Monday, July 18, 2011
Topic: My ex-husband is threatening suicide. What do I do?
Today I'm in sunny California, getting ready to leave for home in a few hours. I've been babysitting my beautiful granddaughter for the weekend. We've had a great time getting to know one another. Grandchildren are the best!
Today’s Question: I was in a dysfunctional marriage for 35 years. My husband was emotionally destructive and a big manipulator. I was easily manipulated because if I did not go along with his thoughts, he did punishing behavior. There was a lot wrong - I read your book on emotionally destructive relationships. We had all sorts of counseling, but the "problem" was always me he thought; he would not accept any responsibility or accountability.
Long story short we were divorced. I moved. He was not able to manipulate me
any longer. Our alimony issue has been in the court system for almost three
years - at first it was an unfair judgment, so I appealed and won. Now the judge
came back with a fair ruling and my ex wants to appeal this! He cannot. He is
now becoming very depressed and my son is afraid he may hurt himself. This is
the only time he has not been able to manipulate an outcome.
What is my role here? Mainly to pray is what I see. He has not submitted to an
authority that I know of. He needs emotional help, but has not reached out for
any. I see this as the Lord allowing him to come to the end of himself. I do
not have any contact with my ex-husband.
What is the likelihood he will hurt himself and what do you advise? I am not
sure if with the depression is he trying to manipulate me through my children or
not. They have recommended Christian counseling to him and my son has told him
to, "cry out to the Lord".
Answer: It is quite frightening when someone threatens suicide or is so depressed that you worry that he might do harm to himself. Your children, specifically your son feels caught in the middle and I’m sure he too feels very frightened. We want to do all we can to help a person in distress, but sometimes people do use threats of suicide and self-harm to get us to give them what they want. And, often it works. We’re afraid if we don’t give in, we will have to live with the guilt of their death.
Hear me. It is not your fault if your husband chooses to kill himself if you do not give in and cave to his demands. However, I do want to give you some things to consider (and to share with your son) since your question was regarding the likelihood he will hurt himself.
The research on high suicide risk people have identified a number of factors. If your husband fits these categories, then the risk of him attempting suicide and/or succeeding is higher than those who don’t fit these risk factors.
People who are depressed, have mood disorders or bi-polar disorder, alcoholism, and substance abuse, low social support, family history of suicide or previous history of suicide attempts, are higher risk. Some big days for high suicides are New Years Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day. Surprisingly the biggest factor in suicide is not depression but hopelessness.
Your ex-husband seems like he’s lost what is most meaningful to him (his money) and hopelessness might be a factor here. You’re right in praying for him. Jesus warns us that wherever our treasure is, there the desires of our heart will be also. God is longing for your husband to switch masters, from money to Him. (Matthew 6:21-24)
If your husband is suffering from depression or bi-polar disorder he needs some help in dealing with his feelings of suicide. However, unless he becomes a danger to himself or others, there is little you (or your son) can do to make him receive the help he so desperately needs.
However, here are a few more things you can do to help you handle this dilemma.
If your husband threatens suicide, call Crisis Intervention or the Police. Crisis Intervention’s phone number can be found in the blue pages of your phone book for your locality. Make sure you have that number programmed into your cell phone in case he calls you or your sons call you in a crisis. This is too big for you to handle alone. Your husband needs to learn that if he threatens suicide, this is the result. Crisis Intervention or the Police will take him to the hospital to be evaluated by a psychiatrist. That may be the most loving and helpful thing you can do for him.
Second, if he calls you threatening suicide, be compassionate, but maintain your boundaries. Suicide is an irreversible decision often made in a moment of emotional angst. You can show compassion for his sense of hopelessness, but that doesn’t mean you must give in to his demands. Empathize with his feelings while internally maintaining your own boundaries and need to take care of yourself. Ask him where he is at the moment (home, work, at a park). Encourage him that things are not hopeless and to get the help he needs to deal with his feelings. Provide him with phone numbers (or give your son phone numbers) of Christian counselors who will help him. But if you feel scared or concerned in any way that he is going to harm himself, call the police or Crisis Intervention.
It is tempting to give in to his demands in order to prevent his taking his life but this is a short term solution to a deeper problem. Even if you were to give in to his immediate demands, then what? If he can get what he wants by threatening his own life, then he will continue to manipulate and control everyone to give him what he wants. Part of emotional maturity is learning that we don’t always get what we want and handling our own disappointment, hurt, and/or anger.
Lastly, it’s been my experience that when someone is actively suicidal, Satan is often actively taunting this person to take his own life. Prayer (as you already indicated you are doing) is a great help in dealing with the demonic forces at play in a suicidal person’s thought life. There are no easy answers or simple solutions but I applaud your desire to be supportive to your adult children and your resolve not to be manipulated into doing something you do not want to do.