How should a wife deal with an emotionally unstable husband? Writer Kristina Hammer goes deep into the well.
Every day I find myself pondering how my husband can go through life the way he does and not think, maybe, there’s something more to it.
Maybe he’s not as fine as he says. Maybe he’s not as stable as he believes. He doesn’t have to let his mind consume his soul any longer just to prove his worth as a man. Being closed off from all the good this world has to offer, he is merely soldiering his way through life, getting nowhere fast.
You see, my husband is like this overactive geyser. Rumbling and grumbling under the surface and steaming with irritation, whenever the pressure gets too hot to be contained, he erupts with violent force. He also is presumably ready for battle at any given moment, even in his own home with his own family. Everyone, he thinks, is out to challenge him somehow. Nothing spoken is taken at face value, because he’ll misconstrue it as a direct assault against his ego. His mind obsesses over his insecurities, aiding in the buildup of pressure and giving him a very passionate, but addictive personality. Explosive anger + fight response + anxiety = A very difficult man to live with if you don’t have the knowhow to withstand riding his tidal waves of anxiety and weathering the bouts of depression when the waves subside.
I have the knowhow and so I have become his anchor, preventing him from drifting across the seas and off the edge of the world.
With each passing day, my husband will find a new reason to get himself worked up into a frenzy of overbearing thoughts. There is a heaviness in the air surrounding him, which can be felt like an emotionally charged surge of electricity whenever he’s near you. His presence affects everyone’s moods; leaving a sense of dread and uneasiness to settle in his wake whenever he, himself, is in a volatile mood. Other times, when his moods are unusually high and carefree, it is a restless confusion and anticipation of the anxiety guaranteed to follow, which lingers like a fog.
My husband has been affectionately dubbed the King of What-If’s. He can over think and out-worry even the most neurotic of helicopter mothers and psychotic of hypochondriacs, alike. Yet, the far and few moments in between where he truly lets go and immerses himself in blissfulness, he is the most captivating and endearing man I know. If only he could always stay in this state, because it is who he is without the burden of his mind integrating itself into his behavior and mannerisms.
Whenever a problem arises, my husband focuses solely on it, blocking out everything else. He allows the problem to completely consume him. Even if the kids and I try to inform him about something he needs to be made aware of, his mind stays fixed on his own troubles, oblivious to any of us standing in front of him. Let alone, saying a word. In order to solve his dilemmas, my husband makes these intricately detailed plans, tells you how serious he is about following through and how critical it is to do so, and then changes everything around a dozen or so times before he’s finally satisfied. The whole while, he’s over-explaining what he’s doing and why it is necessary with the enthusiasm of a five-year old boy meeting his favorite superhero in real life. When reality kicks him in the shins and he realizes in all the inconsequential processing and computing, he forgot to take his family, his spouse, or life’s basic elements into consideration, he detonates like Hiroshima.
His street is not a two-way thoroughfare, but rather a one-way, dead end, cul-de-sac of lost ideas and self-centered outcomes. A place where chaos rules and dreams fade before they even take flight. Where every experience is tainted with anxiety and anger. Going through life as a ticking time bomb requires a very powerful diffusing method. No ordinary method will suffice, either, opening the door for addiction to anything strong enough to drown his sorrows and quiet his angst.
He has been forced to overcompensate with his preferred healthy coping methods in order to maintain sobriety, because even the smallest spark might light his fuse. One skipped workout, a day of binge eating junk food, not enough sleep, a sudden change in his shift at work…. And a wham, bam, thank you ma’am later, we’re back in the throes of some addiction or another. Alcohol, pain pills, anxiety medication, gambling, sports betting, cocaine, and sex have all taken their turns at some point or another in his lifetime. It’s been six years since his last go-round with insobriety and I really hope it lasts another sixty this time. For both our sakes.
With all this going on in himself, you’d think he would seek out some sort of help so that he can find some peace of mind. But, nope. He won’t. The volatile geyser that he is, thinks he’s just fine. It is the rest of the world which brings out the bad in him and overshadows the good. If life would just work out and go his way, he could be a pleasant person, but, unfortunately for him, everyone and everything is out to make him angry on purpose. To ruin his plans, his day, or his mood. It pains me to see the heavy clout of failure hovering nearby, ready to fuel his next fiasco. To see him lost within his insecurities and fears, oblivious to their control over his emotions.
There’s nothing I can do to get him to understand his life doesn’t have to be so dark. You can’t help someone who doesn’t see they need any sort of help. I have no control over the way my husband thinks and feels, but I can be his biggest fan in life and support him while he figures himself out on his own. When the usual years of self-discovery in childhood and adolescence are interrupted by instability, it takes an extra long while to get to know oneself; its taken my husband thirty-seven years and counting to really start to get to know who he is. My husband doesn’t understand, yet, what keeps his internal time bomb ticking and his stream of emotions boiling beneath the surface. Every day he struggles is a day he’s losing out on the beauty of life, the joy of the laughter emanating from our home, and the peacefulness inner calm can bring.
