Lifelong Friend Turns Against Me Over Her Husband

Reader’s Question

My lifelong friend (33 years) is married to man who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia during the first Gulf War, apparently after having been “given a pill” by the Army. He was discharged and, according to her, became a meth addict who is now a convicted sex offender. She was aware of this prior to the marriage. He is now off meth and on anti-psychotic meds. My friend invited me out of town for her birthday just after her husband had a major episode. Apparently the Social Worker at the VA Clinic has implied to my friend that her husband made himself schizophrenic with meth and now my friend verbally abuses him and blames him for his illness. During the weekend out of town she was verbally abusive to him saying things like “You’re so F*****G stupid, you’re an F******G loser” etc… She also yelled at him in front of their 3-year-old that she was divorcing him and he would have nothing (she’s a rather spoiled adult child of a well off family).

I made a concerted effort not to take sides and told both of them that I was sorry they were having marital problems. She stormed out of the room and her husband continued to try to converse with me. I offered my sympathy as I too was having family problems. My friend barreled into the room now directing her tirade at me and kicked me and my child out. She kept insisting that I was taking her “drug addict husband’s side” and berating me for “defending druggies”. A couple of weeks later she initiated contact by phone and I replied via email that I was appalled at how she was treating her husband who just 3 days prior was in the hospital. Again she turned things into me “being a man stealer, a druggie loser…” She claimed that she was defending herself before I could attack her.

I was shocked at the accusations and the verbal abuse hurled at me. I have never seen her behave this way and am curious if she may also have a mental illness or if she may be so consumed by her husband’s illness that she has lost sight of the reality around her. I cannot be her friend anymore but I am concerned that she genuinely believes he made himself ill and that she feels justified in being verbally and emotionally abusive to her husband, and in front of her young child. Not to mention the horrible things she has screamed at me and what I am now hearing, in social circles, about me. This so crazy I am completely dumbfounded. Any insight and or advice would be greatly appreciated.

Psychologist’s Reply

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From the timeline of the husband’s story, he was diagnosed Paranoid Schizophrenia before he began using meth. Sadly, his situation is not uncommon. Schizophrenia often surfaces between the ages of 18 to 25 years — occuring when many individuals are in college or in the military. Severe stress, such as combat or academic pressures, can prompt a psychotic episode.

The use of Meth can also prompt a psychotic episode as Meth acts on the same neurotransmitter that is associated with Schizophrenia. Frequent or prolonged use of Meth can create an “amphetamine psychosis” which looks like Paranoid Schizophrenia with hallucinations, delusions, etc. It’s also clear that the husband has multiple difficulties. Being schizpohrenic doesn’t make you use Meth or become a sexual offender. Those are additional problems to add to his psychotic disorder.

Your girlfriend’s behavior may be a product of emotional exhaustion on her part. While she married her husband knowing he had multiple problems, she apparently didn’t recognize how difficult the marriage would be in real life. Obviously, she is extremely angry and resentful toward her husband. If her behavior was a surprise to you, uncharacteristic of her normal personality, then she’s probably overwhelmed by the stress of her situation. She is lashing out at everyone around her — probably due to the stress of dealing with her husband’s illness and behavior.

Rather than take her behavior personally, I’d take it as a measure of her current distress. It’s like being under stress at home, then snapping at co-workers on our job. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time…so you were on the receiving end of her anger. If we think about it, from her standpoint it does no good to yell, scream, abuse, or threaten her husband. None of those techniques have been helpful in her marriage.

I’d back up to a safe emotional distance. Don’t defend yourself as she isn’t listening rationally and that will only prolong her temper tantrum and hostility in your direction. Don’t take it personally. She’s walking around like a pressure cooker right now. Don’t contact her or communicate face-to-face — use the grapevine. In discussions with mutual friends, express a supportive view that you recognize that she is going through a difficult time right now and you hope she eventually finds peace. Back away from her husband as well. He may try to involve you in their marital problems which will only increase your emotional distress without helping their situation. Her decisions have placed her in an extremely stressful situation — husband who has addictions, is a sexual offender, has a major psychiatric illness, and is unlikely to be a supportive and competent co-parent — and it may require many months before she can carry on a normal conversation with anyone.

After her emotional tornado fades, she may recontact you. At that time you can decide if it’s worth returning to the original relationship.

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