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Calling it quits.
November 8, 2011 9:25 AM   Subscribe

My currently-ex-girlfriend is bipolar. She is only hard to be around some of the time, but often enough that I'm looking for a way out. Help me not make the stupid decision of getting back together once she's feeling better?

I know that I am not up to the challenge of living my own life and "managing" her mental illness at the same time. I believe our relationship is unhealthy, and should end. Her periods of relative stability only seem to make the inevitable breakdowns that much more painful for me, once they happen. I love her, and that will be true even if I decide we should not date, and that makes this terribly difficult. Tonight we had a pretty awful fight and broke up. She will probably be fine again in a few days, if not by tomorrow already, but I can't take this anymore. She has been medicated for a month or two now (Seroquel, Lamotrigine), but she continues to resist thinking of herself as mentally ill or disabled in any way. She has no personal hope of ever getting better, ever managing her moods, and her consistent pessimism is rubbing off on me. I want to support her and help her, but I feel powerless: I can't get inside her brain and make anything different. I feel like the healthiest thing I can do for myself is to break up with her, but it is so hard when sometimes things are perfect. I know I am not her doctor. But I am close to all she has in terms of support. I feel like I am abandoning her. I feel awful. How can I resist the temptation to get back together, when I care about her so strongly? How can I feel less selfishly responsible for the serious depression this will likely induce? What if she harms herself or engages in risky behavior? How can I cope with all this?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Tell her you're breaking up with her and then NEVER TALK TO HER AGAIN. Delete her contact info from your phone, unfriend her on facebook, block her incoming phone calls, etc. It's hard, I know, but you'll get over it so much faster if you make a clean break.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:27 AM on November 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


You are not responsible for your girlfriend's mental health.

If you're broken up, then cut off contact with her, for a very long while. That should help to stop any feelings of wanting to get back together.
posted by xingcat at 9:28 AM on November 8, 2011


You can't take responsibility for someone else's happiness. You've done a good job of describing life with a bipolar person. The only question is if you love her enough to continue living this way.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:37 AM on November 8, 2011


Seconding tylerkaraszewski. Nobody ever got over anybody by continuing to have contact with them. You must never, ever speak again. Seriously. You can't do it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:39 AM on November 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I too think you need to cut contact after the breakup.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 9:43 AM on November 8, 2011


A modified slogan:

[G]rant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

You can't save her, heal her, or control her responses. Be kind and honest and end what is not healthy or safe for you. Although she will may have pain, may respond poorly, being with someone who you do not want to be with, out of guilt, is not honest, loving or caring for either of you.
posted by anya32 at 9:45 AM on November 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


When I left my bipolar ex, I kept a journal of all the truly awful things he did to me while in the throes of a manic episode: yelling at me in public, destroying my stuff, putting me in danger. Anytime I felt guilty for abandoning him, I thought back over what I had written, and how ashamed I was for my friends to see my partner treating me so poorly, how much I suffered trying to take care of him and how incredibly, incredibly relieved and happy I felt when he was finally out of my life.

Sometimes it helps to think of him as an alcoholic or a drug addict--his behavior was pretty much the same, only it was his refusal to get medicated that made him act that way. Other times times I think of him as someone with a chronic physical illness. Would you dedicate your life to supporting a girlfriend who had diabetes but refused insulin therapy? That would be nuts, right?

You support your loved ones when they're sick, but you don't help them avoid getting well. You can help her more by abandoning her than you do now by enabling her.
posted by milk white peacock at 10:11 AM on November 8, 2011 [9 favorites]


Consider the following remarks:

My currently-ex-girlfriend is bipolar

I believe our relationship is unhealthy, and should end.

I love her, and that will be true even if I decide we should not date,

Tonight we had a pretty awful fight and broke up

I want to support her and help her, but I feel powerless

I feel like I am abandoning her. I feel awful.

Dude. You're so confused, you don't seem to know if you're even together or not.

Here's what you do: break up with her, and

CUT

OFF

CONTACT

period.

Don't call her. Don't take her calls. Don't respond to texts or e-mails. Now, I know that when I say that, you're thinking:

What if she harms herself or engages in risky behavior?

