This week, Danny M. Lavery and New Republic staff writer Jo Livingstone discuss a Prudie letter: the crisis manager.
Jo Livingstone: Woof
Daniel Lavery: Woof indeed!
I get a lot of letters along similar lines, where the thinking seems to be, “If my partner is treating me badly, or if this relationship is making me miserable, but I understand them to be suffering from any sort of mental illness, my only option is to produce more support”
like, you are three months into a relationship, which should still be very much in the honeymoon phase, and your girlfriend is interrupting you almost every other day with a meltdown followed by a serious flinch and you’re already convinced that if you try to set a limit of any kind that you’re going to hurt her!
that’s a really, really bad relationship!
you’re in a really bad relationship that was preceded by a nice three weeks
Jo Livingstone: I see that point, and yet in the past I’ve had relationships where I’ve felt dishonest for not being upfront about all my craziness—so I don’t think we should think of the girlfriend as dishonest or irrevocably bad. I don’t think that somebody unexpectedly being unwell isn’t a dealbreaker. However Crisis Manager is essentially giving her no reason to get better
Ultimatums worked on me!
Daniel Lavery: oh yeah, I want more than anything for letter-writers to be able to separate the question of “is this relationship a good one for me” from “is this person worthy of help and respect”
I think this girlfriend absolutely deserves help and respect and I hope she can start being honest with her therapist — but I also don’t think she’s treating the OP anything close to okay, and given that the OP seems really concerned that she’ll never find anyone else because of the small dating pool, I’m worried she’s putting up with something pretty miserable because she thinks she doesn’t have options
I also think I’m taking the length of the relationship into account here — if the OP had known her for years and had a strong sense of her support system/what her baseline is, I might have different suggestions
Jo Livingstone: See, I think Crisis Manager is at fault for not really helping this person they care about for fear of losing her.
OP needs to say that there will be tangible consequences to girlfriend continuing to lie—that could be calling, say, her sister (or a friend whose opinion she values) or even breaking up. But it has to be something the gf assigns value to
Because then the girlfriend will be forced to make a decision that reveals how much OP really matters to her
I had an ex say “go see a psychiatrist or I’m calling your best friend who you have been keeping this secret from,” and it worked. Maybe through shame, but it worked!
Just an example of a person outside the relationship whose opinion the gf values. Keeping this all within the romantic relationship is facilitating a shame cycle of secrecy
Daniel Lavery: yeah I am reluctant to suggest that here, if only because I think the OP has real grounds to say “this isn’t working for me, I have to go” and saying “this isn’t working for me, I’m going to tell someone else in your life and hope they don’t try to 5150 you” opens a big can of worms
Jo Livingstone: Fair
Daniel Lavery: I do agree that the OP has grounds to say “I resent that you’ve told me that you’re lying to your therapist, because you’re putting me in a position of having to keep a dangerous secret for you”
but yes, I agree that the OP needs to be able to get to a place where they can say “I can’t drop everything and handle her crisis every other day and keep this secret for her”
Jo Livingstone: If they don’t say that, how is gf supposed to know how bad they feel??
Daniel Lavery: right, she’s not in a place right now where she’s going to stop and reassess how her behavior is affecting other people
she doesn’t have that perspective right now
Jo Livingstone: Gf may have had partners in the past who ENJOYED being their only repository for negative emotion. They exist!
They tend to be controlling, but they do exist.
Daniel Lavery: it’s possible!
Jo Livingstone: I think one key thing will be making the distinction between the illness and the illness management very very clear. OP needs to establish a boundary around the GF’s management of symptoms; they’re not threatening to leave her because she’s sick.
That should be said explicitly and out loud I reckon.
Daniel Lavery: right, and breaking up (I hesitate to call it “leaving” because they hadn’t met as recently as, you know, July) is not preventing this woman from receiving care
breakups are not a referendum on whether someone deserves treatment for mental illness
Jo Livingstone: Yeah but they certainly can feel that way to the other party, and OP seems anxious about how their message gets interpreted. Everyone has a right to break up with anyone; but I think when illness is involved it’s a matter of respect to make the reasons abundantly clear.
Daniel Lavery: I think I am out of advice on this one! I just want the standard for three months into a relationship to be like, 90% fun and easy
I get that, absolutely
Jo Livingstone: It sounds like OP knows what they want to say but they need permission and a little help with the structure of their message.
Daniel Lavery: and I agree talking to a friend is a good idea
like, the OP needs some outside help and perspective from someone who cares about her
Jo Livingstone: They even know that subconsciously already because they wrote in!
Daniel Lavery: yep!!
and good luck!
Jo Livingstone: Can I say 1 more thing
Daniel Lavery: yes of course
Jo Livingstone: I don’t think this is necessarily a bad relationship. If it was great when the gf was medicated then it could well be great again. That gf isn’t lying to OP suggests to me that she may well *want* help. She told OP about her illness, OP didn’t freak out as she expected, and so now gf may be forcing a relationship crisis because sympathy and resources just don’t work for her. If OP really likes gf and wants to stay together (obv breaking up is always on the table, as you say) then give her what you’d give a partner you’ve been with for decades—a carefully considered and well-phrased intervention.
If breakup is what happens, be clear as day about the reasons and there’ll be nothing to feel a shadow of guilt over.
Daniel Lavery: I think three weeks of a great relationship and two months of chaos and anxiety does not add up to anything great, but it’s always good to disagree with my interlocutor because usually it’s an agreement party
Now available in your podcast player: the audiobook edition of Danny M. Lavery’s latest book, Something That May Shock and Discredit You. Get it from Slate.