#635: My partner’s condescending, bossy behavior is shrinking our social life.

Dear Captain,

I live with my partner of several years. I love her very much. We share a lot of hobbies, including a theater club. My partner is *exceptionally good* at theater – a result of a decade of passion – and most of our friends are theater people. But recently I’ve been discovering that her passion – one of her defining qualities – has been making her relationships within this community harder. 

People have been talking to me for about a year now about her long-standing habit of being incredibly bossy, having incredibly high standards for herself and resenting it when other people don’t live up to them, and making it hard to enjoy this activity at all when she’s there with them. One person we’re close to, he worked with her on a performance a few years ago, before I even met her, and he told me that after that performance, he decided never to work with her again because she made the experience unbearable. As I’ve asked around, others (who she respects deeply) have agreed with me that her behavior is fun-killing all around. People I love are no longer participating in events with us because she lacks empathy when dealing with people in a theater context.

Granted, she’s incredibly empathetic – she’s a teacher by trade – but she feels that when she leaves the classroom, she doesn’t want to have to make so much effort just to, I guess, have friends that value her outside of her intellect. Now she has lupus and is in pain a lot of the time, so most of our friends have sympathy for that. But this seems bigger than just being in chronic pain. (Or is it?) 

I have told her what her friends think of her (well most of it), and have pointed out that most of our friends think her behavior is hurtful, undermining, and steamroll-y. She responds that I need to stop caring about what other people think about her. She’s defensive and tells me to ignore what other people think. 

She’s also bossy about other things in our shared life together. Others have interpreted this as abusive, and one person was shocked to see her apparently bark orders at me. (Granted she was in immense pain at the time.)

I regularly check in with myself – I’m a past victim of abuse – but it doesn’t feel the same. It doesn’t feel like abuse. There’s no emotional put-downs, no manipulation, no threats. We’re highly effective communicators except for this issue. There’s raw anger and frustration, and defensiveness, but missiles are never directed at me as a person. She just underrates the amount of pain she causes others in pursuit of our hobby. 

One or two friends have wanted to stage an intervention. These plans never panned out. I’m not sure whether or not to force the issue. She is in therapy, but I think a couple’s counseling session or two surrounding this would be helpful. I’m not entirely sure what could be done other than me saying ‘You hurt me because you make people feel bad when they’re around us by raising your voice, arguing about the finer points of staging or scriptwriting, and being condescending’ and her being like ‘Well, I’m sorry, but that’s who I am.’ 

Thoughts appreciated.

-Bossed-At

Dear Bossed At:

I have some questions and suggestions for you that might clarify things and improve the overall situation for you, the person who wrote to me.

#1 Couple’s counseling: Sounds great. Do it. Maybe do some Just You counseling, too.

#2Well I’m sorry, that’s just who I am” is not an appropriate response when people you purport to care about say “You’re hurting me and destroying our creative outlet and social life with your bad behavior.” Saying that is like wearing a giant flashing sign over your head that says “HI! I AM A GIGANTIC JERK!”

#3 If, when Partner barks mean things at you, do you feel comfortable saying – either in the moment or later, in private – “Hey, that was pretty mean and I don’t like it?”

If your first automatic response is to look for reasons it would be a bad idea to say something like that, reasons like, “But it’s not really her fault that she’s mean, because of reasons, like pain” or “but I don’t mind it much” or (BEES! WARNING! BEES!) “But if I said something like that it would just cause a bigger fight, so it’s not worth it to bring it up,” then consider that your friends are onto something. “There’s good in him, I’ve felt it.

#4: If your Partner “bosses” you, do you ever just say “No, I’m going to do it my way?”

What happens if you do? At home? At the theater?

#5: If you do ask her to treat you better, do things change for the better?

#6 What would happen if you did the next play or event alone, with your theater friends, but without your partner?

Does that feel like a really scary question?

Do you (even secretly) think you’d have way more fun doing theater if you could take some time off from managing her and other people’s relationships with her?

Do you feel like that’s an option that you could bring up with her? Like, your partner would almost certainly feel left out, but how do you think she would treat you in the aftermath of asking her that question? Are you “allowed” to do theater only if you do it as a package deal?

Do you feel like you can say “You are killing everyone’s fun, and it is making me sad when people won’t work with us, when really you are the problem. Something needs to change here?

I think these are questions to explore in joint counseling sessions.

#7 Do the people who have a problem with her ever tell her directly, or do they run all their critiques through you? I suspect it is the second thing, and that this is a major source of the overall dysfunction. They are managing the Missing Stair in their group by routing all of their communications through you, the Nice One. What happens if you short-circuit that?

Friend:Your partner was really condescending in rehearsal today.

You: “Have you told her what you think?”

Friend: “No, seriously…. complain complain complain complain.”

You: “Huh. Well, you should tell her what you just told me.”

Friend: “If we could just get her to ________.” 

You: “Great point – you should tell her that.”

And then you DON’T pass whatever it is on to her. If it’s important enough to them, they can raise it with her directly. If they don’t, this is the one area I agree with her: Try to ignore it until or unless they tell her directly. It’s extra shitty of them to put you in the position of Asshole Whisperer, ESPECIALLY when they are concerned that you are an ongoing victim of abuse at her hands. You actually have the power to take yourself out of this role of interpreting other people to your partner and her back to them.

It sucks that your partner is in pain. It sucks that she is feeling drained by a very people-centric job and having difficulty budgeting her energies sufficiently to pursue a beloved hobby. These things are sad, and hard, and true.

But there are some other things that are also true:

  • If you want people to stick around in your life and work with you creatively, it helps to be a minimum amount of nice to them. You don’t get to just “passion” or “intellect” your way out of the bargain.
  • Advocating fiercely for a creative point of view while being respectful to your fellow artists is a skill. If you want to do anything in film or theater, get this skill. You will never be so talented that you don’t need this skill.
  • If I were running your theater group, and this were an ongoing situation, I wouldn’t “stage an intervention at this point,” I would kick your partner out. Me: “Be nice or leave.” Her: “But…pain! And my draining day job! And how smart and passionate I am!” Me: “I truly hope you learn to balance it all. But when you are here, be nice or leave. Nobody has time for how mean you are, and right now you are ruining this experience for other people. You have choices about how you behave, so make the choice to be nicer to people.”

#8 (h/t Sheelzebub) If everything stayed just like it is now (“This is just how I am!”), would you stay in this relationship for another year?

Another 5 years?

Another 10?

You are the best judge of whether this relationship is working, but I want to remind you that someone’s behavior doesn’t have to meet the official and objective standard of abuse™ to slowly drain the life out of you. You sound unhappy. You sound like you are losing something you love to do because of another person’s inability unwillingness to play nice with others. You sound pissed off. You sound exhausted. You sound like you have good reasons to be all of these things, and the reasons all lead back to one specific person in your life who doesn’t sound “empathetic.” At all. I hope counseling gets you some better treatment and peace of mind, whatever happens in the long run.

 

166 comments
  1. Elaine said:

    First-time commenter, but this one hit me in the gut. I have severe chronic pain, also from an autoimmune disease (Crohn’s), and it can change people. But it is never an excuse for abuse. Lashing out probably is a result of feeling overwhelmed, and maybe angry that her life is changing, all of which is understandable by anyone with an ounce of compassion. But the reality is what it is, and the more quickly she accepts that she is not in control of her life the way she was pre-illness, the more quickly she can come to some sort of peace with the new normal, however that presents itself.
    None of which is advice for the LW.
    I have great sympathy for you, LW, because your relationship is facing one of the greatest tests a relationship can face. Marriages with one partner chronically ill face a 75% divorce rate. This shit is HARD. If you stay, you may be subjecting yourself to meanness and possible abuse. If you leave, you’re the jerk that left the sick person. Counseling for yourself is an excellent recommendation as you try to navigate this new normal. Because whatever professional empathy she has, it isn’t carried over to your beloved hobby. It may be she needs to take a break when she’s lashing out, and she’s afraid she’ll have to take a break from the group and she’s fighting it. Clearly, she needs to do something differently. Manage the pain better, tune back her participation a bit, whatever. But something isn’t right, and you can’t make decisions for her, you can only take care of yourself
    Besides, looking back at your letter, it seems that her bad behavior predates the illness, so any new symptoms (like the pain) are simply exacerbating what was already present.
    I wouldn’t wish lupus on my worst enemy, but not every sick person or chronic pain patient has a nasty mean side. There are times when you are sick and you lose your shit, but you don’t have to do it AT people. My best wishes to you. And you might want to check out resources on the web like invisible disabilties association’s Facebook page or chronicbabe.com. very supportive folks around there, for caregivers and patients alike.

    • Elysia said:

      THANK YOU for posting the chronicbabe.com link. I keep looking for support communities because none has fit, and just the front page makes me feel better.

      Also, yes to so much of what Elaine and the Captain said, and what everyone else thus far has said. Even if this letter hits a lot of us in our guts because we face chronic pain, this is Bossed At’s letter, and Bossed At, Elaine’s right that “you can only take care of yourself” here. The Captain’s scripts and suggestions are great, and I wish you all the best in figuring out how to move forward in a way that reduces YOUR pain, LW.

      • Goat Lady said:

        Another chronic pain person here, & yep to all of what Elysia and Elaine said. Maybe LW’s partner isn’t getting adequate pain control, maybe she’s grieving her non-disabled life, but honestly these things are irrelevant. Neither of them gives her a free pass to be mean to other people.

        • Nashira said:

          Damn damn straight. I lost a lot when I gained chronic pain at eighteen and I was a miserable bitch to be around… because my mother is abusive and I was acting like her. I’m actually in more pain and sicker (wooo ulcerative colitis *and* the ol’ facial nerve injury), but thanks to working on myself as a person, I am now consistently viewed as a kind, caring, empathetic person who just sometimes needs an extra cuddle because pain or a reminder that I sound brusque due to pain speaking.

          Severe pain makes it harder to hide who you are, and can make you more intensely emotional than you were before you got sick. It doesn’t make you awful in and of itself.

    • espritdecorps said:

      “But the reality is what it is, and the more quickly she accepts that she is not in control of her life the way she was pre-illness, the more quickly she can come to some sort of peace with the new normal, however that presents itself.”

      It’s hard to let go of the things that make up your identity when you are already losing so many other things. It feels like you have a right to make others hurt when you hurt so much yourself.

      When someone is close to you, it feels like it’s their place to feel pain alongside you, that if they love you they shouldn’t be happy when you are hurting.
      If your partner does love you, it’s easy for them to get pulled into that delusion. Because the disease has taken the person they fell in love with away from them, and shared pain is a way to feel connected again.

