Divorcing Jekyll and Hyde by Cheryl Stein

When a disorder, such as Borderline Personality Disorder, becomes well known and filters into mainstream vocabulary, all of a sudden, laymen are diagnosing each other with it at the drop of a hat.

Obviously, a lot of divorcing couples paint their spouse with such labels, even though the person may simply not be handling the divorce well. When the average person undergoes an extreme stressor, such as an unraveling marriage and divorce, it makes sense that they may go a little haywire.

I have had clients tell me their spouse has borderline personality disorder, but when I dig deeper, it seems that the only person their spouse has difficulty with is them.

Borderlines have an overarching pattern of troubled relationships shadowed by explosive and uncontrollable anger. They have difficulty maintaining friendships, in general. If my client admits that his or her spouse, who acts erratic and unpredictable with them, is close with their immediate family and has good friends, in all likelihood, they are not borderline, but rather unhappily married and targeting their frustration at their spouse.

When there is mental illness, however, it can be problematic – mental illness typically limits a person’s coping skills.

In the case of Jekyll and Hyde personalities, you could question what came first – the chicken or the egg? Are people with specific personality disorders more prone to getting divorced? If one person’s emotional problems take up the whole room, how can they sustain a relationship?  

Spouses can feel like they’re walking on eggshells around someone who is volatile. The person could be charming and spirited, but once you get to know them, they’re stressful to be around. They become easily unhinged, and you never know when or what is going to set them off.

When couples divorce and a custody trial ensues, a parenting analysis is done. This analysis includes determining which parent is more attuned to their childrens’ needs. I’ve participated in cases where both parents are compromised – one may have Borderline Personality Disorder and the other is Bipolar. In this case, we’ll do a comparison between the two to determine which one is higher functioning and better equipped to deal with the childrens’ physical, emotional and intellectual needs.  

Even though we try to be settlement oriented, we often have to litigate. In these situations, attorneys have to reveal what’s going on for their client and provide examples to the court. In domestic violence cases, attorneys need to show exactly how their client is the victim of coercive control and abuse, which many times goes hand in hand with the perpetrating Jekyll and Hyde personality type.

Attorneys need to help their clients recognize that they can only control themselves, not their ex-spouses. They should also try to help their clients have insight into their own behavior and learn to modify it and not necessarily react to the other party’s provocations, especially in custody cases, where the parties have each other in their lives at least until the childrens’ emancipation.

Feel free to contact The Law & Mediation Offices of Cheryl Stein with any questions.

Cheryl Stein, Esq.
The Law and Mediation Offices of Cheryl Stein
745 Fifth Avenue, Suite 500
New York, NY 10151
Phone: (646) 884-2324
E-mail: cheryl@cherylsteinesq.com