My first marriage was not what you would call good. My ex, Larry, was bipolar. He would have periods of ‘normalcy’ followed by periods of worse and worse paranoia, hair-trigger anger, irrationality plus erratic and hostile behavior. In this state, he was excessively critical and demeaning to me and to the kids. I was told by psychiatric professionals that I was an abused spouse.
Thirteen years after we were married, Larry was diagnosed as bipolar and put on Lithium. It worked well and gave us a year or two at a time of calm and predictability. But then Larry would stop taking his medication and would devolve again into a volatile, irritable manic state. This would also last a year or so before we could get him back on his meds.
But you know the saying “When it was good, it was very, very good, but when it was bad, it was awful”. That was my marriage. I stayed for twenty-five years because the good times were really good between us. I lived in hope that Larry would stay on his medication and banish the bad times forever. Unfortunately, that never happened.
Larry and I had crazy chemistry. Off the charts. We had a serious connection – one that even survived divorce. Even while we were negotiating the terms of our divorce, our divorce lawyer believed that Larry still had ‘Svengali like’ influence over me. He said that it was clear that we were still bonded in some way.
We would tease each other and banter like in Cary Grant movies. Or like Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. We were always holding hands or had our arms around each other. We always slept holding each other, even when we were fighting.
Larry wanted to be with me as much as possible. He took me on his frequent business trips as often as possible. After we had kids, we took the kids along so we could be together.
Something odd happened to us late in our marriage that illustrates our positive connection. It was Mother’s Day, 1998, three months before Larry left me in a manic rage for the last time. Larry had left me twice before and I had taken him back. Not this time. The kids and I just couldn’t go through these ups and downs any more.
We were in a New York City furniture store, doing a major shopping. We had to buy furniture for Larry’s small New York apartment and there was a big Mother’s Day sale. We spent four hours in the store, working with a salesman, let’s call him James. Larry was always very involved with every decorating decision throughout our marriage. We designed our house in Connecticut together (with the help of an architect) and we did all our decorating together.
As usual, Larry wanted to buy high price items (spending lots of money can be part of the manic phase of bipolar disorder). I was trying to get him to focus on more reasonable choices. We cajoled, we teased, we persuaded, we argued. But all in good humor. I ended up letting Larry get one pricey chair (which became the dog’s chair, of course!) and he compromised on other items. It was a productive day.
When we were sitting with James getting ready to pay the bill, James said something that blew us away. He said “I’ve been doing this job for twenty years. I work with couples all day, every day. And I’ve got to say, I’ve rarely seen a couple who get along as well as you do and who work together as well as you do.”
Larry and I looked at each other and laughed. Larry was in one of his up and down periods and all was not well. But we also realized that James was right; we did have something special. And we were about to throw it all away.
This story is bittersweet for me. It confirms objectively something our close friends already knew – that Larry and I could be very good together. But it also points up how sad it was that this relationship was destroyed by mental illness. I stayed for twenty-five years because there really were things worth fighting for.