      You’re scared that it isn’t fair to keep them tied to you. You don’t even like the person you are anymore, how could they? And so some days you want them to leave, you use bitter, hateful, words to try to push them out the door just to get it over with.

      I feel for LW’s partner. I don’t know how that story ends. When you are collapsing and all the ugliness comes flooding out of the cracks. When you are too tired to care.

      I know that LW and their friends are owed basic consideration and respect. I don’t know if they will get it anytime soon or ever. LW is the one that has to decide how long she’s willing to wait for it, and what happens if it doesn’t come.

    • JenniferP said:

      Chronicbabe is a great resource! Jenni, the creator, is wonderful.

    • Jenn said:

      I think it cases where you can’t win you should choose the path that’s best for you even if other people disagree. Two people being miserable together doesn’t make things better for anyone, and I think putting up with her bad behavior will just insure that the partner has no motivation to change.

  2. I love this answer.

    Regarding the asshole whisperer thing:

    You actually have the power to take yourself out of this role of interpreting other people to your partner and her back to them.

    So true. Conversely, if you’re telling your partner what other people say to prove it’s not just you who believes these things, it will backfire. Being open to criticism is hard. Being open to criticism is almost impossible when it’s framed as “You’re wrong and EVERYBODY AGREES WITH ME.”

    I’d avoid the intervention for much the same reason. My unscientific, unproven hunch is that people ganging up on your partner will make her defensive. Maybe, though, she’ll be receptive if she hears multiple complaints, one person at a time.

    • boutet said:

      Yeah that part made me uneasy. Reporting the local gossip to your partner just seems awful. I mean, “hey partner, everyone hates you. maybe fix that” is never going to have a positive effect, no matter how carefully or gently you word it. If you’re going to bring it up as an issue you need to bring it up as an issue from your own perspective without involving other people’s opinions.
      I can’t imagine a situation where I would take “all our friends secretly despise you” as an incentive to personal improvement.

    • cruelmistress said:

      It’s pretty scientific, actually– the professional psychological community is turning against interventions, which put the person in a position of having to defend their bad behavior (well, not HAVING to, but you get what I’m saying). Which ultimately makes it harder for that person to turn around and accept help, later. Which is more applicable to someone who needs help beating an addiction than to someone who is just mean, but… yes. is what I’m saying. Interventions have a very low success rate and a very high drama rate.

      • I’m really glad to read that. Interventions always seemed utterly awful to me.

      • I did not know that interventions were falling out of favor! It always seemed to me like their reality-check power would be outweighed by the defensiveness they’d naturally cause, but I thought maybe professional therapists would know how to carry one off in a way that helped defuse that defensiveness. Guess not.

      • thebearpelt said:

        This makes a lot of sense to me, intuitively. I never REALLY understood the “intervention” and WHY it was supposed to work, I guess.

        • Nashira said:

          The primary point of interventions, to me, has always seemed to be allowing the addicted person’s loved ones a forum in which they could punish the addicted person for anything bad they’d ever done. Or so it felt when my mom tried something similar related to my self-harm. (Super surprise: I got worse instead of better and that’s why I don’t wear shorts.)

      • Clio said:

        Oof, that’s good to hear. I was inadvertently part of a truly awful intervention several years ago. My boyfriend at the time had various physical and emotional health issues and had been resisting treatment, so he was self-medicating and engaging in some other unhealthy coping behaviors. We’d been dating not quite two years, were planning to move cross-country a few months later, and his family (UNBEKNOWNST TO ME) planned an intervention. Since they hadn’t told me about it, and he obviously didn’t know, when he invited me over for breakfast with the family one Sunday morning, I said, Sounds great! How convenient that your favorite aunts have come down to stay the weekend too!

        I was running about a half hour late, so when I showed up at his parents’ house, the living room was full of people, and his dad had to take me aside to say they were having an intervention and I was welcome to stay if I wanted (!!!). The person leading the affair was a “counselor” with no formal training who his parents knew from their church, who immediately tried to enlist me while my boyfriend looked on, clearly feeling totally attacked and defensive. It was SUCH a trainwreck.

        Maybe the professional community has some success with the method, but if it’s just a bunch of your friends/family sitting one person down and essentially having a go at them… please do not.

    • Erica said:

      I agree that an intervention is probably a sure way to make her get all defensive, but I really like the idea of encouraging other friends to talk to her directly — and separately — when they have a problem with how she treats them. LW, if your mutual friends seem reluctant to do this or like they might be too awkward/shy/scared, you might try phrasing your request in a way that emphasizes to them that you are also going to be more direct with her about how you feel about her behaviour in the theatre. Your friends might find it really encouraging to know that you will also be chiming in, and this might embolden them to speak freely with her.

      If your partner asks whether you’ve talked about this with your mutual friends, you could mention that a few people have said separately to you that they were having similar problems with her. No need to lie and pretend that it’s just a big coincidence that suddenly everyone’s on her case about what a jerk she’s been! But also maybe you could avoid making it sound like you all had a meeting together without her and talked behind her back about what to do, because that would definitely make anybody defensive.

      Good luck! I hope this goes really well, and feel free to drop back in and share how things progress — this community tends to be pretty full of supportive awesome folks.

  3. lliira said:

    Being in immense pain all the time does make everything way more difficult, including treating other people decently. I know this from personal experience. However, that’s an explanation but not an excuse. If your wife being in theatre is hurting others, they have every right to protect themselves from her. Also, something else from experience: I bet she knows how awful she’s being and wants to be able to change it. But she thinks she can’t, because the world isn’t exactly chock-full of knowledge on how to navigate life while in constant physical pain, especially for people who are not yet old. So when people ask her to behave differently, it probably sounds as ridiculous as asking her to flap her wings and fly. On the other hand, when people tiptoe around her, that feels infantalizing. Oh how I have been there.

    There are two things I would recommend: 1) if your wife’s not already in cognitive counseling for her pain, that’s something to look into. It has been shown to help immensely, both in directly reducing pain and in helping those in pain manage their lives. 2) Is she on prescription painkillers? My spidey sense is tingling — again, from my own personal experience, some of those drugs make everything far worse, especially psychologically.

    • misspiggy said:

      This. It will take a long time, but counselling ought to help the LW’s wife explore and test out what would happen if she treated others differently. One answer might be, ‘If I’m not shouting at someone on an adrenaline high, I’ll be weeping in a corner unable to do anything’. To which the answer would be, ‘so what changes could help you find more balance between those two extremes?’ The answers might be big scary things, like doing theatre far less and resting more.

      There’s often very little motivation to make these changes, because you lose some of the things that are keeping you going, and you can’t imagine what the ultimate benefits would look like. When you’re stuck in a swamp you can’t really focus on how lovely things will be when you get out. The only motivation may be that things will get worse if current behaviour continues – especially in one’s primary relationship. That was the only thing that motivated me to change my behaviour, because changing behaviour caused or worsened by pain and exhaustion is very, very hard.

      • espritdecorps said:

        “If I’m not shouting at someone on an adrenaline high, I’ll be weeping in a corner unable to do anything”

        Yes. Change, even when you do all the ‘right’ things is very, very, hard.
        And instead of hyper-competent me, there’s ‘I can’t remember what clothes I wore last week, and am pretty sure I’m just wearing the same three outfits over and over again’ me. Which is frustrating and sad.

  4. I am curious if your partner would be better served finding another theater group.

    To use a really outsize example: some people believe that to do theater you need to put on flowy scarves and roll around on the floor and hug everyone, and other people believe that to do theater you need to wear black turtlenecks and berets and sit in chairs and discuss motivation, and if you’re a black turtleneck person in a flowy scarf group you are going to be unhappy and are likely to react in ways like your partner is doing.

    Your partner may be the missing stair in this theater group, but she may be the right fit in a different group.

    (Also: I did an MFA in theater directing, and one of the things we learned was that if one person is steamrolling over others in rehearsals, the entire group has a problem. Yes, the steamroller is the visible symbol of the problem, but there’s another problem, which is that this company does not have an understood, agreed, and respected code of behavior which is gently enforced by both the director and stage manager as necessary. The steamrolling might go away if your partner were in a different theater group with a different artistic ethos and rehearsal process. Likewise, just because your partner leaves the theater group doesn’t mean there might not be different types of drama within your group in her absence.)

    • Phospher said:

      I couldn’t help wondering the same thing, although depending on their location it just may not be possible. If Partner wants and is able to operate at a professional or near-professional level, but nearly everyone else is there just to have fun, then there’s bound to be friction. Which does not make it okay for her to be unkind and aggressive to the others! But if she were in a larger, more rigorously professional group, she’d be surrounded by people who felt the same way about the project as she does, and probably happier.* It sounds as though right now she’s trying to make one type of group into another — but if there IS a way to do that, it’s “be the kind of leader who brings out the best in everyone and makes aiming higher feel really good” not “snap at everyone for doing it wrong until they’re too miserable to do it right.”

      I think you’re also right that this is probably a dysfunctional group. Everyone using the LW as a channel for sending messages to the Partner is fucked up in itself. And apparently Partner is firing off about the finer points of “scriptwriting and staging” which makes it sound to me as though neither she nor anyone else has clearly defined roles. Because unless she’s the director, neither of those things should be her job and it shouldn’t be that hard to point that out to her. And if she IS the director … she’s also writing the script? And at rehearsal stage? I know collaborative, devised pieces are a thing but in a fairly small amateur group, where everyone else has other jobs it just sounds like a recipe for tension and misery.

      (*Most of the time. I have never known an am-dram group that didn’t have drama off the stage as well as on.)

    • KL said:

      I get where you’re coming from, but it seems like the problem is not that there are creative disagreements; it’s the way LW’s partner *reacts* to said disagreements. Sure, reducing the amount of conflict in general might help a bit, but it won’t help the underlying problem, which is that LW’s partner doesn’t prioritize being respectful and kind to people– even her partner!– anywhere she’s not paid to do it.

      • Erica said:

        Yes, this. And also, it’s true that different people have different communication styles, and some people are super blunt and some people really don’t like that. But when your partner is continuing to put herself in a position where she’s making lots of people really unhappy, and she’s not modulating her behaviour or trying at all to find a solution that works for everyone but is instead taking a tone of “this is just how I am, deal with it” …yeah, I’d say that’s her being a jerk.

        It could well be that this particular theatre group is not a great fit for her. It could be that she’s way more blunt than other members feel comfortable with. But part of being an adult and having social skills is figuring out how to either fit into a group in a way that works for everyone, or else leave.