Then that's her fault. Someone who tries to keep you in her life by emotionally blackmailing you is totally toxic and should be avoided at all costs. You have to let her be responsible for her own actions. This woman will never be a good partner for you. You need to accept that and move on. You're not responsible for her. You're not responsible for her.

You're not responsible for her.

Do some work on yourself. Discover what you really want from a healthy relationship. Don't allow your life, and your needs to be hijacked by someone who obviously is either unable or unwilling, and it doesn't matter which, to care at all about your well-being.

Good luck. Do what's best for you.
posted by clockzero at 10:12 AM on November 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


You say you are close to being her only support. Is this because she has no family, is far away from them or doesn't get along with them? Does she have no friends? Is she not in therapy? I would normally not say this, but if things developed to a place where you are her only anchor and she has renounced other people, who would be available for support, one option would be to find a way to communicate to someone else that she might need their support. Probably not as direct as calling someone and telling them "she needs your support", find a more discreet way of doing it. This is particularly important if she spirals into depression easily. I'm saying this because I had a break-up whilst depressed, he was my only support in the country I was in, and I was much too far gone to even think about calling on anyone else or doing anything else constructive for that matter. It was only through the incredible, unbelievable kindness of a couple of acquaintances, virtually strangers, that I pulled through, and I really really wish my parents, or sister, or friends, someone, would have known what I am going through.

Also, I think you are wise to not keep going like this - it wouldn't help her in the long run, and it could be your undoing. Could you let her know precisely why you decided to call it quits? Tell her that with her not taking ownership of her condition, which leads to her doing xyz, which leads to you feeling abc, the relationship is not workable for you. I have a couple of friends who suffer from BP, and who have some really destructive years behind them, but have been doing extremly well for years now, ever since they managed to find the right medication and to take ownership of the problem. What did make their life difficult for them at the beginning of medication, and to some extent still does, are the many diffuse messages about their inadequacy, because what they kept hearing was "you = bipolar = unbearable". Judging from what my friends say, their life would have been made much easier had they been confronted with a different thought-arrangement and clear boundaries: I don't like you to say/do this, You doing this/saying this is hurtful, I don't like it when X happens etc. And, in conversation: You do this/say this and it is hurtfull/perplexing/whatever, but it only happens when your BP is breaking out. Still, it happens repeatedly, and this has to stop". Actually, for one of my friends - who no-one would ever think has/had a problem, she is the most considerate, thoughtful, lovely people, full of joie de vivre - it was after talking to someone who approached her from this angle that determined her to go on medication.

Anyway, the reason I plead for this last conversation is that, even if it makes your life harder short term, it could help her a lot long term. This way, she doesn't end up thinking that SHE is unbearable, but rather that, at some point in her life, she didn't have a handle on things - but that is the case for many of us, and much less isolating and self-esteem undermining.

Like other people have said upthread, though, after this you need to disengage completely, and for quite a lengthy period of time, not just a couple of month - you need to be in a place where news from her no longer torments you. Tell her this during your last conversation, let her know that you need the distance and that this is non-negotiable.

If you love her, you may be tempted to go back as soon as she makes a step or two in the right direction. This would be a bad idea though - consider that if you stick around after a token effort on her part she will have no motivation to seriously work on getting and staying better.
posted by miorita at 10:13 AM on November 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Been there, my friend.

It's incredibly, incredibly difficult because you love this person. And they're not always on their worst behaviour. Sometimes it's perfect, for a brief moment. Those brief moments are the eye of the hurricane. The storm is coming back.

I don't want to sound like it's easy, or be trite, because it's not. It's excruciating. You end up being sucked in by the whole thought of "If I just stick around long enough, it'll get better."

But it won't. Not like this.

And I wanted to second this comment:

When I left my bipolar ex, I kept a journal of all the truly awful things he did to me while in the throes of a manic episode: yelling at me in public, destroying my stuff, putting me in danger. Anytime I felt guilty for abandoning him, I thought back over what I had written, and how ashamed I was for my friends to see my partner treating me so poorly, how much I suffered trying to take care of him and how incredibly, incredibly relieved and happy I felt when he was finally out of my life.

