Sometimes I think I'm the crazy one
October 12, 2011 1:53 PM   Subscribe

How to deal with the fallout from an SO that has vented about our relationship?

My SO suffers from depression and anxiety. She often accuses me of things I have not done, hiding information because she forgot I told her and distort my positive or neutral actions to have negative motivations. Of course these happen at times in all relationships but it is clearly at a very dysfunctional level in ours and occurs far outside the normal range; psychiatrists have agreed this is distorted thinking due to the depression/anxiety as well as part of a larger pattern of avoiding responsibility. This is a major issue, I am aware of it and we are trying to work with my SO and therapists to resolve this.

My problem now is that while thinking these distorted thoughts my SO has vented to family and friends about me, painting me in a very negative light and at times abusive. (No therapist has ever said my behaviour was abusive and have actually agreed that I have been using boundries appropriately). Now most of the people my SO has talked to view me as the sole problem and are constantly counselling my SO to leave me. In addition, not all of them are aware of the extent of the depression/anxiety or believe in the diagnosis. Because my SO sometimes agrees that they have been unfair in their characterization of me they feel ashamed for "letting down" all these well meaning friends and family and staying to work on our relationship. I do not believe in "airing dirty laundry" so I have not defended myself against these accusations and most people are unaware of my SO's role in any of our problems.

DMFA is not an option I am considering right now, I would rather work on the relationship because I love my SO very much and believe it can be a good and healthy relationship again. But the constant interference from others means I am defending myself (to my SO and to my immidiate family when my SO's family contacts them) again and again over old issues that I thought resolved but have been brought up by people outside our relationship. We have been together a long time and our friends are intertwined and this has damaged some good friendships as friends with strong boundries have been made very uncomfortable with the oversharing and drifted away. My SO sees this is a problem for me but at times cannot control their need to vent.

I can't control my SO's behaviour, I can't control the behavior or opinion of the people that now believe I am manipulative and everything I say is a lie, so what can I do to help my SO deal with the "shame" of working on our relationship with therapists?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I can't control my SO's behaviour, I can't control the behavior or opinion of the people that now believe I am manipulative and everything I say is a lie, so what can I do to help my SO deal with the "shame" of working on our relationship with therapists?

Reread your first can't do anything to control your SO's behavior...that includes her "shame".

And FWIW, I don't see how you are "using boundaries appropriately" if you are not demanding that she fess up to her lies and clear your good name.
posted by murrey at 2:00 PM on October 12, 2011 [13 favorites]

that sounds really, really bad. You're between a rock and a hard place—who's going to believe you (or your SO, for that matter) if either of you tell the friends/family/interested parties that she's characterizing you unfairly and she knows it?

But mostly I think the problem is that she feels bad at all about "letting down" people who are not you. People who want her to break up with you. Because of stuff she made up. She's not letting them down by staying, she's letting you down by talking untrue smack about you. If she wants to stay in your relationship, she needs to realize how problematic her venting has been and immediately try to set people straight (as much as she can).
posted by peachfuzz at 2:01 PM on October 12, 2011 [5 favorites]

So, she's gas-lighting you and lying to your friends and family about you to turn them against you? She has real problems that are really hurting you. If she can acknowledge them and get help, there is nothing you can do except protect yourself by getting out. I'm very sorry.
posted by Garm at 2:02 PM on October 12, 2011 [12 favorites]

The best possible outcome here is that, via therapy and whatnot, your SO realizes that they've been doing this and stops doing it in the future. But the friendships you've lost as a result aren't really salvageable; generally speaking, once someone decides you're an abusive jerk, they're going to see everything you say and do through that filter.

My SO sees this is a problem for me but at times cannot control their need to vent.

This is the crux of it right here. Until your SO stops actually doing this then you have to accept that being with your SO means having this problem in your life. As long as you believe it's worth it then the only thing you can really do is keep therapy up. But - though I sincerely hope that this ends well for you, and can be salvaged - I have seen this situation more than once in my life and it has never ended well.

Can your relationship be good and healthy again? Probably, if you both work together and take the right steps. Just be aware that, until a fundamental part of her personality changes, this will be at the cost of your reputation and mental well-being.

And honestly, even if she came clean with others, they'd only think that you'd manipulated her into doing it.

I don't know. This will be difficult no matter what the outcome, and I wish you the best of luck with it.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 2:10 PM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

She often accuses me of things I have not done, hiding information because she forgot I told her and distort my positive or neutral actions to have negative motivations. Of course these happen at times in all relationships...

