how do i emotionally disconnect while remaining supportive?
May 4, 2016 4:31 PM   Subscribe

My spouse has got it rough, and I'm arguably the strongest pillar in his support network. Lately, though, I'm finding myself completely emotionally destroyed after offering him the support I've promised him. I need coping mechanisms to maintain my own emotional stability while still remaining supportive to my sweetheart.

Thanks in advance for your advice.
posted by blue t-shirt to Human Relations (6 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I had a partner (tho not one I live with) who went through a really harrowing set of years. This was, understandably, tough for everyone. While he definitely had it harder than I did, there was also a lot of tough stuff for me (since what's hard for him affects me, etc) and a few things helped.

1. Me having some boundaries - suggested support groups for some of the stuff he was dealing with so when he just needed to vent in a supportive environment there was a place he could go where people didn't mind listening to some of the same (understandable!) grousing over and over and he knew he'd have a regular outlet and support network.

2. Therapy - for both of us -- me so I'd have someone who could listen to what I was dealing with (so he didn't have to become my support for dealing with HIM) but also for him because some of the emotional stuff he was dealing with was heavier than anything I should have been handling alone (note: your spouse may not want to go, there are ways of approaching this. Do not just take no for an answer if the only other alternative is "You need to keep helping me!" I don't know if this is your pattern but it can be and it's terribly destructive)

3. Spending some time doing some healing together that was not problem focused - meditating together, going for a walk, doing a thing together where The Problem wasn't totally verboten but the object was to get us to build up some good together time even though things were really difficult. And doing some things on my own -- with new friends or new activities or something--so my social life and/or hobbies didn't suffer. Carve out that time for yourself.

4. A little tough love. Dealing with people who are having a hard time can be hard for a number of reasons but part of the issue is that people who are in a lot of pain can have (understandably!) a hard time looking outside themselves and so understanding that it's not just supporting him that is hard but it's losing your own support network/companion/whatever. And it's VALID for you to want a companion and working on helping him through his rough patch will help that process along. But it's also valid to sometimes say "I can not help you with this right now, you have to look at the rest of your support network" and if you're getting static with that ("I can't!") realizing that it may be part of the issue but it may be one they need to partly manage on their own. And then leave the house (and do something for yourself) or otherwise become slightly less available so that they can move forward with that.

It's not sustainable to have this imbalance for a long time, though it may be fine to have it in the short term. For yourself, ask yourself whether this rough spot is temporary or a little more entrenched and make some plans with that in mind.
posted by jessamyn at 4:50 PM on May 4, 2016 [26 favorites]

Well, self-care is the standard answer - you do need to put your own oxygen mask on first. But I think it would help you get better answers if you could articulate what kind of support you've promised, as there is a level that is sustainable while contentiously taking care of your own needs and with practical supports, and a level that no partner can actually provide (and that attempting may worsen things for everyone.)
posted by DarlingBri at 4:52 PM on May 4, 2016

You really need to have your partner seek counseling. You are not a trained counselor or therapist - or if you are, then you shouldn't be treating your spouse. This isn't blowing them off, it is getting them the support from someone who can really help them and this in return, will help you.
posted by Toddles at 5:10 PM on May 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Individual therapy for yourself.
posted by a strong female character at 5:38 PM on May 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't think having boundaries means you are not giving support. For example, my husband has a serious chronic illness which is managed by doctors. We have found that there is venting about this which is really better listened to by these doctors than by me. That is their job, and they are equipped to actually gauge how serious it is when he says X thing of Y thing. I am not.

Similarly, we both have things we have learned through experience can be triggering to the other person. It isn't fair to do that. Doing that, to me, means that one is privileging their own mental health over that of the other person. We learn to fight fair. We have to learn how to 'need' fair too. And sometimes that means finding another person to vent to.

Example: due to issues which are not about him, I cannot handle jokes, comments, remarks etc. relating to him leaving me. If he was actually serious about wanting to do that, it would have to be discussed in a calm time, in a therapist's office. The few times he has lashed out during a fight and tried that line on me, I have absolutely lost my sh--. Due to MY stuff, that one button simply cannot be pushed. So, what does he do if, in the heat of anger, he feels feelings about that? He keeps his mouth shut until they inevitably pass. His emotional pain or anger or feelings is not more important than mine. Boundaries. That's all it is.
posted by JoannaC at 5:52 PM on May 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

thank you all, especially jessamyn, for your thoughtful advice. It truly means a lot that you'd take such great care and consideration when answering this stranger's question.

to clarify some ambiguities, we're not actually married, nor do we live together, but 13 years in, it's as clear as it was a decade ago that this guy is the love of my life and we're in it for the long haul.

also, the support i hope to offer which gives me the most trouble is really just being a devoted, empathetic listener. i've always been a pretty sensitive guy, and i can't help but get upset when he describes the trouble he's going through at work.
posted by blue t-shirt at 1:12 PM on May 5, 2016

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