Dear Mr. B.R.,
Your wife is probably suffering from a paranoid disorder. It is usually a problem that
gets worse over time, since in many cases its underlying cause is damage to the brain
which, itself, deteriorates over time. Most people who are known to have a degenerative
neurological disorder are somewhat paranoid.
Some people are paranoid at an early age, which could reflect an early brain injury. One
of my clients that I saw for the first time at the age of 16 had a serious head injury when
she was 6. She is now 38 and on rare occasion manifests some paranoid symptoms, but
is married with three children and has steadily improved throughout her lifetime. It's
a rare but encouraging example.
Some of my clients with serious paranoid disorders have eventually divorced their
spouses, with everyone who cares for them, including their loving spouses, trying to
stop them. I have gone to extraordinary lengths to try to prove that their paranoid fears
are unfounded, but rarely does "proof" have any effect.
Sometimes medication can control paranoid thinking, particularly when the person is
experiencing schizophrenic or manic symptoms along with being paranoid. But you
describe a pure state of paranoid thinking in your letter, and medication has not been
very successful in treating it. Psychotherapy is also somewhat unsuccessful, although
there are instances of full recovery.
As you discovered, after taking your 3 day business trip, people that suffer from
paranoid thinking don't like their spouses to leave them alone. I believe that your wife
may eventually let you back into her world again. If she does, don't ever leave her
again overnight. The more time you spend with her, the less chance she has to imagine
what you could be doing behind her back. Also, stress clearly increases paranoid
thinking, and when you're with her she will be less anxious.
For a while, you may suffer stress from all her accusations, and it may even make you
very angry. But I would not argue with her. Simply reassure her that you love her, and
promise you will never leave her overnight again. That may settle her down. Also, call
her regularly throughout the day. The more of your time you give her, especially when
she has your undivided attention, the fewer symptoms you are likely to observe.
People with a paranoid disorder imagine all sorts of plots designed to do them in. Some
are dangerous to live with because they are convinced their spouses are planning to kill
them. I have counseled paranoid clients that have tried to kill their spouses in what
they think is "self defense." Whenever I have a client who threatens to kill their spouse,
I advise a separation until there is evidence of remission.
In your case, there does not seem to be any danger, so I would encourage you to make
every effort to reunite with her. I think she will probably respond to you efforts within
a few weeks, or at the most, a few months.
Make several efforts each day to talk to her, and when you can, tell her that you love
her. Tell her the truth, never go along with one of her fantasies just to try to get along
with her. If she demands that you confess doing something she imagined, gently tell
her that you would never do anything to hurt her. Give her regular reassurance that
you care about her and don't let yourself become so frustrated that you end up saying
something that would hurt her feelings.