If you’ve recently discovered that your spouse has a diagnosis of a personality disorder, no doubt that you may secretly think that you made a mistake in choosing him/her. There’s more to the picture though and you need to keep reading!

“I think my husband has Aspergers or a personality disorder; is it possible to be happily married?”

Yes, it is possible to have a happy marriage whether you suspect your spouse has a personality disorder or Aspergers. The most important thing you should remember is that labeling someone with a diagnosis simply to blame them and their behavior is counterproductive if you want to be happily married. Focus on how you can work together to overcome communication barriers and become better listeners instead.

The diagnosis of mental illness has become part of the fabric of our society to such an extent that prospective clients call me and diagnose their own spouse with personality disorders. While they have not necessarily studied the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) aka the diagnostic “bible”, it seems as though everyone has become an expert at labeling.

Is there a need to have your spouse diagnosed with a mental illness?
If the motivation to label is simply to shift blame onto your spouse (who might already be struggling with their own issues) then no, that is not a constructive reason to seek a diagnosis. This article should help explain when it’s helpful when it is counterproductive and invite you to explore the pros and cons of diagnosing your spouse with a mental illness.

Why diagnose?

A diagnostic manual is helpful in terms of research. By developing an operational definition of an illness, it became possible to compare different studies about the same disorder. It also became easier to communicate with third parties about an illness. This made it easier for insurance companies to cover mental health services.

In addition, diagnoses can be useful when there is a team approach to treating the disorder.  This is especially useful in hospitals and community health clinics where the patient’s chart is key to communicating. It saves time and helps the patient get the appropriate treatment.

More help for those who think their spouse has a personality disorder:

Finally, the last reason why diagnosing may be helpful is that it can be validated for one who is suffering to know that he/she actually have an illness. This allows him/her to accept the illness and get it treated more effectively.  This is often the case in 12 step programs where participants are encouraged to say that they are an alcoholic, etc… By taking ownership of their illness, they are empowered to heal.

The dangers of diagnosis

Despite the advances of science, it is still unclear what causes mental illness.  While many may speak of some sort of chemical imbalance in the brain, this is not decisive. It is also worth keeping in mind that the DSM is published by the American Psychiatric Association. Psychiatry has veered away from traditional psychotherapy to medication management.

In fact, the APA has posted on its website that more than half the 28 new members of writers of the next edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) have ties to the drug industry.  It is hard to think they may not be a little biased.

The question remains as to how accurate these diagnoses are and whether they are being manipulated by the highly influential drug industry.

In general, it is questionable as to the merits of diagnosing a person.  Whereas a doctor treating a physical illness is treating the body, when it comes to mental illness we are dealing with matters of the soul.

Is it fair to define or pigeonhole a person? I was at a mental health conference years ago and I remember how one of the therapists was discussing cases and was dropping three-letter words right and left.

It was rather comical yet sad. Do we see our clients as sick individuals? How does that help us have compassion for them? If we think they are crazy can we really believe that they can become “normal”?

In my marriage counseling work with couples, a diagnosis is often counterproductive.  While it true that mental illness can contribute or exacerbate tension in a relationship, it does not have to be an excuse to preclude a successful outcome.

In a relationship, both partners are responsible for the state of their marriage, and pushing the blame on the one with the illness can be a way to avoid taking responsibility for his/her role. 

Furthermore, anxiety and personality disorders will worsen with stress. By creating calm and safety in a relationship, symptoms will usually decrease.

Diagnoses can be helpful and can be used if it is helpful for the betterment of the client. Unfortunately, they can be used as a weapon to stigmatize, to blame, and to shirk responsibility. The bottom line is that they should be used only when necessary and with the utmost sensitivity and discernment of a licensed professional.

Many times the spouse with the “mental illness” has mentioned how the calm of our Marriage Restoration Retreat was enough to mitigate much of their symptoms, as the stability and the safety that our retreat provides, allowed for the triggers and the stressors that typically set off the symptoms were lessened. Talk with us today about our private 2 Day Marriage Restoration Retreat!


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Shlomo & Rivka Slatkin

Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin is an Imago relationship therapist and certified (master level) Imago workshop presenter with over 20 years of experience hosting couples therapy retreats in-person and online. Contact info@themarriagerestorationproject.com or