Need some help coping with "bipolar" wife - Talk About Marriage
Physical & Mental Health Issues Marriage and relationships are difficult by themselves, but coping with physical or mental health problems can make things even more difficult.

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post #1 of 74 (permalink) Old 06-16-2013, 10:47 AM Thread Starter
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Need some help coping with "bipolar" wife

I made my first post a while ago in the "If you had known before....would you have gotten married" thread.

I've been mostly lurking the last few months on this board but could really use some guidance. Grab a beer, it's one of those long posts.

Basics:
Wife and I have been married for 19 years this year.
Things were perfect, and I do mean, perfect, no signs of psychiatric issues. She developed breast cancer five years into the marriage. Went through double mastectomy, chemo, radiation, tamoxifen, the works, she was a champ. Really inspiring. Awesome attitude. She had to stop graduate school to deal with the issue. Went back to school after missing two years.

She did well in school until her senior year (age 36) when she started with hyperreligiosity that led to her classmates and teachers becomin frustrated with her. She was becoming increasingly irritable at home; the hyperreligiosity was transmitted to me much later and by others. She barely graduated as her grades plummeted. More and more argumentative, but wanted a child. We tried for only a short time and she became pregnant.

We found out she was pregnant because that was when she had her psychotic break. She peseverated about abdominal pain and in the process became pretty psychotic, mostly delusions. She ended up hospitalized on a psychiatric floor. Of course, I thought the worst--limbic encephalitis, from returning breast cancer, can cause psychosis.....so in prep for MRI she had a pregnancy test, and boom! We found she was pregnant. The MRI revealed nothing, and repeat cancer workup also revealed no cancer. Thank goodness!

She was on the P-floor for a week as they stabilized her. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Because she was pregnant, she was started on haloperidol, which frankly did little. She went to an outpatient psychiatrist, who felt that schizophrenia was the wrong diagnosis, and felt she had bipolar with psychosis; this was based on manic behavior she'd had prior to her psychotic break. Thankfully, our little boy was born with no problems and he is now a healthy seven years old.

Various medications tried over the last seven years. The newer antipsychotics did squat. She is now on Trilafon, an old medication of hers.

Now comes the interesting part:
It turns out she'd been on Trilafon when we'd met. She saw a psychiatrist on a regular basis during the first years of our marriage. The story that she related to me was that she'd had head trauma in 6th grade after being trampled by other kids, and developed seizures. She was started on phenobarbital. During a summer program at the beginning of college, she'd stopped the phenobarbital and in the process of withdrawing from the medication, she'd been psychotic, sent home, hospitalized on a P-floor. Was on Trilafon afterward. Based on that logic, her P-doc finally decided to wean her off the medication, after all, why keep her on a medication that was for a side effect from withdrawing from another....15 years prior? It was about the time she was being withdrawn that she developed the new psychiatric symptoms.

Worse:
I didn't know about the prior hospitalization untli the psychotic break I witnessed. Now I'm wondering whether she was simply schizophrenic all along....and the disease does worsen with age.

So there's the background information. That brings me to now.

I am currently at my wits' end. Even on Trilafon, which thankfully stops the worst of the psychosis, she is quite obviously depressed. She is always irritable. She is always snapping at our son for no good reason. She spanks him sometimes when not appropriate, and I have intervened to stop this behavior. I can't have a normal adult conversation with her becausae even something reasonable like "hey, the floor is wet because you left the shower curtain out of the bathtub" becomes a major fight, with her yelling and me trying to be reasonable.

When I am home, I usually stay with my son, or take him out with me, so that he is not exposed to this behavior 24/7. Unfortunately, in my career, I frequently work 10-12 hours a day and sometimes more, so I cannot be home more. Luckily, I have at least some (not all) weekends off and I treat my son to a dose of normal parent behavior.

I have tried to be supportive, I have spoken to the psychiatrist, I have tried to engage her family (thankfully, they are supportive toward me as the same irritable behavior she shows toward my son and me she exposes to them too).

