Ask Dr. Annie K: How Mental Health Can Affect Relationships

 

I’ve (34M) been with my girlfriend (40F) for 3.5 years and very much do still love her. I suffer from severe anxiety and PTSD but have been active in therapy for well over 15 years. My girlfriend suffers from BPD or bipolar (hasn’t been fully diagnosed yet) and unlike myself, is just starting to go through therapy and seeing a psychiatrist as well. I love her to absolute death but she’s become a very difficult person to be in a relationship with and have it not be a miserable ride.

She’ll pin me down for 2+ hours trying to explain and get me to side with some of her destructive relationship behavior. It’s very exhausting and it’s hurting our relationship. I try to give advice, but it usually doesn’t get absorbed or even listened to at all. I don’t look forward to seeing her anymore and I hate that feeling but I’m not sure how or if I can get back to the excitement of being around her again.

What do I do? Establish that we need to take a break? Break up completely? Toughen the heck up and quit being a wuss? I’m at a complete loss because even though we love each other, being her boyfriend while she’s in this state is bringing the most unhappiness I’ve ever felt in my life…

Sincerely,
A guy stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Love+Medicine

Dear Guy,

Thank you for consulting me. It is always difficult to assess the entire picture when having only one side of the story but I will offer my observations.

I am sincerely happy to hear about your own personal progress with your anxiety. You are clearly invested in treating your illness and realize how valuable it is to stay in therapy. You do not want your illness to prevent you from having a healthy, loving relationship.

If you read your letter to yourself again, you will see that the answers are there. You are clearly in love with this woman. Yet you describe yourself as experiencing “the most unhappiness I’ve ever felt in my life.”

This is understandable. Anyone who has a relationship with someone suffering from bipolar disorder knows the challenges. Your girlfriend is just now starting the healing process. It can take time to reach stability.

In the meantime, you are unhappy and this can impact your own mental stability. Giving the relationship a break may be the way to go for both sides. Your partner needs time to get healthy.

You would not be splitting because she has mental health issues. You would do it because you are miserable right now and appropriately concerned about the future.

After a period apart, you can both reassess how you are feeling. A couples counselor can be helpful particularly when confronting painful emotions – especially when facing the possibility of an end of your relationship.

Magic Dust & Artichokes

When my year of no shopping ended, like a prisoner released from captivity, I couldn’t wait to bust out and buy something. I fell right into the trap! What a sucker. You wouldn’t believe what my first purchase was: Dust. I did not know that Gwyneth Paltrow touted it in her painfully misguided bullshit celebrity retail outlet called Goop. I read about it on a blog I once respected, called Cup Of Jo. There was one line…

“Psst, my friend says this …really works,”

…with a handy hyperlink directly to the Nordstrom website. For $39 I was the proud owner of a tiny jar. My partner just heard me reading this aloud and mumbled, “That useless shit was $39”?

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Ask Dr. Annie K: Breaking The Cycle

I lack trust in my boyfriend of 7 months. This has been caused by his total and complete honesty of his past relationships, which honesty is a good thing, but it has triggered my insecurities, fear of being hurt and that bad feeling in my stomach. When he brings up his past flings in causal conversation or accidentally calls me by his exes name, is still friends with the opposite sex that he has had history with…it is testing my insecurities. As of recent, his ex girlfriend reached out and I wanted to know the extent of the message she sent him so I went through his phone. This lead me to finding promiscuous photos of other past exes (none of which were sent during our time together) and several pictures of other woman that look like screenshots from social media. He was single for three years prior to our relationship so I am unsure and feel weird about what I found. Everything outside of this is good. We have a lot in common and care about each other very much. And he is not in the wrong for having a history before me. I am just not sure what to do and how to address why I feel this way about our relationship. It probably has something to do with things I need to fix about myself, but want to make sure I am not missing any signs.

Also, I have come to realize that I have a vindictive side of me. Ive been reflecting on past situations and I know it comes out full force when I feel bad/disrespected because I think something is happening to me. I hold grudges, punish people for past situations, I resent them without communicating how I feel. I need to stop doing this or I will lose and push away everything and everyone near and dear to me. I resent my family, I resort to acting like them – defensive, passive aggressive, non-commutative, selfish. It’s not right and makes me feel horrible. I need to communicate better and use the “I feel” method with all my relationships. I think I am ready to put in the work to fix myself so I don’t resort to how I was taught to deal with conflict. I think I can do this, I want to be better, to do better. I know I have a good heart and have a lot of love to give. I just need to let the resentment go that I’m holding onto with my family so there’s room for growth, peace and happiness. Is this fix something I do when another situation happens and I hold my actions accountable or is there something else I can do so I can be better?

Thank you for listening and possibly any guidance you might have.

Sincerely,
Someone who wants to break the cycle

We have no secrets
We tell each other everything
About the lovers in our past
And why they didn’t last…

Carly Simon

Dear Someone who wants to break the cycle,

Thank you for reading loveandmedicine and for reaching out.

Both of your questions address relationships. Let’s start with your new boyfriend.

Being in a mutually caring relationship is a wondrous thing. Things are good

Whomever we meet will have a past. He is being painfully honest about his, which is stirring up feelings of insecurity in you. These feelings are so strong they led to invasion of his privacy in a big way. Doubt and anxiety are setting in.

Your feelings are entirely normal in this situation. It is not easy to hear about old girlfriends and imagine him with anyone else. He has been in other relationships – they are over. The fact is he has chosen you. These are the early stages – try to keep the focus on trusting your feelings when you are with him. As long as he is monogamous now, then these thoughts are based on irrational fears. Focus on the positives in your relationship. As you gain confidence in him and in the relationship, you’ll have less of a need to snoop around. It is hard to build a relationship based on trust when you are, at the same time, violating that trust.
 
Flow with it. Try to focus more on the present, rather than the past or the future. Practice gratitude every day.

Regarding the family conflict, your desire to repair it means that it matters to you. You don’t want to lose them. I can see you have insight into your challenges and that is half the battle. You also have the tools to follow through with your plans to repair it. 

The common thread to both questions is insecurity. This makes you doubt your partner and family. It leads to ineffective communication which then leads to grudges. Holding grudges are a manifestation of suppressed communication. 

You may benefit from one to one personal attention to break this pattern. Bouncing things off a caring friend or professional can offer other perspectives. You are insightful and intuitive. That is on the cerebral level. Practicing mindfulness, self trust and gratitude should be part of the plan also. 

You are on a new journey that can be scary but is also exciting. You are brave enough to reach out for help. Trust yourself. 

Dr. Annie K

FAIRY TALE IRL

We woke up today to a fairy tale.

Bishop Curry was a preacher out of central casting – he stole the show. He did it by talking about the elephant in the room, love. The Royal Wedding, as cynical as I can be, was all about love. Not dresses, celebrity sightings and lemon elderflower cake. Pomp and circumstance aside, it was indeed about the power of love.

In that carriage Meghan Markle must have felt like it was a dream. As unlikely as those fairy tales read to us in childhood, she found a prince.

Embed from Getty Images

What does it all mean for the rest of us? On a superficial level not much. A future episode of The Crown maybe. To say we woke up at dawn and watched for the historical value is like saying you read Playboy for the articles.

Families are a mess, divorce is statistically likely and the monarchy is both is dated and ridiculous. We can easily choose to focus on that.

L+M takes a different approach.

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