Dear Annie: My husband of decades has a habit that I don’t care for, and I can’t seem to make him understand the problem. I have run out of ideas, have asked counselors and anyone I can that might have an answer or suggestion. I am desperate to see whether you or your readers have any ideas.
The issue is this: If he sees anything around and he doesn’t recognize it, he throws it away. If you are right there, then you can stop him. Otherwise, you’re out of luck. I check the garbage for items regularly.
The last things he tossed out that I didn’t catch were my two photo albums from my childhood. My mom, dad and great-grandma worked on those two albums. Needless to say, the albums contained pictures of many individuals who are gone. I can’t seem to forgive him and get over it. It’s mostly grieving for what I can never see ever again. I thought I’d made him understand that these sentimental items are mine and that he has no right to throw something away without checking with me. Please help… I have tried counseling, both me alone and us together. I have left notes on items from matter-of-fact to rather nasty. I have tried explaining, every day, not to throw my things away. Please tell me how to deal with this problem. I am at my wit’s end! — Missing My Things
Dear Missing: While not considered its own psychological disorder, compulsive decluttering can be a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder. I encourage you to find a 2015 article on The Atlantic website, entitled “The Opposite of Hoarding,” and see whether the behavior described reminds you of your husband. Though you’ve tried therapy yourself and attended couples therapy with him, he may benefit from individual therapy on his own, potentially for the treatment of OCD. If I hear any insights from readers, I’ll be sure to print them here. (c) Annie Lane @ Creators.com
So… that’s a thing? Okay. But as a person with severe mental illnesses herself, including Pure O (from OCD), I’m a bit appalled. The letter writer’s husband is, presumably, a sentient being and is therefore capable of overriding his compulsions to toss his wife’s cherished photo albums(?!?!). I mean, are we to believe that this clod is just throwing everything away because he feels compelled to? Does he lack any shred of insight or self-awareness into his condition that would offer to him suggestions of how he could seek help, counteract the impulse, and/or communicate what’s going on inside his head? Because he seems like a Neanderthal. Even with severe mental illnesses, there has to be some level of… I don’t know… accountability, as well as cooperation with your treatment. And that includes being able to live with your loved ones without throwing away their cherished possessions.
Also, regarding Annie Lane’s advice, therapy for this guy to treat his OCD won’t help. If his OCD symptoms are that serious, he should be seeing a psychiatrist. Anytime you’re so mentally ill that you have to throw away your wife’s cherished photo albums, talk therapy isn’t going to get it done. This is why we have psych meds.
And honestly, if her husband refuses to seek treatment (or otherwise quit tossing his wife’s stuff), then I’d divorce him. It rubs me the wrong way when people are victim to other people’s mental illnesses, all because the mentally ill person refuses to acknowledge that what they’re doing is wrong, and likewise refuses to get help.
I’m surprised that they’ve been to couple’s therapy. What did her husband say during those sessions? Or did he just grunt his way through? Seriously, this woman is married to a caveman. Most letter writers would include their husband’s comments about the situation, but here we have… nothing. Because if he could say, “I’m sorry, but I don’t know how to stop!” then that would be a starting point. Because we don’t know if he regrets it, or if he couldn’t care less.
This is entirely anecdotal and maybe not applicable, but Granny Franny had obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, not to be confused with OCD, Pure-O, or whatever this letter writer’s husband has. But there could be some general overlap. Granny Franny couldn’t be made to see that her beliefs were rigid, uptight, and limiting. She was completely unable to accept that she was wrong about so many things. And so with the OCD spectrum, I sense a lot of uptightness and inability to believe it if someone were to tell you, “You shouldn’t be throwing your wife’s albums away,” if that makes sense. But with a personality disorder, the beliefs are heavily ingrained, and this guy might not have a personality disorder. Let’s hope. It’s just the sense I get about the letter writer’s husband, that he’s acting this way without apology or remorse. That might not bode well.
Hopefully he’ll be willing to acknowledge that what he’s doing is wrong, and he’ll be willing to seek medical help. Here’s hoping.