Relationships as a choice - despite dependence?
November 23, 2012 3:36 PM   Subscribe

"I love you, and I choose to be here. ...Of course, if this doesn’t work out, I get deported." I could use your perspectives on choosing to be in a relationship despite sometimes feeling trapped in it?

For the record, I’m carefully asking this question while the relationship is good, I’m happy to be in it, and there is as little emotional immediacy to my question as possible. I’m interested in things that I can add to my skillset for the future, if or when they’re needed. So, with that in mind:

It’s important to me to have my relationships be things my partners and I actively choose to be in. I don’t want to fall into inertia in them, or to find that we’re staying together because of the sunk cost fallacy or similar. I don’t believe relationships are necessarily failures just because they come to an end, or that they should last forever, and I’d rather end something that couldn’t be fixed than let it drag out and make the participants miserable. I think both my partners and myself deserve better than that.

However, my relationship with SomePartner is an imbalanced one in many ways. For one, I’m financially dependent on him because I’ve been disabled and too sick to work a steady job for years. He is my carer when things are really bad, and has literally had to help me get to the toilet and back at times. So if I didn’t have him, I’d be struggling to survive on Disability payments and having to rely on strangers as carers for my personal hygiene needs.

Furthermore, we’re currently expats, living in a country where we don't have citizenship. We’re here on the strength of his qualifications; he’s on a working visa with a partner provision. There’s no way I’d be able to secure a visa to live here as a disabled dependent without him. I wasn’t joking above the fold; if I break up with him, I do get deported when the visa expires, or sooner if someone decides to report the split to the Immigration Bureau. I'd be leaving behind a lot here that I'd miss - awesome friends, mentors, a good therapist and a great healthcare team who seem to be making progress on untangling my health issues after years of getting nowhere. Also, I’d either end up back in the city where this is my social circle, or moving to a place where I didn’t know anyone - which is a daunting prospect when I’m partially housebound.

I was a very independent person before my health deteriorated; I’d been living on my own since I was 16, and being able to support myself was important to me. I still feel that loss. This ties into my feelings about freely choosing an interdependent relationship - I valued knowing that I would be okay if I wasn’t in a relationship, and therefore knowing that I wasn’t rushing into or choosing to stay in one because I was scared to be alone - for any reason, financial, practical or emotional.

So while I’m on the whole happy in this relationship, there are times when I do start to feel trapped in it. In moments of conflict or dissonance, if I find myself questioning the relationship, I’m acutely aware that choosing to leave would mean huge changes in my life. Which leads me to wondering just how freely I get to make this choice to be here.

This is not about a lack of commitment. We’re committed enough to each other to have been together for over ten years, and to have moved across the world together. We have been through series of stresses that would stretch credibility in a work of fiction, and when our backs were to the wall we were both there for each other. However, my history in friendships and relationships is one of holding on too long rather than jumping ship too soon. I’m working on that in therapy, but as I consider how to recognise the point at which a relationship can’t be fixed and should be ended, it occurs to me that my level of dependence on my partner complicates things.

So I’m curious about how others approach such situations. Commitment and interdependence make it hard enough - how do you weigh up these additional factors in making such a decision?

SomePartner did actually leave me some years ago. He was dealing with untreated dysthymia and the weight of the aforementioned stressors; when I tried to bring up issues with him, he ended things between us. He reconsidered, sought treatment for the depressive issues, and we reconciled a few months later. However, during that time I had more than one person tell me that I had to work things out with him, because there was no way I could support myself even if I was getting Disability, so he was basically my only choice. I hated that, and I argued vehemently against it.

But I don’t want the seed of that idea to ever take root in my mind.

I know I’m hardly unique in having significant factors tying me to my partner, or even being dependent upon them. So for those among you with similar values, how would - or how do - you reconcile this?
posted by Someone Else's Story to Human Relations (13 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Well, the deportation makes for a somewhat unusual angle here, but personally, I'd say that if you honestly don't feel you've played the "poor me" card to emotionally manipulate him into staying, then enjoy true love.

All relationships have their rocky points - If you survived them together, leave it in the past (though on the flip side of that, if you break up monthly over petty crap, you may want to look at his and your own level of seriousness).