    • This^^^

      Your theater group is pretty messed up if the administration (director, stage manager, board) is unapproachable, or unwilling or if the group can’t be bothered to talk to them. (Instead relying on you to be the mediator)

      • Erica said:

        Unless of course the LW and Partner themselves are the administration, in which case it sounds like it’s high time for Partner to take a step down to just “regular member” (or even leave entirely, if she’s not willing/able to change her behaviour).

        • You’re right! I hadn’t thought of that

    • thebearpelt said:

      Ahhh, art fields and the way the social aspect so deeply affects them.

    • kanel said:

      Haha, I love your example. I gotta say I was thinking the same thing while I was reading. I know when I was younger and hanging with the wrong crowd, it often made me angry and frustrated when they never wanted the same things I did. I guess I still have quite low tolerance for people who have their goals set lower than mine or have (in my opinion) bad taste, when we are working on a production together. And only yesterday I was silently raging over all the people in the pool swimming ever so slowly in front of me when I was trying to do my workout. The reason there was that we didn’t have enough lanes that day. Maybe there aren’t enough theatre groups either. I guess then it’s a matter of accepting the limitations (I enjoyed the swimming more once I accepted that I couldn’t swim fast that day), starting a new group or taking up another, less frustrating hobby. But that’s for Partner to deal with.

      From the other perspective I’m in an improv group since a few years, that’s very much a “having fun together in our spare time” kind of group. We take turns leading and preparing food and snacks for before and after practice. The structure is clear, but the people come and go. While there is some aim of improving and working on stuff, the group values an open and safe space higher than professionalism and quality. We want people to dare to go up and do scenes even if they aren’t excellent. The group is very mixed, some are absolute beginners while some have been doing this for decades. If someone came into our group and started acting like the LW’s partner, we just would’t have it. If they weren’t corrected during practice time, someone would talk to them afterwards, during snack time. If they were leading that particular time, they would hear it during the feedback round afterwards, if not sooner.

      I wonder what the structure of this group is and why all the critique goes through the LW. That’s gotta really weigh on their relationship. I would second the suggestion for LW to avoid that role in the future and tell the people who complain to deliver it directly to Partner.

  5. hebbyn said:

    Firstly, I agree that it is not your job to play the messenger here, even if you’re doing this for her own good, so she doesn’t end up losing this hobby because nobody wants to do it with her.

    Granted, she’s incredibly empathetic – she’s a teacher by trade – but she feels that when she leaves the classroom, she doesn’t want to have to make so much effort just to, I guess, have friends that value her outside of her intellect.

    I’m always wary of people that describe themselves as empathetic, because empathy is a reaction, not an action. Picking up on someone’s emotions isn’t the same as caring enough to do something about it. “Your pain is making me feel pain as well!” =/= “So let me take actions on that.”

    What that says to me (and assuming you’ve got better reason to think that than just her word because being a teacher doesn’t make anyone naturally empathetic– and being empathetic to people doesn’t make them a good teacher) is that when she has to, when her job is literally on the line, she can play nice. When she doesn’t have to, she chooses not to be mean to people (and it doesn’t matter if she’s doing it because she loves the theatre so much– what she’s doing is *being mean* and *hurting people* and making them feel bad about themselves). She’d rather they don’t enjoy Shared Hobby than that she puts the effort into behaving in a way that she knows is appropriate to.

    Given that she didn’t pick up or didn’t care about how her actions were effecting your friends, what it probably means is “I’m not completely oblivious to people’s emotions when I make the effort, and with people that I have a duty of care of, I will try to understand what their motivations are and feel bad when things are tough for them.” What it doesn’t mean is “I value the emotions of others as being as real and important as my own.”

    Also, unless you’re seeing who can scream the loudest to win tickets for opening night,one person’s passion on a subject does not overrule anybody else’s. Being passionate about something, loving the hobby you do means the joy you get out of it is greater than what others do- it doesn’t mean that your joy is prioritised over theirs.

    • Just Plain Neddy said:

      Yeah my mum was (she’s now retired) a social worker and has the worst empathy of anyone I know. A job doesn’t give a person empathy. It’s also true that many people are terrible at judging their own abilities when it comes to empathy and people skills.

      The remark about “putting in effort” is what bothers me here though. She doesn’t want to put in that much effort to make friends? I’m not sure if what she’s saying here is that she doesn’t want to make friends, or that she finds it difficult being a decent enough person to make friends. Either position is a red flag in my view. If it’s the first, then she doesn’t seem to understand that there’s a difference between being a decent and considerate individual and trying to solicit friendship. You can be decent to others without wanting friendship. You SHOULD be a decent person whether you want to be friends or not. If it’s the second, then. . . If you want to be friends with someone and you find that treating them decently is difficult, then something has gone wrong. Possibly you don’t actually like them at all and are kidding yourself that friendship is a good idea. Possibly you’re being an asshole. But being nice to people you like should not be difficult. If it seems like an inordinate amount of effort not to shout at your friends and order them about, then they aren’t really your friends.

      • It is also entirely possible that any empathy she used to have has bled out from her day job. Draining jobs where your entire being has to be thrown into them, plus illness, might just make it worse.

        But that said, being rude during your extracurricular life still isn’t cool. She shouldn’t go around treating everyone like toilet paper just because she can and has excuses. They aren’t forced to put up with that for something they do for fun.

    • Notebooked said:

      “Given that she didn’t pick up or didn’t care about how her actions were effecting your friends, what it probably means is “I’m not completely oblivious to people’s emotions when I make the effort, and with people that I have a duty of care of, I will try to understand what their motivations are and feel bad when things are tough for them.” What it doesn’t mean is “I value the emotions of others as being as real and important as my own.””

      Could you clarify this? I don’t see how those two presented situations contradict each other. I am sometimes the pits at recognizing what people are feeling, but that doesn’t mean I think their emotions aren’t real, it just means I don’t always notice.

  6. Jae said:

    There is this thing called “secondary gain from an illness”. Everybody has it once in a while. You know, when you have a cold and you whine and your partner makes you tea and brings you cookies. It’s a behaviour we learn in childhood, and chronically ill people soon learn that “I can’t be blamed for my mood swings/mean behaviour/abuse because I’m so ill.”

    I’ve learned with a chronically ill mother and aunt that I can separate my commiseration from excusing their behaviour. I’ll be nice and certainly excuse when they make short notice changes to plans because of pain or inability to cope. I do not allow them to boss me around any more and excuse it with the illness. And, most important, at one point I told them all of the above, told them there’s a name for that, and that’s what they were doing. And, yes, that’s still crappy behaviour. If they need time off, time of silence or peace, or a literal leather punching ball that’s fine. But THEY need to find their coping mechanism, and I am not it.

    Maybe that’s a conversation to have with your partner. Make sure she knows and feels that you commiserate, that you are willing to do a lot to help her with her lupus, but you are not willing to make her feel better by making you feel worse. And that goes for your friends too.

    It worked for my relatives – who of course are a lot father removed than your partner. I still hope it works out for you too!

    • vass said:

      “It’s a behaviour we learn in childhood, and chronically ill people soon learn that “I can’t be blamed for my mood swings/mean behaviour/abuse because I’m so ill.””

      Perhaps you could clarify that so it doesn’t sound like you’re saying this is something all chronically ill people do unless their families stop them?

      • Atomic Sass Unit said:

        Thank you for posting this.

      • *nod* … I’ve also heard “secondary gain” used as an explanation. People with chronic illnesses are accused of somehow causing themselves to be sick so they can get goodies like attention and not having to work. Nevermind the higher divorce rate somebody cited above, or the fact that many sick people would very much like to work again.

        Probably not what Jae meant, but I don’t have good associations with that phrase.

        • Nashira said:

          Secondary gain is a great tool for denying appropriate medical care for sick folks too. My mom was a grand champion at using it to shame me for wanting help navigating the healthcare system when I was busy failing college due to severe pain. It was great.

          • winter said:

            I pretty much think the concept doesn’t serve any purpose except for the ill person themself evaluating if they could/would like to do more on their own than they are currently doing. Every time an outside person decides what’s “appropriate” the same bullshit ensues like when medical personel thinks they know in exactly how much pain a patient is and can therefore decide they don’t need any more pain meds/are “doing it for attention” or similar.

      • Jae said:

        Sorry, I thought that was clear… Of course not everyone is like that. But, you know, when you’re ill (even only with a cold) you sometimes feel you’re entitled to bad moods? At least I do. And it takes conscious effort to step back and think: “But it’s not *their* fault so I shouldn’t snap at *them*, really.”

        My point was that it’s understandable that a person feeling sick or in pain isn’t their usual bright and funny self all the time, but that as soon as it invades anther one’s wellbeing, that other person is entitled to draw a line and stop it.

        No offense intended, really. Sorry about that. I know quite a few nice and friendly chronically ill or disabled people that make you think “wow, should I ever get ill that way I hope I handle that as graciously as they do.”

        And while I’m at it: There is a “secondary gain” to being friendly as well. Because people are much more inclined to being friendly and helpful to someone who isn’t bitching and barking all the time, and that helps, not only when one’s ill but always. 🙂

  7. Anisoptera said:

    I strongly endorse getting out of the middle of the drama your partner causes as much as possible. It is a magic trick for making all sorts of things clearer and more manageable. And not only will it help with reducing the conflict you have to deal with, it may also really help with actually seeing her behaviour – it’s easier to see what’s going on when you don’t have the default assumption that it’s somehow OK and if only you could just adequately explain it all to her/others.

    Also this is a real and valid problem to have. It really is possible to have all your friends driven away by an arsehole partner. Its reasonable to expect her to take this seriously when you raise it an not just write it off as her being herself.

  8. Rosesred said:

    Dear LW,

    I come from an entire family of people who’s whole identity is wrapped up in being ‘right’, and passionately so on a number of subjects. Any peep of disagreement will result in an all-out attack, because it seems you’re not just questioning their statements, you’re questioning their right to exist AT ALL!

    Interestingly, like your partner, they feel like making an effort to be nice is a ridiculous request outside of more formal interactions, like it would be ‘faking it’ and you don’t have to do that with family and friends, right? :S Yeah, I never understood that, either.
    I love my family, and I do not want them out of my life, but it took me a long time to realize it’s not normal to be viciously attacked for having an opinion, and even longer to put some boundaries into place.

