Wednesday, April 1, 2009

What if Your Partner is a Jerk? Part 2 (of 3)

In a previous post I described levels of "jerkiness" in the well partner -- from unaware to indifferent to downright mean. Of course, the ill partner can act like a jerk too, but that's a topic for another post.

The first suggestion I offered for dealing with a well partner who is acting like a jerk is to try empathic communication - to put yourself in your partner's shoes and truly empathize with the disruption illness has brought into his/her life too. Of course, this is just a starting point, and may not work for couple relationships that are more deeply stuck in indifference or meanness. For these situations, there are two more options:

#2) Turn away from his/her darkness and towards sources of light.

If you walk down the same street every day on your way to work, and each time you run smack into a brick wall that leaves you with some nasty bumps, what do you do? Do you continue to take the same path and try walking faster or slower? Or maybe throw in a few dance steps? No matter how you walk, if you're on this path, you will inevitably get bonked by that brick wall.

Einstein described insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

I don't think we are insane if we repeat relationship patterns, but we are stuck.

When it comes to dealing with a difficult well partner, if no matter what your try - explaining your condition in detail, cooking a nice dinner, humor, asking for what you need, offering to give him/her a back rub, asking him/her what he needs from you, etc. -- nothing changes, then maybe it's time to look for alternative roads to walk.

Perhaps our own sense of self worth is so tied to how our partner treats us that we feel compelled to keep trying to get him/her to love us so we can feel lovable. Perhaps we have invested so much in our relationship and want it so desperately to be good that we can't abide the idea of letting go, even just a little bit. I am not equating letting go with separation or divorce -- that's another discussion. But if the relationship is causing you, the ill partner, a continuous string of daily disappointments and if at the end of the day you're feeling more defeated than strengthened by your encounters with your partner - it's time to turn away from his/her darkness and seek some light elsewhere.

In other words, it's time to stop expecting your partner to be different and begin to act differently yourself.

Begin by understanding that your partner is not the only source of oxygen available to you. Kindness, compassion, help, and empathy are waiting for you if you begin to look in other directions. Think about the range of people in your life and who among them can be a true friend to you. Do you have a mother, father, sibling, aunt, uncle, or cousin who can sit with you and listen? Do you have a few friends who can help with chores or take you out to dinner or a movie? Do you have a child you can play with and laugh with -- even for a half hour? Do you have a dog or a cat who will curl up with you when you need to lay down? Do you have a craft or a hobby you can immerse yourself into -- even for a half hour? Do you have a spiritual community or a spiritual place you can go to to feel part of something bigger than the moment you feel stuck in?

Letting go of the urgent desire for nurturance and understanding from your partner can be excruciating. It can feel like a defeat. Staying in a fruitless struggle may feel like the last tie left holding you two together. But ask yourself, "Is this struggle doing either of us any good? Is it pushing the well partner farther away while it depletes you, the ill partner, of the energy you should be devoting to dealing with your illness and your wellness?"

You need and are entitled to get support. Look for it and when you find it enjoy it. You may find that the loneliness you feel within your primary relationship begins to shift as you experience companionship with a larger community. You may find you start to feel less trapped and more loved. And who knows what may evolve if you become less stressed and less dependent on your partner for empathy.

In Part 3 of this series,
I will write about the third option -- Getting help from couples therapy.


Cockroach Catcher said...

Good post. Got it through Grand Rounds.

The Cockroach Catcher

Anonymous said...

This post is a life-saver. My mate recently abandoned me and is now telling the world that I am a "user." I have been seriously ill for nearly three years with a recurrent condition that I've had since infancy.

Thank you for this; it's helping me to stay alive.

Barbara Kivowitz said...

Hi Anonymous - I am glad you found this post so helpful. Sounds like you had some terrible experiences with you partner. I am sorry you went through that. I hope you find the other side and that it gives you sustenance and better days.