I have come to the realization that no medication is going to help her. We have tried many, and none has worked well; the Trilafon seems to be the best of them. Even a second psychiatric opinion led to the conclusion of "what else can be done?"

I am a patient person by nature, but I have to take care of myself and my son. As I type this, she is at church with my son, and I am cleaning house as she has decided that in the last few months that she can't do that. She doesn't want to help herself. She doesn't do anything to try to get a job, yet she won't apply for disability. She is quite comfortable asking for money above and beyond the reasonable allowance I give her. In that, I acknowledge enabling some of her behavior.

In short, I am thinking about leaving and taking my son, and making her move in with her parents, until she decides what will make her happy in life. The way it looks to me, it's not me that makes her happy.

I'm going to say the same platitudes as others....but I do mean them. First, I do love my wife and recognize that this illness is not her fault. I have full intention of standing by her. To her credit, she is compliant with medication and with P-doc visits and that is why I've stood by her so long. Second, I am really concerned about how the wife's behavior will affect my son. If left to her, he'd never, ever leave the house and of course that's not healthy, so I take him places and allow him to explore. On top of that, the little one is now old enough to understand that his mommy doesn't act like some of the other mommies he's seen helping out in class.However, I am concerned for my own emotional wellbeing.

I am just unsure what I can do to help her when I've done everything I can, even limit access to our money (long story, but she nearly spent us into bankruptcy during the manic phase before she was diagnosed. She has no direct access to our money since then). Should I stay and fight? Should I leave and forget about her? I am so tired of being Dad and Mom to my little one, and having a demanding job where people ask the world of me every day.

HELP!

Thanks for listening to my brain dump if you made it this far....there is more that I've left out but I hope you get the gist of my situation.

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post #2 of 74 (permalink) Old 06-16-2013, 12:09 PM
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Re: Need some help coping with "bipolar" wife

Hi Frank. I'm so sorry for what you are going through. This must be nearly dibilitating for you.

My first concern would be for your son. Having a mental illness doesn't make good parenting impossible, or even more difficult. But your wife's current diagnosis doesn't leave much hope for a return to full functioning health. If your job is that demanding, your first priority is to ensure your son is safe and well cared for. Day care or after school programs, summer day camps and even sleep away camps. Frequent visits with family, grand parents and aunts and uncles are VITAL!

You don't go into too much detail about your wife's behavior on a daily basis, so the important question is, do you feel that your son is safe and well cared for with your wife? Perhpas it might not optimal parenting, but is he safe? Is he fed, is he well treated, is he treated in an age appropriate way? If you can say yes, then your next priority is your self.

You need to create your own support network and it sounds as if you already do have some support from her family. As you go through the motions of working and caring for your son, you now find that you are lonely, right? You are taking care of everyone but no one is taking care of you. Nows the time to give yourself permission to have a social life because you DO need that outlet to remain healthy.

Once you have those two major components working, son is well cared for and you have a group of male friends you can hang with fairly frequently, you will find that your inner strength has returned. You may feel, at that point, that this is something you can live with. You may find this is not something you can live with. At that point it's time to be honest with your wife's family, since they will be the ones who will have to support her through a decision to separate.

It might be helpful for you to start your own IC so you have someone who can listen and offer guidance, someone with no agenda but to help you make the best decisions for you.

I think you feel terribly conflicted about having a wife with a mental illness which prohibits you from enjoying a fully actualized adult relationship. Part of you feels very cheated, almost swindled. The other part feels like a heel and a cad for wanting to ditch your wife, you didn't sign up for this. Her dx is a major illness, but there are a LOT of people with Bi-polar who do learn to manage it well. Her sensitivity with meds does make it difficult, very difficult.

There are several members here on TAM who have Bi-polar and hopefully, they will chime in with ways they've learned to cope and perhaps some ideas for you so you can be supportive without enabling.

I often lament the sorry state of mental health awareness and care in this country. It's easier to have cancer then it is to have a life long mental illness! Cancer brings out support and compassion while mental health brings out judgment and critisim.

