Should You Marry Someone with a Personality Disorder?
- Dr. Roger Barrier Preach It, Teach It
- 2012 21 Feb
Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at email@example.com.
Several years ago I wrote an “Ask Roger” column dealing with the Biblical grounds for divorce. Two women wanted me to follow up in a tangential area regarding personality disorders.
Hmmm, you write: "Many mental disorders are incompatible with successful marriages." Which ones?
Sincerely, Amy P
Yeah, I'm not quite sure I understand what you mean exactly, when you’re talking about many mental disorders are incompatible with successful marriages, which ones?
Dear Amy P and K,
Steve, one of our church counselors, and I were sitting on the platform when Dan walked in with his fourth wife. Steve said, “Watch this.” Dan and new wife sat down at the end of a pew. Then, I noticed what Steve was seeing. Dan’s number two and three wives were sitting together directly behind them. Whispering began. A few minutes later Dan and fourth wife got up and moved.
Dan was a smooth talker — real debonair. We all knew that he was a ladies’ man. Nevertheless, you probably don’t want to become wife number five. There are people out there that you really don’t want to marry.
Here is the second letter.
I have been reading your “Ask Roger” in “preachitteachit.com.” on the 4 types of people that pastors can’t change … the personality types. ...
My husband is not open as far as Jesus and God is concerned. He has been diagnosed with Schizoid … and my question to you today is … if these people cannot be open to the teachings of God, where does this leave me in this marriage?
I do not believe in divorce as the first option, but I cannot help but feel this is the only way out for me because I love God and feel this relationship is not going to bring about the best that God has in store for me.
Please help me or refer me to someone that I can speak to about this. Or any advice about if divorce would be an option God will understand…
In my experience successful, happy, and fulfilling marriages are not possible with people who are suffering from one or more personality disorders. The marriage may begin well, but eventually the disorders will sabotage their marriages.
Personality disorders are incurable and basically unimprovable. People with personality disorders cannot be cured or “fixed.” I believe it is safe to say that not only are personality disorders the result of malfunctioning brain chemistry, they are hard-wired improperly into the brain itself. Some also believe that deeply negative childhood experiences may contribute to or even cause a personality disorder.
My statement that personality disorders are incurable sounds rather harsh, hopeless and God-limiting. Of course, God is omnipotent and can do anything that He so well desires. But, for some reason, He seems not to heal personality disorders. I have seen God work some wonderful healings; yet, I have never seen God heal a person with a personality disorder — nor have I read or heard about it happening.
Personality disorders are quite complex. Many occur concurrently with each other. For example, Borderline, Histrionic, and Narcissistic disorders frequently occur coincidentally with Anti-Social personality disorder.
Mood disorders — like depression, anxiety, cyclothymia, obsessive-compulsive, manic-depression, ADD, and bi-polar spectrums — are not the same as personality disorders. While little can be done to “fix” personality disorders, much can be done to help dissipate and improve those struggling with mood disorders. Mood disorders are most often brain chemistry problems which respond quite well to medication.
Now, it is time for a disclaimer. I am not a counselor, psychologist, medical doctor or psychiatrist. Nevertheless, I speak from a perspective of over 40 years of pastor experience, years of study, and counseling scores of families with one or more members who are dealing with personality disorders. I consider myself a tyro in mental health issues; nevertheless, I hope I can give some helpful insights in these areas.
Let me share a simple description of each of the ten personality disorders. More complete descriptions can, of course, be found easily on the internet for those who are interested.
The first four (narcissistic, borderline, antisocial and histrionic) are, in my experience, completely incompatible with happy, successful marriages. The next six (paranoid, schizoid, schizotypal, avoidant, dependant, and obsessive-compulsive) aren’t much better in achieving healthy marriages.
People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder are self-absorbed to the exclusion of all others. They “suck the life” out of all who befriend them. Their relationships are impaired due to their disregard for, and their inability to care for, the needs and sensitivities of others.
People with Borderline (or Emotionally Unstable) Personality Disorders struggle with impulsive actions, rapidly shifting moods, and chaotic relationships. They go from one emotional crisis to another. They often threaten suicide and approximately 8%-10% of these individuals succeed. Self-mutilating acts like cutting or burning are not uncommon.
People with Antisocial Personality Disorders have no sense of right and wrong. They can do dastardly things to the people associated with them without feeling remorse. They have an increased risk of dying prematurely by violent means like suicide, accidents, and homicide. They are irresponsible parents, often homeless, and frequently imprisoned.
People with Histrionic Personality Disorders are incredibly emotional and attention seeking. Their emotions may soar ten to fifteen times above or below normal. Their rollercoaster, up and down lives wear down the people around them. They seek to control through emotional manipulation. They can be incredibly seductive — especially toward people of authority (like pastors) who become their “conquests” or “trophies.” Their sexually provocative behavior is offensive and inappropriate. These individuals often make suicidal threats to coerce more attention and better care.
People with Paranoid Personality Disorders interpret the actions of others as deliberately threatening or demeaning. They are untrusting, unforgiving, and prone to angry or aggressive outbursts without justification because they perceive others to be unfaithful, or deceitful. They tend to be jealous, secretive, scheming, and emotionally “cold.”
People with Schizoid Personality Disorders are introverted, withdrawn, solitary, emotionally cold, and distant. They are often absorbed with their own thoughts and feelings and are fearful of closeness and intimacy with others.
