Q&A: I Feel Like I’m Living with Jekyll & Hyde

What to do when you find yourself married to a man with a Jekyll & Hyde personality...

We’ve received several questions through our family blog lately that deal with subjects better suited to this forum, so I’ve decided to publish my responses here, in case other readers are dealing with similar situations. Here’s the first:

QUESTION: Hi, Jennifer. I would like to know how you would deal with a husband that is like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

One minute everything is wonderful, the next thing he acts mad at me for everything under the sun…. I am not perfect and have made some mistakes, but I think I am a great wife. He has even made the comment that I have put up with a lot over the many years we’ve been married.

He can be wonderful at times, but very difficult to live with at other times.

ANSWER: It’s been decades since I’ve read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but I remember enough to know that Hyde would be a very difficult person to live with.

I believe in the book, the doctor’s transformation was caused by some concoction he was drinking. If your husband’s mood swings are caused (or made worse) by alcoholism or substance abuse of any kind, or if he is suffering from a psychological disorder like manic/depression or dissociative (split personality) disorder, or if his behavior is putting you or your children in physical danger, then please get some professional help ASAP.

But if, as your letter indicates, he simply acts one moment as if everything is rosy and the next as if he is intensely irritated by every little thing you say or do, then the following suggestions may help.

You will notice, I’m sure, that all these recommendations require you to adapt your attitudes and actions to him and his mood. And you may be thinking, “He’s the one with the problem, why should I be the one to change?”

I know that seems unfair. And it is.

You were probably hoping for a solution that would change your husband and the way he acts, and I wish I could give you one, but only God can change his heart.

You have no control over your husband’s actions. You can only control your response.

From the (omitted) details of your letter, it sounds like you are already working very hard to make your marriage work. Clearly, you feel you are doing your fair share and just wish your husband would be more appreciative and less volatile in recognizing that fact. In an ideal world, he would. That’s how it’s supposed to work, and I know it really stinks when reality falls short of what could or should be.

But think of it this way: Staying married is a little like driving a car.

To get safely from one place to another when you’re driving, you not only need to obey traffic laws and signals yourself, but you must also watch for other drivers who may be ignoring those same laws and signals.

This is a concept my own dear father had a hard time accepting. Whenever the law gave him the right-of-way, he was determined to take it, no matter what the other drivers around him were doing.

That attitude nearly got our family killed a few times. When we’d mention that fact to him, he’d argue, “Well, if we died, it would’ve been their fault.”

Yeah, maybe. But we’d still be dead.

And preventably so, if you saw a way to avoid the accident, but stubbornly refused to take it.

Likewise, if your marriage crumbles — even if it’s demise can be pinned 100% on your spouse — you and your children are still going to suffer the consequences. Knowing that someone else was to blame does not alter that fact. It won’t breathe life back into the casualties.

So what can be done (beyond all you are already doing) to prevent that from happening?

BE SYMPATHETIC:

Start by trying to understand your husband’s stressors and alleviate as many as possible. Do what you can to minimize the things that frustrate him. Here is a list of possibilities to get you started:

  • physical hunger
  • financial strain
  • self-doubt
  • illness/ poor health
  • unfulfilled desire for sex
  • feeling disrespected (at home or work)
  • overextended schedule (at work or home)
  • concerns about the children
  • responsibilities and commitments
  • caffeine withdrawals
  • unmet personal goals/ dissatisfaction
  • restlessness
  • bad modeling from his own father
  • cluttered/messy house
  • midlife crisis
  • fluctuating hormones
  • general irritability associated with aging
  • immaturity
  • jealousy/ competitiveness
  • general sin nature
  • guilt over specific sin(s)
  • pride (in him or me)
  • crisis of faith

Obviously, you have a measure of control over some of these things, such as cooking good meals to alleviate his physical hunger or saying yes when he’s in the mood to address his sexual hunger.

Over others, such as how his boss treats him at work or what kind of modeling his own father provided for him as a child, you have absolutely no control. But sometimes just recognizing these contributing factors and empathizing and encouraging your husband in the midst of them is enough to help alleviate their harmful effects.

So put yourself in his shoes and treat him as you’d want to be treated, were you dealing with the same stresses and pressures.

NOTE PATTERNS:

It may be helpful and instructive for you to keep a calendar of your husband’s mood swings for several months to see if you can pinpoint what might be triggering them.

Along with his moods, plot his work load, your menstrual cycle, extracurricular activities, your own attitudes, financial ups and downs, his call/vacation schedule, etc. Play the part of a detective and look for connections.

Again, you may not be able to do anything about the triggers, but just being aware of them can help you modulate your own actions and interactions to keep the peace at home and be sensitive to extra pressures your husband may be facing during certain times of the month or year.

