A difficult end to a relationship?

Hard to know quite how to write this, but I’m sure you’ll all forgive me if I get the words a bit wrong.

I’ve now been a carer for my wife for over 25 years out of the 27 we’ve been married. The bulk of those years have featured some form of mental health crisis (including at least 12 acute admissions) and for the last 15 years some very significant physical health issues too.

The toll on my MH, and that of my daughters, has been correspondingly significant. Finally I have got myself and one of my girls into a good place, and my youngest daughter is working towards full recovery.

Last year I’d finally had enough of the abuse that we had tolerated (enabled?) for so long and started to be more resilient and more resistant. I have rebuilt a social network. I have started doing sports I love again. I have developed an escape plan. I did create an independent back account so that I had funds to which only I have access and control, but my wife found out about it (by going through my wallet when I was asleep…) and then created a situation whereby I had to use all the funds that I’d squirreled away to pay the mortgage. So that has taken me some time to restart. I believe she’s now knows that she is losing control of me, and is starting to try and be nice to me, although often she reverts to threats and sulking (and a fair amount of what might be considered gas-lighting).

The difficulty now is that I now see myself as her barely willing carer, not as a husband. In fact, I really don’t want anything to do with her beyond doing the basic providing for and caring. I am a carer, but I don’t “care”; it’s just a task now.
And I know that I’m not prepared to put any effort into fixing the relationship. Not any more.
And this leaves me feeling really bad. I mean, how do you leave someone who has significant mental and physical health issues without too much guilt? How much will friends and family hate me for what I’m thinking of doing? Will I actually have the courage to leave in the end? Should I just accept that I’m supposed to be her carer no matter what, and just give myself up to my fate? Actually… The way I’ve phrased that last line makes it clear to me that I’m NOT prepared to do that!

I’m posting here because this is a community I trust to listen, to tell me if I’m being daft, or doing the wrong thing, and because many of you will understand how I got to this point, and won’t judge. And because I had to tell someone… sort of like a contract with myself!

We are all responsible for our own happiness. When were you last happy?

I also find that just writing down things like this helps to clarify it in my own mind.

I definitely know how you feel, although thankfully my wife is not manipulative at all, she’s just incapacitated, but my feelings about caring for her are similar: because of her condition and only because of her condition I find it difficult to like the person she’s become but still love the girl I married 48 years ago now, so I definitely wouldn’t be prepared to judge you. You have to do what is right for you and your daughters.

Hi Ayjay,

I just wanted to say please don’t feel bad for thinking the way that you do. You must be under a considerable amount of strain in your marriage and it is only natural to be fed up and want out after all these years. I totally get where you are coming from as my husband can be manipulative too and I often have the same feelings of wanting to leave him, but feel guilty at times for feeling like this and feel as if I should stay. All I would say is please put yourself and your daughters first and think of all your happiness. Clearly you have invested so much love, time and energy into your wife over the years, for her only not to return the love and respect you deserve as her husband. Please take care and do what is right for you. I wish you and your daughters well.

Just enough

You and your daughters have been through so much.
We can all identify with the emotions of wanting to leave caring, but feeling so guilty we stay.

You must do what is right for yourself and your daughters mental health.

However, for your own mental health it can never be just a case of walking out can it?,

For your peace of mind you would no doubt have to know that your wife is being looked after…otherwise you wont get the peace of mind and new life that you envisaged.

And that would surely blight your life as much as if you’d stayed.

Thanks all for your thoughts and support.

BB - I find I’m most happy when I look after myself better. The “mistake” I made over many years was to try and make sure my wife was happy to the exclusion of everything and everyone else. The problem was that she was rarely happy even then, so it was just wasted effort and became neglect of myself and my daughters. The damage to my daughters is what causes me so, so much guilt.

Cloudygal - you’ve hit the real problem - I can’t just walk away. It’s further complicated by many other issues, as all these things always are. It will take a long time to plan and put things in place - I’m thinking maybe 2 years (I was thinking a lot faster before you encouraged me to think it through properly!). And then I have to be able to live with the unintended consequences. And prepare for the outcomes. And not expect perfect happiness.
I still have my emergency exit plan too though…

If it wasn’t for the fact that I am a carer for someone with severe and enduring MH issues, the relationship would be considered emotionally abusive, but it’s hard to separate the person from the illness. There is, as Ayjay and Eileen pointed out, still the girl I loved once in there and the guilt of wanting to leave someone who is, after all, ill. And who I still care about. But abuse is always abuse, and my expectation is that it will continue. Twenty-plus years of emotional abuse is a hard habit to break, and even harder to forgive.

Is she aware that it counts as abuse?
Does she make any attempt to moderate the effect of her illness on others?

Maybe you should talk to your daughters about what they would like? Clearly the adverse effects on them have been huge. They have first hand experience of your family life, after all, and your relationship with your wife.

I have two sons, one fine, the youngest, M, brain damaged at birth. He is now 40, can’t read, write or do any maths, lives alone with carer support now.
The effect on our entire family has been huge, but it wasn’t his fault, and he has always done his very best. Everyone in the care agency loves supporting him, he is friendly, polite, keeps his flat perfectly, and does his best to do as much as possible.

