Just When Things Start Going Great, My Histrionic Wife Sabotages Everything

Reader’s Question

I’ve been married to my wife for 15 years, and we have 3 children together, ages 15, 10, and 3. Our marriage has had many ups and downs, and we’ve often clashed — especially on issues concerning parenting, raising our children, and issues of trust. About two months ago we managed to reach a new high in happiness, communication, and team work raising our children. But then, out of the blue, she sabotaged all of the gains that we had made. I discovered that she is actively pursuing affairs with other men behind my back. This sort of thing has happened before, but I thought for sure that this time we had finally achieved some normalcy because there were so many obvious positive changes in our children and in our marriage. I thought we were writing a new chapter in our lives together, but I was wrong. Now, my wife is once again acting almost exclusively on impulse. Any structure that we had created for our family has crumbled.

I have been a wreck, and I decided to go back to a marriage counselor that we had been seeing together for over a year until my wife decided to end counseling. I needed help understanding why this was happening again. He explained to me that my wife has Histrionic Personality Disorder and some Borderline Personality Disorder traits. His advice to me was that the best option for our children may be for me to stay in the marriage as long as possible, no matter what happens, to try and offer them some sense of normalcy despite my wife’s chaos. I’ve started researching HPD and find that the description fits my wife. And now that some of my worst fears have come true, I find little reason to hope.

Recently, another problem has developed. My wife has become overly flirtatious not only with my 15-year-old son’s friends but also with my son. Everyone returns her flirtations. This behavior is a bit new but seems to be escalating quickly. Although I’ve learned a lot about how to deal more effectively with a Histrionic wife, I have not the slightest clue about how to handle this situation. If I get upset, it only makes things worse.

I fear for our children if our marriage were to end. I’ve searched for information on managing a family with a spouse with HPD but have come up pretty empty handed. Any advice would be appreciated.

Psychologist’s Reply

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Histrionic Personality Disorder is characterized by intense but shallow emotionality, inordinate seductiveness and craving for attention, and manipulative interpersonal behavior. Histrionic personalities are often driven by an excessive craving for novelty and excitement and are easily bored with the mundane. The relationships of histrionics can be quite unstable, and if borderline traits are also present, relationship instability is even more likely.

Increased “stability” is often the most anxiety-evoking situation in which a histrionic person might find themselves. So, it’s quite common that a wrench will be thrown into the works at the very time things seem to be going more smoothly.

Treatment for this disorder generally involves fairly long-term therapy and a level of commitment to which many histrionic personalities find themselves averse.

Because they are so driven by cravings for stimulation and novelty, one way to help keep a relationship with a histrionic personality more stable is to be sure to “liven it up” with new adventures and interests. So, in addition to counseling, the best chance you might have to keep the relationship as stable as possible is to do your best to keep it from becoming mundane. Remember, histrionics have a hard time distinguishing stability from monotony. Even therapy has the potential to become boring. What’s more, as the “threat” of genuine and deeper-level intimacy becomes greater, the potential for sabotage is likely to increase. These situations can be planned for in therapy, and all parties to the therapeutic process will need to be mindful of the pace of change.

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