Imagine a scenario where you have been and out and about for a few hours. It could be something as simple as shopping, doing some errands or out socializing with a few friends. Upon your return home, your partner proceeds to accuse you of things you didn’t do or being somewhere you weren’t. Add some paranoid thinking like someone is trying to poison them, throw in a conspiracy theory or two and before long they are demanding a divorce. This sounds like a bad dream mashed with a cheesy Hollywood script, but this is real. This is what it can be like for a person living with someone with a delusional disorder. It’s not a dream.
A Delusional Disorder is indicated by the presence of non-bizarre delusions or strong beliefs that are not rooted in reality, such as having an illness, being followed, spied upon or deceived for a period of a month or longer. Diagnosis is tricky because the person suffering from the delusions may have a difficult time trusting anyone and therefore may not be totally truthful when describing what is happening to them and what they are thinking. Deciphering what is real and what is imagined is challenging. In my husband’s case, it took 2 years to receive a diagnosis and even longer to find the right medication. As you can imagine, life during this time was like living on roller coaster, not knowing what was about to happen next.
One woman describes her situation where her husband believes she is trying to kill him. He believes the house is bugged with listening devices and his phone is wired to record all forms of communication. He accuses her of lying about everything and if another man even looks in their direction while out, he accuses her of having had sex with them. She is very hurt and does not know where to go for help. When she tries to defend herself, he accuses her of lying. When she tries to get him to read information about this psychiatric condition he says there is nothing wrong with him and calls her a disgusting human being.
A distraught husband whose wife refuses to take medication has to deal with her thinking he is forever trying to kill her by throwing her out of their moving car. She now refuses to drive anywhere with him. She has accused him of multiple affairs and has a spiritual answer for her bizarre behaviour.
Another fellow has stayed married to his wife of over 30 years only to be the target of her daily accusations of infidelity and jealousy. She believes her family members are trying to destroy her. Sometimes she is so scared that she disappears for days at a time holed up in a motel room trying to save her own life. She has spent thousands of dollars on private investigators and surveillance equipment. Her husband has spent thousands on therapists and counsellors.
A person with Delusional Disorder still functions very well in all other aspects of their life. They may still go to work, interact with people and carry on with their daily activities. Other people would not suspect that something is ‘off’ in their thinking. A person suffering from delusions will usually remember everything that happened during this period and often return to the same scenarios over and over again. It can be a very tiresome and hopeless situation for a spouse or other family members. Children especially may have a hard time navigating their way during these times. When speaking to a doctor or therapist, a delusional person may choose exactly how much to say and safe-guard their beliefs. After all, they don’t want to sound ‘crazy’.
I was the target of my husband’s delusions and it was exasperating to need to defend myself for things I hadn’t done. I learned it was better not to defend myself because no matter what I said, he would not believe me. I found it easier to shut the conversation down and put some distance between us rather than fight it out. Unfortunately, this was not an effective way to communicate and only served to be antagonistic. The real tragedy in our situation was that not having any prior knowledge or insight into this particular mental illness, our relationship was tested in every way imaginable. At the beginning we had no idea what it meant to be delusional. It was such a terrible feeling to be falsely accused of horrific things such as infidelity by the person I love most in this world. An even worse feeling for my husband who wholeheartedly believed he had been deceived by his wife. The more we learned, the easier it became. After some time, we learned how to deal with the delusional periods and minimized the damage.
Communication during these delusional episodes is extremely difficult. Staying connected is almost impossible when love turns to animosity. With little understanding of the nature of the illness, a marriage can quickly dissolve when admiration and appreciation are traded for disrespect and insults. Trust gets replaced by suspicion and confidence quickly turns into self-doubt. Living like this is not only frightening but exhausting, especially when these negative traits did not exist in our marriage prior to the onset of the illness. Knowing when to communicate is important.
The episodes ran a course and when the delusions ceased we were able to talk to each other calmly and with reason. Not all was lost and during the calm times we were able to rebuild trust and confidence in each other. Unconditional love prevailed and with patience, understanding and medication we found that we were able to rebuild the trust we once had for each other. The more we learned about the illness the better we understood things. What seemed like a hopeless situation at first, in fact, turned into a hopeful one. All the days were not bad ones. There were times when the delusions were absent and rekindled our love for each other. A friend of mine reminded me how important it was to cherish the good days while they lasted. We learned to embrace life and celebrate the good days.
About Marion Gibson
Marion is the author of Unfaithful Mind, a memoir detailing her family’s journey through a significant mental health crisis. She is an advocate of mental health awareness working to break down the stigma of mental illness. She is now pursuing an education in mental health and addictions and working on her second book. Marion lives in Victoria, BC with her family. You can follow Marion at the HMC Supportive Minds blog here or on Facebook and Twitter.