Any tips for helping me be more patient and compassionate?
July 18, 2020 6:33 AM   Subscribe

Stress is ongoing during the pandemic, and I'm doing my best to cope whilst also providing love and support for my spouse, who is going through some pretty serious stress and depression right now. Do MeFites have any tips for improving my calm and my patience?

First, to pre-empt the therapy suggestions: as I wrote in this question back in April, my old therapist went weird and then, subsequent to that question, disappeared altogether. I'm looking for a new therapist at the moment but haven't found any that I click with (online therapy not being my preferred way of doing therapy anyway).

Now to the meat of the matter. My spouse (they/them) has been going through a very stressful period of their life for the last eight months or so, due largely to external factors (some family drama, some friend drama, some medical issues which are as yet unresolved but are finally getting investigated now that blood tests are being carried out again for things other than COVID-19). They recently had a phone consult with their GP, who offered them antidepressants and suggested therapy. My spouse declined the antidepressants (they have a family history of being generally against them, so whilst I find this a bit frustrating I can understand it) and have said they're open to therapy but have made no steps in that direction -- and I know from previous experience that they probably won't.

I am trying my hardest to support them. Their mood is usually pretty low with the occasional high and the slightly more frequent deep trough which can stop them in their tracks (this morning, for example, persuading them to get out of bed to go for a haircut took over an hour). I do most of the cooking in the house, along with the laundry, and also take care of our pets. My spouse tries to contribute to the housework and gets upset with themself for not having the energy to do more -- again, I completely understand this, having had major depression myself, so I'm not asking them to anything other than try to look after themself, but it's an ongoing struggle to not get into a fight with them because they're angry that they didn't do some vacuuming or something.

Here's the thing: I'm exhausted. I've been exhausted for months. I'm coping, just about, but I'm tired all the damn time. My mood is okay for the most part -- I'm keeping myself going by having a strict workout schedule, which is my version of an antidepressant these days. There are periods where my spouse is out of the hosue due to commitments that they're finally able to fulfill again, and during those times I feel completely relaxed… until they come home and I feel stressed again.

My patience and my energy to support my spouse are waning, and I hate it. I don't for a second pin any of this on them -- they're going through what they're going through and it's awful and I'm helpless to change any of it, so all I can do is watch and try and support them. But the arguments are getting more frequent because we're both tired, and I'm less able now to be patient when my spouse says something mean or snide -- which is how their low feelings tend to manifest themselves in conversation.

I have a support network that I can confide in a bit, but not beyond "yeah, things aren't easy at home because of some stuff" (my spouse doesn't like to have their problems aired with my friends, because they're a very private person and they feel that that would be a betrayal and that my friends will judge them. Again, this is an attitude they get from their family -- "we don't talk about our problems with outsiders" that I've just learned to accept over the years).

Yes, I am looking for a therapist, yes I know I need support in this. But do you, mefites, have any tips for helping me to be a bit more patient during all of this? I want to be the best that I can for my dearly beloved, and I don't feel that they're getting my best right now.
posted by six sided sock to Human Relations (17 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I’m sure other people will have more insightful answers, but let me just say that you are doing everything you can here. You don’t need to be more patient. Your spouse needs to step it up and go to therapy. You’re already doing everything - don’t stretch yourself so thin you break. Take care of yourself and continue to encourage your spouse to get the help they need.

This is their responsibility and they need to accept more outside help. They don’t want therapy and medication? Too bad. That’s putting you in a deeply unfair position and I honestly think you’re making excuses for them. Their refusal to get help is taking a significant toll on YOUR well-being and that’s unacceptable, full stop.

Continuing to do all of the emotional labor here will break you. Take care of yourself.
posted by Amy93 at 6:53 AM on July 18, 2020 [24 favorites]

My best suggestion is to try to mentally detach yourself from taking responsibility for your spouse’s feelings. If you ask them to do a normal chore like vacuuming, and they shame-spiral, don’t engage with the spiral. It’s OK to set boundaries about how much depression-spiraling you can listen to. It’s especially OK to set boundaries that you won’t accept them lashing out at you.

Here are some relevant example scripts from Captain Awkward. They were originally written for talking with a friend, but they could be modified for talking with a spouse.