    Following the captain’s advice, seems to me like you are not responsible for ‘fixing’ your partners behaviour. Not only that, you probably can’t and it’s shitty for people to ask that from you. It’s up to them to discuss the situation with your partner, not you. You are not your partners buffer zone.

    What you can do, is decide what is ok for you. If a stranger said all the things your partner says to you, to your best friend, would that be ok? Are there things you’d rather not tell to other people that she’s doing, because it would make her seem so terrible? Those are things you might want to discuss.

    Pain does not magically make someone into a jerk. I live with chronic pain and even when I’m all out of fucks to give for the day, that’s not an excuse to tear into people. There are other ways to deal with it.

    • thebearpelt said:

      “Any peep of disagreement will result in an all-out attack, because it seems you’re not just questioning their statements, you’re questioning their right to exist AT ALL!”

      RAAAAAAUGH I HATE THAT SO MUCH

      It sounds like the family dynamic you’re referring to is more severe/complex than the one I’ve dealt with, but my boyfriend’s family can react that way (his mom specifically) a lot. Even when I’d specifically phrased statements like, “When culture/people in general/society does X thing, that thing is ableist.” And then the mom would reply, “What, so you’re saying I’m ableist?!?!?!?!” Like, that was literally exactly what I did NOT just say.

      I’ve said for years that there’s nothing bad about admitting you’re wrong, because admitting you’re wrong means you’re not wrong anymore, now you’re right. Refusing to admit you’re wrong means you’re STILL WRONG.

      • I like that perspective on admitting one’s wrong. I feel like it’s a sudden vista on a long and winding road I’m travelling…
        Thanks for sharing !

    • soukup said:

      This comment made me think of a trick I use sometimes when I’m in a tough situation and I need some perspective. When someone’s treating me in a way that makes me feel bad and I can’t tell if it’s a reasonable thing to be bothered by, or when I’m doing something risky or dangerous and I can’t tell if I feel okay about it, I do this:

      Think of someone you love and care about very much, someone whom you would never ever want to see hurt or in trouble. (Don’t pick your partner for this thought experiment; she’s too involved and it’ll make things cloudy. Pick someone else, someone who’s not super involved.) Now imagine that person in your own situation, in exactly the position you’re in. Ask yourself what you think that person should do. Get really into it, in as much detail as you want: picture your loved one dealing with some of the specific moments you’ve experienced related to this problem — replay whole conversations and imagine your loved one in your place. Write angry letters to the person/people who are mistreating your loved one, and tell them exactly where they’re out of line and how uncool it is. Make a plan, or even write out a script, for your loved one to have a difficult conversation that really needs to be had.

      I find it much easier to let things slide when I’m the only person whose comfort/emotional safety/physical safety is at stake. Sometimes it helps me to remind myself that I deserve to be safe and to be treated with decency and consideration and respect, just like I would want for someone else I love.

  9. TheLadyK said:

    I have chronic pain. And then I got Epstien Barr and was very sick for a long time. I couldn’t do any of my hobbies, which were my creative outlets and my social life died because I was too sick to participate, I struggled with keeping my job. I got depressed and I got ANGRY. At everything.

    My darling partner sat down with me and said, “Lover, I see how hard this is for you, but you are angry all of the time and it’s making living with you miserable for me. I think you need a hobby that you can do now, with the energy and time you have, that lets you be creative and make things.” And I took up knitting, which is easily interruptible and can be done at home but is still creative. I’m eternally grateful that my partner brought up this issue and helped me figure out how to find a way to fix it.

    I was in pain and I was sick, but I still needed to stop hurting the people around me with my anger about the situation. I needed to change how I dealt with the world and figure out how to handle it with some modicum of grace with the energy and resources I had at hand. I needed to change. Being even slightly less miserable helped, my partner was correct that living without a creative outlet was hellish for me. Being deeply protective of and adoring my partner helped too, because hurting him was an unacceptable outcome for me.

    If she’s in too much pain to participate kindly in the theater community, she may be in too much pain to participate in theater work, passion or no. Which sucks, but she can’t hurt people and be excused because of pain. If she values being a jerk more than she values your comfort or happiness, please reconsider the health of this relationship.

    • espritdecorps said:

      Well said

    • I feel this.

      It’s not the same, but I am going through a similar thing: right now my depression is big enough that it is really hard for me to play music with other people without being snappy and impatient, but I NEED to play music in order to feel good. Two of my bands are on a natural hiatus, but I have also decided to quit my third. In their place, I’m going to work on a solo project, and also taking part in a brief temporary collaborative project with people whose skills I respect so highly that I know that even when I am feeling my most crappy and impatient, I couldn’t dream of wanting to boss them around.

      It’s not your job to fix this situation or make this happen for your parter, but I wonder if she could be well-served to take a break from theater groups to focus on aspects of theater where she doesn’t have to be socially on all the time, like writing a script or focusing on learning skills in lighting or tech stuff.

  10. Marvel said:

    In this comment, I am assuming that you have a stage manager of some kind. If not, feel free to disregard.

    If these theatre friends have not brought the issues with your partner to their stage manager, they need to do so immediately, and the stage manager needs to have a talk with your partner–probably along the lines of “quit it or leave.” But, you know, nicely. It’s not your job to bring up these concerns, and it’s entirely unfair that these “friends” have been putting you in that position.

    Putting you in the place of mediator is ineffective because you have a prior longstanding investment in your partner, no matter how much you may agree with her friends that she’s behaving inappropriately. A stage manager has no such concerns, and a good one will be able to bring it up in a way that makes it very clear that either the problem needs to go away, or she does.

    Otherwise, yeah, I agree with the Captain–tell them to talk to her directly! They are doing no one any favors by complaining to you.

  11. Lilly said:

    I love the Asshole Whisperer advice!!

    I’ve not had the experience with a chronically ill partner — and LW, that sounds like a very tough situation — but I have had the experience with a partner who was an Asshole to everyone in our wider professional/ hobby circle of friends. He would do something he called a “take down” of people whose opinions he deemed to be wrong (read: different from his opinion). “Take downs” included writing blog posts criticizing and ridiculing the person. He alienated literally everyone who is anyone in this particular field and it was depressing as hell to be associated with him. He would refuse to listen when I tried to tell him that he was hurting himself — and he didn’t care that he was hurting me. I am no longer with him and its taken a long time to rebuild the relationships with the folks he pissed off.

    So I like the advice that maybe you can find a different group or your partner can, so that you can have your own space and not have to deal with the fall out of her behavior?

  12. Here’s a nice interpretation of what I’m hearing her say: ”I’m low on spoons and the ones I have go to my work. I just want to relax on my time off. Is that so much to ask for?”

    Doesn’t seem all that unreasonable, right? Until you start thinking about what it really means. For one, you playing the social buffer and taking the hits for her actions. Secondly, the fact that she lacks empathy sometimes. That’s really scary. Like, run Lex, there’s a T-rex behind you!

    My baggage is showing, so I’m just gonna ask some questions. When you two argue, does she have empathy for you? Is she willing to do anything to win an argument, no matter if it hurts you or anyone else? Is she only ”playing nice” at work or does she also do it with people she finds worthy enough? Does she underrate the hurt she creates or does she not care? Is she punishing you with silence or in other non-violent ways when she’s unhappy? Is it up to you to make her happy again?

    If it’s no to all of the above, then my apologies and I’m glad to be wrong. Truly. Like I said, my own experiences are showing a bit. Back to you!

    If she’s gonna be a jerk, there’s gonna be consequences. Being in pain and tired isn’t an excuse to be a Missing Stair. If you’re sheltering her from the hurt she’s causing, that means more hurt on you and she’s none the wiser. Loss-loss. Please, please try to step out of this role. Maybe you’d be better off doing your own things for a while and see how that goes? That way you’d both be doing Fun Stuff and have things to talk about when you’re together.

    I am someone with high standards for myself. The crippling sense of never being good enough until I’m perfect just applies to me. If she’s applying her standards to you or everyone else, that sounds more like a case of being an asshole than having high standards.

    • I like your nice interpretation. 🙂

      To take it further, it sounds to me like she’s low on spoons, and the ones she has goes to work, and then what she wants to do to relax is HAVE A SPOON PARTY where everyone does a Dance of the Thousand Spoons or something, and then because she doesn’t have any, she expects everyone else to give her theirs instead.

      I mean, I totally get wanting ME time, where I don’t have to compromise and work with other people’s wants and needs and stuff, but that means I go somewhere off by myself, rather than trying to do a group activity as a ME project.

      • Dr. Awkward said:

        Aw, geez, if only we could have spoon parties like clothes swaps. Spoons aplenty!

        • In a certain way, you could view farming tasks out to other people as a sort of spoon grab. I made calls for my stepmom when my dad was in the hospital and she was using all of her energy for him. Of course, that’s something asked for or offered, unlike just treated people badly without their knowledge or consent.

        • misspiggy said:

          A dear friend, on hearing about the spoon theory and the reasons why I had a spoon deficit, gave me lots of different types of spoons for my birthday. Just looking at them does indeed give me more spoons!

      • hebbyn said:

        Yeah, I think when you’re short on spoons and it seems like everybody else has spoons to spare, that you can end up thinking, “Well, they’ve got all these extra spoons, so they can afford to use a few of their spoons on coping with my sharp edges!”
        It’s not that you don’t know that you should be behaving better, or that they shouldn’t have to deal with your bad mood… it just seems like it’ll hurt them less to deal with it, because they’ve got drawers of the stuff, and it’ll cost you so much more to have to negotiate on X, or actually deal with Y being done in not-your-way. Why should you have to spend your spoons making it easier for them, when you’ve got so few to start with and they’ve got a catering truck full!

        Which is wrong, but it’s the kind of logic that that feels so true, even when you know that it isn’t.

  13. pucksmuse said:

    It sounds like a lot of your life is structured around your partner, her needs, her pain, her creative outlet, her her her. When is it about you? Yes, she has a chronic illness, which is awful. But that doesn’t make you any less of a priority in this relationship. You get to have needs, too.

    You said you do a regular self-check for abusive behavior, which is awesome, but I think you’re missing some signs:

    -Moving the target of what it takes to get her approval and decent treatment for her. It doesn’t sound like she has high standards for others. It sounds like she has (largely unstated) high standards for other people and if they don’t meet those expectations, she takes it as license to be rude and bossy. She is “good” so she deserves decent treatment, but they are “bad’ because they don’t meet her standards, so they deserve her condescension.

    -Isolating you, both with her grating behavior and her telling you to stop worrying about what other people think. She knows that you “stop worrying” won’t smooth the waters with other people and help you maintain friendships, but it does enforce the idea that you don’t need other people, just her.