Finally, and I hope you'll take this in the well-intentioned way I mean it, some people want a partner completely dependent on them. I don't personally understand that mindset, but I've had friends who would like nothing better than to support a nearly helpless stay-at-home wife. Not abusive, not manipulative, just... Well, like I said, I really don't know. But it happens.
posted by pla at 3:56 PM on November 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Not sure what you are asking here. You say you are dependent on this person and yet the dependence leaves you feeling trapped. It would look to me you have limited options plenty of people exist on disability why couldn't you? You are not in an abusive relationship but you are feeling the need to move on. If you have a pattern of serial monogamy you might want to do the next guy a favor live on your own. I am reminded of a Paul Simon song here... Don't need to discuss much just set your self free. Ten years is a good run. Of course there is no guarantee that you will be with someone else. Are you prepared to live alone? If so go there doesn't seem to be enough to hold you. Your partner could feel trapped too (although assisting with another's hygiene seems to be an act of love). Best thing to do is to talk to each other. It doesn't matter where you go, there you are. Best of luck.
posted by pdxpogo at 4:03 PM on November 23, 2012

It sounds as thought you COULD survive without him; it would just be much harder, and involve significant upheaval. Well, that's the case for many, if not most people in relationships. Anyone with a house and a mortgage payment, for example, if dependent on two incomes, would have to sell up, find smaller, uglier, and/or less convenient accommodation, maybe go back to renting. People with young children would have to quit work or find more flexible jobs, and maybe live off social welfare for a bit, if they were to suddenly have to be a single parent. People with dogs who need to be let out and walked multiple times a day might not be able to keep them.

Your situation is at an extreme end of this continuum, but it is a continuum that most people are sitting on. The fact that relationships are difficult to untangle yourself from for practical reasons is a legacy of the fact that marriage historically was (in some classes and regions, anyway) about economics and labour exchange: without the wife he had grown to depend on, what would a man in the 18th century do with his children and household? Without the husband she depended on, how would that wife keep herself financially?

So anyway, many people now and in the past have had similar fears to yours, yet relationships do end (and have ended even in the past), and people survive. So would you. And it doesn't mean there isn't true love or something more than economic and practical dependence going on in these situations too.
posted by lollusc at 4:23 PM on November 23, 2012 [7 favorites]

Oh, and the fact that you ask this question at all, and that you say you are already uncomfortable about your degree of dependence, even though the relationship is good now and you are choosing to be there - that all signals that you WOULD walk away if you felt the practical benefits were the only good thing remaining. You don't seem like the sort of person who could live with that situation, so I think you can trust yourself to do the right thing if and when the time comes.
posted by lollusc at 4:25 PM on November 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

So while I’m on the whole happy in this relationship, there are times when I do start to feel trapped in it. In moments of conflict or dissonance, if I find myself questioning the relationship, I’m acutely aware that choosing to leave would mean huge changes in my life. Which leads me to wondering just how freely I get to make this choice to be here.

Disability or no, immigration or no, this happens in every relationship. You are "on the whole happy in this relationship." Sweet! There is trouble enough in the world, it will find you when it wants to, you don't need to go looking for it.
posted by headnsouth at 4:37 PM on November 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

Can you apply for citizenship in your current country of residence?
posted by capricorn at 4:48 PM on November 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

So while I’m on the whole happy in this relationship, there are times when I do start to feel trapped in it. In moments of conflict or dissonance, if I find myself questioning the relationship,..

It's not the relationship that is trapping you, it's your dependence within the relationship caused by your disability. If you were not in the relationship, you would still be dependent on someone/s.

I think we all feel trapped in relationships sometimes - and sometimes what we are really trapped in is our own thought patterns regarding unfulfilled wants and needs.
posted by Kerasia at 6:11 PM on November 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

This is why marriage was invented. Although no guarantee, it tends to make worries like this obsolete. While both spouses can bring in an income into the home, it's not that unusual that only one spouse supports the household financially. In that case, you would not generally feel weird being supported by your spouse because you are a single unit, a family.

I agree that if your relationship is good, stop looking for trouble.

