Standard Poly Advice:
You need to talk about problems
I have no objection to this very important advice. The problem comes in when people hear this advice as meaning “You need to talk about problems RIGHT AWAY.” Someone in the middle of a mental health crisis is probably going to be behaving or speaking in ways that are upsetting, that cause problems, and that people are going to want to address. This is like having a discussion about the damage caused by a fire, while the fire is still burning.
Yes, you need to see what damage the fire does and figure out how to fix it. Or even if it can be fixed. But for god sakes let the firefighters put the fire out first. Let the fire marshall take a walk through and certify that it’s safe to enter the building. Then you can check the damage and worry about repairs.
Poly Advice for the Mentally Ill:
You need to talk about problems when everyone is ready.
This actually isn’t just a mental illness thing, but it is even more important when mental illness is involved. Sometimes we need to say “I can’t talk about this right now. I’m not thinking clearly, and any conversation we have now isn’t going to be productive.”
Of course, when mental illness or strong emotions are involved, that thought is more likely to be expressed as “I can’t deal with this right now!”
It’s okay to come back ad talk later. Really. It is. If you need to, pick a day each month to have your “later” discussions, make a note each time someone needs to say “Not now.” and when that day comes, sit down with the notes and discuss them.
Alternatively, if something has upset you and you need to say something now, but your partner can’t listen, try writing. Write an email and wait to send it. Or write a note, fold it in up and pin it to the refrigerator. “When you are ready, here’s what I need you to hear.”
But What if They are Never “Ready”
Sometimes you can wait weeks, or even months, for your partner to be ready to discuss something and they never are. Two things usually cause this. First, they may have so much other shit they are dealing with that they literally don’t have the spoons. Second, they might be playing you.
If your partner is constantly battling suicidal thoughts and you want to talk about how they never do their share of the dishes, stop. Is it fair that you are doing most of the dishes? No. But they are literally fighting for their life and asking them to take energy away from that battle to hash out a schedule for the dishes isn’t fair to them either.
Being in a relationship with someone who is severally mentally ill (or physically ill, or sometimes just dealing with life shitting on them) means prioritizing. Yes, it is annoying as fuck that you are doing all the dishes. But who does the dishes is not as important as keeping everyone alive and healthy. Before you can fix the dishes problem, your partner needs to heal. That, as I have said elsewhere, takes time.
You have three workable options.
1)Accept that your partner simply isn’t able to do as much as you are and deal with it as best you can.
2) Try to find another approach–“Hey, I know you can’t do the dishes. Can you put them away after I wash them?” “Okay, I don’t want to push you when you’re already struggling, but I can’t do all this on my own. How about you tell me what you can do, and I’ll do the stuff you can’t?”
3) Decide that being in a relationship with this person is more than you can deal with and leave.
The other reason someone may never be ready to discuss something is they are playing you. The shitty part about this is you can never know for sure are they just putting you on or are they really not able to deal with whatever it is.
Try looking at how they are handling whatever is keeping them from being able to discuss it. Are they trying to get help? Are they working on getting better? If you bring up dishes do they say “I can’t talk about this,” but a few days later try to do a few dishes to help out? Then they are trying, they are making the effort, go back up a few paragraphs and work from there.
If they keep saying that this needs to change or that needs to change but not making any effort to change it. If they don’t do anything towards getting help or healing. If they not only aren’t able to talk about it but don’t seem to care that something is upsetting you… they are probably playing you.
Again you have some choices, but only two I think are workable.
1) Accept that whatever it is is something they are not willing/able to discuss or try to address, and deal with it as best you can.
2) Walk away.
This post is part of the Polyamory and Mental Illness blog series.