I feel that my wife may have a problem with "mood swings."
NewEngland, the two most common causes of long term mood problems are bipolar disorder and BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder). I agree with Nod that you are NOT describing bipolar behaviors. Instead, the behaviors you describe -- i.e., the temper tantrums, lack of impulse control, blame-shifting, sudden Jekyll-Hyde transformations, and refusal to accept responsibility -- are classic traits of BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder), which my exW has.
Significantly, I am not saying she has the full blown disorder -- only a professional can determine that. Rather, I'm only saying you are describing a woman who may have moderate to strong traits of BPD. If so, it is a serious problem because, even when such traits fall well short of the diagnostic threshold, they still can be strong enough to make your life miserable and undermine a marriage.
I am not a psychologist but I did live with a BPDer exW for 15 years and I've taken care of a bipolar foster son for longer than that. Moreover, I took both of them to a long series of psychologists for 15 years. Based on those experiences, I have found nine clear differences between the two disorders. One difference
is that the mood swings are on two separate spectra having very different polar extremes. Whereas a bipolar sufferer swings between mania
, a BPDer flips back and forth between loving you
and hating you
. Significantly, you've mentioned nothing about mania. Instead, you've described a W who flips between loving you and hating you. A second difference
is seen in the frequency of mood changes. Bipolar mood swings are very slow because they are caused by gradual changes in body chemistry. They are considered rapid if as many as four occur in a year. In contrast, four BPD mood changes can easily occur in a week. The latter therefore is consistent with your description of numerous temper tantrums ("two a month on average," you say). A third difference
is seen in duration. Whereas bipolar moods typically last a week or two, BPD rages typically last only a few hours (and rarely as long as 36 hours). Again, these short-duration rages are consistent with with the brief tantrums and hissy fits you describe. A fourth difference
is seen in the speed with which the mood change develops. Whereas a bipolar change typically will build slowly over two weeks, a BPD change typically occurs in less than a minute -- often in only 10 seconds -- because it is event-triggered by some innocent comment or action. Significantly, the behavior you describe is consistent with these event-triggered outbursts. As you say, the bad mood does not slowly develop but, rather, "she will suddenly and without warning become angry when something happens." Like I said, the tantrum is event-triggered. A fifth difference
is that, whereas bipolar can be treated very successfully in at least 80% of victims by swallowing a pill, BPD cannot be managed by medication because it arises from childhood damage to the emotional core -- not from a change in body chemistry. As you are clearly aware, the source of your W's damage likely is her mother and the damage likely occurred in early childhood. A sixth difference
is that, whereas bipolar disorder can cause people to be irritable and obnoxious during the manic phase, it does not rise to the level of meanness and vindictiveness you see when a BPDer is splitting you black. That difference is HUGE: while a manic person may regard you as an irritation, a BPDer can perceive you as Hitler and will treat you accordingly. This seems consistent with your description of very hateful, spiteful behavior. A seventh difference
is that, whereas a bipolar sufferer is not usually angry, a BPDer is filled with anger that has been carried inside since early childhood. You don't have to do anything to CREATE the anger. Rather, you only have to say or do some minor thing to TRIGGER the anger that is already there -- which is consistent with your description. An eight difference
is that a bipolar sufferer typically is capable of tolerating intimacy when she is not experiencing strong mania or depression. In contrast, BPDers have such a weak and unstable self image that (except for the brief infatuation period) they cannot tolerate intimacy for long before feeling engulfed and suffocated by your personality.
BPDers therefore will create arguments over nothing as a way to push you away and give them breathing room. Hence, it is not surprising that they tend to create the very worst arguments immediately following the very best of times
, i.e., right after an intimate evening or a great weekend spent together. This is consistent with your observation that her tantrums even when there is no stress.