    – She justifies her behavior with excuses that let her off the hook ever having to change her patterns and induce guilt for you. “That’s the way I am!” and “But my PAIN” are classic refrains of abusive and disordered personalities.

    -You don’t get to say “ouch” when you’re hurt. You express concern about her behavior or tell her that you’re hurt, and she makes excuses or tells you to stop worrying about other people, implying you have some sort of personality flaw for wanting friends.

    The fact that she can turn the empathy on and off depending on whether she’s in the classroom shows that she’s capable of the behavior. It sounds like she just doesn’t care enough to make the effort unless it’s of a direct benefit to her. I don’t think you need an intervention. But I do think therapy is a really good idea. I would also devote a lot more time to finding time to spend with my friends away from partner. You need people to talk to who are not your partner.

    • I think all of this is excellent to think about, and I also wondered about whether there might be some purposeful, albeit unconscious, isolating behavior here on the part of your partner, LW. I’d pay particular attention to whether she gets upset or seems so inconvenienced when you express needs. I’ve been with people like that, and it has never ended well and always involved a lot of self rebuilding in the aftermath.

  14. pucksmuse said:

    Also, who says your partner is exceptionally good at acting/theater? Because it seems to me a big part of being a successful thespian is being able to act as part of a creative community without alienating your colleagues.

    • thebearpelt said:

      THIIIIS. I’m going into film editing, not theater stuff, but from what I understand, the less formulaic aspect of how to get a job in artistic industries means that you gotta be good at being social with people, not just talented. (In some ways, artistic industries could be one area that could move towards a true meritocracy like that. Sadly, people are flawed and so are our perceptions. But I digress.)

  15. John said:

    This reminds me of a bit from an excellent essay from The Toast (“Lessons I’ve Learned From Being A Therapist”):

    11. I am especially sensitive to, and annoyed by, people who pride themselves on “just telling it like it is”. Sometimes these people possess a rare gift of insight and kindness, but more often, they’re being cruel and disguising it as some sort of lame superpower. Giving someone the hard truth doesn’t make you more insightful, it makes you the asshole who saw the same thing everyone else saw and decided it might make you feel better to say it out loud.

    • thepaintedlady said:

      I love that. It always astounds me that it never occurs to the people who say this shit that “like it is” is somehow always the meanest, rudest, worst way possible of describing whatever “it” is, regardless of whether this supposed truth is even objectively true. Great, dude. Tell your truth. Call it like you see it. But…perhaps be less of an asshole when you do?

      • Oh man I’ve been and I am very guilty of this. I had a pretty thin skin in my school days. Looking back, I can see that everyone else did too, but I thought that I was the most delicate flower in the whole damn garden. I liked mean comics like Denis Leary, so I mimicked that rude, cutting cynicism. I learned to be defensive and unimpressed and to make fun of everything. Eventually it wasn’t a front anymore…I just sort of slipped into the skin of it.

        Now, as an adult, I don’t find it very useful and few find it charming. I have to force myself from saying something terrible to someone for no good reason. The mean thing might be a true thing, but that doesn’t make the nice thing a lie. It’s a matter of perspective and respect. Just because you don’t like to sugarcoat things does not mean that you have to piss on them instead.

        I fell into being a jerk nearly by accident. Spewing out mean things is addictive and easy and usually someone will laugh. Being a kind person is harder and it comes with far less immediate social pay-off. But once you realize what a dick you are, you start to fear what’s to come.

        • thepaintedlady said:

          I say this as a (hopefully) reformed mean-funny person as well. It took having it aimed in my direction by one of the mean people who made me laugh to make me realize, whoa, NOT OKAY. It just doesn’t feel that mean when it’s falling out of my mouth, you know? Queen of Snark and Bitchiness and my best friend was a snarky theatre boy and we did theatre and it was awesome because we didn’t ever like anything anyone did…and then we sort of mutually woke up and realized….we didn’t really like our lives. He’s in grad school to write now, and I teach art, and we are finally good at liking things and making each other laugh without being mean.

      • iiii said:

        I think these folks start from “the truth hurts,” and take the contrapositive to get, “if it isn’t hurtful, it isn’t true.”

        And… no.

        • Whoa, that’s kind of mind-blowingly insightful. Thank you.

    • KellyK said:

      I love this. And “just telling it like it is” isn’t something to be terribly proud of. *Anybody* can blurt out whatever tactless or nasty thing that comes to mind. The real skill is in delivering hard truths only when it’s necessary and appropriate, and when you do have to, doing it in a way that *doesn’t* sabotage relationships and piss people off.

      • roramich said:

        spot on! For real!

    • Commander Banana said:

      See, Phe-Phe from The Hotwives of Atlanta.

      It is possible to be honest without being cruel, but a lot of people seem to equate “I’m a super honest direct blunt person” with “my super honest direct bluntness gives me the license to be a dickwad because honesty!” and kind of ignore that a lot of the time, that type of “honesty” wasn’t wanted and often isn’t needed.

      • thebearpelt said:

        That sort of thing drives me up the frickin’ wall. I’m autistic and the way my autism influences me is that I’m a shit liar. Like just the absolute worst at it, apparently. (Not that I can tell why. I can’t tell when other people are lying, generally.) So, for me, when I say I’m an honest person by nature, what I really mean is that I try to just be honest because it’s so obvious when I lie that it’s probably insulting. BUT, and here’s the caveat, I’m also known amongst my peers for being very articulate. I phrase things in very specific ways and try to be nice (when that’s the goal, anyways). I mean, I’ve been working retail for 3 years and I’ve only had like half a dozen customers lose their shit at me cuz I know how to phrase things well (among other factors).

        If you’re gonna be “honest” and “blunt,” you’ve also gotta be tactful and a master diplomat.

        • ReanaZ said:

          Yes! I am also an honest-to-a-fault person. And people frequently comment that I am very good at saying things carefully and positively. Or as I say: I learned young that I either needed to learn to keep my mouth shut or to say things extremely nicely, to avoid getting punched in the face by everyone I met. And the latter was much easier!

        • Kaz said:

          Fellow autistic compulsively-honest person dropping in to say yes yes yes I hear you. I can’t lie (by which I mean: something in my brain goes ‘say something that is factually untrue? ERROR ERROR invalid input divide by cucumber please reboot universe from start’ and although I can try to forge ahead despite that it is very difficult, highly unpleasant, and *extremely* unconvincing). However, that doesn’t mean I can’t phrase things nicely, focus on the positive aspects of something over the negative or just NOT SAY certain things because the other person doesn’t need to hear them. In fact, I am very much *not* a blunt person and have a lot of difficulty saying things that I view as potentially rude. All of that is not in inherent contradiction with being honest.

          • Nanners said:

            I have nothing smart or witty to add to this already smart and witty comment section, but I just needed to tell you that “divide by cucumber” made my night.

      • Right?

        I have a being-overly-blunt problem. And it’s a problem! I have difficulty not being blunt when tact is called for, and it’s something I’m actively working on, because bluntness can really hurt people.

        If I conceptualized it as this awesome part of my personality that, like, made me somehow better than tactful people, that would be just me giving myself license to be a dick.

        (For other overly blunt people! One tactic I’ve found that works to give both ME time to think and OTHER PEOPLE time to prepare is for me to say “Um, how blunt would you like me to be, here?”.)

        • soukup said:

          Oooooo, thanks for the tip, J. P. *pockets it* As an often-very-blunt person I find this (rather blunt!) question about tact so smart, and I can tell that I will be making use of it quite a lot in future.

        • aebhel said:

          I don’t think being blunt is really a problem, but I think there’s a difference between being blunt and going out of your way to be an asshole. I’m incredibly bad at white lies and find it infuriating to be on the receiving end of them, which does mean that my style of communication is not going to mesh with everyone’s, but I do have the ability to say ‘Eh, not really my taste’ instead of ‘That shirt is ass-ugly’.

          I think a lot of that kind of thing comes from thinking that your own tastes and opinions are the gospel truth instead of just…opinions.

    • random person said:

      Omgggg I love this for a thousand miles and back.

    • 1cc4 said:

      This so makes me want to start #tellingitlikeitis where users say very kind, true things.

      “All of my peers in school are bright, hard-working people and deserve to take a break once in a while. #tellingitlikeitis”

    • pucksmuse said:

      I love that. To me, “I am just telling like it is” translates to “I have given myself permission to behave like a total A-hole.”

    • twomoogles said:

      I have also noticed that *most* “tell it like it is” people really sure don’t want to “hear it like it is”. I have developed a reputation as someone who will be honest if asked, because a lot of people really won’t…but the difference is *if asked*. I’ll also call people out on rude behaviour in the moment which I find is way more useful usually than sitting down and saying “this is what’s wrong with you”. Just even something like “hey dude, that was pretty mean!” can make some people go “whoa, I’m not mean, is that how I’m coming across?” and re-evaluate.

    • Drew said:

      “But I’m just being honest!”

      That’s right. You are just being honest. You are not being compassionate, or considerate, or thoughtful, or loving, or polite, or even pleasant. Just. Honest.

      There are times when someone has to deliver an unpleasant truth. There may even be times when that person is the “just being honest” fanatic. But so much more often, unvarnished honesty is unnecessary, unkind, and unwarranted, and a little thought put into the delivery of the message would go such a long way toward making it valuable and constructive feedback rather than a shattering blow that can only be forgiven, not forgotten.

      • ReanaZ said:

        This.

      • This is awesome.

      • “That’s right. You are just being honest. You are not being compassionate, or considerate, or thoughtful, or loving, or polite, or even pleasant. Just. Honest.”

        I needed to admire that again.

        • silvercat said:

          I’ll join you in admiring Drew’s words 😉

  16. DF said:

    This is my new favorite piece of advice:

    “Advocating fiercely for a creative point of view while being respectful to your fellow artists is a skill. If you want to do anything in film or theater, get this skill. You will never be so talented that you don’t need this skill.”

    And it also applies to writing, art, or anything creative. I was lucky enough to have an art professor who trained my class giving helpful, respectful critique, and a creative writing teacher who taught us how to be sensitive but thorough editors.

    I’d also add the perfectionist impulses are dangerous if internalized, and toxic when externalized. If your partner wants to endlessly criticize and perfect her own performance, it’s bound to leave her unhappy. But when she focuses it on the group – or on a friend’s cooking – or on the way you fold your clothes, or sing in the shower… well, “perfect is the enemy of good” (relationships).

  17. sioushi said:

    I, too, have no advice for the LW.

