My Brother is Suicidal Over Wife with Bipolar Disorder

Reader’s Question

My brother married a woman about 12 years ago who has never really warmed up to our family. She was raised an only child in a rich household that did not reach manners, responsibility or morals. Her mother is emotionally damaging and it has spilled into her adult life. She is verbally abusive to my brother and their child, she has complained to my mother that my brother will never be able to make enough money to keep her in a lifestyle that she deserves, and she has snubbed all of my family members, including my grandmother more than once.

She even went as far as a couple of years ago to up and tell my brother that she was stressed out and left the country. When he asked how long she planned to be gone, she told him that she would be back when she got bored. Last year she was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and her medication has improved her manners to where you can stand to be in the same room with her.

A couple of weeks ago, I found out that she walked in and told my brother that she didn’t want to be with him, he stifled her and that she was leaving. She doesn’t want a divorce, citing that she is Catholic, but wants a separation with benefits.

My brother loaded his gun, put it in his mouth — but couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger. Instead, he came to the town where my parents and I live, and signed himself in to the hospital psych ward, where they kept him for a week. When he was released, she was supposed to get together with him and talk about what they needed to do about the marriage. She refused to keep that meeting, and I don’t know what has gone on since.

I am worried that my brother might commit suicide, and I am so crazy angry with her that I want to put my fist through her face. I went through an extremely abusive relationship in the past that I am out and away from now, so I know all about Stockholm Syndrome. I feel bad for being angry, but I can’t help it. I haven’t been this upset since I last dealt with my abusive ex, and I am afraid of my feelings and reactions. How can I help my brother while I keep myself under control?

Psychologist’s Reply

You are dealing with several issues here — some related to your brother and some related to you. Your brother will be going through a very difficult time and yes, he probably does have some of the features associated with Stockholm Syndrome in relationships (see article this website). He will have difficulty in his marriage, as you describe a wife who has long-standing features of a personality disorder (see my introduction to personality disorders) and only later developed a possible Bipolar Disorder. Her behavior is highly manipulative and obviously, she is situationally-religious, emphasizing only those beliefs that support her need for continued financial support while ignoring other aspects of her faith related to marriage and treatment of others.

To help your brother, you can follow the strategies I offer in the Love and Stockholm Syndrome article. Basically “hold on loosely”, remain in contact at a safe distance, provide a steady yet nonthreatening stream of communications, and prepare to intervene at the next crisis.

You are also having a very difficult time with this situation. You have your own “emotional memory” of an abusive relationship and those memories contain anger, resentment, bitterness, and agitation. Your brother’s situation is similar enough to trigger your memories, recalling those original feelings as you describe when you say “I haven’t been this upset since I dealt with my abusive ex”. You are now reliving your Emotional Memories as well as trying to help your brother. I’d recommend reading my article on Emotional Memory to help separate feelings from your past and those of the current situation. You’re correct that your feelings can cause you much anguish and difficulty.

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Keeping yourself under control is as important as helping your brother. Why? He will need the emotional and social support of a logical, rational, and loving sibling — not anger and hostility directed at this wife. With your emotional memories active, you’ll want to react toward her the way you wanted to react toward your abusive ex. He doesn’t need additional hostility or being told about her behavior. When he makes his decision to do something…and it may be a while…he’ll need a sibling who can look at the situation and help — not react to the situation.

As a warning, if you have been flooded by past emotional memories, they may create depression. Review the symptoms of depression and if you have significant depressive symptoms, consult your family physician as a starting point.

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