People with Schizotypal Personality Disorders have eccentric manners of speaking or dressing. Strange, outlandish, paranoid beliefs and thoughts are common. They have difficulty forming relationships and experience extreme anxiety in social situations. They tend to react inappropriately or not at all during conversations. They may talk to themselves and often have delusions that they can see into the future or read other’s minds.
People with Avoidant Personality Disorders are hypersensitive to rejection. They are timid, fear criticism, and tend to avoid activities that involve interpersonal contact. They are fearful of saying something considered foolish; often have no close relationships; and are upset at their inability to relate well to others.
People with Dependent Personality Disorders want others to make decisions for them. They require excessive reassurance and are easily hurt by criticism or disapproval. They fear being alone, and are devastated when a close relationship ends. They have a strong fear of rejection, lack self-confidence, and seldom initiate activities or do things independently. This disorder is diagnosed more frequently in females than males.
People with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders are perfectionists who are never satisfied with their achievements. They struggle inordinately with decision making and seldom complete tasks. They often get to focusing on insignificant things that loop over and over again in their minds causing misery and an inability to focus on anything else. They can stand in the toothbrush aisle at the grocery store for an hour trying to decide which $1.50 toothbrush to purchase.
Now, while remembering that God doesn’t intend for every one to marry, and that Paul considered the single life to be best, let me give some advice to those who are considering marriage (1 Corinthians 7:1-8).
The best way to avoid being married to a personality disordered person is not to marry them in the first place! With any potential marriage partner, wait at least a year before getting married. Observe your future partner through all four seasons before you tie the knot. Underlying problems will usually show up some time during the full year.
If you’ve found Mr. or Ms. Right, keep your eyes open. Love is blind. If you see potential problems developing, refuse to give in to the temptation to ignore or minimize them. You will condemn yourself to a life time of trouble and misery when you try to make a good marriage out of flawed, personality distorted material.
One counselee told me that during their engagement period her fiancé pulled a knife out of a drawer and told her that if she ever left him he would commit suicide. She spent over a decade as a manipulated, emotionally and physically abused wife until she finally worked free. She is still in recovery.
Now let me talk about what to do if you suspect that you’ve married someone with a personality disorder.
A correct diagnosis is essential. Only a qualified professional is competent to make a professional diagnosis regarding any sort of mental illness or disorder. Seek their advice and counsel.
Unfortunately, most affected spouses shy away and/or actively resist seeking out a physician for help or diagnosis. What can you do? Personality disorder tests are all over the internet. Take one or two and answer as you’d imagine how your spouse might answer. You will get an insight into the sort of problems with which you’re dealing.
I believe that you have several options open to you if your spouse struggles with one or more personality disorders.
First, don’t immediately use their problem as justification for divorce. Remember that your loved one is often in miserable pain and confusion and can be helped greatly by your compassion and support.
As I consider your situation, I am reminded of all the parents who live with mentally- and/or physically-challenged children. You have seen them at the mall as they push along a complex, high-tech wheelchair which is home to a child who has not at all turned out as mom and dreamed. I see the anguished pain in their faces — and so do you — as they see other children running and laughing and playing while their child sits trapped within a mind or body that doesn’t work properly.
I admire these parents who have sacrificed so much. I never pass by the opportunity to take a longing and loving glance as they push those wheelchairs. Sometimes, I feel like I am looking at Jesus (Matthew 25:34-45).
But these mentally and physically impaired children won’t hurt you! Those with personality disorders can destroy you and your children.
If your situation is not too threatening or severe, you may dedicate yourself to remaining married and helping your loved one as much as possible. You might say like Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
You may find strength and satisfaction from knowing that God allows and even engineers all sorts of trials to mold us to look more like Jesus (Romans 8:28-30). Your marriage has not turned out the way you wanted. I am deeply sorry. However, I rejoice that these troubles may very well be the circumstances that God can best utilize to mold you to look like Jesus.
While enduring multiple sufferings Paul realized that he was actually learning contentment. You probably will, too: “…for I have learned content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13).
Now, let’s talk about your divorce option.
If you or your children are being abused I would feel no qualms about getting out of the relationship as soon as possible. Get out and get safe before any more damage occurs. Any one who emotionally, mentally, physically or sexually abuses spouse or family has broken his/her marriage vows and invalidated the marriage (Ephesians 5:21-33). That partner is free to divorce and remarry if they like.
God’s attitude regarding abuse is, “I hate divorce and I hate a man covering his wife with violence” (Malachi 2:16 and alternate Hebrew rendering).
Failure to provide emotional, mental, and/or spiritual care and support can debilitate marriage and/or parental obligations and suck the life out of a marriage.
The context of 1 Timothy 5:8 is regarding husbands who do not take care of their families financially: “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Consider that providing care for the family involves more than must money.
Don’t let anyone criticize or disparage your decision to get out of your marriage if personality disorders have, or are in the process of, destroying your marriage. Until criticizing individuals have experienced first hand the debilitating destruction personality disorders can bring to a family, they don’t have the right to make you feel badly about your decision.
Well, Amy P, and K, I hope my answer is helpful in deciphering what I said about some people who should not get married. Thanks to you both for your questionings.
Dr. Roger Barrier recently retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.
Publication date: February 21, 2012