    But I have a partner who is in chronic pain, and when zie lashes out at me as a result, zie is aware enough to apologize (sometimes after the fact, sometimes in the moment). Zie never uses it as a regular excuse for asshole behavior.

    I also have a friend who could be your partner. Driven, talented, self-critical, outwardly critical, insanely hurtful and derisive to other people as a Regular Communication Method to convey exactly how short they fall of her standards on a regular basis. We’ve been friends for 10 years, and in that time I’ve watched person after person leave her theater company after working with her on *just one performance.* Others toughed it out for two or three years, but when they left, they usually cited “Sheila” as a cause. Behind her back, of course, because she is a very domineering person and also the star of the troupe who brings in the funding, so the director backs her as a matter of course.

    I remember buying her a birthday cake from a fancy bakery and mentioning to her partner, “I should knock off a bit of the icing, so she can complain bitterly about the execution. As a gift. Something extra to complain about.”

    “Ah,” he replied, “You know her so well.”

    I remember being backstage with another performer during curtain call. That one had only been with the troupe for one season and was (already) on her way out. As we listened to Sheila chewing up the stage outside, the performer said wistfully to me, “Is there anything that Sheila *can’t* do perfectly?”

    “Yeah,” I said. “She can’t be nice to anyone.”

    I don’t know why this is. I have not tried to change her; I have withdrawn from the friendship, so that we email or meet for drinks a couple of times a year. I think she reserves the worst of her scorn and criticism for her troupe members, in the belief that it is “good for them” and to praise imperfect performances is “just coddling their weakness.” I do not ask why she feels perfection is the goal of a small-town theater troupe, or why she believes people must hit the ground perfect and improve from there. I don’t care to ask her much of anything anymore.

  18. Someone can correct me if I read this wrong, but the letter reads like the lupus/chronic pain hasn’t added new behaviors to the mix, just amplified existing ones. LW, look at the behaviors over a long span of time- are you using “oh she’s just in a lot of pain” to excuse asshole behavior when she’s really been an asshole all along? When people ask why you’re together (assuming they do), do you use her medical condition as one of the primary reasons to justify continuing the relationship? Remember, pain and chronic illness can be the reason for a lot of things, but they shouldn’t be used as an excuse.

    As usual, the Captain’s advice is excellent all around but I want to give an extra hearty “Yes, THIS!” to #7. You’re shouldn’t be acting as an intermediary between your partner and everyone else’s problems with her. They’re big kids, they can address things themselves.

  19. Nelke said:

    In general I think that the captain’s advice is spot-on, as always is. I would like to give a nuance to say that, althought being in pain is not an excuse to act like an ass, sometimes it happens. My patience gets very short when I am sick or sleep deprived (I used to work a freelance job on the night shift, so I used to get both). I admit that I have lashed at my partner, and I apologised later.

    With my partner, it happens more often when they skip a meal, but they were also in pain last year because of dental surgery, and it took a toll on their mood. I guess it is also a matter of learning how to deal with your own emotions as well as those of your close ones, and to communicate your needs. When I am in a bad mood, I cannot stand being touched. For my partner, it is just the opposite, they need to be hugged.

    But yeah, there is a big difference between using a condition as a free pass to be mean and actually acknowledging that these things change your moods and taking them into account to keep yourself in check (today I am tired and therefore not social, I better stay at home because I will not be pleasant company.

    • JenniferP said:

      It happens also TO ME. Like, early last year I wrote a really mean thing in response to a Letter Writer (I won’t link, if you don’t know what this is, enjoy your ignorance) at least partly because I was in a crappy state from a shitty week of being constantly street harassed and being totally stressed and overloaded and out of fucks and out of meds. I am still responsible for it, I still owed apologies and amends and not doing it anymore.

      There is “lashing out when things are extreme” and then there is “lashing out has become the new normal.” I think what the LW is describing is the second thing.

      • lliira said:

        It is very, very, very different to be going through a temporary crappy time, and having to live with constant physical pain. Again: not an excuse. But they are truly not alike.

        • JenniferP said:

          You are right, and I do not want to offend by drawing false equivalencies.

          Pain, illness, disability take a toll. A real toll. That said, loved ones can and will forgive occasional outbursts, but people will drift away if your entire coping mechanism consists of crapping on them.

        • Marvel said:

          I don’t know. I’ve had to live with constant physical pain and I honestly don’t find it to be terribly different from depression downswings and other chronic mental illness symptoms I’ve experienced.

          Every individual has different issues, obviously, and even within a given category you’re dealing with very different things from one condition to the next. But I’m a little uncomfortable with characterizing mental/emotional stress as fundamentally different from physical stress, especially since mental/emotional stressors can also be chronic.

          • Jenna said:

            There are things that are the same. If it is dark for a short time or dark for a long time, it is still DARK.
            However, if you have been in the dark tunnel for a long time, your perceptions can change, and I am not talking about it seeming less dark, although with less light to compare it to, that may be true. You may adjust.
            What I am talking about is coping patterns and thought patterns change, over time, in ways that may seem helpful or not. Sometimes it’s just hard to believe in the light…
            Or, so, my situation is that I have had a lot of medical stuff to show up for, get through, survive, and sit still for like a grown up. No one can do this part for me and making it harder for the medical personnel by throwing a tantrum or outburst just makes their day harder, right? Doesn’t help me and makes the ordeal longer, for whatever medical procedure.
            I discovered that I was making a kind of blind spot for myself. I’d schedule the thing. I’d show up prepared, but, my brain was sort of….blanking? Making the specifics hazy? When I was not actually doing it, or even while I was enduring the thing, it was enabling me to turn my thinking away from the needle, infusion, radiation, whatever, and what was going to happen after. It made the long series of medical things over more than a year possible to get through, but, the coping mechanism that my brain learned can also be maladaptive. It interacts with my tendency to procrastinate, and has gotten to be a problem in everyday life and interactions. A part of my brain goes, “oh, painful thing? DUCK. All boxed! Can’t see it!” And this can get seriously in the way in interpersonal or financial areas.
            So, the pain? Sure. Everyone gets pain and darkness and fear. My brain learned a trick to block it. It is both useful AND maladaptive depending on the situation, and I have to pay attention and not let it do that thing when it would cause damage. Not everyone is the same, and some people might have this mechanism to start with, but, chronic conditions can change the way you function.
            It’s still not an excuse to hurt the people around you, though.

    • thebearpelt said:

      I like that you included that you not only apologized, but also tried to monitor your behavior to prevent it from reoccurring. My dad used to tell my sister and I, “Sorry doesn’t mean anything,” because we kept apologizing when we’d done something bad but then didn’t make any effort to change our behavior. We thought (since we were like 5 years old) that apologizing was enough.

      • A. Y. Mouse. said:

        Frankly, when you’re five, apologizing SHOULD be enough, because you’re *five*. It’s on the parents to guide their kindergarteners (& other-aged children) and model behaviors they want to see – like recognizing wrongs committed, apologizing for them sincerely, and not committing them again.

        I got this too when I was a kid, with a side of not telling me what I’d done wrong because “you know what you did”, so it’s a bit of a sore spot to me.

        • sorcharei said:

          I disagree. I think it’s unreasonable to expect that a five-year-old will always be able to change her behavior the first gime. But five is a perfectly fine time to start hearing that apologies are not worth as much without action. The words I use aren’t “Sorry doesn’t mean anything”. More like “I’m glad you are sorry; now let’s talk about how we can make sure you don’t repeat the offense.” Even if the kid can’t quite follow through, having the discussion about changing the behavior is part of teaching the kid how to do it.

          I have real issues with adults who think a perfunctory “sorry” by itself is enough. And it takes time to learn this, to take it on-board, and to sort out how to do the stuff that adults need to do with “sorry”. If parents don’t start working with young kids on these skills and this perspective, then it’s unlikely to grow with the kid. And learning these things is far harder if you do it as an adult, when you’ve lost friends because people aren’t okay with your habit of hurting their feelings, saying “sorry”, and doing the same thing again.

          “You know what you did” is just bad parenting — it’s passive-aggressive and mean. *And* it abdicates the parent’s responsibility to help the kid learn to navigate a world in which words+actions will always trump just actions.

          • Pippa said:

            My friend’s mother taught her this same concept from an early age in the form of the phrase “Sorry stops.” (Aka if you’re sorry you actually stop doing whatever it was that caused it). I always liked how that phrasing was so succinct and appropriate for any age.

          • MamaCheshire said:

            Yes, the usual thing we tell kids in this house (especially FirstKid, who overuses “sorry” and sometimes is a bit snotty about it) is “sorry means don’t do it.”

  20. CoolNewAnonymousNickname said:

    I would be really interested in hearing how the LW’s partners students/peers describe her persona at work. I would bet the proverbial dollars-to-donuts that ’empathetic’ would *not* be one of the words that they used. I doubt very much she’s genuinely empathetic at all–I think when cash or career are on the line, she can make faces and noises that simulate empathy. If her acting skills are even a fraction as good as she seems to think, that might play fine at work for her. A genuine empath feels other people’s feelings, almost literally, so deliberately hurting others would feel like slamming your own hand in a door, not someone else’s. Instead, she’s making a series of deliberate bad choices that are being used like a weapon in a hostage situation. I am sorry she’s ill and in pain, but when you live with an autoimmune disorder (and I do–hey, Hashimoto’s!) you need to triage your priorities. She isn’t doing that, and she’s using illness as an All-Access Pass to flout the social contract. Not cool. Please take care of yourself here, LW, this is not your problem to fix. It’s time to reflect on you–what do YOU want, what do YOU need, what are YOU ok with and what can you not deal with. I really dislike the fact that your partner is doing her damndest to make herself the center of your world, when you are supposed to be at the center of your world. That’s not good.

    • Muddie Mae said:

      I’m so curious about how she is in the classroom. I’ve known more than a few “I tell it like it is”/”sorry, that’s just me” people who could clearly turn it off and on, and made careful decisions about that. It seemed to me that those decisions oriented around power and the possibility that power might shift. So, if they were talking to a judge suddenly they could turn it off, as the judge is in control and that’s not going to change. Similarly, if they were talking to a barista, they didn’t feel at all threatened and didn’t need protect their territory. I could see a classroom of kids falling into the second category for someone like this.

      • Muddie Mae said:

        Whoops, that was supposed to be a separate comment but it kind of works as a reply, too.