You could add an item or two from this post about a partner. While the thrust of that post is more “Leave,” there’s at least one concrete suggestion for something to say:

Have you ever told your partner “Your unwillingness to treat your depression and the way you lash out at me for no reason makes me feel angry, trapped, and resentful?” If so, how did they respond?

In my own marriage, we both have bad anxiety and depression days sometimes. For us, it works to say “I’m in a really shitty mood today. I’m not mad at you — it’s just everything. I just need to be by myself for a little while today until I feel better.” I wonder if it might even be helpful for you to model that behavior for your spouse when you are having that kind of day — show them it’s an option to do that vs. dumping on your spouse.
posted by snowmentality at 7:07 AM on July 18, 2020 [10 favorites]

I’m sorry you are both going through this. I would like to suggest that you might feel more compassionate if you aren’t so exhausted and one way to feel less exhausted is to parent them less. Don’t spend an hour trying to persuade them to get out of bed to get a haircut. Don’t do all the chores. Be supportive but step back a little, be less of a mom.
posted by gt2 at 7:12 AM on July 18, 2020 [25 favorites]

Oh God, this sounds super stressful. I have different stressors but a number that have certainly come to a head during this period. Despite how...useless... it sounded, and maybe out of desperation (and because I got a free year with my credit card), I downloaded the app Calm, and started their daily How to Meditate course. I’m not good at doing it daily, and I’m not good at it period. But it’s actually been helpful. And considering the elaborate cocktail of antidepressants I take already, I was surprised anything else would do anything at all.

It doesn’t solve any of my problems, to be clear, but it certainly does help me move forward in my day, on a daily basis. So I guess it helps with the problem of being stuck in my resentful head.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:31 AM on July 18, 2020

My approach would be to take care of myself and let the spouse figure out their own stuff. "Drama" is created and your spouse could choose to not be involved or affected by drama.

I wouldn't persuade your spouse to get a haircut. That dynamic is helping anything even though your intentions are good and you're only trying to help. It is difficult to be the worker when others aren't pulling their weight so to speak. It takes a lot of maturity and grounding to let others be who they are when it seems like all the work is falling on your shoulders.

Find the strength to do your own thing and leave them alone. You can express your frustration that they aren't present and helping out when they can. After that allow, and if the situation becomes untenable you can change the situation by removing yourself from the relationship. I can relate to your feeling of being stressed when they come home. That happens when we are not grounded in our being so to speak and focusing too much on surface level stuff and focusing our energy outward. Breathe, be still and go inward. Be patient and compassionate with yourself so you can be there for others -- not as a helper or a fixer but as presence.
posted by loveandhappiness at 7:44 AM on July 18, 2020 [3 favorites]

If you ask them to do a normal chore like vacuuming, and they shame-spiral, don’t engage with the spiral.

Oh no, if I'm reading this correctly, it's not even that. It's that the OP is vacuuming out of compassion but the spouse thinks they (the spouse) should vacuum, so then they have a bunch of big feelings about not doing so, and probably also big feelings about the OP vacuuming "for" them and not even expecting that they'll be able to, so the OP is doing chores for the sake of getting them done and dealing with a bunch of fallout for having done so. However, the answer is still to disengage. I've been exactly there and explicitly said that all such conversations needed to happen with a therapist because it was utterly unfair to be meta-depressed at me about my attempts to be supportive and also live my life in a clean home. It's okay to be depressed. It's okay to have treatment-resistent depression. It's however not okay to refuse to even seek treatment and instead just lean harder and harder on a partner.
posted by teremala at 7:51 AM on July 18, 2020 [17 favorites]

Best answer: Yes, the best way to become more patient and compassionate is to practice by providing those things to yourself before providing them to your spouse and to get some slack in the system so that everything is not always overwhelming.

That sounds like a horribly unhelpful answer.

There is a dynamic where one person over functions and is miserable and the other person under functions and is miserable. Right now you can't do anything about your spouse except over function more, so you need to look for ways to stop over functioning. Unfortunately that is easier said than done. I can tell you just leave the dishes dirty, but the consequences will be no clean dishes to cook with and that leads to missed meals and food that is neither satisfying or healthy. To fix this you need to bring your best triage tools into the kitchen and figure out what is critical to do, what is helpful to do and what really doesn't matter in terms of continuing to function e.g. dinner. Unfortunately this requires a working brain capable of doing executive functioning, and when you are tired and over functioning and have taken on all the spouse's executive functions you've got really little available. You can end up cleaning the entire kitchen and making dinner, but you take psychic damage when you do that. Once in awhile being heroic like that is okay. Maybe once a month over functioning like that will help you get stronger and more resilient. Doing it on a daily basis just teaches you hopelessness.