This does not happen in all -- or even most -- relationships.
posted by coolguymichael at 2:10 PM on October 12, 2011 [53 favorites]

I really don't know what more you can do, other than encourage your girlfriend to take full responsibility for herself and the things she has said. Maybe she could work with her therapist to come up with a script she can use to clear your name among your mutual friends and family. Something along the lines of: "I've been working out some personal issues in therapy, and I want you to know that the things I said about anonymous were unfair and untrue. At the time I was feeling badly and venting, but he never did or said xyz. I love anonymous very much and he is very good to me. I am working hard to stop blaming him for my issues and I don't want you to hold my prior badmouthing against him."

If she is not willing to take responsibility for past slander and make sure it doesn't keep happening, I don't see this working out.
posted by infinityjinx at 2:21 PM on October 12, 2011 [10 favorites]

You make it sound like this relationship is going to destroy your other relationships with friends and family. Not saying DTMF but you at least need a time-out for your girlfriend to concentrate on herself before she can be a decent partner for you. Being a good partner means dedicating a little part of yourself for the other person. While she's having these serious mental health issues and working on herself, that little bit of self-sacrifice is something she can't afford. She needs to dedicate all of her mental resources to getting better. You need to let her go for her own sake. (And also for your own sake).

Publicly recanting her statements is also something I agree needs to happen.
posted by bleep at 2:33 PM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

The big deal about being with someone who has some sort of a mental illness or other condition [addiction, chronic health issues, whatever] is that you need to not be the person keeping them alive, that they need to take responsibility for their own shit and the effects of this shit. So if your SO is having these problems and they are creating a weird toxic environment between you and family/friends, that needs to be put on the SO's plate of "Shit that needs dealing with" along with managing depression and anxiety and everything else. That is, to manage this effectively they need to take responsibility for what they do, even if they are not in a position at this point to be able to effectively stop doing it.

My SO sees this is a problem for me but at times cannot control their need to vent.

Your SO needs to see this as a problem for the two of you for this to move forward effectively. This is a problem that would not exist had your SO caused it [whether on purpose or by accident] and they need to work with you and your friends/family to mitigate the short and long term damage this has caused.

This is currently a dysfunctional-sounding relationship in which you are not each owning your own parts of the failure modes here. It's fine to say that DTMFA is not an option, but realistically unless it's totally acceptable for you to move forward continually being publicly blamed for things that did not happen [this would be a dealbreaker to me and many others] you may want to figure out how you and your SO are going to approach this problem as a team and work towards recognizable goals. You can do this without blaming people, I think, but you can't do it without there being clear "where did this problem come from" and "what do we need to do to start the healing" assessments from both of you.
posted by jessamyn at 2:52 PM on October 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

You're framing all the bad things she does to you as symptoms of her illness. And hey, maybe they are - clearly she has very real mental health issues. But you're talking as though the way for you to be compassionate about her illness is to treat her actions as something she can't control, has no responsibility over, and shouldn't face any consequences for.

I don't think it's unreasonable to want to be compassionate and to help her. You might want to reconsider, though, whether what you're doing here is the best way to show compassion. What you're doing at the moment is, effectively, assisting her to continue on the path she's on now. You're letting her believe it's fine to treat people you love badly if you're ill. You're letting her believe she doesn't risk losing anything by continuing to act the way she is, when that risk of losing something might be what it takes to get her to really work on fixing this. And you're modeling for her that the way a healthy person acts is to totally sacrifice their own happiness, reputation and friendships for the sake of staying in a relationship.
posted by Catseye at 2:55 PM on October 12, 2011 [6 favorites]

You have plainly not 'been using boundries appropriately', if you had you would not be dating this woman. There is no healthy boundary south of ones partner not slandering your good name whenever their feeling down.

Going forward, if she cannot take responsibility for her past actions how can you expect her to change her future behavior? If she cannot disclose the nature of the disordered thinking she used to lead her friends and family to believe that you are abusive, then your relationship cannot possibly be healthy for either of you.

If you cannot expect her to go big or go home, then your thinking is precisely as disordered has hers.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:59 PM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

Your partner should be publicly backing you up, period. You two are a team.

I don't see what that has to do with depression/anxiety, I always thought that it had to do with respect.
posted by Shouraku at 3:00 PM on October 12, 2011 [7 favorites]

She often accuses me of things I have not done, hiding information because she forgot I told her and distort my positive or neutral actions to have negative motivations. Of course these happen at times in all relationships

Just want to underscore -- these things do NOT happen in the vast majority of relationships EVER, and they happen exactly NEVER in good or healthy relationships. I say this not to rebuke you, but to ask you to stop and consider that you may have some fairly distorted expectations/assumptions about how people interact (romantically or not) that you'll need to work through in order to understand what's healthy and what kind of boundaries are appropriate to be drawing and what kind of expectations you can reasonably ask.
posted by scody at 3:35 PM on October 12, 2011 [7 favorites]

One of the big problems with some depressed people is that, added to all the other symptoms, they can suffer from a generally dulled sense of life (nothing feels "real" any more) combined with very vivid false "experiences": dreams, pseudo-hallucinations, misinterpretations. Essentially, you can live your actual life as though you were a bystander, and truly come alive only via shocks and anxiety and fear, which are often due to "distorted thinking", as you say, or due to the kind of false experiences I mentioned above.