      • wondering said:

        Well, I’m not the letter writer’s partner, but I do have issues – that I’m working on – where I function calmly and empatheticly at work but have a harder time behaving exactly the same way at home. I manage and mentor people and I do a good job. But it’s like I run out of teaspoons by the time I’m off work and I’m much more likely to act out on stress and snap at my partner than at anyone else in the world. It’s wrong and I apologize later, but I can’t always stop myself in the moment.

        I’m an introvert, and to me that’s somewhat analogous (and possibly part of the problem). I can be “on” and performing interactively and appropriately at work, but then afterwards I need to cocoon and recharge because I’m drained. And it’s not just my “extroversion performing” battery that’s drained, it’s also the levels of my “temper” battery. And when the battery is low, I am irritable and snappy.

        • Alexis said:

          Weirdly, I have almost the reverse issue. I’m generally better with friends than I am at work, and I’ve gotten some work feedback about being careful about exactly this type of thing – overcritical feedback.

          I think it has a lot to do with the relentlessness of the communication at work – at home, I have more ability to pick when I engage. At work, if I’m not naturally engaged and have to engage anyway, sometimes less-than-productive behavior results.

          I actually just worked this out while writing this comment, and it suggests a new strategy for managing my comms at work better, beyond trying to pay attention to what I’m doing and saying and catch myself before I do something that’s not helpful. So, yay, I think.

        • soukup said:

          Fellow introvert here. It’s great that you’re noticing this about yourself, and I really admire the work you’re doing to figure out a healthy balance. I’ve been paying close attention to my own introversion this past year because it seems like the amount of social time I can handle has increased…but the consequences of overshooting my quota are still the same: I get cranky, I get spacey, I get awkward, I feel drained, I snap at people.

          But the key here is that it is still on me to notice when that is happening and put myself in time-out to recharge. It’s not my fault that I feel how I feel or need what I need, but I can change how I behave, how I react to those needs and feelings. This is something which perhaps the LW’s partner could maybe try thinking about some, too.

    • I too wondered if the LW’s partner is really as empathetic at work as LW states.

      “A genuine empath feels other people’s feelings, almost literally”

      Honestly, I don’t even like the word “empath.” It seems to imply that some people have this special superpower (like Deanna Troi from Star Trek) that other people don’t have. ALL human beings (with the exception of actual sociopaths and possibly Ayn Rand) have the ability to empathize. It’s why we cry at sad movies. It’s why we donate money and time that we could use for ourselves to good causes. It’s why we cringe when the dude on a skateboard faceplants into the sidewalk. It’s why those of us who are parents can still agonize over things that happened to our grown kids when they were toddlers.

      Some people are better at reading the subtle cues that indicate other people’s feelings. Some people are more skilled at knowing how to respond to them. Some people are more demonstrative about their empathetic feelings. But we are all empaths. Also, I’ve met a lot of people who self-described as “empaths” who placed a high personal value on being SEEN as caretakers and nurturers, but who were no better (often worse) than others at actually reading what their loved ones felt.

      I know this is a little off-topic from what the LW was asking about, but I think it’s helpful to recognize that all people have the capacity to empathize. And it’s not something you either have or don’t, but rather a skill that can be developed and strengthened (this I was told by a social worker and researcher who studies empathy).

      • This is a great point.

      • Kaz said:

        Thanks for this point.

        I’m autistic and am pretty leery of the word “empathy” at this point, because there is this Theory of Autism that considers autistic people to lack empathy… and “empathy” will happily get redefined and redefined and redefined over and over again as long as it manages to somehow exclude autistic people. (“You lack theory of mind! uh, no… you have cognitive empathy but not affective empathy! no, it’s the other way around! no… okay, give me time to think of a definition that will allow me to make you lesser…”) The fact that ’empathy’ is not just a super-vague term but also one that’s commonly understood to connect to so many notions of kindness and understanding and the like that ‘having empathy’ is often seen as a prerequisite to being human and saying that autistic people ‘lack empathy’ is therefore an extremely stigmatising and in fact actively dangerous things to say never seems to be important.

        I’ll also note that I do the “feeling other people’s feelings” thing that sometimes gets tagged as “empathy” to what I suspect is a pretty atypical extent; I think it’s an autistic thing for me. I personally call it “emotional mirroring” instead and it’s something that’s very much disconnected from being kind, comforting, understanding, open-minded, willing to put myself into other people’s shoes, etc. for me. In fact, it can be an active disadvantage: since talking to someone I read as being in distress makes me start to experience distress the first impulses are to a) focus on myself over them (because I’m distressed!) and b) get away from them (to stop feeling distress!), and there’s temptation to start resenting the other person (because they’re making me feel distressed!). That’s all stuff I have to work past if I want to comfort someone. Really, saying emotional mirroring makes you better at all the things “empathetic” is usually considered to imply is like saying that a doctor will be better at treating a broken leg if their leg is broken too.

        • twomoogles said:

          Oh, wow, yes. This really struck a chord with me. I absolutely do the emotional mirroring and it does *not* make me better at being kind etc. In fact, it usually leads me to wanting to escape the situation or redirecting my emotions in some seriously not-OK ways. I often end up feeling physically ill when people tell me about bad things that have happened to them, which can lead me to shutting down entirely.

        • Your point that emotional mirroring can actually get in the way of kindness and understanding is fantastic. I hadn’t thought about it in exactly that way, but of course if you are feeling another person’s feelings too strongly, it can definitely keep you from drawing the kinds of emotional boundaries that are necessary to be an effective helper.

  21. thepaintedlady said:

    I think I sprained my eye rolling it too hard at “That’s just how I am.” I have high school students who say that crap. I don’t tolerate it from them, and if I were you, LW, I wouldn’t tolerate it from your partner. What the person who says it thinks it means is, “I’m my own person and don’t care what people think! I’m an individual! I go my own way! I won’t be tamed!” What it actually means is, “I want to be able to say/do whatever I want without any consequences.” Because the thing is, it’s only ever said in the face of consequences. And it’s nice in theory to be your own master, but we are all beholden to respecting the standards and boundaries of others, if we want those others in our lives. I always tell my kids, “That’s cool that it’s just the way you are, except if you insist on that despite it making other people unhappy, then one of the other ways you are, or you’re going to be, is a person nobody wants to be around. And if the problem looks like everyone else? The problem is almost certainly actually *you.* Is insisting on having your way and doing what you want worth being totally and completely alone?”

    “That’s just the way I am!” is the mother of all shitty excuses to act like a shitty person. You can be exactly who you want, but you have to be really sure that person you want to be isn’t an asshole. And it abdicates any responsibility – you’re admitting to either an incapability to adapt, or an unwillingness to do so, and either way, I think it also implies a shortsightedness. People change all the time. People improve; they make efforts to be better for partners, or for friends, or for themselves. When it’s important enough to her to not make her friends and partner miserable, she will decide that the way she is, is a very fluid thing. If she can’t? I would say that, if she can’t or won’t make you a priority, you should do so for her by getting the hell out of there.

    • This is spot on!

    • Laughing Giraffe said:

      It reminds me a bit of the “free speech!” argument that’s so often mounted by, um, certain individuals. Yes, you will not go to jail for saying the things you say, and if it is really important to you to be able to tell the world that women all suck, or that gay marriage is evil and wrong, or whatever you like, then fine. By all means, go ahead and say whatever’s on your mind. But the fact that the government isn’t allowed to arrest you for it doesn’t mean people have to agree with you. Other people will criticize you, or boot you out of their private spaces, or simply conclude that you have nothing of value to say to them and start ignoring you. So if you’re okay with that then go ahead, but don’t expect sympathy for it.

    • I knew an attorney once who declared that it was “her personal style” to interrupt people. This somehow made everything OK in her head. Unfortunately for her, she interrupted my mother during a hearing. The subsequent conversation:

      Mom: You interrupted me.
      Interrupting Stylite: It’s part of my personal style to interrupt people.
      Mom: (icily) It’s part of *my* personal style not to be interrupted.

      • Marvel said:

        That is a wonderful response.

      • Nineveh_uk said:

        I once had a subordinate at work who (among her other inappropriate professional behaviors) constantly interrupted people. I will never forget the time she interrupted my asking her not to interrupt* with the accusation that I was interrupting *her*.

        Me: No. I was speaking and you interrupted me. I am now not allowing you to continue that behaviour.

        My backbone grew about 6 inches from having to deal with this woman.

        *Which happened because she was interrupting me.

  22. allreb said:

    Hmm. One thing that jumps out at me: it’s actually okay for your partner to not care what people think of her, and to not want you to care, either. And I can totally understand using that as a defensive reaction — it’s hard to be confronted with your flaws, especially if they’re things you KNOW are flaws and you’ve grown sensitive to them — and so it certainly can all feel wrapped up in a sense of, “This is just who I am, I don’t care what people think, if people really cared about me they’d accept me as I am.” I totally, totally get that.

    But.

    She still doesn’t get to be a jerk about it. She doesn’t need people to like her, she doesn’t care what they think about her, that’s fine. Her behavior still needs to change. Not (necessarily) so she can restore these friendships (though that would be a bonus, I’m sure) but because yelling at people and being mean and steamrolling are just not acceptable ways to behave in society. If she doesn’t want to play by the rules of Don’t Be A Jerk in her theater group, she should remove herself from the group (or be removed from it by whoever is in charge), because Don’t Be A Jerk *doesn’t* mean Don’t Voice Your Opinion, or Change Yourself And Lie About Who You Are, or anything like that. It just means, well… don’t be a jerk. You *do* have to take other people’s feelings into account, even when you think they’re wrong.

    Additionally, for you, LW, aside from asking people to talk to your partner directly, can you ask them *not* to talk to you about your partner? “Please talk to her if you have a problem with her,” is a very important starting place, but it can also be really uncomfortable to have someone vent to you about someone you care about, even if they do handle it themselves. Asking people not to take their gripes to you at all is an okay way to protect yourself, if that’s something you feel.

    Also additionally, it’s come up a few times in the comments, but please considering seeing if there’s another theater group (or other activity) you really dig that you can get involved in, sans-partner. It’ll give you some breathing space, a place to enjoy your hobby and feel like you are there being only *yourself* and not half of you-and-partner, and a chance to step away from being a caregiver for awhile every day/week/whatever. I think that could be very helpful.

  23. boutet said:

    I’m wondering, do your friends ever talk about things other than complain about partner? Do you spend time with the friends just having fun together? It can be very easy to get into a complaint rut with people where you hash the same things out when you see them (I found this happened with certain coworkers of mine) but it’s not much fun and isn’t really much in the way of friendship.
    Would you be able to ask your friends to lay off complaining about partner? To say, “I know this is frustrating for you and I sympathize, but I need to talk about things that are not how much you hate my partner.” Certainly it sounds like your partner has some shit to work on here, but maybe your friends do too. Sounds like they might be dealing with their stress by dumping on you, and that’s not any good either.