Keep posting here. I think you'll find that just getting it off your chest will be helpful!
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post #3 of 74 (permalink) Old 06-16-2013, 02:03 PM
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Re: Need some help coping with "bipolar" wife

I have bipolar disorder, and it has been challenging for both me and my partner. Has she really tried EVERY medication? She needs a mood stabilizer such as lithium, depakote, tegratel to even out her moods. I take lithium, lamictal (a weak stabilizer used mostly for depresion) and risperdal for psychosis. Not everyone does well on the same meds. It took me 10 years to find this combo and it has worked well for me for years now.

I would get a new pdoc if he says her options are used up. Getting her a therapist would be a good idea as well. Believe me, I put my man through hell with my episodes, but I am thankful he educated himself about the disorder and stood by me.

I would also suggest day camp or daycare for your son. Caring for kids is a trigger for people dealing with severe mental illness. Give her some time to work on herself, and hopefully she will heal her mind and be better able to be a partner and parent. Also, anxiety often accompanies a mood disorder, and she may need an anti-anxiety med (I take klonopin for that,)

I wish you luck with whatever you decide. Look into NAMI for education and support also.

Long term relationship of 25 years.
Finally made it legal 10/3/14
Three children 23, 21 and 15.
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post #4 of 74 (permalink) Old 06-24-2013, 05:38 PM
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Re: Need some help coping with "bipolar" wife

...she's ill.
...depending on the frequency and nature of the inappropriate spanking, you may need to prioritize the welfare of your child.

In that case, please gather documentation prior to moving out. Also consult with a lawyer regarding primary or joint custody. Not all lawyers are equal, or even competent. Something resembling 50%, in my experience, are incompetent clods. (well...at least for criminal defense law...it says something when you walk out of an office with your BPD wife, in the midst of a paranoid disassociation...and she just shakes her head and says 'Man's an idiot.')

Assuming that you're comfortable raising a child with this woman, it sounds like it is time to take care of yourself. NAMI groups, friends, time apart, lots of childcare, all will help. It may be wise to involve a child psychologist. Also, consider whether or not it makes sense to switch careers or locations. If you leave, I can't see 10-12 hours a day as compatible with raising a child.

Also, dunno, but have you looked into hormone issues? My wife had a very significant episode (more homicidal) around the time she became pregnant.

--Argyle
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post #5 of 74 (permalink) Old 06-24-2013, 10:24 PM
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Re: Need some help coping with "bipolar" wife

I am so sorry for your situation! I can only imagine....

It's great that she's compliant. She may not want to apply for disability but it would be beneficial in many ways. Not sure if you can talk her into it?

The main thing is for you to obtain help on a regular basis. Something....get household help (maid or cook), send your child to camp/actitivies. Enlist the help of family members.

If you wife is unwilling to do these things (to be helpful to you) then you need to decide whether she is worth staying for.....it all depends on her capacity. Not sure of her severity but if she's unable to make decisions for herself...maybe a power of attorney?
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post #6 of 74 (permalink) Old 06-29-2013, 03:50 PM
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Need some help coping with "bipolar" wife

IC has been helpful to me by giving me a place to vent and get some empathy, forcing onto myself some continuity of making effort and change and gaining insight (as opposed to letting myself evade the situation for lengthy periods if time), and, most importantly, bringing professional wisdom and skill to bear on MY life (as opposed to my wife's).

YMMV, but I think you should give it a serious try, and it only counts if you are certain you've found a good therapist.

"We are only here briefly, and in this moment I want to allow myself joy." -- Amy, from Spike Jonze's "Her"
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post #7 of 74 (permalink) Old 06-30-2013, 09:50 AM
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Re: Need some help coping with "bipolar" wife

Frank,

Really sorry you are going through this. This is one of many stories that supports my belief that people with mental illness or on treatment should be required to disclose this prior to marriage so the other person can research and make an educated decision. Your post indicated she may have disclosed this to you prior to marriage.