An example: a group of us were in a pub, and one of the guys raised his hand to scratch the back of his had. A friend of mine, who I knew to suffer from depression, drew herself into a ball and hid her face in her hands - she completely saw the gesture as a hitting gesture. I went out side with her, and it took quite a bit of work to convince her that the guy had not, in fact, tried to beat her up. At the end of the evening, she was embarassed by her reaction, but, at the time, it was only after extended reasoning and a longish time-out that she agreed to come back inside.

Depression and anxiety can really toy with your mind in a way that is unfathomable if you are not depressed (that also applies to people who have been depressed - once you're out of it, a lot of the thoughts, emotions, suffering and pain become opaque even to the former sufferer). Love, respect, care, attention, all the good things about relationships can fall by the wayside - not because they are no longer felt, but because they frequently inhabit an apocalyptic environment in which they are seriously backgrounded. This also means that the sufferer can inflict untold damage on his/her nearest and dearest, ranging from the exhaustion and discouragement and emotional damage to partners, families and friends to much more extreme situations.

All of this is to say that this situation could become seriously harmfull to you, if your SO has these weird swaps of reality and imagination. For as long as that gut feeling of (false) reality still lingers, your SO is going to be very convincing to anyone she vents to. And the big danger is that they will at some point hint at out and out abuse (or maybe they will even explicitly say it - I've heard this, too). What if they get a conspicuous bruise one day, and behave in a way which leads everyone who notices to wonder if you have anything to do with it? By the sounds of it, people are already primed to go there. This can be really dangerous for you, especially if relevant people around you already have reservations about your character based on things your SO said. At the moment, your SO seems willing to concede that they have lied (at least when speaking to you and the therapist), but a depressed mind is so uncertain of its certainties that she could easily (involuntarily) set off a rumour and then come to believe it themselves.

If the source of your SO's misrepresentations is anything like the above, I think therapy alone is possibly not enough. You mention psychiatrists - is SO on any medication? I'd also reconsider the "not airing dirty laudery" policy - is there any of your friends, or SOs family/friends the reasonable and thoughful type, so you could at least talk to one person? Enlist their help as well (this situation is a terrible burden for one person - you - to carry), and make sure that at least someone on the other side knows what's going on. But ideally, I think you should stay more distant from your SO until this clears up - I really don't think it is helping him/her to be indulged by you in this fashion (another problem with depression is that you frequently don't know any more what's up and what's down, so you push boundaries or feel paralysed by turns, so it is actually good to be reminded how far you can go), and you run the risk of getting into real trouble. I'd also consider that, as things stand now, what your SO is doing is involuntary and unwitting emotional abuse.
posted by miorita at 4:43 PM on October 12, 2011 [5 favorites]

Several people above have made the point that no one is going to believe her recanting. I certainly wouldn't. If someone had been telling me stories for ages about how manipulative her partner is, and then suddenly back-tracked, I'd think she was a sap, and/or he had figured out a new mode of control.

That said, I think you need to look at your assumptions. For me, my assumption and really, demand, is that in any situation where my action could be interpreted neutrally or negatively, if you value my friendship, you will take it at the worst neutrally. I actually make this expectation explicit with significant others and close friends. It is shocking to some, but it makes sense, and that's how I prefer to approach this kind of thing.

I back it up by apologizing and owning up to actual bad actions, right away, without defending myself. Of course it goes both ways.

Violating that expectation with me is grounds for me dumping the friend or SO. I try very hard to communicate clearly, but if someone is determined to cast me in a negative light, why would I stay friends with that person? It happens, and some people are sick, but I can't be bothered to feed their sickness. Too time consuming, and I don't want to be dragged into the muck.