This is where a triage template is useful. Triaging in the kitchen means that first you get some space cleared to sort and think - the empty slot in your Chinese puzzle - usually the dish drainer and the kitchen sink. Then you sort the dirty dishes according to what is needed for the next meal and only wash those (category critical) The remaining dishes get sorted into need to be washed so they don't stink up the kitchen and spread grease (category urgent) and those that can hide in the dishwasher until the weekend. (someday in Jerusalem)

But you are going to always, always start with triaging yourself. When it comes to triaging yourself you first find a place where you can do that work (when you have kids, in the bathroom with the door locked is the usual place) look at what you genuinely need and the steps to get to those priorities. Very likely right now what you need is emotional support, time to not use your executive functioning so your blood sugar and fatigue can lessen a bit, and time to sort out if you are hungry, need to pee, have prescriptions that should be taken or filled. The path goes: Find a safe(er) spot and assess for Survival> Mental Health > Physical Health > Maintenance. First you do your own list and then only go on to a similar list for the shared domestic menage and only after the triage list for domestic functioning go on to your spouse and their needs. If you stop functioning everything comes to a crashing ruin, so you are priority. And your mental health is getting endangered (unhappiness and feeling stressed are the clear indicators of that) so it's time to put your oxygen mask on first.

To further explain about your triage priority, the domestic menage comes before your spouse's needs because you come before your spouse so shared needs take priority over their individual needs. The only time you put their needs before the menage is when they are in such acute crisis that they is taking on-going significant and lasting damage from being ignored. So you can drive them to emerg for psych intake before doing the dishes, but not leave the dishes to console them and try to cajole them out of being in a bad mood. In fact consoling and cajoling them to put them in a better mood is almost always deeply counter productive. It's like putting an oxygen mask on someone that only stays on them if you are leaning way over and holding it there. The moment you stop being able to do it, it turns out to have been a waste of effort. Instead of spending six months playing therapist for someone we need to admit that we are not trained therapists and that we are too close to them to be effective therapists anyway. You can't be someone's therapist when their relationship with you is part of the problem. Trying to help them with their depression is like trying to bail out the bay with a bucket. If the tide goes out, it may look like you were useful but you really don't have the leverage to do it.

Once you and the basic shared domestic resources are looked after, only then does your spouse get to the top of the priority list. You mentioned getting your spouse out of bed to get a haircut. haircuts are low priority, really low priority. The only reason for a haircut is if it endangers their employment income. A much bigger priority is your mental health, so if they is just lying there awake looking gloomy, you might get much farther by climbing back into bed with them, removing your shirt, presenting your back and saying that, "Since you're not getting up, can I get a back rub while we lie here?"

If your spouse is upset that they're not doing the vacuuming, then the vacuuming better be at a life threatening level of overdue. Now if your spouse is upset because you are upset they didn't do the vacuuming you have a very different problem and the solution to that is not to reassure them that it is okay, or resent them and reassure them that it's okay, but for him to find something they can do that is going to help them and you a whole lot more than the vacuuming will.

I'm not at all denying that a messy, grubby cluttered house can feel unbearable to the point of hysteria, but the work that needs to be done at that point is restoring your equilibrium so that you can cope with a messy, grubby, cluttered house and maybe even clean it without feeling resentful or exhausted and hopeless. So if you can leverage your spouse's sloth to give you some cuddle time so that when you both get up you can provide them with a sincere statement that they just did something that has contributed significantly to your personal well being and their primary relationship then they is much less likely to be angry that they didn't vacuum.

So it all circles back to you and your mental health again. It sounds to me like you may be managing your own anxiety by controlling them. This does feel necessary. If your fam loses their job and income or gets suicidal because they didn't get fed a breakfast and nudged out of the house then it's not too much to take over and bring them in a plate with eggs and cheerily talk them into their clothes and off to the doctor. However it is never sustainable for you to be doing all the worrying and managing and organizing. Once is fine. Once a week is fine. But always? Eventually you fail to manage the breakfast eggs so they miss work and gets fired. Before then your quality of life has gone down so far that you hate your life, you hate them, and you hate yourself. Remember, depression is a contagious illness.

A concerning dynamic is the sniping and mean comments. Two things could be going on. One is that your frustration is spilling over and you are making mean comments and triggering them to be defensively mean, and the other is that they are feeling resentful at being helpless and taking it out on you.

So at this point boundaries are critical. You absolutely cannot soak any more tearing down from your spouse. Start by making sure you are not ambivalent enough to be tearing them down, if necessary by limiting your interactions with them to a script, and the moment they make a mean comment shut them down. "That sounds like a mean comment. Don't say anything more." Make eye contact and say that firmly. It's like with a child. "In our household we do not call each other names." Stop them dead, don't look for an apology or clarification, just tell them stop right now, completely. If they don't stop remove yourself from the room. Extend this practice to yourself. The moment you suspect that something you said was a mean comment (aimed at anyone in the household including, especially including, yourself) shut it down. To balance things out whenever anyone does something or says something nasty to you, say something equivalently nice to yourself. If they call you fat look in the mirror and admire your lovely voluptuous figure (thicc!<3). If they call you picky mentally list a few ways your "pickiness" has brought joy to your life and maybe even theirs.

If your time with your spouse out of the house is your relaxing time, then you have been in each other's pockets way too much and too long and need to spend more time apart. And since they are not leaving the house much, the best way to get the two of your apart is to start scheduling some more well-being mental health restoration activities for yourself, outside of the house. This can be as little as reading a book in the backyard. Your life is probably so packed this sounds absurd but right now you really, really need scheduled self restoring down time.

Recap: Look after your own mental health and get down time to restore your executive functioning.
posted by Jane the Brown at 8:34 AM on July 18, 2020 [15 favorites]

One of the most paradoxical lessons I learned in my own therapy is: allowing myself to be angry, frustrated, fed up, and full of hate - in other words, embracing the fact that I am "just a person" who has human feelings and human reactions - led to me becoming many times more patient, loving, and accepting than I previously was.

The theory is that when you are able to let yourself make mistakes, have "bad" feelings, talk to your friends (you are allowed, you do not need your partner's permission!!!), comfort yourself and find comfort from friends --- in doing this, you fill up your emotional tank, feel rejuvenated, and are able to give more to others. Suppressing your emotions and putting pressure on yourself to be saintly, on the other hand, depletes your emotional resources and leaves you with less to give. You might be able to grit your teeth and run on sheer willpower for a while, but it's taxing and it breeds silent resentment. It poisons your relationship.

So for now, give yourself room to operate... to live and be. Don't expect perfection from yourself. Accept that you're angry, exhausted, frustrated, and quite fed up with having to deal with ~everything~. You might snap at your partner or even end up having a shouting argument - and that won't make you a monster. It makes you human. You are just a person. You make mistakes, then you make amends, and get a reinforcement of some lesson you are working on learning. That's normal human behavior. It's allowed.

When you stop beating yourself up for being impatient and angry, it frees you up to feel the feelings, soothe yourself like you are your own child, lean on friends who are gentle to you, and feel replenished. You are just a person. It's ok.
posted by MiraK at 9:08 AM on July 18, 2020 [6 favorites]

this morning, for example, persuading them to get out of bed to go for a haircut took over an hour

This really should not be happening. I'm saying this gently, you didn't mess up or do something horrible, it's okay. But taking this much responsibility for your partner's life and functioning is not healthy for either of you. It's no wonder you are exhausted... you are doing WAY too much.

Take several steps back. If you know your partner has a haircut appointment, you might remind them of it, or wake hem up to ask if they are going. That should be the end of it. It's not on you to persuade, cajole, and chivvy them into doing things. You are not their parent. When you let go of the reins and stop trying to make your partner do things, that frees up your energies and lowers the resentment and dread you feel towards them.

You might be afraid to let go because you think they can't survive on their own without your help. But that's not true. They can survive. They'll just do it their own way, not in the way you believe is healthy or optimal for them. And they're allowed to choose their own way. Their decisions and choices should be respected. Just because they're depressed, doesn't mean they are incapable of living and choosing! For example, they are not having a psychotic break or persistent hallucinations or experiencing significant loss of brain function which makes it necessary for you to dictate their day-to-day choices. Your partner is an autonomous individual who gets to run their own life.