I'm going to be bashed for this and I sympathize for those with mental illness, but its immoral to not disclose something that could affect the marriage so deeply and it's especially immoral to have children knowing this and not disclosing it. I have read some folks here with mental disorders who have made the conscious decision NOT to have children so as not to expose them to the illness or even passing on the genes. I applaud them for that and would do the same if I was in that situation.

As far as the op, without true effort from your wife to improve, things wont get better. You can send your child to camps and other mitigating methods to cope, but ultimately the stress and heartache will destroy you. Keep going to IC and make some long term decisions.
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post #8 of 74 (permalink) Old 07-03-2013, 12:08 AM
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Re: Need some help coping with "bipolar" wife

Hi- My husband is mentally ill. He told me that he was depressed during his first year of college. He told me this once and did not really go into detail. I guess, we say depressed as almost a casual thing and I didn't think " mental illness". He obviously had a bout of the depression when we moved far away, but I thought it was just transitioning to living half way around the world. Anyways, sometimes I kick myself for not seeing that he was ill before I got pregnant and married and sometimes, I know that he knew he had an illness and did not tell me.
It infuriates me. I do feel cheated. His mother told me that he was emotionally unbalanced and incapable of having a relationship right before we moved away, but they were so mean to me, I thought that they just didn't like me and were trying to break us up. As my husband said they had told him the same thing about me!! Ha.
Now, it is ten times worse. When I ask him where that guy went that I married, he says he is dead and that he is sorry he made me love him. Like indicating that he acted a certain way to get me to marry him.
Anyways, I am starting to not feel any type of obligation to him and only stay so that he will not influence our son half the time. He is very angry almost all the time and yells, lies and has regularly threatened to kill himself for the last two years. (He won't take meds or see a psych regularly) But he told me that one of the reasons he had depression in college was because of his difficult relationship with a girl that turned out to have schizophrenia. Now I am wondering if he was actually the one with it. I am of course the cause of all of his problems now. Ha.
HIs family told me to stop bothering them and yelled at me when I told them he was threatening to kill himself. The therapists tell me to divorce him and to call 911 if he threatens suicide anymore, but I tried to once and he called his mom and she told me it was really awful of me to threaten to do that right before he had a presentation and that I was in the wrong!!! And then told him how to get out of going to the psych ward if the police did show up!!
So, this all leads me to believe that this is not the first time they are hearing of my husband wanting to kill himself. Isn;t there a way that I could see his medical records?
How do I get to keep my baby and get away from him? Please help. Thank you
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post #9 of 74 (permalink) Old 07-03-2013, 09:09 AM
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Need some help coping with "bipolar" wife

Quote:
Originally Posted by venuslove View Post
Hi- My husband is mentally ill. He told me that he was depressed during his first year of college. He told me this once and did not really go into detail. I guess, we say depressed as almost a casual thing and I didn't think " mental illness". He obviously had a bout of the depression when we moved far away, but I thought it was just transitioning to living half way around the world. Anyways, sometimes I kick myself for not seeing that he was ill before I got pregnant and married and sometimes, I know that he knew he had an illness and did not tell me.
It infuriates me. I do feel cheated. His mother told me that he was emotionally unbalanced and incapable of having a relationship right before we moved away, but they were so mean to me, I thought that they just didn't like me and were trying to break us up. As my husband said they had told him the same thing about me!! Ha.
Now, it is ten times worse. When I ask him where that guy went that I married, he says he is dead and that he is sorry he made me love him. Like indicating that he acted a certain way to get me to marry him.
Anyways, I am starting to not feel any type of obligation to him and only stay so that he will not influence our son half the time. He is very angry almost all the time and yells, lies and has regularly threatened to kill himself for the last two years. (He won't take meds or see a psych regularly) But he told me that one of the reasons he had depression in college was because of his difficult relationship with a girl that turned out to have schizophrenia. Now I am wondering if he was actually the one with it. I am of course the cause of all of his problems now. Ha.
HIs family told me to stop bothering them and yelled at me when I told them he was threatening to kill himself. The therapists tell me to divorce him and to call 911 if he threatens suicide anymore, but I tried to once and he called his mom and she told me it was really awful of me to threaten to do that right before he had a presentation and that I was in the wrong!!! And then told him how to get out of going to the psych ward if the police did show up!!
So, this all leads me to believe that this is not the first time they are hearing of my husband wanting to kill himself. Isn;t there a way that I could see his medical records?
How do I get to keep my baby and get away from him? Please help. Thank you
My heart goes out to you, venuslove. Would be best if folks responded to this on venuslove's "Husband is mentally ill" thread in the General Relationship Discussion forum.

