Mood swings

My husband suffers from depression and I've taken a lover. But what about my promise to be with him "in sickness and in health"?

Published August 6, 2002 7:40PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

My name is John and I am desperately trying to get over my homosexuality and spanking fetishes. I know I can do this with a little help from the Lord, but it is so hard for me. Please help me. I would also like any advice anyone can give me!!


Dear John,

You have an authentic self. If you believe in God, then God created this authentic self. If you believe that the God who created this authentic self now disapproves of its manifestation, then you believe two contradictory things. In other words, don't pray to your God to fix you. Who are you to ask an omnipotent being to repair his perfect creation? Pray to your God not to fix you but to give you the godlike courage to accept yourself as you are.

Dear Cary,

I have been married for 11 years to a man who, until four months ago, I would have described as sweet, kind and fabulous but often challenging. I love him dearly, but we no longer have a sexual relationship. We have been more friends than lovers for about five years, so about four months ago, frustrated beyond my ability to cope, I started having an affair.

My lover and I are both happily married, and we agree that we would not for any reason be able to leave our respective spouses.

As it turns out, these past four months have been a revelation to me. Not only have I fallen in love with the man who I thought I was connecting with simply for a sexual outlet, but I have discovered myself to be very unhappy in my marriage. Much of this is perspective. In contrast to my marriage, which has become very etiolated and rather shrunken over the years, I have a complete connection with my lover. We are compatible physically, emotionally and intellectually. Our connection seems to be reinforcing -- I have a salutary effect on him, and he on me.

My husband is a witty, intellectually adventurous man. He is kind and sweet, except when he is in the grips of depression. And we used to connect sexually. So there are all the hallmarks in our relationship of something that can be salvaged. Except I think that he needs treatment for a mental illness, which he will not pursue.

A quick history: About two years after we got married I started being suspicious of my husband's violent mood swings, and he told me he had been a mental health inpatient on three separate occasions, had a diagnosis of bipolar affective disorder, and had taken it upon himself to discontinue his lithium. (He didn't like how thick it made his head feel, and who can blame him?)

But he should have gone back to the doctor and he didn't. Now he is developing odd tics -- fetishes, not scary or serious yet, but troubling and weird.

He's high-functioning at work and with friends. But at home, he is utterly dependent on me for his emotional health. He panics over the slightest issue. He's very needy (in any way that doesn't involve sex). And it's getting worse. He calls me at work 30 times a day, just to discuss his worries about looking poor and ragged in a particular Brooks Brothers shirt, or to ask if the black shoes are OK with the taupe linen shirt.

He won't budget or make financial decisions (or even open bills), and although we've consistently made in the lower six-figures, we are badly in debt and unable to pay simple things like the cable bill on time.

Is there any ethical way I can possibly divorce this man? I wouldn't be leaving him for my lover. I probably couldn't see my lover anymore if I divorced my husband, because it wouldn't be right or fair. (He's still happily married, after all ... and he didn't sign on for a single girlfriend.) I did after all say, "... in sickness and in health" -- and that makes my husband my responsibility, right?

But I am at the end of my rope. I am drinking an atrocious amount. I don't call my family -- they don't know what's going on, and I don't see how I can tell them.

Red Kira

Dear Red Kira,

When your husband informed you, two years after your wedding, that he had been hospitalized for mental illness on three separate occasions, that was a devastating betrayal. If you did not register it consciously in that way, surely it must have colored your subsequent relations with distrust and fear. And now, some nine years after that revelation, your marriage is eroding, as is your husband's grip on reality, and your affair has brought things into perspective. No wonder you are drinking; it must be a lot of work to keep all your feelings at bay. And no wonder you want a divorce. In spite of what you say about you and your lover both being happily married, you are not happily married. You are unhappily married, and you are drinking too much. I can certainly imagine how drinking would provide the courage and the protective numbness through which you could glimpse the truth briefly and find the strength to write this letter.

You must find someone you can talk this over with, who can be your ally in this difficult time. You cannot get through this alone. Your lover cannot help you; he has a conflict of interest. You must find someone whose loyalty to you is uncomplicated by selfish interests.

Contact your local mental health organization and see if they provide services, or if they can put you in touch with a support group for people who are living with the mentally ill. Also, because you mentioned not calling your family, you probably want to call your family but are afraid to. So find a time when you can be alone in your house, make an appointment with yourself, and at the appointed time, sit down in a chair and dial the phone. Do not hang up if no one answers. Leave a message.

Your husband must seek treatment for his bipolar disorder if he wishes to remain married to you. Granted, for people with that disease, the treatment can seem worse than the illness, and he has the right to refuse treatment. But he does not have the right to make your life a living hell. That line in the marriage vows about "in sickness and in health" does not mean, for instance, that you have to stand by while he commits suicide. And implicit in it, I think, is full disclosure prior to marriage. If he concealed this disease from you, then you were duped. If he refuses treatment, he assumes the responsibility for his choice. It may well be a courageous choice: He may be willing to sacrifice everything in his life for a few moments of intellectual clarity and sharply defined emotions. But that is his choice. If he is well enough and courageous enough to make that decision, then he is well enough to be divorced. It is sad, but I think you have to face this reality.

Please note: I am not telling you to divorce him. I am telling you that neither your marriage vows nor his illness -- nor, incidentally, your affair -- absolve you or him of the duty to make choices and take responsibility for them.

