Overcoming Bipolar’s Obsessive Thinking & Its Impact on My Marriage
Bipolar disorder can pose challenges within romantic relationships, especially when it causes obsessive thoughts about another person. Overcoming this symptom was necessary for the health and survival of my marriage.
Throughout my grade-school life, I had been prone to having “crushes” on guys. Puppy-love, junior-high stuff. But they didn’t stop in junior high.
Even after I was engaged to my now-husband, stray thoughts of what it might be like to sleep with other guys kept crossing my mind. But I discounted most of this thinking for one reason or another. The most concerning one came the April right before I was going to get married in June—but, even then, I discounted the daydreaming as “cold feet” from the commitment I was about to make to my fiancé. I stayed faithful.
I had another one after my oldest daughter was born, then another after my third child was born. But, both times, my counseling for what I thought was post-partum depression focused on eliminating the obsessions, not on understanding why they were happening. It wasn’t until I had a full-blown manic episode that anyone ever put together the puzzle of what might be the reason.
But I kept these crushes, or obsessions, a secret from my husband—until 2011. I fell into an obsession with a guy I barely knew—he was a co-worker of my husband’s whom I had met only twice. He was attractive and had a loopy personality and was very much married to his college sweetheart.
I became Facebook friends with him, as I had with several other people who worked with my husband, and I was eavesdropping on his life that way.
I talked it out and talked it out in therapy and would sometimes seem to be over it. But, other times, I couldn’t go a day without fantasizing about him. Mid-July 2011 was one of those times.
One night, the obsession was particularly intense. I was wrapped up in thinking about him and wanted to talk to him, to hear his voice again. So, I pulled out my cell phone, asked for information, and called him.
I felt fairly certain he wouldn’t know who I was—I had a non-smartphone, just the number would show if he had caller ID. I knew I wouldn’t be on the line for long; I literally just wanted to hear him talk.
He answered and I evaded his question when he wanted to know who was calling. After a few more words, I said, “I just called because I wanted to hear your voice again.”
He said, “Ooo-kay.”
Then, after a few more seconds of silence, he hung up.
I cut the phone off, elated that I had spoken to him. Little did I know what I had kicked off.
The next day, I was at the pool with my kids, and I turned on my cell phone to find a text from him. He was asking me to call him back, and he wanted to know who I was and what I had meant by calling him.
I was truly excited now at the prospect of speaking to him again. So, I called the number he left. He answered with, “Who is this?”
I said, “Who is this? What do you mean, ‘who is this’?”
A long silence.
Then he told me gently that he wanted my word that I would lose his number and not call him again. I didn’t feel like promising any such thing, so I didn’t answer him. Finally, he said he didn’t want to change his number but he would if he had to.
I said I knew I shouldn’t have called.
“Then why did you?” he asked.
“Because sometimes I’m not very bright,” I said.
“You’ve got that right,” he said. Then he hung up.
My heart sank. The contempt in his voice had been obvious. I cursed myself for calling him back. But I went on with my day.
Opening Up & Admitting Struggles
Until my husband came home. I was in our bedroom. He came back to where I was and closed the door. He sat down in one of our chairs and said, “I need to know what you said to [him] when you called, because whatever it was, you scared him to death.”
I very nearly broke down but didn’t. My husband looked hurt and scared. I had never dreamed that his friend would figure out who I was. I said, “I can’t tell you or I really will have to [end it all].”
I sat down in his lap and cried. We talked on and on. I finally told him the whole story. He kept asking questions, and I answered them as best as I could.
I told him his friend had not done anything to get me hooked on him, that it was all in my head and his friend had never been anything but nice to me. I said I had tried and tried to make it stop, but I couldn’t.
I told my husband I loved him and never wanted him to know because I didn’t want to hurt him. And I cried and cried.
The Hospitalization Question
My husband asked me if I needed to go to the hospital. The dark, dangerous thoughts had returned in full force, so I said yes. We called the hotline and did not get an answer. While we waited, I sat in my husband’s lap and cried, with him doing nothing but holding me. He didn’t seem angry, just hurt and scared.
After I was all cried out, I got up and started fixing dinner. We fed the kids and watched TV with them until it was time for them to go to bed.
The hospital finally called back. By that time, I thought maybe my husband was going to be all right; I thought I had said the right things to him to reassure him that the feelings for this person didn’t have anything to do with him or anything he had done. He was acting very concerned about me, and I thought maybe I was going to be all right. So, I didn’t go to the hospital.
Marriage Trouble & Complicated Conversations
We went on that next morning, and I somehow stumbled through the day. I didn’t know what was going on with my husband until that night, after we put the kids to bed. He sat me down and started talking.
He said he didn’t understand why he had acted the way he had last night except that he must have just been in shock. He was now very angry and very upset. He said he didn’t know if he could forgive me.
On and on he vented, telling me that he had talked to his dad, who had said he should divorce me—and he wondered if his dad had the right idea. For the first time since I had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I was afraid for my marriage. I just listened to him talk and tried to reassure him as best I could.
We went on in this way for several months. My husband seemed very paranoid and became controlling. I had to report to him every time I left the house, even to pick up our daughter from school. We talked in between classes when school started up again.
I tried to be the kind of wife he wouldn’t want to leave, stressing myself over everything in the house from meals to laundry to our intimate life. We went to a counseling session with our pastor, which didn’t seem to do my husband any good. We went to see my counselor once but didn’t seem to make any headway there, either. But, every few weeks, we would sit down and discuss our future.
Questions about Divorce
Our troubles got so bad that I actually started making plans for what I would do if my husband divorced me. I decided I would move back to my college town and seek a similar job there. I went so far as to call the current head of the English Department and get information about what papers they would need from me in order to hire me on a part-time basis, and I called an apartment complex there to see what the rent on a one-bedroom apartment would be, in case I had to leave home.
But I finally got the courage to sit my husband down and explain to him that I would not give him a divorce even if he left me. I said I had no intentions of leaving him for anyone. I said I would not sign papers for a divorce over “irreconcilable differences,” because I believed in our marriage and didn’t want to do that to the kids.
I told him he didn’t have grounds for a divorce under Mississippi law and would likely be laughed out of court if he did try to get one.
That ended any more talk about a potential divorce, but we still had a long way to go to build trust.
Rebuilding Trust over Time
We went on for a year like that. Very, very gradually he started easing up on the check-ins and monitoring where I went. We also endured the funeral of his grandmother during this time.
I obsessed less and less—all it took was remembering how hurt my husband was over it to stop these compulsions in their tracks. I continued therapy and worked even harder on my own issues. My husband simply needed to have time to heal from it all. We had long discussions about where our relationship was going and what we could do to make it better. Thankfully, we survived the entire ordeal and will soon celebrate our thirtieth anniversary.
Bipolar Disorder’s Impact on Marriage
Sadly, obsessions of this nature are part and parcel of bipolar disorder. Promiscuity is a hallmark symptom of the disease.
I knew what I was feeling wasn’t real in the sense that it wasn’t love or any other “sane” emotion. It was simply an obsession—a trick of my mind.
Being aware of this truth saved my marriage in that I fought the obsessions with all I had, even though I did slip that one time.
To forestall it happening again, I started being very careful at how I interact with men. I try not to be in conversation with a man in a social setting without my husband being around as well. I don’t want to give something a chance to start, and I don’t want to give anyone a reason to be suspicious about how I interact with people.
I’m also very careful at work, making sure that I don’t interact with the men in my office in anything resembling impropriety. And I keep a watch on my mind, making sure it’s my husband I’m thinking about and caring for with all my heart.
Originally posted July 5, 2022
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