You might be afraid to let go because you think your relationship cannot survive otherwise. Your partner's focus may be so strongly directed inward due to their depression that the only way you feel like you're still in this relationship is if you make yourself responsible for their day-to-day functioning. But stepping back will not only give you both breathing room, but will also lower your resentment (as well as theirs). You have to be an authentic and straightforward participant in the relationship... It's unhealthy to "cheat" and find indirect or convoluted ways to get your relationship needs met, such as meeting your need to feel involved in a shared life by overstepping into their life and choices when they are too inward-focused. If you want to feel involved in a shared life with your partner, THEY have to participate too, THEY have to mirror your need and be involved in your shared life too, THEY have to focus on you and the relationship as well. And right now, they can't or won't. The only authentic way forward is to accept this. It's okay to take care of yourself in other ways and find your companionship in friends and family while your partner is recovering. And if at some point your needs have gone unmet and you feel empty and unsatisfied, it's okay to accept that the relationship is no longer working for you, and let it end.
posted by MiraK at 9:44 AM on July 18, 2020 [6 favorites]

This is a very, very difficult line to draw but is going to be critical for your survival: your partner needs to be actively attempting to treat their depression and make these things stop happening as a requirement for continuing in the partnership. It may take time to work, or find the combination of factors that works best, but without acknowledgement and actual interest in the problem getting fixed, it is unfixable no matter how nice you are. The parenting you have to do, the beating themselves up AT you, the verbal abuse because they feel sad - you aren't supposed to have to write that off, you aren't supposed to have to protect yourself by fawning and capitulating and just "being nicer" so they won't be mean to you.

There is a very very high chance that drugs will help all this low-lying shit. They will feel better, you will feel better, they will have more impulse control to process instead of lash out when a bad feeling comes. If they try and can't find something that works, you can reframe to some extent as treatment-resistant depression or behavior affected directly by some aspect of the medical condition (this is entirely possible, but those often also improve at least some with common antidepressant therapy until medical treatment reduces the underlying issues), but the trying is critical. The excuses are critical in an entirely opposite way.

Until that attempt is made in actual good faith, if you are not willing to ask them to live elsewhere until they can stop treating you like a wall they want to punch, you should verbally nope out and walk away when this is done to you until they take up the mantle of at least acknowledging when they do it and trying to do better. You cannot nicey-nicey them out of this, and it's not periodic bad spells or an understandable dip in stability after a fresh blow that you can be supportive by giving them a couple of days to get their equilibrium back - those would be good-faith partners-taking-care-of-each-other kind of support that you're trying to talk about.

That's why it's absolutely necessary that they try. It's probably going to mean having ongoing conversations directly about it instead of elephanting the whole problem away, and it's going to mean some sometimes gratingly specific conversations about expectations. But it can also mean helping them figure out how to help themselves better instead of doing it for them, which is actually a win for you both. You should reserve doing stuff for them for only the highest-stakes tasks, like "do you want me to help you put together a canned first-contact email for therapists from the list you've curated?" rather than haircuts, which they should have either not scheduled in the first place or missed and paid for out of respect for that person's time.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:05 AM on July 18, 2020 [5 favorites]

Best answer: my spouse doesn't like to have their problems aired with my friends, because they're a very private person and they feel that that would be a betrayal

With kindness, this is something maybe your spouse doesn't get a say in when things have gotten to this point. You are in a crisis situation and it's actually a controlling perspective. It's good that you are compassionate to your spouse's issues. It's good that you are trying to respect their boundaries. But it's also okay that you find maybe a person (a single friend if you can't work with a therapist right now, or even a not-friend online somewhere) and talk about how things really are. Because right now you and your spouse are at odds (even if it's for good, understandable, reasons) and they can not be helping you meet your needs right now. So, assuming it will take some time to work through this--and I agree with others, if the spouse is not working on their mental health, it's okay for you to detach a little--you need to put on your own oxygen mask right now and that includes telling people what is going on, at the bare minimum so you can get some emotional support and, possibly also some actual in-person support with some things that you need.

