Dr. Margaret Rutherford on knowing when a loved one’s self destruction is too far out of your control.
“I don’t know if I would make it if I didn’t have you to talk to. Sometimes I just want to kill myself. But if I know I have you, that keeps me from doing anything.”
If you hear these words from a partner, and they don’t send a shiver up your spine, something is wrong.
Maybe if said in jest. Once. With a twinkle in their eye and a heavy sigh of relief.
That would be okay.
Maybe if he or she is in some kind of absolutely dire circumstance. They are caring for an ill parent or have lost a job.
All that is understandable and a human response to a human crisis.
Yet, if it occurs in the context of a normal relationship – “What are we doing Friday night?”, “Did you ever get my text?”, or maybe even, “I think I need therapy,” kinds of relationships?
There is something that is way out of balance.
Don’t get me wrong. Normal, healthy friends listen intently about each other’s depression or sadness. Even sometimes you hear that someone wants to hurt themselves. They feel that down. We should support each other.
What is hard to tolerate—to cope with—is chronic, intense dependence. It can easily feel like you are being squeezed, like a cobra.
Knowing someone has your back when you really need them—even if it’s for days at a time. Showing gratitude for that. Knowing you will return the favor.
Being told or to have it inferred that a partner will fall apart or become suicidal if you aren’t able to perform that job?
“It’s only when I’m with you that I don’t feel that way. You are saving me from myself.”
Suicidal ideation is a secret that is too potent to keep.
Whether that is stated or inferred, it will kill the relationship. It’s too much. (Unless you are not healthy yourself and either crave feeling needed or enjoy a lot of control.)
This dynamic can sneak up on you in any relationship. What started out as a fairly even give and take… somehow mutates into all give and very little give-back. You get tired of not receiving. Conversations are one-way, practically free therapy sessions, with you exhausted after the first thirty minutes.
What do you do if you want out?
You feel stuck. Emotionally blackmailed. And yet, you care for him or her and don’t want anything bad to happen to them.
What is clear is that the fragility needs to be addressed. It may reflect what in psychology is a “personality disorder” or a consistently unhealthy way someone has of thinking of themselves and others. They simply do not handle relationships appropriately or effectively. And they usually have little insight into that.
There are many different personality disorders. There are people with narcissistic tendencies, where initially their motive is to seduce you into their world with compliments or “love bombing” as one expert put it. Then it’s on to making the relationship all about them. However, a classic narcissist would not necessarily become “suicidal” if you were not available for them; they might become enraged. Then aloof. Suicidal threats are more characteristic of borderline personality disorder, as it is perceived as intense abandonment. People, however, can share traits of these personality disorders.
It’s a little like vegetable soup. You rarely find any one recipe with the same ingredients.
So what do you do?
If your partner is in therapy, I would ask to join a session. Talk about needing to get closure on the relationship. Take a break. However you want to put it. Get the support of the therapist. Be honest about the reasons why.
It’s the therapist’s job to deal with the patient’s danger to self.
If they are not in therapy, then ask them to go to one with you. You need a third party to navigate this terrain. If they refuse, I would meet a couple of times yourself with a local therapist. Talk with them about the specifics of your relationship. Explain how it got the way it did. Maybe that therapist can give you ideas about how to get closure that you have not been able to see.
Hopefully, they will say yes. The therapist can give support to both of you for the difficulty of your positions. Perhaps your partner will develop a relationship with the therapist and get help.
And that is okay.
It might be the best thing in the long run.
An earlier version of this post originally appeared at Midlife Boulevard. Reprinted with permission.
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