Family and Caregiver Schizophrenia Discussion Forum

When you're the third wheel in your own relationship

I love my husband very much, and I believe he loves me too, most of the time. But very often, his delusions involve “someone with my face” yelling at him, being angry at him, using his insecurities against him, etc. For example, if I am not home, he frequently will not feed himself because he starts to believe that “I” am getting angry at him for eating. I’ll come home from work and he’s hungry and angry at me because “we” have been “fighting” all day because his delusion of me is a rabid bitch who won’t let him in the kitchen.

In my reality, I am painstakingly cautious about not acting like his delusional version of me.
I try to never yell, I strive to never express anger or frustration outwardly, and instead focus my communication on his feelings and perceptions. But this means I do a lot, a lot, a lot, of repressing my own feelings. Some of this I know if unhealthy behavior that is leftover from when we did not have access to medication or a doctor, and I was the closest thing he had to a therapist. “Therapist” in my wheelhouse in terms of my own professional training, so it’s not completely impossible for me to do, but it’s not ever what I wanted for our relationship.

But I’m feeling more and more like I’m a third wheel in my own marriage. I find myself apologizing for “my” behavior when he’s been arguing with “me” all day, but in reality, I’ve been at work and he’s been cycling through paranoia. I never know if I’m going to come home to a fight that “I’m” already in the middle of with him. I never know what “I’ve” said to him.

I have tried expressing this feeling with him, but he responds by getting upset with me because he can’t control his delusions. I know he can’t control his delusions, but I don’t know what boundary to draw here. It doesn’t help that his paranoia runs on a scale from very unrealistic thoughts like I’m going to punish him for eating to semi-reasonable insecurities like I’m going to divorce him because “he’s a burden.”***

I also am terrified that he feels like he’s in an abusive relationship because his delusions are so overwhelmingly negative, and almost all of them have my face, or the faces of his family members. I try so hard to let him know he’s loved and I don’t resent his illness or blame him for being sick, etc, but it all seems in vain. Sometimes I wake up at night and he’s having an argument with his “dad” about something, even though his parents live 3 states away and it’s the middle of the night.

Does this happen to other people? What do you do?

*** I have never planned to leave him because of his mental health, and I try to express this often to reassure him. I understand why he feels insecure, even though his extrapolation is unreasonable. I don’t think this is better, exactly, but it’s easier to address.

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Please forgive me for what I am about to say, but I hope that as you wrote this post you came to realize how crazy your home life has become. You should not have to alter your behavior based on what your doppelgänger does to your husband during the day!

I understand the sacrifices we make for our loved ones. I was married to a man w paranoid
for a long time. He was not always compliant with his medication. I know you love him and I don’t think you should leave him.

I do think you need to go with him to his psychiatrist and get him on medication. I’d make that the priority to help him and your marriage.

Hi Jan,
Thanks for your comment. I understand maybe my post wasnt very clear.

My husband is currently medicated, and compliant with his medication. This was not always the case. Until about a year ago, we did not have the finances or resources to stabilize. We spent a difficult 2 years in limbo, with no therapist, a wrong diagnosis, no regular psychiatrist, no regular medicine doses. He had medicine, but it was not the right dose, it was not the full cocktail, AND he was having to cut sample pills because we could not afford the actual prescription.
The medication has made a huge difference, but the support nature of our relationship dynamic is still very “off.” We are both in a much better place now – He has a therapist, a psychiatrist, a job that supports his chronic illness, health insurance, and a much better mix of medication.
I get that this is Not Normal. I’m not asking for help on this forum because i think this is a healthy relationship dynamic. In the most basic sense, it does not feel good for me. But i am competely stuck as far as what I need to do/ can do to make more progress in recovery. I have no idea what i should expect or hope for- is this level of paranoia just standard for those living with SZA?

Reading others’ posts on this forum makes me feel like my spouse’s symptoms are much milder than most, and that i need to just figure out how deal with it on my end. Im asking for some direction in terms of working on our relationship.

You mentioned that you were married to an individual with paranoid SZA. Are you still married? How did you balance paranoia, insecurity, and trust? Do you have any suggestions for effective communication?

I am happy that your husband is doing well! I’m just worried about the stress on you. Have you tried talking to a therapist? I had a therapist and it helped me a lot in dealing with my husband.

We are now divorced. Ultimately, the violence was the last straw in a rocky relationship. We are still very close, though and are good friends.

