It is hard to remember a time when the marriage was tranquil. Rather, each year brings more drama, intensity, frustration, distance, and hostility. Efforts to improve the situation are temporary and shallow at best. There is something else happening other than poor communication skills. It might just be that one spouse has a personality disorder.
There are several types of personality disorders (PD): paranoid, schizoid, schizotypal, anti-social, borderline, histrionic, narcissistic, avoidant, dependent, and obsessive-compulsive. Each has their own flare of ego-centered behavior, inflexibility, distortion, and impulse control In multiple environments beginning in adolescence. Even though the PD existed during dating, it did not become apparent until married.
- Feel Crazy. The spouse feels like they are losing their mind. Often they can’t make sense or effectively communicate what is happening in the marriage. The PD has convinced the spouse that they are the problem with a laundry list of faults, failures, and fears. The spouse develops anxiety, appears distressed, is discouraged and even depressed.
- Jekyll, Mr. Hyde. There is the version of self that the PD has with friends and another one at home. While the disorder is pervasive (in every environment), it usually takes on a distinctive flair for different people. If the PD wants to impress someone, they are amazingly “on”. But once they become comfortable, the mask is removed and they are contrary.
- Walk on Eggshells. The spouse feels like they are walking on eggshells around the PD trying to avoid potential hot buttons. As a result, the spouse becomes good at reading the PD to see what kind of night it is going to be. After a while, the spouse begins to enjoy when the PD is not at home because the atmosphere is lighter and less stressful.
- Resistant to Change. PDs will talk about change but what they really mean is that the spouse needs to change to accommodate them. However, the PD doesn’t want the spouse to get psychologically healthy, that might cause them to leave. Rather, the PD tries to mold the spouse into a more subordinate and subservient position so they have more influence to control.
- Couple’s Therapy Not Working. Traditional couple’s therapy or seminars have little lasting effect on the PD. Most PDs are very good at veering the attention towards their wants and desires while persecuting their spouse. Individual therapy for both which addresses the personality issues and incorporates new boundaries can be quite effective when both parties want to preserve the marriage.
- For the spouse, there is a continual feeling that they are being lied to by the PD. While it may not be very evident, there is a pattern of futile exaggerations, avoidance of sensitive subjects, and omission of key information. Interestingly, the PD often projects these behaviors onto the spouse in an effort to divert the negative attention away from them.
- Manipulative Behavior. The truth is constantly twisted by the PD’s distortion of reality. In order to get some compliance out of a spouse, the PD often resorts to some type of abusive and manipulative behavior. Typical ones include verbal assaults, isolating from friends and family, gaslighting, intimidation, sexual coercion, dichotomous thinking, and withholding of money.
- Refuses to Accept Responsibility. If spoken at all, the words, “I’m sorry,” are usually followed by a qualifier like “but you…” There is no real acceptance of responsibility or accountability. It is always the spouse’s fault at some level. Even when a third party points out an issue, that person becomes the latest target for the PD.
- Chaotic Environment. The amount of stress generated in the home is completely unnecessary. Yet, the PD seems to thrive in such environments. When there is little chaos, they tend to create something out of nothing just to complain about it. There is no lasting satisfaction. Temporary peace is achieved only when the PD gets their way.
- It’s all about them. It is about how they feel, what they think, and why they do what they do. The only time the conversation turns towards the spouse is to accuse or cast blame. Their emotions, thoughts, actions and perceptions are always right. This results in a superior attitude which makes true intimacy impossible.
This is not a marriage, it is an inequitable partnership. The PD may say they want a healthy marriage but their actions frequently create an unsafe environment for the spouse to be transparent. This can be resolved in a more balanced manner but it requires significant effort and commitment from both.