  24. bunwat said:

    “You need to find a better coping mechanism and I’m not it.”

    This belongs on a tshirt.

    • Myth said:

      Yes!

  25. Palliser said:

    I just wanted to pass along a funny piece I read recently about Shonda Rhimes, creator of Scandal, Gray’s Anatomy and How to Get Away with Murder. Apparently she has a ‘no nasty/difficult people’ on set policy and for this reason, she no longer works with Katherine Heigel. If Shonda Rhimes can decide not to work with a very popular actress when the stakes are in the millions, there is no reason for you to put up with more shit at the community theater level. I’m sure your partner is talented, but she’s taking advantage of the diva trope and that’s just plain bullshit.

    At minimum, I’d suggest you stop working with her and if she has issues with it, tell her that you’ve decided not to be around her when her behavior is unacceptable.

  26. DuaeCat said:

    I would add one teenie tiny consideration that really really goes along with #7. The fact they describe her as ‘bossy’ and you do sends up one a small warning flag and should be considered. How have they felt about past people in her position?

    Because I was in a local club and there was a bossy girl and she bugged people and gave orders and yelled at them when they stepped out of line and everyone constantly griped about her bossing them around and not letting them make their own decisions. And the minute she left, the club fell apart and disbanded because there was no one to go “Oh, Suzy can’t make this month’s meeting? Tough patoot we’re still having it. When’s good for you next month, Suzy?” And Suzy would cry and say it was UNFAIR and she should be accommodated at the expense of everyone else, and Suzy’s friends would agree with ToughLady was The Devil and meetings would happen and fun would be had. As soon as she was gone people slowly realized there was no magic time/place that was perfect for 30 different people with different lives and someone’s feelings were going to be hurt now and then, and decided it wasn’t worth it.

    Or, when I did theater there was a lot of whining. People whined when the director let creepydude wander around backstage naked. Creepydude and his friends whined when the director told him to put on pants or leave. People whined that director didn’t stop weirdguy from being weird somehow. People whined that director let some people alter their costumes to be more skimpy. People whined that the director didn’t let them make their costumes skimpy enough.

    And at the end of the day, it got done.

    So I think it’s worth looking at if “Bossy” is “Stop talking and get in place” instead of “Honey sweetie pooh bear, do you think maybe you could possibly think about getting in place sometime soon? That would be super-duper awesome, cupcake! 🙂 🙂 :)” ?

    If that’s the case, the best thing you can do is keep them from involving you, because if it is just whining they’ll move on to the next sympathetic ear. And if it’s a real problem then you’re no longer providing a placebo system where they get to feel like they’re filing a complaint without any real risk.

    And of course all of this is a moot point if the Captain’s questions are a much better fit. And even if she is just being assertive instead of a tyrant if you’re not enjoying it, then you don’t need to justify it with a list of reasons why you’re allowed dislike something. (I mean, I recently quit a choral group over conflict with the director’s methods, but everyone else is happy so there’s not really a ‘right’ or a ‘wrong’ way, just the best way for the individual.)

    • You know, I wondered about this, intersected with a bit of what irreverentontheinternet said above about this being behavior exacerbated by the chronic pain, rather than something new.

      I am a member of an all-volunteer organization, that’s wonderful and a joy-filled part of my life, but is (like all-volunteer groups are) rife with Geek Social Fallacies and drama personalities, while I tend more toward the organized/organizing and pragmatic. I also have several chronic health conditions that are pretty well managed most of the time.

      Where I am on a scale of “okay, people, let’s focus and get some shit done here and have some fun at it!” to “UGH, I just cannot with these useless assholes” to “fuck everything [cries in corner]” is directly proportionate to how much of a handle I have on my health issues. DIRECTLY. When I’m tired-and-hurting but not quite all the way to completely spoonless, I can be pretty impatient, abrupt, and critical. I’m pretty self-aware about this, and practice good stepping-away-for-selfcare-and-the-good-of-the-social-contract, but if the LW’s partner is still adjusting, she may not quite have a grip on that.

      This is a skill that she needs to learn, and taking responsibility to learn it is on her, but there are things that LW can do to help. First and foremost, as everyone else has said, step away from the role of the Jerk Whisperer. Let other people say what they need to say, directly to her, not just because that pressure needs to be off LW for the good of all the relationships zie’s at the center of, but also because SHE NEEDS TO HEAR this message, from a variety of people, in a variety of ways, ranging from the very gentle and kind to the very blunt and sharp. She needs to learn to navigate this social territory, and she can’t do that with the LW fielding all the bad stuff for her.

      And yet – her partner knows her best, and what IS really helpful and beneficial? Noting nuances that other people may not, and knowing when to say “hey, that was kind of mean and harsh, please stop that” and when instead to say, “hey, you seem stressed and tired, do you need a break/food/a second set of eyes on this problem?” A kind but firm nudge to self-assess can go a long way in these kinds of situations.

    • MamaCheshire said:

      So I think it’s worth looking at if “Bossy” is “Stop talking and get in place” instead of “Honey sweetie pooh bear, do you think maybe you could possibly think about getting in place sometime soon? That would be super-duper awesome, cupcake! 🙂 🙂 :)” ?

      *jumps up and down pointing and shouting* THIS THIS THIS!!!!!!!!!!!!

      Spouse and I have had a reputation for being Lord and Lady Meaniepants of No-Fun-Ville in some circles, because of insistence on things like this:

      – An organization with by-laws should be FOLLOWING those by-laws, or if something is unworkable should be amending them in some sort of reasonable way rather than just going “eh, we don’t feel like it.”

      – Likewise, I don’t give the proverbial rat’s behind if you don’t want me comparing (your type of nonprofit org) to (another type you consider inferior). You still have rules and responsibilities as an incorporated nonprofit, and you need to be following them and following through with them. (True story: one of my MSW field placements had a working relationship with another group that was supposed to be a nonprofit but the organizer forgot to file the paperwork with the IRS…hilarity did NOT ensue when it came time for donors to get their tax deduction receipts!)

      – Do not let your kid make my kid feel unsafe and then shrug it off with “boys will be boys”.

      – Do not let your GROWN ASS ADULT HOUSEMATE make my kid feel unsafe and then shrug it off with “boys will be boys”.

      – If you’re going to have a big important event, at least make an honest attempt to hold it somewhere accessible, especially when you know full well that you have group members who need that.

      – If the activity you’re participating in has safety rules, don’t let some people ignore them because you think they’re so good at what they’re doing that they don’t NEED to follow the rules.

      – Etc.

      It’s sad to be seen as meanies, but it’s also frustrating to see groups acting like this – and that just plain seems to be A Thing in a lot of them.

      • DuaeCat said:

        Oh yeah. It’s the sort of thing, the LW can absolutely choose to go “I didn’t sign up to be a member of The Meanypants Duo” but it’s very unclear from the letter if it’s “I’m tired of society shaming me for having an assertive ladypartner who doesn’t act properly meek and submissive around the superior gendered ones. Should I be telling her to shut up and sit like a lady?” Or if it’s “My partner bullies me and my friends are saying that’s not cool but I feel like I should continue to sense the secret hidden good inside her and be an extra awesome person by sticking with her even though she’s a bully.”

        So I think it comes down to either way, it’s not the partner’s responsibility to Change Her or Save Her. They can go “This isn’t working, this needs to happen for this to work. Are you willing? Because if not, I am going to go find something that DOES work.” Or they can go “This is working between us, but not for my friends circle so I’m going to hang out with my friends on my own and/or draw some boundaries so everyone’s happy.”

        (Also I will admit that a huge part of my reaction is the use of the word b*ssy. That’s not something you call someone you respect as an equal. That’s a word you use to put someone back in their place.)

        • Muddie Mae said:

          See also, “strident” and “abrasive”, words that practically only used to describe women!

  27. Commander Banana said:

    This situation sucks, but I completely agree with the Captain that the people complaining to the LW are not complaining to the right person – the right person would be the LW’s wife or the theatre club’s director – you know, someone who can actually do something about the behavior.

  28. Hi LW! I want to reiterate #7 here: just stop. You’re not helping anything, and you are getting stuck between your friends and your partner and basically that’s like going through a meat grinder REALLY SLOWLY.

    From my experience: I was the partner of someone who had a TBI and chronic pain as a result. He was mean. It wasn’t fun. He also had some friends who were Not Awesome People and was in a position where he was supposed to have authority over these Not Awesome folks that a lot of other people had trouble with. But because of his TBI, other people didn’t want to address him directly about it, so they went through me. The quality of the Not Awesome was such that I felt like I had to be a pipeline, until I realized it wasn’t helping anything at all. So I stopped. People still came to me with stories about the Not Awesome folks, and I would say “That sounds terrible. You should address this with the Not Awesome people, or talk to my partner yourself.”

    It’s hard, especially the first couple of times. It gets harder before it gets easier. But eventually someone will come up to you with the latest horrible story and you will wave your hand and declaim happily “Behold the field in which I grow my fucks.”

    None of this is your job. This is your partner’s problem with other people, not yours. It sounds to me like you need some time off from being the Jerk Whisperer; maybe you should explore another hobby, or the same hobby with a totally new group of people. You might be surprised what a relief it is to go somewhere with people who don’t expect that kind of thing from you–in fact, who don’t even know that the situation exists where it’s a possibility. 🙂

  29. gmg said:

    If the LW pops by to weigh in, I’d love to hear more about Partner’s standing/role in the theater group. From what we’re told about her skill set, I get the sense that the Missing Stair situation there might exist in no small part because Partner is so talented on stage that the group doesn’t want to lose her, and therefore everyone’s collectively decided to cope as best they can, use the LW in the role of Asshole Whisperer, etc. (I think it’s safe to say we’ve all of us dealt with that person in a work setting — the jerk who is given space to be a jerk because he/she is so “valuable” to the organization.) This is a problem, a big one, and one that is separate from her issues w/illness and physical pain. It’s also why the Captain’s advice not to let the group use LW as the conduit anymore is so good.

  30. caryatis said:

    “Someone’s behavior doesn’t have to meet the official and objective standard of abuse™ to slowly drain the life out of you.”

    Agreed. It’s great if your partner’s behavior is not abusive. That doesn’t mean you have to stay with the person if they are mean and you are unhappy. