My Lover Is Emotionally Ill

Your lover, wife, or husband is mentally ill. You love him/her so much. But living together can be difficult and demanding at times. How do you cope with this situation without getting sick yourself?

First off, you’re probably a ‘caretaker.’ Has anyone ever said that to you? People who are chronically ill, predisposed to illness, or intermittently ill usually end up with care-taking partners. What this means is they usually manage to find a lover who will take care of them. Don’t ask me how this happens. The only thing I can tell you is the ‘choice’ is made outside of the usual forms of consciousness we can identify.

Now caretakers possess a certain kind of personality. For the most part, they tend to sacrifice themselves for others. They do this so well and so often it is part of their personality. As a footnote, the caretakers I have worked with over the years, and I’ve worked with quite a few, secretly deep down inside are hoping that the people they are taking care of will one day be able to love them back the same way. This doesn’t mean they would necessarily accept the caring offered, but they’re hoping for it. Anyway, the point is if you have a mentally ill lover chances are you have a care-taking personality.

Now having a care-taking personality is both a virtue and a curse. The ‘virtue‘ part is, you have love to give and you are fundamentally a good person. Regardless of the fact that you were deprived of love in some way growing up, you didn’t turn totally bitter and angry at people. You turned it around and took care of the people who were suppose to take care of you and that continues to this day.

The ‘curse‘ part is your need for love gets overlooked by everyone in addition to and most importantly by yourself. You see years ago you got the message that it was OK to sacrifice yourself for others. This got you a little recognition but not much compared to the self-sacrifice that’s now expected. The curse is you can’t stop and your own needs are left unmet and in the closet.

You never really learned how to take care of yourself, in this case, emotionally. Now as an adult with an emotionally ill lover, you have to learn how to take care of yourself in the relationship with him or her in order to have the healthiest love relationship possible given the circumstances. This will be a difficult but well worth it learning experience.

Let’s talk about a few of the things you’ll need to do to keep your relationship healthy. The first thing is to recognize and accept that you are caretaker. Let’s assume you’ve already done that. Chances are there are personal needs for love and caring that you are starting to feel more directly these days. That’s good. The feelings will motivate change.

Next, you will have to learn how to ‘set limits.’ By this I mean, say ‘no’ when that’s necessary to the people/person you love. You see, they will inevitably continue to make demands on you. They’re used to it. Your care-taking is what you’ve taught them to expect from you. So when you start to limit the excess care-taking and say no from time to time they’ll have a hard time with it especially at the beginning. What basically happens is they change as you change.

Settling appropriate and fair limits on your care-taking essentially makes time for you. Now this is a strange concept to most care-givers. They usually manage to x-out any free time by giving it away to all the dependent people in their lives. Let’s be frank, at this point I’m not sure you’ll get the love you need from the people you’re taking care of. You might not. But I do know that if you make time for yourself, you’ll be taking better care of you. Which I believe is a form of self-love sorely needed by you at this time.

You might also find yourself getting a bit more frustrated even angry when you see and feel the resistance other people are putting up against time for yourself. Expect that, this whole change is about making you more sensitive to the things you need to be happier and healthier. You’ll notice and feel a lot more than usual especially at the beginning.

It would also help to understand what is meant by the concept of ‘co-dependency.’ In your situation, co-dependency takes the form of doing things that support and reinforce your lover’s dysfunction. At first glance you will probably resist this notion. You’ll be convinced that the care-taking you do is necessary.

The problem this idea of codependency has alerted us to is, the true dysfunction of your lover may be unknown given the fact of a codependency. The point is, when care-givers change the codependent way they give in order to make their lovers and themselves healthier, interesting things start to happen.

I have had the privilege of witnessing a codependent care-givers improve the health of their emotionally ill lovers/wives/husbands by taking better care of themselves. It’s a wonderful thing to see. When the care-taker has a little bit of courage and a clear idea of what changes to make, the dysfunctional lover becomes more functional. It’s beautiful. It’s like magic when it works. It’s also humbling to realize the extent to which our expectations of ourselves are intrinsically related to other people’s expectations of us.

Comments? Love to hear from you. Dr. T. Jordan







Dr. Jordan

Dr. Thomas Jordan is a clinical psychologist, certified interpersonal psychoanalyst, author, professor, and love life researcher.

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