Dear Cary,

I am in my senior year of high school and I have had the same breast size for the past two years. Do you know how I can grow bigger breasts without paying for implants or pills? Is it possible to grow bigger breasts without paying anything? I appreciate your help!


Dear Notsobigboobs,

No, I do not know how you can grow bigger breasts without paying for implants or pills. But why do you ask? I think yours look really nice the way they are, don't you? Tell me honestly, now, without bragging, on a scale of 1 to 10, your breasts are at least a 5, right? Did some guy tell you yours were too small? What kind of guy would say a thing like that? Doesn't he know that would hurt your feelings? What is it about breasts, anyway? What can you do with big breasts that you can't do with small breasts? They have strippers with small breasts, too. Some guys even prefer small breasts.

Or is it not about guys at all? Is it just that you think you'll get what you want if you have bigger boobs? And what do you want? Do you want people to admire you? Do you want men with pointed shoes to turn their heads and watch your ass as you go by on the street? Do you want to become an object of desire whose personality is like the wrapping on a box of candy that is torn off and discarded so the purchaser can get to the product?

Maybe you're thinking about your breasts too much. I know I am.

Dear Cary,

This is about my trying to get over being knotted up with fear and anger about my first husband.

I met him when I was 17. He was my first boyfriend, my first kiss. I married him at 22, even though it had already become clear that he was very unstable and emotionally abusive. He drank, did drugs, had already fooled around with one other girl to my knowledge. He asked me to marry him five minutes before confessing to that little episode. I said yes, and then he sprang that on me, which l gradually discovered would be his pattern -- soften her up, then hit her with the axe. I wanted to save him, he said he wanted to change and needed me desperately, he'd been emotionally and possibly sexually abused as a child, you've heard it all before.

I worked hard to cover up what was really going on while friends idolized us as the perfect couple. He was gorgeous enough to attract most girls he met, dressed like a rock star, and lived for female attention and approval. I lied to myself and forgave him for the weekly episodes of abuse and gradually burned out on that and began abusing him right back. I behaved shamefully and wish I hadn't been so determined to make it work.

He finally left me for a 20-year-old punk-rock college girl a year before we both turned 30. I got a great counselor, and when he wouldn't give her up to go into marriage counseling, I divorced him.

A year later I met my current husband, who is like day to that night -- kind, affectionate, honest, sane, and a grown man instead of a psychotic teenager. And attractive and fun, and we can talk for hours, and he's a lovely father too. I have no problems with him. I finally have the life I always wanted, and it's amazing how much work I get done, and how much better all my other relationships keep getting now that I'm happy!

My problem is that six years later, I'm still trying to get over my anger at husband No. 1.

I just don't like being eaten out by it; it makes me feel that my ex still has power over me. I read Zen philosophy; I tell myself the best I can do is learn my lessons from it and keep moving on. But it keeps coming back, and I find myself cursing him out loud while I'm driving down the road with the baby in the back seat. Why should I even still care?

Can you suggest any ideas for purging myself of the anger and emotional slime I still harbor about my ex husband?


Dear Envenomed,

Unless Zen has given you a taste for the paradoxical, what I suggest is going to sound crazy, but I suggest you concentrate on what is most lovely and enduringly beautiful about your ex. Picture those things about him that you loved so dearly. Love him. I know it doesn't sound right, but do it. These things can bring you some relief; they won't take away the anger, but they can clothe its jagged edges; they can build something beautiful around it, the way an oyster builds a pearl around a grain of sand.

Also do this: Say out loud, when you are driving in your car, that you hope your ex, whatever his name is, the fucking bastard, gets everything that he wants and grows old and happy and contented. Find your generosity of spirit and offer it up to him who hurt you so grievously. If you can do that, if you can generate enough abundance of good spirit to shovel on him, the fucking bastard, his memory cannot possibly fill you with bitterness any longer, because when you are wishing the best for the bastard, there's no room for bitterness or old pain. And if he becomes happy and gets what he wants, perhaps he will stop hurting people, too, because he is hurting people out of fear and want, and then you will have done the world a service, and perhaps one day that service will redound to you, if not in this life then in some life to come. Keep praying for the fucking bastard and wishing him the best.

Dear Cary,

Is it possible to be in love with someone you are not physically or sexually attracted to? If so, should this person remain a candidate for long-term commitment or is that merely a recipe for disaster?


Dear Confused,

When a beautiful woman shows some kindness to a man but feels nothing sexual for him, he can buy her a sweater but he will never get to watch her try it on. That is the difference between love and in love. Likewise, the one she is in love with, she will not only try on the sweater for him, she'll pay for it herself out of waitressing money.

There is, however, a feeling of love that is so overwhelming and complete that when you are feeling it you could be said to be in love, except that you do not want to watch the object of your affection put on a sweater. For instance, a soldier might be in love with a commander to whom he owes his life, but he would not want to watch him put on a sweater. One might be in love with the artist Robert Rauschenberg but not want to watch the artist Robert Rauschenberg put on a sweater or stand in just panties and a bra before a mirror in a little pensione near Rome. One might be in love with the poet Wallace Stevens, but likewise: No. 1, he is dead, and No. 2, he was an insurance executive for the Hartford, and No. 3, he would not look good in a bra and panties.

So I would say that a person you are not attracted to sexually is not a good candidate for a long-term relationship because when the war is going badly and the muse is gone, it's watching the loved one put on the sweater that keeps the relationship going.

By Cary Tennis

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