If you are not ready or wanting to marry this man, well, that is possibly a different problem. Sure people live together without marriage! Just saying that not feeling like you could/would marry ths person may be creating an internal conflict for you in terms of accepting his material support...

Or not!

I'm not in your head, so I'm just throwing this marriage aspect out there for you to noodle over.

As a married person, I don't have the concerns you are voicing here, but I do remember having these concerns when I was in an LTR and living with that person.
posted by jbenben at 7:24 PM on November 23, 2012 [7 favorites]

Hello, fellow person with disabling illness who depends on their partner for financial and often physical support! And, heavens, you also depend on them to maintain your preferred nation of residence---that's like an extra bonus challenge in the mix.

It's been really challenging for me as someone who always prided myself on my independence. I don't quite know what to say other than I hear you and this is resonant for me. I adore my husband and we are happy together and yet it galls me to be so dependent on him. I think this is a complicated and sometimes bitter brew, and I'm glad to hear you're working on it in therapy.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:19 PM on November 23, 2012

This sort of thing came up in a Dear Sugar column once. The letter writer's situation is a lot worse than yours is, but maybe you'll find something helpful or relevant in it? I don't know, but this was the first thing that came to mind when I read this.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:42 PM on November 23, 2012

I have to say that I feel just as conflicted about being supported by my husband as I would about being supported by a partner to whom I wasn't married. Maybe even more so, because my husband is expected by society, culture, tradition, and to some extent the law to support me.

So for me, at least, being married vs. being partnered otherwise is entirely irrelevant to this particular challenge.

The unease of not knowing how much of my relationship is voluntary vs. how much of it is necessary---on his side as well as mine---is sharp to me. Even though my marriage is happy and runs extraordinarily smoothly and we get along incredibly well, there is something very painful to me about the knowledge that he couldn't leave me without being an utter shit, and that if I left him, my life would be utterly shitty. There is something about that that adds a little shadow of an asterisk to the joy I find in being with him, a tiny qualification that makes the triumph of love a little less perfect.

I just try to sit with it and not let it take up too much head space. My marriage is good; it doesn't have to be perfect. My life is good; it doesn't have to be perfect.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:18 AM on November 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

This is a really interesting question, because it's made me realize how much relationships involve erecting new barriers to the end of the relationship. You meet each others' families, you move in together, you get married, you have joint bank accounts, you divide up the tasks of life such that each person is dependent on the other for about half. All of these things make it hard to leave - they all foster a certain amount of dependency. This is part of how relationships make it through rough patches, by making it so that bailing at the first sign of trouble isn't easy or painless. This is to say nothing of the emotional dependence that develops.

I guess what I'm saying is that these dependencies are just a natural part of any functioning relationship. Yours may be particularly obvious, but I don't think your agency is being restricted any more than a couple who owns a home together, or even signs a lease together. Thinking of it that way may help.
posted by Ragged Richard at 9:52 AM on November 24, 2012

FWIW: I informed my spouse that I wanted a divorce at a time when other people were telling me I was too sick to leave him. We also have two special needs sons, both of whom remained with me (and still live with me, even though they are now both legal adults).

I am really not sure if all this other stuff complicates things as much as you seem to assume. It seems to complicate it but that's in part because your partner actually cares enough about you to actually take care of you. My decision was made, and easily so, because of my health crisis: The year my life hung by a thread, my spouse gave up a hobby in order to return to college on the theory that I would never be well enough to work so he needed to be prepared to take care of me (i.e. make more money).

The problem with that theory is he was not taking care of me. Returning to college was a less childish and self indulgent means to avoid me and invest in himself than his hobbies but it became crystal clear to me that he could not be bothered to take care of me even though I was in real danger of dying. A higher income was not going to change his priorities. That is why I left: To save my life. He was preparing to "love me" literally to death with his dysfunctional ideas of "taking care of" me.

If your partner is genuinely taking care of you, it only proves it is a good relationship. If he were enough of a jackass, it sounds to me like you would leave. You still have a choice. You make that choice (to stay) in some sense every single day. There is no one without need. Anyone in a relationship is there out of some need, whether emotional, sexual, psychological, physical or financial. Some needs are more obvious than others. That doesn't make them somehow worse reasons to stay.
posted by Michele in California at 11:10 AM on November 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

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