"We are only here briefly, and in this moment I want to allow myself joy." -- Amy, from Spike Jonze's "Her"
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post #10 of 74 (permalink) Old 07-05-2013, 02:17 PM
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Re: Need some help coping with "bipolar" wife

@Sanity
Problem is...an awful lot of people with serious mental illnesses (anosognosia) don't know they are ill. I suspect that's one of the markers of being too crazy to marry.

I believe that any marriage should be preceded by a mutually disclosed diagnostic test for all common mental illnesses. (There are some where lying is hard.)

--Argyle

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post #11 of 74 (permalink) Old 08-06-2013, 10:05 PM Thread Starter
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Re: Need some help coping with "bipolar" wife

Thanks for the replies, everyone. I have been away from the thread for a long while and I apologize. The reason is that it is emotionally draining for me to think about and type on the situation.

It's been an interesting summer so far. A couple of weeks after I made my original post, I called the P-doc for help with her. Medication was immediately increased, which helped some with sleep, but the irritability and irrationality continued.

We just celebrated anniversary #19 in the last couple weeks while all this was going on. Yay us.

We scheduled a family session with the P-doc, which occurred today. Her mom and dad were there along with me. We (mostly me) explained her behavior. The usually cordial relationship between the wife and P-doc broke down as she became increasingly agitated during the session. She simply had no insight into her problem and for the first time, the P-doc saw what we have been dealing with.

Ended up adding a second medication to the Trilafon. We'll see if it actually works. Given how touch she's been to treat so far, I am skeptical, but I am willing to try. I still want to leave, but want to give her a chance. What a dummy I am.

As far as my son goes, he spent the summer in summer day camps, piano lessons, and a reading class. He's good to go for the academic year in a couple of weeks. I'm taking the first week of school off so I can personally drive him to and from school, avoiding the drama that my wife occasionally brings when she does the task. I have made more time for him and he has responded to that by really clinging to me when I get home from work. We are inseparable during the time I'm home. He vents to me about mommy and some of her irrational behavior. He doesn't call it that, obviously, but can describe it well. Thankfully, his grandparents help us a great deal and help to mitigate her behavior.

To those who commented on my work hours: I am considering quitting my business and taking a 9-5 job with no weekends. I've had offers tendered to me for such (for as much or, in a few cases, for MORE money than I make now) and I'm really thinking about it. Whether I stay with this woman or not, this would be a good move for me (less stress) and for my son (more time with him).

Sanity, I totally agree--mental illness should be FULLY disclosed before marriage. In my case, the attempt to tell me was couched in a discussion about a side effect to a medication, so it was not clear to me that there was an early psychotic breakdown. If I leave, then have the insanity to enter another serious relationship, I will have an investigation done to find such information. I wish I'd thought to do that in the first place. I would have walked.

PieceofSky, I think it is time for IC for me. I have not yet started the search for a counselor. I am taking care of myself, though. I enjoy certain things and I spend time doing them when I'm off. I take my son with me as well.

Corpuswife, the wife can make decisions for herself most of the time. When she is loopy, though, her parents or I have to step in.

Anon pink, she can care adequately for our son despite the irritability. She doesn't appear to be a danger to him, and I keep close tabs on her for that. I would like to be physically there more frequently....reference above comment about changing my work situation. (Argyle references this as well).

scatty, thanks for your insight as well.

Venuslove, I truly feel for you. In my situation, at least her parents are supportive and my wife is compliant with medication (I personally supervise med administration so I know she takes it). If I were in your situation, I'd leave and take my child. Your situation causes me to look at mine from another perspective.

