My wife is a kleptomaniac and won’t own up to her illness

Jaseena Backer
husband and wife talking

“Nina used a lot of makeup, but at one point of time I saw she had more lipsticks than any store. Nina kept assuring me that all women have a fetish for lipsticks. I noticed she had plenty of shades in her handbag too, but I never saw her reapply lipstick when we went out. One day while we were in my friend’s home for Christmas dinner, as I came out of the bathroom, I saw Nina put something into her bag. She said she had reapplied lipstick; however, there was nothing on her lips.”

“She said she had reapplied lipstick; however, there was nothing on her lips.”

“The next time we were in another friend’s home I followed Nina and actually saw her take 2 lipsticks from the dresser of my friend’s wife and put into her handbag. I was shocked, so I couldn’t bust her act nor embarrass her. That night I inspected her bag and discovered nearly 16 lipsticks inside. I am rich, she works and is financially independent so why the need to steal lipsticks? It intrigued me.”

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Just one of the problems

“Later I was surprised to discover a suitcase under the cot in our children’s room filled with books and stationery with price tags. These looked like they had been shoplifted. A friend of mine with whom I discussed Nina’s behaviour named it as kleptomania and that it has to be addressed by a psychiatrist. Soon I read a lot on the subject and was convinced Nina was suffering. But both Nina and I weren’t ready to address the elephant in the room. One day during our regular cocktail dinners there was a discussion among all ladies of the missing lipsticks and Nina sat there blatantly. I didn’t know if all the ladies suspected her or they were simply talking about the stolen lipsticks. But Nina had nothing to contribute and it didn’t bother her,” said Manoj about his marital problem.

Kleptomania is classified as an impulse control disorder and is a relatively rare condition. People with kleptomania have an uncontrollable urge to steal, get a high from it or steal as a result of triggers. Stealing can be very compulsive and is a self-medication for reducing anxiety or combating depression.

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She is not admitting her problem

“She is in denial and won’t own up to her illness. Stealing lipsticks and books are not rooted in gain for her, as she doesn’t use them but it is simply an impulse I feel. One of the terrors of this mental illness is the totally blinkered relationship she has developed with risk. Getting busted of this secret illness is never a part of her awareness. Nina has been very bold with lifting lipsticks from anyone who comes to our house these days and I am embarrassed,” Manoj went on.

Kleptomaniacs usually steal as a coping mechanism during stressful times. I asked Manoj to observe and find out what makes Nina tick. Perhaps she steals after extreme bouts of depression or distress. She is distracting herself from something by stealing. You have to be calm and supportive with them so that they recognise they have a problem and are willing to look for a solution. Find out what troubles them. It would be easy to find out when they have a compulsion to steal. Make them aware of the repercussions of such activities. Most kleptomaniacs get embarrassed by their wrongdoing and do not wish to seek help, as they have to expose themselves to people. It is extremely unlikely that they might seek help and treat it themselves. Therefore when you want to help them, don’t accuse them or blame them.

Our friends shunned us

“Things took an ugly turn when our group of friends started avoiding us completely. After three continuous weekends I asked the men the reason for avoiding us and they told me the ladies didn’t want my wife Nina to come along. They hid the reason from me, but I knew the reason very well. We lost our weekends and friends and we were isolated. Slowly people stopped visiting our home. Nina didn’t talk about the issue at all. That’s when I realised that Nina has been found out and I had to address the issue.”

“So I took Nina to a psychiatrist, but she was unable to open up about her issue. The doctor said she showed symptoms of concealed depression and maybe during her anxiety she has the compulsion to steal. I have not spoken about the issue to her yet as I know she would be embarrassed, so I prefer that she talks it out to the doctor first. We have had only one session with the doctor so far and our next session is after two weeks,” Manoj concluded.

The roots lie in her childhood

I asked Manoj to support her and open communication with her where she will be able to confess. Nina is very likely to have lost her self-esteem, assuming people have lost trust in her. Manoj should help her build trust in people so that she could repair damaged relationships. It is a huge responsibility on Manoj to tackle this alone, since Nina has asked him not to tell her mother, as her mother would then hate her. So the inference from this is that this illness has something deep rooted in Nina’s childhood and maybe to do with her relationship with her mother. Once again it was for Manoj to find out the deeper wounds so as to help Nina.

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