If there’s one thing I do know about my husband, better than anything else, it is the fighter’s fire burning passionately. The one in his soul which continuously empowers his desire to be a great man. A great husband. A perfect provider. A doting father. In the years we’ve been together, I’ve seen him take on and conquer many battles others have never made it through alive. This is the fuel to his fire and the cursed blessing of his life. While angered anxiety wreaks havoc all over every other part of his life, this fiery force also drives him to keep striving for something better.
Today he is a hard-working man, putting in over seventy hours a week at work to keep food on the table and a roof over his head. He’s not ready to face the music and delve into the psyche which makes him so explosive and as unpredictable as Old Faithful. The struggle with his addiction issues in the past have given him a bad taste for shrinks and enough psych knowledge from many rodeos through rehab to cope with his symptoms as they come. He doesn’t have the nosy neighbor need-to-know’s, like me, which would pester me until I found out why I was the way I was and what more could be done to help the situation. He has no interest in getting a grip on his very obvious mental illness, whatsoever. He is happy in his decision to live unhappily, and just like the old cliché goes: you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.
At the end of every day, I’m forced to ponder the queries others bombard upon me about our situation. Where do you draw the line between mental illness and mental abuse? What about the kids? Why would you want to stay? Don’t you know you deserve better? It is not the questions, themselves, of which I ponder, though. It is the validity. Granted, many people do stay with an abuser and defend their psychopathic actions with clichéd excuses, and I get that. I WAS abused in all aspects in a past relationship, as well as, as a child, and have been thoroughly counseled for the consequential PTSD, which arose from the ashes of my victimization. I have also educated myself in the field of psychology, taking eight different courses to boot while I prepared for nursing school, which I never did go to after all the hard work to get there. If I was truly in danger, if my emotional culpability was threatened in any way, I would walk out. If my husband was ever to target our children, I would leave in an instant. As much as he erupts, he never uses others as his scapegoat. He is simply a good man with a troubled mind. But a good man, nonetheless. If only he saw that without the blinders of his self-doubt.
The real reason why I stay, however, is rather transparent still to most people. It is as uncomplicated as discerning why you would stick up for your younger sibling or let your best friend root for the worst NFL team EVER without badgering them yourself. Too much. I understand the science behind the geyser within him. I understand why his inner magma is so much closer to the surface than the average soul and I can relate to the constant seepage of groundwater spilling over from a heart packed too heavy and full at too young of an age. Steaming hot water- seething with emotion and tempered by wrongs, coupled with the pressures from a continually turbulent and tumultuous life makes for one active geyser.
Who am I to deny him the love, the companionship, the best friend, because he is a product of his nature? I am no aberration of nature myself; no diamond in the rough will you find beneath the surface of my own personal demons, under the pressures of a hard life. My glass house can shatter just as easily as any other.
I can only hope and dream that one day he will finally take on the ultimate battle—against himself—and overtake the negativity holding the reigns of his life once and for all. I pray, one day, he’ll be able to quench the insatiable thirst of worry and truly love life without any of the pressure to uphold his masculinity. Because the pressure is there only in his mind. Until he can own it, he will bear the weight to carry alone; it pains me to watch him at times when the weight grows so heavy it begins to crush him. If my husband doesn’t come to terms and see that, maybe, just maybe, it is just all in his head and a diagnosis and psychologist will do him good, not harm.
I wish this tired, old geyser I am married to would finally lie dormant because, only then, will my husband be able to find the key to unlocking the truth and finding a real sense of happiness in being alive. Letting him have the light he so deserves streaming into his life again; bright and blinding, shimmering and shining, sparkling rays of sunlight which will warm up everything dark and cold inside of him for the first time. It is his choice to make, though, and I am helpless to do anything more than be the supportive, encouraging, and unconditionally loving wife and best friend to this man. If I could turn off the valve to the pressure creating the geyser within him, I would have long ago.
It is not within my power, so I continue to hope one day my husband will understand his illness is real.
The man he has always been
If I could have just one thing go my way in life, I would want my husband to see the man I know in my heart he has always been. I want him to see himself as he is and not whatever fictitiously absurd idea his anxiety and depression tell him he should, or never could, be. I want him to be able to go without worrying over whether he has proven himself great or not, because a person’s greatness is not measured by how many others recognize the fact. Greatness is measured by the impact one has made on another, whether it be with just one, one million, or the whole world; it makes no difference, whatsoever.
This geyser is my husband.
Photo: U.S. Embassy New Delhi/Flickr