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Is he “mentally ill” or is he abusive?

Sometimes women think that their partner behaves the way he does because he is mentally ill. Abusive behaviour is so bizarre and unpredictable, it certainly makes sense if you wonder sometimes if you partner is mentally ill. If your partner is kind one moment and raging the next, how do you make sense of this? If he explodes over stupid things, what are you to think? If he behaves well in front of others but then seems crazy with you, how do you make sense of this?

Also, men who are abusive are sometimes diagnosed as having a mental illness. If this has happened to you, it will certainly add to your confusion. Or perhaps your partner blames his hurtful behaviour on his mental health. For example, he may blame an explosion on his depression. This is all very confusing. In our experience, women feel that if their partner is behaving a certain way because he is “ill”, then perhaps he cannot help it. Women want to be able to support their partners through an “illness” and in our experience, women take their marriage vows to be faithful “in sickness and in health” very seriously.

If these are some of the things you are wondering about, we would urge you to search this website and look at the videos and blogs that talk about the “Cycle of Abuse”. We think the Cycle of Abuse describes the actions of an abusive man more accurately than a mental health diagnosis.

Also, there are two important questions you can ask yourself: One, does your partner behave like he is mentally ill with everyone, or just with you? If your partner does not consistently display “abnormal” behaviour, he may not in fact be mentally ill. Two, does having mental health concerns give someone permission to behave abusively? We would answer “no” to this question. Mental illness and abuse are two separate things. Over the years, we have had many women in our groups that are suffering with depression or anxiety (abuse is depressing and anxiety provoking) but they are not abusive to their partners. We have also had women in our groups who have other mental health challenges but they are not abusive to their partners.

Abuse and mental illness are two separate issues. If in fact your partner does have a mental health concern, this is a separate issue to the abuse and he needs to work on and address both concerns. If he also abuses drugs or alcohol, this is a third issue that he needs to work on. None of these can be used as an excuse to abuse.

If this issue is a central one for you, we would urge you to read Lundy Bancroft’s book “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” In this book Bancroft spells out very clearly the difference between abuse and mental illness. Bancroft has worked with abusive men for many years and is an expert in this area. We also hope that you will continue to look at this website as you keep searching for answers to your questions.

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When Love Hurts