The effect on our eldest son was huge, we talk about it now. However he understands the situation we were in, and knows we did our best for him too.

I think you would both benefit from marriage counselling. Your wife might not be aware of how you feel and how her behaviour affects you.

Hi bowlingbun and Karen.
Thank you for your thoughts. Some good points.

I think you would both benefit from marriage counselling.
Tried it before (nearly) many years ago. By the time we got to Relate office, I had agreed that it was all my fault and I would try to be a better husband - we never even went in…
Next time I suggested it (just a couple of years ago) I was told that I’d already accepted responsibility and the question was now closed.

Is she aware that it counts as abuse?
Perhaps not. And I certainly wouldn’t call it that to her for a number of reasons.
Having said that, she has been told on many occasions by friends, family and professionals that her behaviour is rude and hurtful and is damaging to her children, her family life and her friendships. Most of her family will not talk to her unless my eldest daughter is there to enforce good behaviour (she is absolutely ruthless in this regard).

Does she make any attempt to moderate the effect of her illness on others?
Not her illnesses, but she does change her behaviour dependent upon the audience. It can range from all sweetness and light to outright nastiness. Like a showy-off toddler.
She is absolutely horrible to most MH professionals, some of them her former colleagues and friends - I am often amazed at their patience.

My eldest daughter left home 2 years ago. We still talk most days, and meet up occasionally (she doesn’t live locally any more). She speaks to her mum on a strict timetable, once per fortnight. She understands how we have got to where we are, and is in a good place with her life now. She has paid a huge price over the years :frowning:
My youngest daughter is very nearly 16, and talks to her sister about serious things and to me about most other things (school etc.). She is not yet in a good place, but is working towards it, with counselling.

Much of it is common relationship issues - but the MH issues and her physical disabilities are what makes it really, really difficult. If there was no caring involved, the relationship would have been over many, many years ago. Or maybe she would have been a much nicer person.
So, so hard to separate the person from the illness. But in the end, she has the ability to change her behaviour according to circumstances and yet chooses not to. Our house is fully adapted for her physical disabilities, which aren’t degenerative.
Mental illnesses can tend to be really horrible. Much of it is not her fault probably, but I cannot keep caring to the same extent and retain my own mental and physical health. More importantly, I must protect my daughters.
Equally I cannot just walk away.
The Carers Conundrum.

Bowlingbun - what you and your family have achieved is phenomenal, and you should all be very proud of yourselves. I have nothing but admiration.

Sometimes we have to accept we can’t change certain things. Try seeing life from other perspectives.

Just enough, blaming others is typical behaviour! It doesn’t mean you are to blame. I think you have been too tolerant for too long!

An update for all those who kindly contributed to this thread…
I stayed with my wife through all of lockdown, and spent much time with my youngest daughter. It was time well spent, and we managed to really get working on my daughter’s MH. She still has relapses, but is generally doing well.

My wife spent most of lockdown railing against it, and moaning about how she couldn’t go out and do things. Which is ironic, because she never went out before lockdown. In that time I tried to get her to change her behaviour, and explained that she needed to put some effort into our marriage only to be told that I’d promised to support her “in sickness and health until death is do part”. She even suggested sending our daughter to live with other family members so that I could spend more time with her?!?

At the end of lockdown, I left the marital home. My daughter chose to come with me, even knowing that we would be homeless for quite a while. We sofa-surfed and house-sat and borrowed caravans and tents for 6 weeks. It was great, but also really hard. Finally we found a small property to rent and live there now. We are so relaxed and happy now. Even my in-laws have supported us as we moved onto the next stage of our lives. Only one person (my own mother!) has been unsupportive - due to her religious beliefs. I left with only a few clothes, and have been told that the rest of them will be sent to charity shops. Oh well.

My wife has carers from an agency in every day now. I believe that two of them have already asked not to work with her…

I made the right decision for me and my girls. I am so much better, and so are they. When I started this thread, it was partly as a contract with myself. I’ve stuck to it.

There are bad times, when I feel guilty. But not very many. And then I look at how well my daughters are doing now and even that guilt evaporates.

This forum is an important place, where we can seek support, and guidance, and even fair criticism.
Everyone here is an important part of my life, both in the past and going forward.

Take care, everyone, and love yourselves. You’re doing great!

Just a quick message, to say well done to you.

I’m so pleased for you and your girls.


Happy for you that you have reached your desired destination. In this caring game, I’m sure we all have daily soul searching and poor me moments. I have well meaning family members, who in trying to big me up, sow the seed of change when they say they would have walked by now. I love my wife, but hate her condition, but I am of the old school of obeying the vows and will see this through.

Thank you for sharing this with us. It sounds like you definitely made the right decision in moving out.

My view on the marriage vows is that you BOTH made them.
They are about forming a partnership where you look after each other, not a situation where one uses the vows as an excuse to take, take, take from a relationship without making any effort to do something in return.
To me, your wife broke the partnership, not you.
Whilst you did your very best, she did nothing.
The very idea that you should send a child away so you could spend more time looking after her just shows how flawed she is!
Once you become parents, I believe your children must be your first responsibility.
You have done the right thing for your kids.
I wish you every happiness for your future.