Considerations Prior to Divorcing a Spouse Dealing with Mental Illness

Mental illness of one spouse, or both, is one of the leading factors driving spouses to divorce. A multinational study on mental disorders, marriage, and divorce published in 2011 found that, out of the 18 main mental disorders studied, divorce rates increased 20%-80% if one spouse had been diagnosed. Addictions and major depression were the highest factors; post-traumatic stress disorder was also near the top on the list.

Elsewhere, researchers have demonstrated a strong link between personality disorders and elevated divorce rates. People with antisocial personality disorder and histrionic personality disorder have the highest spousal separation rates in the area of diagnosable personality disorders.

Antisocial personality disorder is characterized by failure to conform to social norms and respect laws, engaging in deception, impulsivity, and aggressiveness, reckless disregard for the safety of others, lack of remorse, and consistent irresponsibility. Whereas histrionic personality disorder is described as a pervasive pattern of excessive emotionality and attention-seeking.

For obvious reasons, the divorce process makes any mental health disorder symptoms even worse. One spouse may even be on the fence regarding initiating proceedings due to the hope of the other spouse receiving help and recovering. When considering a divorce with mental illness as a factor, it is important to ask yourself the following questions:

1. Is the mental health condition treatable, and is the individual willing to receive treatment?

2. How much harm is each family member experiencing?

3. Are you willing to remain in the relationship even if nothing changed?

4. Is the condition stable, or is it likely to get worse over time?

5. What kind of support network is available to you and your family?

There is no universal rule when deciding whether to separate from a spouse with mental illness. While many authorities have opinions on the topic, the decision maker has to make sure that the decision is truly their own.

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