How can I overcome these negative feelings about an SO?
January 12, 2011 5:58 PM   Subscribe

How to deal with an SO who is an abuse survivor and always seems to need something? Therapy is the obvious answer, but I'm looking for something else. I may end up in therapy, but I'd rather work my way there after trying a few other things.

My SO is an abuse survivor, bipolar and has dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personalities). The SO needs a lot and it at times a brittle personality. They can't drive for long periods of time, sometimes forget to shower, sometimes they startle easily, is sometimes really needy and needs someone to talk about how deal with things. For instance, they have issues with boundaries, but have slowly been getting better. But still. Ever had multiple discussions with a person over 40 who doesn't understand the concept of boundaries? Ah. Yes, it's an effect of the abuse and they are getting better, but still sometimes it drags..

The SO is currently deep in therapy, dealing with the aftermath of the abuse and the various identities. They are making progress and is clearly much better than when it began, so yay. However, the ups and downs of the therapy has certainly taken its toll on the relationship, particularly when they are facing the fact that they were abandoned by mom, physically abused by dad and then sexually abused by dad's brother and father from the ages of 4-10. Yeah, some childhood, eh?

That said, they are not terrible or completely helpless. They hold a 40 hour a week job, did a good job helping to raise our two kids, volunteers when possible at the local church. Plus they are smart, wicked genius level smart and funny and cute and we do have enjoyable times. We love going to movies and the park and are a hippy type couple.

But. sometimes it seems like too much. Sometimes the SO seems like nothing but a mess of problems and it's a mental game of "What's next"? It's to such an extent that when they have "normal" issues, like this week they are really physically sick (bad gerd attack, maybe an ulcer, we'll see), it takes a lot of me to take care of her. I do it, I take the SO to the hospital, leave work to go get prescriptions because they are in a lot of pain and needs painkillers, but dammit it feels like it's tearing at my soul to do these things. I resent it. This feeling does not make me feel good.

How can I stop feeling like that? I'm dreading going home today and dealing with them, yet they are sick and does need someone around and no one else is currently available. But I'm just so ragged out tired where the simple issues seem huge. I talk to other people, write it out sometimes, but it doesn't change my attitude much. What suggestions, besides therapy, can you offer?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps the obvious AskMe answer, but have you been in therapy? Or, would you consider joining a caretaker support group? Like you said, the person is sick, you are doing a lot to take care of them, much like any caregiver, you need support as well.
posted by kellyblah at 6:06 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Are there ways you can schedule in some other fun activities for yourself, some self-nurture? Even if it's just the gym or church or a class or a massage? You sound like you're getting burnt out by the constant extra work, so anything you could do to refresh yourself would help.
posted by ldthomps at 6:16 PM on January 12, 2011

I have some, although different, experience with this, as one of my old good friends had a similar profile to your SO but add drug abuse in the mix. An amazing person and a mess of problems.

It's obvious that she needs more than just you because she is tackling some really big issues. But you too need more than just her, you need support. If you're not ready for therapy as your support, for whatever reason (and that does sound like a good choice), i would suggest you need to find your own space, metaphorically or physically and find dedicated time to turn the lens back on yourself, and focus on your own needs.
posted by gillianr at 6:26 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Can you tell them in the nicest way, along with "I love you and want to support you as much as I can," that this is getting to be quite a bit for you? They may not know it yet. They may be able to get support from someone else if they knew. (If they want suggestions, for instance they could go to a support group in addition to going to a one-on-one therapist. Or rely more heavily on friends. Or... or...) But yes, focus on just being honest about your own limitations in a very kind way. We're all human. Have a specific suggestion or request, ideally. If this is an impossible conversation to have, I'd suggest you two do some couples therapy so that your own needs can be heard by this person.
posted by salvia at 6:32 PM on January 12, 2011

"Secure your own mask before helping others." Taking care of yourself helps make sure that you're the best caregiver you can be.

She (your partner) is likely the person you would lean on if things got tough for you, right? At least that's the way it's more or less supposed to go. Just remember that your idea of "normal" has changed a lot.

You need any activity where you can voice your anxiety and frustration honestly, without worrying how it might affect your partner or your kids. You are taking care of someone's ongoing needs just as you would if her illness involved not being able to feed or clothe herself without help. So yes, a caretaker support group might be helpful here. Also, are there organizations that do respite care in your area? Never hurts to ask around.

Just as your SO needs a network of support, so do you. More than just knowing there are people out there. Maybe you can get a list together of people who wouldn't mind sitting with her when she's ill, or running errands/picking things up. Maybe one night a week you can designate someone else to make dinner, whether you're present or not. Make specific plans if you can (I'm sure that's easier said than done, but still) and add some structure in so the fallback system doesn't consist solely of you, you and you.

Give yourself more credit here; give yourself the ability to carve out space where you can be yourself and not walk on eggshells. Having time and space to blow up/fall apart when it's okay to do so helps prevent it from happening when it's less okay. Your partner will thank you for it.
posted by Madamina at 7:26 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's really OK for you to have boundaries and needs, even if she isn't good at remembering that.

One of the things that might be helpful to you in therapy is learning some techniques for asserting yourself in difficult situations with her. Maybe a few goal-directed sessions might feel more doable to you than an open-ended process of self-exploration?
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:51 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

And also, it's perfectly reasonable to have negative feelings about the situation. It sucks when one's SO has an illness of any kind! Being irritated, upset, grumpy, annoyed, you name it isn't being negative about the SO, it's being appropriately aware of a situation that is inherently frustrating and challenging.

Something to think about is that if you are conflating those two things and squashing down all your impatience/upset/anger about the situation, you're much more likely to be angry and resentful of your SO. If you feel like you can't say "Oh, heavens! What a hassle to have to deal with the pharmacy!" even to yourself because it would be too much like a criticism of your SO, that's something you might want to look at.

You're allowed to be angry. You're allowed to be impatient. You're allowed to be sad. Your SO doesn't get to be the only one in the relationship to have tough and scary emotions just because she had such terrible childhood experiences.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:56 PM on January 12, 2011

I have a friend who has dealt with many of the issues you bring up (she isn't bipolar that I know of but definitely has the DID and the abuse background.) Yes, it can be tiring. What she needs-and what you need-is a wider social support system. You are a caregiver and even the best ones can get burned out. It is okay for you to take care of yourself and it is more than okay for you to find others that can help support the both of you.

Bless you for being there for your partner.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:06 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

They hold a 40 hour a week job, did a good job helping to raise our two kids, volunteers when possible at the local church.

If your kids are already grown, then I'm guessing you two have been together for at least 20 years or more? Even though your SO is obviously very functional, holding down a full-time job and volunteering, you've probably been the emotional caretaker for most of your adult life. It's perfectly normal for you to be feeling some frustrations and, yes, even resentments at this stage in life.

Obviously you love your SO and you are still able to describe good things about the relationship. Have you considered asking for a few joint sessions with her therapist? It would be a place where you can talk openly about some of your feelings in an environment that's emotionally safe for her. It might do you both a world of good.
posted by amyms at 8:17 PM on January 12, 2011

Oops, just noticed I used "her" twice. I tried to be gender-neutral, in deference to the OP's gender-neutral post, but I slipped up in the last paragraph. My apologies to you, OP, if my use of "her" was incorrect.
posted by amyms at 8:35 PM on January 12, 2011

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