Hi laughingsteps,

I had a very similar experience with my un-medicated husband. I worked six days a week to support us and would come home only to hear wild accusations and delusions almost every day. I tried so hard to make him comfortable and ensure his day would go well, but it never did. If I expressed my feelings, I would receive verbal hostility. I researched the illness and tried my best to understand what he was going through. Yes, I was the third wheel to him and the illness and the illness won. He was being verbally abusive every day. I was under too much stress and was losing ground on finances because he would spend his disability money in the first few days of the month and then have too much spending the rest of the month. I was at a breaking point and suggested we move to live in another state with a relative where life would be easier. He agreed but eventually left on his own accord to move back to where we used to live, is homeless and severely distraught. I keep hoping he will get on medication again, but he has resisted for many years. I thought I would feel better with him not being around, but life has been quite sad. I do miss him and I don’t want him to be homeless and in physical pain. Every day there is a new crisis and I am so far away, not able to help much.

I feel your pain, laughingsteps. I have been experiencing similar difficulties with my daughter. She will be 21 in a few weeks and has been living at home. However, in my daughter’s case she has been refusing medication and also has substance abuse issues. She has had delusions for a long time that I am being controlled by her enemies and that I lie to her about not being able to see and hear things that according to her are going on inside and outside of our home. When this is the case how do we have a reasonable discussion about basic expectations? A request to her from me to stop taking food out of the fridge and leaving it in on the counter to spoil quickly escalates to angry accusations of me being involved with various people who are conspiring against her. Whether it’s the subject of spoiling food, medication, rehab, treatment or any expectations for her behavior, her delusions seem to circumvent any options on my part other than to not have any restrictions or expectations for her whatsoever in my own home. However, I have always wondered to what extent her aggressive and non-compliant behaviors continue because she is always aware, no matter what it seems, that I am concerned for her safety if she is not living at home. I say this because if I try to discuss with her that I will not allow her to live at home, if for instance, she does not agree to get help to stop drinking and doing drugs, she always brings it up that she won’t be safe. I have had to call the police before because her aggressive behavior escalated so much that there was danger involved to myself and my son and I have noticed that she was able to calm herself down when the police arrived and not threaten them with violence. I guess what I am trying to point out is that it can be very problematic when we are in a situation with our loved one in which it becomes impossible to enforce any boundaries because we are held hostage by our love, commitment to them, and fears for their safety without the stability of our home and care. To what extent do we allow ourselves to be victimized by their delusions? If we are consistently walking on eggshells and apologizing for offenses that exist only in their minds, it can begin to look and feel like an abusive relationship which is endured because of our belief that our abuser cannot help themselves from abusing us because of their mental illness. It appears that your husband can control himself and exert some rational behaviors in some respects but not when it comes to you. You say that you are terrified that he feels like he is an abusive relationship but what about you? What do you feel like? And how can you change the way he feels and perceives you? In my case, the situation escalated so much that I was advised repeatedly to take out a protection order and I finally did it. My daughter is currently in jail (again) and she won’t be allowed to return home this time. Of course, it is incredibly difficult to go through that process with someone you love but in my situation, it also involves my 16 year old son’s safety. I don’t know what the future holds for my daughter. I just know that at this time, I had to impose a clear and definite boundary. I am not saying that your situation is the same as or perhaps even close to what I have been going through because there are at least some very positive signs with your husband such as being on medication and working. However it does appear that you are being exposed to quite a bit of irrational anger in your own home and are living with trepidation and needing to suppress your emotions and perhaps any kind of assertiveness. If you cannot persuade your husband to join you in a therapeutic setting, I would advise you to seek the support of a professional and hopefully one who has knowledge of and experience with schizophrenia.

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Delusions and hallucinations, which are often part of schizophrenia, are so very hard to deal with. When trying to handle a loved one in a psychotic episode it is like an alternate reality has taken over your life too. My daughter was psychotic most of her awake hours for 2.75 years and it ruled my life to try to care for her.

I had a doctor tell me that even if the delusions stop due to medication, often the ill person will simply think that their invisible “friends” have just moved on, never recognizing the past delusions / hallucinations. That is true for my daughter, now medicated for 5 months after 2.75 years of psychosis.

I found a lot of support by joining a NAMI educational class, and using their support groups. This site, and also the schizophrenia subgroup on reddit were very helpful too. My favorite book is “I’m not Sick, I don’t need Help” as the LEAP method of communication is useful in many many ways when trying to get someone to agree with medication, or even with just eating dinner on a regular basis. (I found also that it is useful in the “normal” world too, when trying to change someone’s mind.) You must find some support for yourself as a care-giver to keep yourself and your emotional state “above water”.

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