I had to do the same thing. I have a list of the things she did to me that made me feel horrible and almost destroyed me. And I still love her, and still miss (parts) of her. And when I do, I look at this list. It's only been 5 months since I broke up with her and I'm still not totally over it, but it was the best choice. It's the only way to save yourself. I know that sounds dramatic, but it's true.
posted by aclevername at 11:23 AM on November 8, 2011


Oh, and today is her birthday. This thread is good timing, because she's been on my mind all day. It's like a kick in the ass from the universe. So, you've helped me by posting this question.
posted by aclevername at 11:26 AM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sadly I find myself sympathetic to much of what was said elsewhere as I am myself involved with someone who is bipolar. She's amazing, loving, and a delight to be around... becuase she takes her frickin' meds. We've commented frequently that in a way her taking her meds = maintaining our relationship.

And that has to be the difference. If her medication isn't working or she is unwilling to take her meds, then she is too ill to have a relationship with no matter how amazing she is otherwise. And for that reason I think you should think about staying out.

Hopefully, she will continue to work to take care of herself better. I wish you both well.
posted by ottergrrl at 12:18 PM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Voice of experience: If you don't cut off contact now, you may end up not doing until 25 years later.
posted by The Deej at 2:19 PM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


How can I resist the temptation to get back together, when I care about her so strongly?

End it definitively. You are not friends; you are not a shoulder she can lean on. You are someone who loves her, but cannot be in a relationship with someone who behaves the way she does, and it is something she cannot help, so you need to be away from her.

How can I feel less selfishly responsible for the serious depression this will likely induce?

Because of her illness, you could be the best, most committed, most supportive guy in the history of the world, and she will still suffer serious depression. Staying with her won't cure that. So whether you stay or go has no impact on her depression. Don't sweat it.

What if she harms herself or engages in risky behavior?

You mean like she's already doing now, despite you being around? If she does, she does. This is not your responsibility nor your fault. Never has been.

How can I cope with all this?

Distance and time.
posted by davejay at 3:49 PM on November 8, 2011


You're getting some really harsh responses here. People are so afraid of mental illness that they would rather cut someone off from society or make them somebody else's problem than make a phone call.

Sad.

On the flipside, an ex* saved my life by giving me a place to stay when I lost everything I had in the span of two weeks, including the behavioral examination I'd been on a 3-month long waiting list for (insurance expired two days prior to it, that was fun to find out). You don't have to stay with her or do anything drastic like my ex did, but there are still ways you can help to ensure that she finds her way or is at least able to stay afloat.

I'm eternally grateful to have met just one person who truly wanted me to enjoy life and become self-sufficient again. No single person is anyone else's responsibility, but as a society and a human race, I believe we should all be more responsible for ourselves and our neighbors. Why are we so afraid to care?

Please memail me if you have any questions, and best of luck.

*Our situation was a little different; we had amicably broken up two years prior, but remained friends. Obviously your predicament is a little more emotionally charged.
posted by june made him a gemini at 7:50 PM on November 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


I've been the bipolar girlfriend not taking her meds, not taking care of herself, and ignoring her boyfriend's needs.

It would be very kind if you could find her some sources of support before you leave her (and I tend to think you should do a complete break-off of contact, though it'd be nice if you said something like "in X months, if you're taking your medications and going to therapy, give me a call.") It also might help you feel better about it. DBSA and NAMI support groups may be helpful.

I'm back to being friends with the last guy I dated - we semi-consciously took about two years off of talking with one another. I'm not yet in a place where I feel capable of having a relationship, but I agree with what ottergrrl says about the medication being part of how you maintain a relationship.

You might find this article from BP Magazine, Beating the Marriage Odds, helpful. Amongst other things it may help you clarify the difference between "being bipolar" and "being someone who shouldn't be in a relationship right now, and also bipolar." Today it sounds like your ex-girlfriend is in the second category, and that's the real reason you need to break things off with her.

If she has a therapist, you may want to drop them a line that you've broken up and have discontinued contact - I say this mainly because that's exactly the sort of thing that would have, at various points in my life, caused me to stop going to therapy, and it would be more helpful for my therapist to know something like that than to not know it. At the very least tell someone - a sister out of state or something - other than just your ex. I view this as a safety issue more than anything else.
posted by Fee Phi Faux Phumb I Smell t'Socks o' a Puppetman! at 12:50 PM on November 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


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