying to overdose on antidepressants which were prescribed to her by a doctor after she confessed and of course became depressed.
She was kept at the hospital for 3 days and then Baker Acted and had to spend a week in a behavioral hospital where she was diagnosed as bipolar. What’s odd about that is just before her attempted suicide, she shared with me research she had been doing online about what may have driven her to behave so erratically when she had the affair and she was convinced it may have been because she was bipolar.
I stayed with her and we did marriage counseling and she’s been going to therapy and taking bipolar meds now and she’s actually really treating me and the kids super good. She takes care of everything and goes above and beyond all the time and constantly shows remorse and thankfulness that we’re still together. She has been a phenomenal wife and mother for over a year since this happened. She was a great wife and mother before it happened also, just didn’t have the extra oomph that remorse causes I suppose.
I have often questioned if I have been played this entire time. Did she really want to die? Was this all a ploy to be diagnosed with a mental disorder to make herself and myself feel better? Will she be able to keep up this phenomenal wife and mother thing for much longer if is faking it? Am I a chump that was easily tricked into staying with a cheater that was 100% only out for a fling of excitement?
What do you think?
Dear Question Guy,
I think you’re asking the wrong questions. You’re untangling the Is She Bipolar skein, when you need to ask yourself — is this relationship is acceptable to you? Was the cheating a dealbreaker? Do you feel loved? Respected?
Yes, but, but… extenuating circumstances, Tracy! Bipolar!
Okay, do you feel safe in a relationship in which someone needs to take her meds to stay faithful to you? What if her meds become less effective over time or her disease worsens? (As it sometimes happens.) Then what? Will you be tiptoeing around her condition? Are you one treatment modality breakdown away from another coworker affair? If she’s the sort of person whose mental illness is expressed through sex with coworkers, does she think it’s fair of her to stay married to you? Or anyone?
Do you have a post-nup? You’re a bit vague on the specifics of her remorse. What’s “above and beyond”? How is she showing you she’s thankful you’re together? Words are nice. Basic adulting, like taking care of her children and not ignoring her husband for her phone, should be givens. (We call wanting adulation for such ordinary feats of decency “bitch cookies” here.)
She has been a phenomenal wife and mother for over a year since this happened.
By what measure? Is this your relief that she’s not cheating speaking? Is it phenomenal or is it contrast?
Here are my thoughts on this particular skein:
1. ) Mental illness does not absolve people from responsibility. If you’re psychotic and you hit someone with a crowbar because you think he’s a demon, you’ll still be arrested for assault. Mistaken Demon is still injured. Actions still have consequences. Mental illness may be a mitigating factor in terms of a legal sentence, but it’s not a pass. Treatment for illness isn’t a punishment, it’s a necessity for the public good and for the health of the person suffering. It’s really irrelevant to Mistaken Demon if the person who hit them with a crowbar is treated or not. The injury persists despite the mental condition of the person who inflicted the harm.
2.) The presence of a disease does not absolve you from having to make hard decisions about your personal health and welfare. As the injured party in all of this, you have to consider your own well-being. Again, we’ll use a mental illness example. If your wife were schizophrenic and the voices in her head told her to burn your house down, you would not hesitate to grab your children and run. You would protect yourself. Your wife’s schizophrenia would not prevent you from protecting yourself, even though it’s the illness that is clearly causing this crisis. You would wonder how safe you could ever feel, even if she got treated and never thought to burn a house again, you’d wonder — is she thinking about it? Is she capable of it?
No one can make this hard call for you, but if you are going to consider your future, it’s fair to consider your wife’s mental health in that equation. It cannot both be the excuse for her behavior and something that is invisible when considering your marriage.
3.) Is it mental illness or is it poor character? I have several close family members who suffer with bipolar. I have a cousin who locked himself in his apartment for three months and made obsessive Christina Aguilera fan videos while imagining he was royalty. He was committed and now functions on meds. My personal observation of this illness is that while manic, or depressive, people with bipolar are sidelined by it. They don’t have the sort of executive functioning and planning skills to conduct a clandestine life. Cheating is not an impulsive thing, it’s a planned thing. So I find it odd that her bipolar is manifested by an affair with one individual. For an entire month.
When my cousin was King, he was King to everyone. He couldn’t be manic to just some people and not others.
I am not a mental health professional. I’m a skeptical person with critical thinking skills. If your wife is bipolar, it could simply be that she is both bipolar and a person with lousy character. The two things may not be related. Plenty of people have mental illness and don’t cheat. Plenty of people cheat who don’t have mental illness.
4.) Her suicide attempt should not be a factor if you stay or go. Suicide threats are not uncommon after discovery. My advice to everyone is if your cheater threatens suicide, call emergency services and have them committed. If they’re saying it to manipulate you, you’ve just made the cost of that manipulation very high. If they’re saying it because they mean it, or have attempted it, they will get the help they need.
It does occur to me that her mental health crisis immediately sucked all the oxygen out of the room and put all the attention back on her. Now it isn’t what you suffered, it’s about HER suffering. And, hey, she’s sorry. But she’s also very delicate right now. Best not to push things lest she relapse is the subtext I’m reading. We call that the Timid Forest Creature ploy here.
Question Guy, I hope I’ve given you some food for thought on this difficult decision. Another good resource for you is Out of The Fog on personality disorders. Best of luck.