Yes, it would be nice if he’d be sensitive to the pressures you’re facing, as well. Maybe someday God will mature your husband to the point that he can reciprocate in the sympathy and compassion department so things won’t seem so one-sided. But until then, you can still improve your situation by giving consideration to these matters, even if none of them are “your fault.”

PRAY ABOUT IT:

I’m sure you are already doing this, but beyond praying that God would change your husband or stabilize his moods, I’d encourage you to pray that He’ll give you wisdom and patience in responding to your man, and also ask Him to open your eyes to anything you may be doing to contribute to the discord.

Pray with the Psalmist, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” (Psalm 139:23-24, NASB)

Pray that God would open your eyes to your husband’s good points, as well. Pray that He’d help you keep your focus there, and would give you a deep and abiding love and appreciation for the man you married, and would make you a crown and a blessing to your husband in every way.

TALK TO YOUR HUSBAND:

Wait until your husband is in one of his good moods and gently broach the topic of how his bad moods affect you and the children.

Sometimes men vent their anger and frustration and don’t intend for anybody within earshot to take it personally — like a guy who lets loose a string of curses when he hits his thumb with a hammer, then can’t understand why his wife who overheard the tirade would think he was mad at her. I’m not trying to justify such behavior, by the way, I’m only attempting to explain that sometimes husbands just don’t realize how much their dark or angry moods hurt their wives.

So prayerfully try to explain all that in a nice way, without getting angry and accusatory. I know that’s a tall order, but if you come across as critical, self-righteous, or disrespectful, you’ll likely just make the situation worse.

If your husband is already aware of the problem, ask him if there is anything you can do to help stabilize his moods, and follow through as best you can. I know what keeps my husband happy is a tidy house and lots of sex with me, so — guess what? — that’s exactly what he gets. (Okay, so sometimes the house gets a little cluttered, but I’m extremely faithful in the other area, and that helps blind him to those piles of books on our dining room table.)

BE ENCOURAGED:

I hurt for any wife in your situation. Sin stinks. And it breaks God’s heart. These Jekyll & Hyde mood swings were never part of God’s perfect plan for marriage, nor do they accurately reflect Christ’s love for us.

Even so, you can still glorify God in the way you respond to the circumstances in which you find yourself. You can still grow and mature in Christ in the midst of it. And you can still have a happy, solid marriage, despite your husband’s volatile moods — but that happiness will hinge on your attitudes and reactions.

If you haven’t already done so, I’d encourage you to commit pertinent Bible verses to memory and draw strength from them when the going gets tough. Here are a few I’d recommend, for starters:

  • “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9, NIV)
  • “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” (James 1:2-3, NASB)
  • “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1, NIV)
  • “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” (Colossians 4:6, NASB)
  • “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8, NIV)
  • “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6, NASB)

You may also want to read this post. It’s about getting along with difficult mother-in-laws, but the strategies outlined work equally well when dealing with difficult spouses, bosses, neighbors, or anybody else who has a demanding personality or seems impossible to please.




How Do I Love Thee? A Devotional Journal for Wives

10 thoughts on “Q&A: I Feel Like I’m Living with Jekyll & Hyde

  1. PG

    I married my husband 12 years ago.Little did I know that immediately into the marriage,I would we what I had married.I was brought up with Christian values,he wasn’t.Off and on for 12 years I’ve had to deal with a man who would play house for 2 or 3 days then become bipolar.He’s been wanting a divorce this whole time.He got put on some medicine that makes it tolerable but then he stops taking it for weeks at a time.He went to jail 7 years go for domestic violence.Other episodes have occurred since.Especially one two nights ago.He’s been pushing divorce for the last year and a half.I don’t make the kind of money he does so I can’t afford an attorney.I will probably be homeless because I made the wrong choice by marrying a psycho.There isn’t a lot of protection for women in this scenario.Honestly ,women or men should run from anyone displaying any questionable behaviours like that before marriage.People say why stay? Because it takes money to leave.People don’t get that.

    Reply
  2. T.L.

    Hi Jennifer,
    Your suggestions might work well for a woman married to an average redeemed sinner. But there are those of us who married abusive men who claim to be Christians, some even in ministry. (like mine.) After over 30 years of employing the kinds of behaviors you suggest, I had to finally refuse to submit and reach out for help. (To submit meant I could not ask for help from anyone–he was too “private.”) If a woman is married to an abusive man, your suggestions will only empower him. So I think you need to be more careful about reading up on this topic and helping women know what to do if they are trapped in an abusive marriage: one in which one partner exerts power and control over the other; whether physical, emotional, spiritual, or financial. Jesus taught and modeled servant leadership, not domination. (Matt. 11:29, Matt. 20:25-28, Matt. 23:11, John 13:14, Phpp.2:5-8, etc.)