Because, we all know it's hard to love someone with a problem. And part of why it's hard is because, especially in cases like this where the depression is actively fighting YOU and your relationship, it can be incredibly isolating.

Your spouse needs to eat and hydrate and rest and meet their basic commitments, that is about it for now. They do not need a haircut. They do not need to get out of bed (except for work etc). They need to get to a therapist, and you may need to help with that, calling someone or setting up an appointment or something, the way you would if they were physically sick with something. If they get grumpy with themselves for not helping, you don't have to downplay it but you can circle back to "Well you will help as you get better, for now the first step in that is talking to a therapist (or meds)" If they get grumpy for you for doing the things you need to do to keep the household running it's the same thing "This needs to get done, you will do it when you are better. For now, please let me do the work that needs doing" Your spouse may not be able to manage their feelings but it's okay for you to ask them to try to manage their actions. "Hey if you can't be civil out here, please go in the other room."

My best advice is to try to treat their mental illness as you would a physical illness. Try to encourage them to rest, understand they're not in their right mind, understand that you will be doing more work for now and not forever, and literally that them getting help can be supported by you but doesn't have to be your job.
posted by jessamyn at 10:19 AM on July 18, 2020 [17 favorites]

Best answer: One of the hallmarks of depression is irritability, which is putting it mildly. Plus, the sluggishness, and low to very low mood. Then the unwillingness to even try meds.

It's okay to talk to them and try to set up some agreements. Like, you get to ask them to vacuum 1 room, clean up after breakfast, stuff like that, with minimal repercussions if they can't. *If* you want to be part of their wellness plan, and you definitely do not have to, you can help set up a star chart with rewards for wellness behaviors: leaving the house, showering, taking a walk. Visible rewards, like drawn stars, stickers, small rewards, are really effective, just like fitness trackers. They don't heal depression, but they can help promote some actions that help. Also, play music; it has a powerful effect on mood and movement, for both of you. You are already managing a lot for them, and you can continue, or not. If you want them to have a haircut, get them up. Or let them skip it. As a partner, it's reasonable to provide lots of support for a sick partner, and you are doing that by cooking, shopping, cleaning, and more. you don't deserve to feel guilt about not being able to fix this.

Living with and loving a depressed person is hard, really hard. It can sap the color out of your life. And because you are empathic, you hate feeling annoyed at them for how miserable they are to be around. I, and likely most answerers give you permission and support to feel annoyed, aggravated, angry, frustrated, and as many other feelings as bubble up. You can discuss your frustration with them, ideally not in anger; it sounds like they know it's hard on you.

Play music. Spotify or any service, cds. whatever. Dance music really does get people moving. Music really does soothe the savage beast, in humans, at least. Load up your phone and go for a walk; exercise will help you get rid of the physical energy of frustration. Do nice things; take a lunch to a park or beach, get books from the library, buy a puzzle. Remind yourself that it's okay for you to enjoy things and be happy even when they are not. And give yourself so much praise, so many hugs, for being a loving partner through this.
posted by theora55 at 10:41 AM on July 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

Mod note: deleted a misgendering comment
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:43 AM on July 18, 2020

(Apologies for the misgendering comment I made earlier. That was harmful and wrong. Thanks to those who flagged it so it could be deleted.)
posted by Bella Donna at 1:16 PM on July 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

I've been both sides of this dynamic, so I'm sending a lot of compassion in your household's direction. And affirming that you can take a big step back here and let your spouse manage or fail to manage things that do not affect you, without engaging in it. Haircuts aren't your problem. Right now, if you're cool with running the vacuum on whatever frequency you want to until your spouse can take that on again, then you do that, and their feelings about wishing they had the energy to do it more? Not your problem beyond general sympathy.

You also deserve support. It's very tricky when all your friends are mutual but that can't become an excuse for cutting you off from all support. You get to pick one or two extra trusted friends, or join a support group, or ask for help here. Your spouse doesn't have to love it. It's a reasonable compromise and you can't continue to support them without having your own backstop.

