Breaking Up and Reconciling in Couples living with Mental Illness
By Brenda Ann Eckels, aMGC (C)2015
(Note: Many details have been changed to protect the privacy of the friend I talked with today, and her family. -BAEB)
Divorces / Breakups with joint property are so time consuming when one partner is seriously impaired, and the other has a life and would like less interruptions from the other person’s drama in it. Of course I am talking about relationships that when both parties are stable, the couple is happy, in love, and doing the self care and other things to stay that way along with the couples things that make relationships stronger.
And when the impairment is untreated mental illness, the breakups can happen every month or every time they become especially unstable. Then of course, they get better, and the breakup is recognized as just a symptom of the illness.
I spent some time today (in between sewing and working on that dreaded task of my September budget) trying to help a friend who is going through this.
She is the stable one with the life that is getting better each day, and of course the first suggestion I had was that she seek a couples counselor experienced with how mental illness can make being a couple or a family harder. Turned out they already had one.
Yeah, having one or both partners suffer from mental illness
can make holding the relationship together harder.
SO can having one or both partners suffer from diabetes, a TBI, or cancer.
The thing that bugs me is THOSE families get all kinds of resources and supports, and friends and family all rally around them, pray for them, bring over casseroles, wear pink or whatever color is right ribbons, and help them.
Have a husband who suffers from BiPolar and gets sick a lot?
Hardly any resources, almost no supports, and most often the friends sit there smugly and say:
just leave now.
get away from all that drama.”
The families are even more help by adding things like:
- “Oh, uhhh, don’t talk about his treatments on Facebook. It brings up questions when the neighborhood wives have their cocktail parties.”
I mean she had it before, so why was she trying to have another kid anyway? Shouldn’t she get her tubes tied if she has this mental thing?”
- “Look, we get it, her first wife was an asshole who beat her, and she has this PTSD thing.
But really, can’t you just keep her at home so she isn’t having those
flashback things in public?”
and both groups have the all time favorite:
Jesus Christ as
his personal savior,
he wouldn’t have this problem
However, there are hundreds of couples and families in this country, where one or both have serious mental illness, that do maintain stable healthy relationships. So it is important to remember that the mere fact a person has a serious mental illness is not by itself mean the person can’t be in a happy, mutually beneficial long term or even lifetime relationship.
In my friend’s case, it is especially challenging this year because there are
- joint assets,
- an outstanding insurance claim from the hailstorm,
- a home with a lot of memories, years of home improvements paid for by her,
- a very loved stepchild,
- her new job which takes her fairly far from the town they lived together in
- an ex who is a domestic violence abuser (apparently making progress in therapy)
- and one one side, family members who caused a lot of hurt and pain (a lot like the situation Brian and I went through with Female Relational Abuse).
I think she has made the right decision (promoted by her psych team and the couples counselor they see) that she not physically live with her partner until her partner is much more stable. I have been through the chaos that can happen if an unstable partner decides you. are. out. and it is not pretty. Sometimes it can be deadly, especially if the person has weapons.
It is, as she puts it, very hard to still be the one getting called to fix things, tend the gardens. It is even harder when she is there, she says, to see, all her years of hard labor as well as so much money now something she can’t enjoy the results of, and knows is at risk of being lost all together.
“I have a lovely place, and down the road it would be big enough for both of us.” She said “But, a home by the ocean it is not, and I had really expected to grow old on that porch looking out at the water.”
“I can’t afford to pay both payments, and my partner is so unstable right now, the money just vanishes. My partner is already a month behind now, using this month’s money to pay last month’s payment. Every month, more of the bills fall further behind, including the ones I am cosigner for.”
“And sometimes I am there and my partner is ok…acting fairly stable. We might laugh, cook a meal together, but at any moment my partner can snap and become bellicose, shouting, and accusing me of being just like the ex. I don’t even have to say or do anything, it is like a switch flips and suddenly my partner is another person. It hurts, and if I can, I just leave.”
There was not a lot I could do except:
- Let her talk, cry, and tell me about all the problems her partner is having
- give her a referral to the Warm Line in her area, that she can call and just vent and talk with a trained peer support counselor
- give her the web address for a nonprofit debt counseling service that might be able to at least get the collection calls stopped
- Found an address for a state ombudsman/advocate program that might help her with making decisions
- Promised to pray for the entire family.
- Gave her the numbers for the mental health Peer Support Centers near her, and near her partner.
- Reminded her that it couldn’t hurt to try again to get her partner’s family on board by sending them the NAMI Family To Family brochure.
- Validated her feelings that
she still loves her partner very much,
and feels that this latest “breakup” was
solely because of the mental illness symptoms, addiction issues, and interference by the new circle of “friends” her partner was using substances with – just like most of the past “breakups” had been.
- And last, I told her about a web site where she can talk to the stepchild somewhat privately. Turned out the stepchild already used it.
In the end, I felt like at least I did no harm and did some good. But they are like small Nerf ball bullets being shot at a raging tiger. I considered the battle she is living in with the one Brian and I have been dealing with for over two years. (You can read more about that at Brian & Brenda, Sittin In A Tree Blog
You know what final thought I had?
I think it would be a great idea if WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plans) could include a sort of pre-nup kind of agreement, written when both parties are stable, that lays out in advance if one of them has a mental health crisis and decides to “out”/”breakup”/etc it is laid out very clearly in a signed, notarized agreement as to who stays and who goes (if they live together), who gets what, what the therapy and medication compliance requirements are to consider a “breakup” initiated during a mental health crisis. It would be so helpful to couples to have a legal document the healthy partner can use to keep bills paid, lights on, and everyone fed.
Of course, first we have to get all 50 states to pass laws that would make a notarized WRAP Plan just as powerful a legal document as a Living Will or Physical Health Care Power of Attorney. And we are a long way from that. But maybe someday, mental health consumers can have the same rights to such pre-planning as diabetics do. It could make the ups and downs of relationships where one partner has a serious mental illness much easier to manage.