Indeed, you say her outbursts have occurred on all but one of your very expensive vacations. I had the same problem with my BPDer exW. She was ruining so many $4,000 vacations that I stopped taking her on lavish vacations. If I was going to have to put up with a tantrum, I could do that at home and avoid spending $500/day. Finally, a ninth difference
is that a bipolar sufferer -- whether depressed or manic -- usually is able to trust you if he or she knows you well. Untreated BPDers, however, are unable to trust for an extended period. Before they can trust others, they must first learn how to trust and love themselves. Interestingly, you mention nothing about her having trust issues. If she has strong BPD traits, she almost certainly has trust issues. Until she learns to love and trust herself, she will be unable to consistently trust others.
The problem is this has happened since a couple months into us dating.
If she has strong BPD traits, they likely would have completely vanished for 3 to 6 months during the courtship. Her infatuation over you would have held her two great fears (abandonment and engulfment) at bay for that long. She had no reason to fear you because, for that brief period, she perceived of you as perfect and flawless. Yet, as soon as the infatuation evaporated, you would have started seeing the red flags.
Her childhood was different. Her mother likely is mentally ill.
Most abused children do NOT develop BPD (probably because it is genetic to a large extent). But such abuse GREATLY raises the risk of doing so. Indeed, a 2008 study found that 70% of BPDers report that they were abandoned or abused (or had emotionally unavailable mothers) in childhood.
These would have serious impacts on my emotional health - I would often be crying in the shower the next morning after she left or barely able to keep it together at work.
If you have only been crying in the shower, consider yourself lucky if you've been living with a BPDer for 6 years. Many spouses of BPDers become so disoriented by the rapid Jekyll-Hyde transformations that they feel like they are going crazy. Indeed, of the several dozen mental disorders in the DSM-IV, BPD is the only one
that is notorious for making the partner feel like he may be losing his mind.
She's smart and holds down a professional career.... These mood swings are almost always in private between her and I.
Most BPDers -- even those with the full blown disorder -- are "high functioning," which means that they interact very well with casual friends, business associates, and total strangers. None of those people pose a threat to their two great fears. There is no close relationship that can be abandoned. And there is no intimacy to trigger engulfment. Lord help those folks, however, if they make the mistake of drawing real close to the BPDer. The result is that many BPDers can excel in very demanding professions, e.g., becoming nurses, social workers, police officers, physicians, and psychologists. This is why it is common for a BPDer to be caring and generous all day long with total strangers -- and then go home at night to verbally abuse the very people who love her.
So I doubt anybody else suspects there is a problem.
With high functioning BPDers, the casual friends don't have a clue. Hence, if you decide to divorce your W and she is a BPDer, you can expect to lose most of the friends you have in common with her. Typically, BPDers are very nasty and vindictive when you try to leave them.
I wonder if she has self image problems since she put on about 80 lbs since we got married.
If she has strong BPD traits, she almost certainly has a weak, fragile sense of who she really is. The image problem, then, would go far beyond a body-image problem. I nonetheless note, however, that my exW started eating like a truck driver right after we were married. Like your W, she put on about 80 pounds.
What happens if she ever runs into problems in her career or we ever have children?
Another risk, if she has strong BPD traits, is the chance of her passing a predisposition to mental illness on to your children through genetics. Like the other PDs, BPD is believed to be partly the result of heredity and partly due to childhood environment. Hence, before having children with her, I strongly encourage you to see a clinical psychologist -- for a visit or two by yourself -- to obtain a candid professional opinion on what it is you are dealing with.
The memories of some of the worst mood swings run constantly in my head, sometimes I can't sleep because I keep hearing them over and over again.
Like you, I had great trouble getting rid of the images I had in my mind after the tantrums died down. The look of utter disgust and hatred seen on my exW's face would stay with me. In contrast, my exW would be ready to jump into bed and make love to me right after her tantrum. BPDers can do that because they are so intolerant of mixed feelings that they "split off" one set of feelings (hating you) while experiencing another set (loving you).
Does anybody have any thoughts?
My thought is that, while you are waiting for an appointment with a psychologist, you may profit from reading more about BPD traits -- to see if most sound very familiar. An easy place to start reading is my description of such traits in Maybe's thread at My list of hell!
. If that description rings a bell, I would be glad to discuss it with you and point you to excellent online resources. Take care, NewEngland.