Person I Love Is Emotionally Ill
If you love someone who is emotionally ill, there are a few things you’ll need to get straight in your mind if you want your relationship to be healthy and have a chance to grow.
First off, by emotional illness I mean for example: depressed, anxious, obsessive, chronically angry, chronically stressed-out, drug or alcohol addicted, or any other symptoms that can and will interfere with stable healthy living and relating.
Most people who are in a relationship with someone who fits into one or more of these categories will immediately know what I’m talking about. Let’s start with the assumption that his or her emotional illness is not being caused by or promoted by anything you are doing. If this statement is true you’ll have to think in terms of “boundaries.”
This is an imaginary (but real) line that gets drawn separating what belongs to you and what belongs to the person you love. The line is usually drawn by the person who loves the person who is emotionally ill. Think in terms of responsibilities. What am I responsible for and what is he or she responsible for? Otherwise it’s easy to get emotionally mixed up in your lover’s issues and feelings.
Try to remember that you can’t change him or her. Now this is a tough one. Trying to change an emotionally ill person you are in love with is very common. People try to do this all the time. You might even think that you can “love away” his or her illness. In two words, forget it. Rule of thumb: people change if they want to, period. Everything else is make-believe. You cannot change the person you love. Of course, the hard part for you is the acceptance that is needed when this realization sinks in.
The good news is, you can always (with a little clarity and effort) change yourself. As an added bonus, sometimes, and this is a big sometimes, people change when they see somebody else change. But don’t bank on it. In fact change yourself to change you not change the person you love. This potential effect I’m telling you about is only a footnote.
Another important issue is to watch the “caregiver” role you might find yourself in. Chronic caregivers usually end up with people they end up taking care of. The unfortunate outcome is usually dependency and dysfunction. The rule of thumb here is: if you do for someone else what they can do for themselves and others, they will eventually lose the motivation to do so. It is easy to do this with an emotionally ill partner. Always harder to expect the right amount of responsibility.
Comments? Welcome. Dr. Tom Jordan