You say you don't want to dump her, but if she can't stop her actions, you must or you'll be left with no friends, and a bunch of undeserved enemies. No one is worth that.
posted by Invoke at 4:45 PM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

To be completely honest, this sounds like classic abusive behavior by your partner in the sense that [s]he is isolating you from your support networks. It doesn't matter the reason why she does this (I'm sure many guys that beat up their wives were abused as kids, or are depressed, or whatever) but it's not helping you and it's not helping your partner to stay in this relationship. You (indirectly) admit in your question that your relationship is not currently a healthy one - and that is not a good place for your partner to recover in. You are doing your partners no favors keeping them in an environment that is toxic to you both, and as the "healthy" partner, the responsibility to recognize it and make the change falls on you.
posted by fermezporte at 7:12 PM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Mod note: From the OP:
Thank you everyone for the feedback. Just to clarify, the problem is a combination of my SO telling people I did or said something without explaining the context and/or ascribing negative motivations to me, AND the people she is complaining to keeping a running tally and bringing them to my SO's attention in EVERY conversation they have. For example, I recently witnessed an accident while running errands and had to speak to the police officer which made me late getting home. As soon as I walked in the door I was accused of going out shopping instead of coming home when I was supposed to (I hate shopping). While waiting, my SO complained about my "shopping" to friends. Most likely, the friends were suggesting what else I could be up to. A lot of little incidents like that add up. The people that are left in my SO's life are all formally diagnosed with mental illnesses, treat their illnesses with alternative medicine and are much more dramatic than I am comfortable with. I have many close friends and a supportive family that do not believe my SO's stories (my SO does not complain to them anymore because they would approach her complaints rationally and poke holes in her stories). The accusations of abuse have never come from SO but from her friends and family (who remember my twenty minute shopping trip as a three hour long abandonment making her doubt her own memories) as they pressure her to leave.

She often accuses me of things I have not done, hiding information because she forgot I told her and distort my positive or neutral actions to have negative motivations. Of course these happen at times in all relationships

Since this has been pointed out by several people, I meant that in healthy relationships I have had times where I was annoyed because I thought an SO ate the last cookie not knowing they had put it on my desk with a glass of milk, or asked an SO to get a few things from the store and they would forget one item, or think an SO didn't want to go out to dinner at all when I suggested a restaurant but really they just didn't want Thai. Common miscommunication stuff that every relationship hits every once in a while and is solved quickly with an apology and a kiss. Except in my case every thing that goes wrong is on purpose because I want to disrespect my SO. And yes, I get in trouble for things I have done in her dreams.

I understand the knee-jerk DMFA response but we have been married over 15 years and this is new behaviour. My SO's therapists/psychiatrists have identified this as part of their mental illness, most likely as a result of both parents suffering from severe mental illness and using this blame-shifting behaviour frequently. My SO knows I expect change and without improvement we will divorce (which would be devastating to her and she admits she cannot care for the children in her current condition). She has been venting less as well as going to therapy and trying new medications. Because of our long and strong history many people have been supportive of me during this time; my reputation is only in tatters with a very small, insular group who are unfortunately one of the few influences in my SO's life (but inconsequential in mine and thought of as flaky or crazy by most of the people we know). I feel this group seem to be using my SO's distorted thinking and attacking our relationship to fulfill their own needs. I won't forbid these people from my SO's life despite how unhealthy I think they are; I think my SO should make that decision themselves. I agree a big recanting will only be more "proof" of my manipulations and needlessly embarrass everyone that is "normal". I am frustrated at how little I can do to help my SO and how much of our progress can be undone by someone repeatably asking why she is still with someone as crazy as me.

Thanks again for the help, it has given me a lot to think about.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 8:39 PM on October 12, 2011

If your wife wants to get better she needs to drop every toxic relationship in her life. Full stop. That's her showing commitment to her improved mental health, her children (who have no doubt been damaged) and your marriage.

If she does not drop these toxic relationships, you will be continuing to battle her illness and theirs. Your children will not fare well.

I'm not suggesting an ultimatum, rather, a change you should look to see. If you don't see this commitment towards good mental health in a reasonable amount of time, make plans to save your children and yourself.

Bottom line.
posted by jbenben at 9:46 PM on October 12, 2011

You need to read this comment by tel3path.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 2:49 AM on October 13, 2011

From similar experience: give up. Sorry.
posted by dickasso at 6:17 AM on October 13, 2011

I am frustrated at how little I can do to help my SO

This is the heart of the matter right here. And the problem is, with mental illness, you CAN'T DO ANYTHING TO HELP THE OTHER PERSON. I hope that you can work on accepting that, because that's a huge piece of the puzzle. Open your mind to the fact that you may indeed have to take the children and run, because that is a very real possibility with mental illness. This is not a knee-jerk reaction; this is from someone who has seen lots of mental illness up close and knows how there's no magical cure for it.
posted by Melismata at 7:52 AM on October 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Take the children and run. They're what's important, not other people's opinions of you.
posted by whuppy at 12:39 PM on October 13, 2011

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