Dealing With A Husband With Mental Challenges

Question: “Hello. I am married and have been for the last year. When I first met my husband, I noticed that he had something wrong with him that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. After 2 or 3 dates, I resigned to the fact that he is probably mildly mentally retarded and was probably in the special ed classes in school. Since I have no problem with that and genuinely liked him, I continued to date him. We fell in love and married. Now his mental issues are destroying our marriage because I do not think he can fully grasp the scope of some of our issues. I have asked him about his mental capacity in the past, but he never will admit to it. On one occasion when he thought I was leaving him, he admitted that he is one can short of a six pack and that is why he argues all the time. That is the closest he has ever come to admitting anything about his mental condition. If he truly does have a weakness in this area, we need to discuss it. How do I find out about him without hurting his feelings? His family never says anything about it and each time I ask him, he denies it. When I asked him what did he mean when he said he was a can short of a six pack, he said he just said it because he didn’t want me to leave him and he was saying anything that came to his mind. I love my husband and I don’t want to hurt or embarrass him by pushing the issue. But I know without a doubt that he has mental issues. Anyone that meets him can see it in his face. You know, he has that look. If I knew exactly what, maybe I could be more patient with him and save our marriage. Sometimes he has the mentality of a child. Other times he is selfish and dismissive. Also, I think he was a virgin when we met, but of course I will die before he ever admits to that one…. We are very spiritual and go to church often. He blames his shortcomings on the work of the devil just trying to break us up. But I know it is deeper than that. Trying to get help for someone when he and his family pretend nothing is wrong, could hurt my husband beyond repair… Please help!!!”

Answer: I appreciate your question. Marriage can be difficult at times and working with a spouse that likely has some cognitive challenges can make it more difficult. I can imagine how frustrating it must be for you to have a relationship with some one that you say is irritable most of the time and tends to argue. It appears that he does have difficulty within your relationship based upon what you shared in your post above. From what you stated he has shared he likely has some difficulty processing information and reading social cues as he has stated in a moment of fear that he is one can short of a six pack as you stated. He is likely aware and highly insecure and thus defensive about his emotional and mental processes that complicate the marriage. You mention that if you knew exactly what he ‘had’ you could “be more patient with him and save our marriage”. I don’t know that your labeling it will do more for you in terms of being able to see it, as even without a title or label you can see the symptoms and know how it feels to interact with him. I do feel what you are saying though, that a label might help you measure, quantify, or otherwise understand what he has or struggles with and then be able to express more understanding.

It is possible that he may have a cognitive processing issue? Meaning he may have a average fine IQ but process information much more slowly thus a split, and this would look like his misreading cues, being irritable and otherwise being challenged. Did he have difficulties at birth? Premature? Delayed development? These would be indications that may have influenced his cognitive abilities. These can be worked through and managed, but you and him need to acknowledge them and deal with them as they influence the marriage.

My guidance for you here would be that you both seek out marriage/couple counseling. Processing through the patterns and the nature of the marriage and relationship would not only identify the issues that are plaguing your marriage but the capacity and mental challenges that he has will also surface. This would give you and him both room to explore and understand the nature of his difficulties and the strain on the marriage. I do not feel your confronting him on it will help him come out and talk about it. He is likely so insecure and worried that you’ll leave him (per your story above) that he’ll not want to be inadequate or state that he is less than. Going to therapy and tackling the issues head on will provide a safe medium for you booth to visit and for the therapist to wade through the issues and I am confident that they’ll emerge as you speak about what you have posted here on this blog in terms of his statements that he may be different and challenged in managing emotion and relationships.