When Mental Illness Leads To Divorce: What You Should Know

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When Mental Illness Leads To Divorce: What You Should Know
Mental illness can both contribute to and become influenced by divorce.

Addictions are also often associated with a lack of personal responsibility, and they frequently propel the other spouse into over-responsibility. A person with an active addiction is unlikely to be adequate at intimacy, as their priority becomes fulfilling the addictive desire. Another behavior associated with addicted people is the tendency to blame the world and other people for their problems; this does not make for a healthy marriage.

Every day, those who experience mental health illnesses or disorders and their spouses deal with insecurity, fear, shame and blame. John Gottman has convincingly argued that criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling are the "four horsemen of the apocalypse" regarding relationships and lead to divorce. In marriages where one or both partners is living with a mental health issue, the four horsemen appear considerably more frequently.

 

When considering a divorce with mental illness as a factor, it is important to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the mental health condition treatable, and is the individual willing to be treated?
  • How much harm is each family member experiencing?
  • Are you willing to remain in the relationship even if nothing changed?
  • Is the condition stable, or is it likely to get worse over time?
  • What kind of support network is available?
  • What are your values when it comes to divorce?

From my experience with clients, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to making a decision to divorce when mental illness is involved. Most people have a long list of conflicting "should" that they have inherited from friends, family, and their community, and this complicates the decision. In order to deal with the added stress of divorcing when either person has a mental illness, the person making the decision has to be clear that the decision is truly their own.

 
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