“It’s complicated” is a relationship status on Facebook. It is also an apt description of pretty much everything in life. Everything worth doing, anyway.
Relationships are complicated. They just are. In the words of the Dread Pirate Roberts, anyone who says different is selling something.
Relationships follow a story arc.
There is a beginning.
Two people meet. Something clicks. There’s a spark. There’s a connection. There’s an awkward moment as the connection, the spark, is identified by the two people. Then they try to figure out what it all means. Then they try to define it. They have a relationship. Maybe it’s a fluid, organic one. Maybe it’s more intentionally defined. But there it is. A relationship. It has begun.
There is a middle.
Their story advances. The plot moves forward. There is character development. There are ups. There are downs. There are fits and starts. The two people grow. They change. They come together. They drift apart. There is action. There is drama. There may be more characters introduced. There is conflict. Will they resolve it together? Will they drift apart?
There is an end.
Relationships end. Every day. Some end in death. Some in divorce. Some just drift apart. Some end in apathy. Some end with a supernova-esque explosion. Some end tragically. Some, perhaps, might even end happily ever after.
But they end.
Roughly 40% of marriages end in divorce. If at least one person in that marriage has bipolar disorder the rate skyrockets to 90%. If you’re in a marriage and you, your spouse, or both of you has bipolar, divorce is a near certainty.
I was always going to be the exception to this rule. We were going to be the exception. My partner and I have had a great relationship. We have grown so much together through the years. We have lived through so much together through the years. We have survived so much.
So very much.
We got together so young that we essentially learned how to be adults, how to be human, together. Always together.
This November my partner and I will celebrate 20 years together.
This past week my partner and I discussed a therapeutic separation.
Neither one of us wants this to end.
Neither one of us wants to leave. We have survived so much together it would seem absurd to give up now. And a therapeutic separation, if done right, doesn’t end a relationship. Ideally it strengthens it — improves it. A therapeutic separation allows a couple to work on their issues in a way that affords each of them some distance and the necessary space to work on their issues, individually and collectively.
Relationships require work. Relationships involving non-neurotypical people — especially people with SMIs like bipolar disorder — require even more work. This work is continuing. This work is intentional. And if it isn’t both of those things then it isn’t working.
It is easy to become complacent. It is easy to quit working on your relationship. Often you can’t even tell that you’ve quit. Like a New Year’s resolution you start the work, then you realize that it’s much more difficult than you were prepared for, and then you slowly stop doing individual parts of the work, one at a time, until you are no longer doing any of it.
I have been working. I have been working very hard. I have been working on my recovery. I have been working to attend all of my appointments. I have been working to take all of my meds. I have been working to journal sleep and mood daily. I am always working to take stock of where I am in my recovery, with how I am doing.
I have been working so incredibly hard.
But there are areas of my life, my treatment, and my relationship with my partner, that I have become complacent in. As far as my recovery goes, I am the living embodiment of the difference between better and well. If you’ve been following me you know that I have been in a prolonged mood episode, and that things aren’t great for me right now. I will say that, given the major stressors, disruptions, and all of the mood symptoms, I am doing far better than how I would have been in years past. Even if I am not well — and I’m not — I am better than I would otherwise have been.
But living with someone with bipolar, and especially someone who is, despite the best efforts of everyone involved, quite symptomatic, is incredibly difficult. The need to be dispassionate in the face of symptoms that contribute to reprehensible and, let’s be honest, abusive behavior, is too much to ask of anyone.
And yet she has stayed. She has hung in there like a champ. She has been unwavering for so long. And that is too much to expect from anyone. That is especially too much to expect from someone who grew up in an abusive home. And my behavior, and especially the horrific things I have said to her, have been triggering for her. It’s been too much.
My abusive words have been too much.
My self-harm has been too much.
I have been too much.
So here we are, nearly 20 years in, and something has to change. Something has to give. We can’t continue in the way that we have been of late. To place all of the blame on me, to lay all of the blame down at the feet of my bipolar symptoms, would be overly simplistic and wildly inaccurate. There are a lot of moving parts. There are a number of issues, and an awful lot of stressors — both internally and externally — in the relationship.
So what’s next? Where do we go from here?
Well, for starters, at least right now no one is going anywhere. We have decided that a separation would, rather than being beneficial, potentially be quite harmful for both of us. The issues that we have are issues that we’re going to need to work on together. So that’s happy news, in a way.
But both parties staying and committing to work things out doesn’t mean that things are magically going to be better. Working things out is just that. Work. And honestly there is a herculean amount of work to be done.
This is not the end. Far from it. But there is conflict. And the resolution isn’t all that visible from here. Things could end.
Things could end in death.
Both of us have histories of suicidality. And both of us have issues with passive suicidal ideation right now. At times of late that passive ideation has been dangerously close to active for each of us.
Things could end in divorce.
That 90% figure is daunting. I have always considered us to be firmly in the camp of that other 10%, but that is not an assumption that I can no longer make. Preserving and strengthening this relationship has to be a conscious and constant decision that I, that we, have to make.
Day by day.
Every single day.
As long as we both shall live.