Man, another long post...
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post #12 of 74 (permalink) Old 08-07-2013, 11:49 AM
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Re: Need some help coping with "bipolar" wife

...for your son, our children found frank discussions of mom's behavior somewhat useful. ('Mommy did that because she's mentally ill. It isn't normal. She's going to a doctor to try to get better. But it takes a while because she has to practice 1000 times.')

...regarding medication, the optimistic portion is that different medications, even those used for the same symptoms, can have drastically different effects. The pessimistic portion is pretty much the same. With the additional clause that the negative side effects are often much worse than the actual medication. It may help you to keep a diary.

...eg...Ambien helps my wife sleep. Clonazapam really helps my wife sleep and results in significant dysphoria and extreme irritability.

...the last portion is that we've found considerable variation in competence between psychiatrists.

...anyways...best wishes.

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post #13 of 74 (permalink) Old 08-07-2013, 09:46 PM Thread Starter
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Re: Need some help coping with "bipolar" wife

Thanks.

Giving the new med combination a try.

You are right about variation in competence between psychiatrists. I've had her to two other P-docs and around here, pickings are slim for good psychiatrists who will actually talk to a patient at the same time meds are being prescribed.
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post #14 of 74 (permalink) Old 12-24-2014, 06:55 AM Thread Starter
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Need some help coping with "bipolar" wife

An update.

1. Son is well adjusted and doing well in school. My days off and after hours, we hang together. He's now 8 1/2 and starting to have more serious convos with me. It is so wonderful to watch a little one grow cognitively. The little guy is my best friend and my whole reason for living.

2. My wife is the same. No improvement despite a couple of med changes. She had to decrease the Trilafon because it caused her teeth to grind and it was hurting her. Depakote was decreased because of weight gain. Her P-doc is at her wits' end and her suggestion is to try another newer antipsychotic, though none of the others was effective. Wondering whether ECT is an option for her. I doubt that dear spouse would go for it given her lack of insight that she is ill.....and when I say lack of insight, I mean an active denial that anything is wrong.

I am actively seeking a psychiatrist who specializes in treating difficult bipolar cases like my wife. Unfortunately, this may necessitate travel as most psychiatrists around here, even in our storied academic medical centers, are generalists. If someone can tell me of a good expert somewhere in the U.S., post up. I am trying not to give up, feeling I must protect and help my wife by any means necessary.

Otherwise, I still am at a point where we are stuck with her behaviors and I must protect my little one by any means necessary.

3. As for me, I've chosen to stick it out for now. On her bad days, I tell her she has to go to her mother's house.

I have my hobbies (my cars and car meets). I have my wonderful son. I don't even cheat, not even online. Yeah, I've thought about it but I don't want to invest emotionally in another relationship now and most importantly don't need those complications in my life.

I re-read all the words of advice above. It is time for me to start IC specifically for caregiver burnout. I will start the arduous search for a compatible counselor after the new year. I guess I have a New Year's resolution!

I do feel cheated. I'm cheated in that I can only have a normal adult conversation at work. I don't allow myself to feel cheated constantly, I think of how my wife's professional aspirations will now likely never happen because of her illness. It makes me so sad to think about what happened to her.

Are we to live another 40 years like this? My heart just fills with sadness thinking about that.

I just want the woman I married and was with for 12 years back. I want the space alien (just a joke, OK?) who took over her mind to leave. Is that so selfish of me to ask?

Thanks for reading yet another tome.
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post #15 of 74 (permalink) Old 12-29-2014, 08:10 PM
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Re: Need some help coping with "bipolar" wife

I'm so sorry you're going through this! Things can't continue like this. Are the Drs certain she is bipolar? The things you've described sound like Psychosis, not bipolar. Or perhaps a combination of both.

How does she deny it? Saying she isn't sick or not bipolar? How does she explain her medication and what the Drs tell her? The first step is accepting the illness and then researching it (her, not you. You clearly know your stuff).
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