My Partner Labels My Behavior
(Column: Sex and Relationships)
Is it a symptom, or a personality quirk?
Q: I told my partner that I have a mental illness. My partner does not have a mental illness, but she studied psychology in college. Every time my partner thinks my behavior is weird, or if I say or do something that is “abnormal,” my partner points it out in a way that bothers me. My question is, how can I go on with this person who I care about if I really don't feel free to be me? I'm not hurting anybody. Please help me to figure this out.
Lance: Courageous! Confiding to your partner regarding your illness is always better. Bring her back down from armchair psychology by suggesting that “a little bit of knowledge can often be just enough to be dangerous.” Wrap this common expression around loving comments about how much you appreciate your partner’s perspective.
Both of you have a terrific opportunity to learn while educating each other as the relationship progresses. Watch a fun film, “Benny & Joon,” wherein one’s eccentricity or abnormal behaviors go from being tolerated to being embraced.
You are not your illness. Nor is your partner the professional she could someday become…not yet!
Consider asking her what the most distressing thing is about your behavior. Then decide if you might be able or willing to squelch some of those behaviors in exchange for something your partner might diminish that bothers you.
Allow me to introduce some of my friends: a screenwriter (you’ve seen his films) who is totally nocturnal; a musician, constantly humming to herself, composing; an office manager who can’t help but find number sequences on each license plate she sees. These treasured friends of mine are all undiagnosed, perhaps even considered “normal”—whatever that is! They all have one thing in common with us: Their relationships endure many unconventional habits. A lover will defend your right to be sick, help you in that process, and be proud of the way you deal with your struggles.
At the end of the day, the love of your life is just so damn proud of whoever you are.
Fiona: First, I would ask whether your partner is pointing out behavior that you attribute to your illness. Is this behavior you feel is problematic, or is this behavior that you consider part of your personality, separate from your illness? If the former, you need to consider whether you need to change the way you’re acting; is your partner presenting a legitimate concern? If your actions seem to be harmful in some way, you should consult a professional; your partner is not a professional, though bringing dangerous behavior to your attention is helpful.
However, you state that you’re “not hurting anybody,” so the actions you’re referring to are probably more your personality than symptoms of your illness. If this is the case, explain to your partner that you do not see your conduct as part of your illness, and that her analysis is both incorrect and hurtful. Someone with rudimentary knowledge of psychology is capable of attaching almost any action to a disorder, and the desire to show off one’s knowledge is often stronger than the instinct to keep quiet. If you feel like your partner is showing off or using you as a lab rat, you need to make sure she understands how you feel; if your partner continues to make hurtful comments after you’ve discussed your feelings, you may want to consider ending the relationship.
To conclude, communication is of paramount importance! Your question brings up legitimate concerns that need to be discussed with your partner; she may have no idea her comments are hurtful, and her behavior won’t change if you don’t explain your feelings. Think carefully about the actions on which your partner has commented, and decide whether you feel they’re connected to your illness, before you talk to your partner. If they do appear to be connected, help your partner to alert you without being hurtful. If the behavior is intrinsic to your personality, explain to your partner that she’s making an incorrect, amateur diagnosis and that she needs to accept you for who you are. It’s fantastic that you’ve been honest with your partner thus far. By continuing to be open and honest, you’ll be able to maintain a wonderful relationship.