Keep carving that time out for exercise. Carve out more time for other things that make you feel good, if you can. Consider if there are things you have the means to outsource around the house to give you both some breathing room. Depending on your location and COVID risk, maybe treat yourself to a nice weekend at a hotel nearby for some recharge time. And cut yourself some slack here - it's OKAY to be impatient sometimes and not always at your best. Long term partnerships are where we get to be messy and vulnerable, and even though right now you need to be the one closer to having your shit together, you don't need to be 100%. It's okay if your partner sees how their situation is affecting you. It may provide some impetus to get the needed help, and at any rate it's the honest truth about where things are right now and you don't have to cover that over so hard the cracks don't show. I get the impulse. But you're allowed to be honest about your pain too.
posted by Stacey at 8:08 PM on July 18, 2020

I want to pull out something that snowmentality said above. Have you tried telling your partner how you feel? Compassionately and kindly. But saying "hey, I'm really exhausted too and I feel completely overwhelmed right now. Let's just have a hug about how bad we both feel." Can really help. Sometimes when I'm getting depressed and up in my head, remembering that other people also have feelings and inner lives that *aren't about me* is a huge help.

So try to avoid, "I'm overwhelmed because you aren't doing your share" and not "I'm resentful and mad at you because you're being depressed at me all the time." - Don't center them in your bad feelings. But just a little bit of honest vulnerability saying "It's really hard right now, I think we both feel awful." Can shift a whole dynamic away from problem+solver to partner+partner.
posted by Lady Li at 7:49 AM on July 19, 2020

I relate a lot to your question! My partner has multiple disabilities that makes their pain level off the charts most days even if everything else is going well, but on top of that has had some incredibly hard shit happen the past couple years that means they have serious depression (death of parents, surgeries gone wrong, serious illness, job issues). Like you, I don’t blame them for not being able to do an equal amount of housework, animal care, etc. But I am so concerned by the questions you’re asking — you don’t need more patience and calm. You need more support from your spouse to take care of your own needs and not theirs.

My first thought reading your question was that you must talk to them about how you feel instead of trying to hide your anger or frustration. And that conversation should happen more than once. You have an equal part in your relationship. You can NOT be a long-term caretaker for a significant other in a healthy way, I am sorry to say. That doesn’t mean it’s always possible to avoid it, and it’s your choice, but right now you are putting their needs ahead of your own in a way that isn’t sustainable or healthy. I periodically talk to my partner about how overwhelmed I am by their hardships and set boundaries — it’s hard and I hate doing it, but she welcomes when I do it and we work collaboratively to figure out better ways of coping or getting support that doesn’t burn me out. Relationships don’t need to be perfectly equal but they do need to be flexible and collaborative.

I’m so sorry you’re going through this. My heart broke when I read that you spent an hour convincing them to get out the door for a haircut. That’s too much for you to be responsible for, no wonder you’re relieved when they’re out of the house! Do you explicitly or implicitly expect you to take on a parenting role? This is the kind of thing I talk about with my partner, and it’s not too much to ask that they work towards not making you feel responsible for their bare minimum of care. For me, setting this boundary doesn’t mean I won’t step in and help, but it’s a choice on my part, which means I can stop doing it when I need to focus on my own shit. This does make a difference in how frustrated I might be about the situation, but again, that’s an emotion it’s okay for you to feel and not focus on hiding! There’s a pandemic and you’re managing your anxiety over that while trying to make your spouse feel perfectly supported and cared for — how could you not feel angry and exhausted?

The second thing your question made me want to say in strong terms: your spouse does not get a say in whether you confide in friends about your relationship. Full stop. It’s a norm they were taught so you know where it comes but but it’s still a huge red flag to tell you that you can’t ask friends for support with issues. Of course, you should be considerate of whether you have discreet friends and whether they’re going to give helpful advice. And I don’t ever bring a third person’s opinion into my relationship to bolster my position (eg, “Friend agrees with me that you’re a jerk for doing X”) because that’s not fair. But having different perspectives on your relationship, sharing frustrations with your friends and being validated for them, and enjoying connecting with someone other than your spouse is essential. Denying you that because of their own issues around discussing their problems is abusive.

Lastly, please, don’t accept that they never take antidepressants or seek therapy or do anything to change their depression. You manage your own depression (with exercise and a therapist, why is it okay that they don’t?

You can understand and support them through this but that doesn’t mean accepting that they do nothing to get help; don’t allow you to be impacted by what they’re going through; or seek support from friends. You deserve that. I really hope you see that.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 5:12 PM on July 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

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