    Reply
    1. Jennifer Flanders Post author

      You are right in saying my advice will be of little help to women trapped in extreme cases of abuse. That is why I prefaced my remarks with the disclaimer: “If your husband’s mood swings are caused (or made worse) by alcoholism or substance abuse of any kind, or if he is suffering from a psychological disorder like manic/depression or dissociative (split personality) disorder, or if his behavior is putting you or your children in physical danger, then please get some professional help ASAP.” I understand that I am unqualified to address such issues — and I certainly have no personal experience with that kind of behavior — but I believe those cases are the exception rather than the rule. The vast majority of married men I know, both within my own family and in an extremely wide circle of friends, sincerely desire to be good husbands and fathers. That’s not to say they are perfect or immune to the occasional foul mood, but overall they try to do right by their wives and families. We all can be moody, irritable, or impatient at times, but it would serve us well to learn to get along with others in spite of that fact.

      Reply
  3. KS

    I am afraid that you may be setting women up for a lifetime of emotional abuse; desperately trying to fix a situation that isn’t about them, it’s about their husband. Unless and until he decides to get professional help, you’ll be fighting a battle you can’t we in. Just as there are consequences for leaving there are consequences for staying. Both the wife and children pay a price. If you have sons, do you want to show them that this behavior towards the woman they love is ok? Would you recommend to your daughters to accept such treatment? What are you teaching your children by staying? Can you live the rest of your life reacting to someone else’s moods? Should you? Does God love your marriage more than he loves you? Serious questions that must be considered. I speak from 22 years experience. You do have choices. Best to all.

    Reply
    1. Jennifer Flanders Post author

      I’m not trying to condemn anybody to a life of abuse, which is why I qualified my response by including that second paragraph. You raise some excellent points, though, regarding the messages we send our children through the way we respond to our spouse. I am blessed to be married to a very faithful, kind, and hardworking husband. Although we love one another dearly, we can both be pretty stubborn and do sometimes butt heads — but I trust that by observing how we work through our differences, our children will learn that it is entirely possible for two imperfect people to have a wonderfully happy and fulfilling marriage.

      Reply
  4. Christie P

    Please be on the lookout for an undiagnosed illness. For example, chronic Lyme disease can mimic any and every known psychiatric diagnosis. If he is showing signs of fatigue, such as continually sitting down after work and not getting up to do any help, he may be sitting down because his body aches in every joint and the only way he can keep from snapping at the entire family is to rest. I felt like I lived with dr. Jekyll and mr. Hyde. It’s because my husband has chronic Lyme. Chronic Lyme also flares every 28 days with the full moon. If he is always worse during the full moon you can bet he has Lyme disease. If you suspect Lyme disease then get the documentary called “Under Our Skin” and watch it. Don’t go to a normal doctor, you will waste your money and your time. Find a Lyme literate doctor (LLMD) and get some real help.

    My husband suffered from the symptoms of chronic Lyme disease for 8 years before we knew what it was. I lived with the man and almost left him twice because as far as I knew he was a lazy, mean jerk. Its only by the grace of God we stayed together long enough to find out that there was an illness at the root of this. We are six months into treatment and seeing some real hope. But we are not done yet. We have another 6 months to a year of antibiotics to go until we have this thing beaten into submission. By God’s grace and with God’s help, I’m going to get the man back I married and our children will have the father they have never known!

    Reply
  5. Drew Erika

    Wow, great article! I have dealt with this identical situation in my marriage. I love how you advise wives to recognize that they can’t change their husbands but that they may need to be the “defensive driver” in their marriage to prevent a “crash.” God worked in our marriage through prayer. I prayed for 2 years, and finally my husband confessed that his lashing out was the result of a sin that he has since repented of and sought counseling for. What a blessing! In the meantime, I learned how to protect myself while still being submissive. If he was in a foul mood, I wouldn’t ask questions, get emotional, or feed into it. I would simply give him space and let him realize that if he wanted to be nasty that the children and I wouldn’t be around him. I wouldn’t give him the cold shoulder though, as soon as his mood changed I would be smiling and acting like nothing happened. When he became verbally cruel, I would not cry or yell back. I would say, “I am your wife, I love you, and you may not speak to me this way.” He would huff and puff, but slowly he learned that although I would submit to him I would not be his punching bag. I would encourage all wives in this situation to lean on God and look to Christ as your perfect heavenly husband while you love and pray for your imperfectly Earthly husband.

    Reply
  6. Abby

    Oh bless you sweet Jennifer. I am so encouraged by everything you ever post, what a gift God has given you with words, wit and wisdom! You are a treasure. God bless 🙂

    Reply

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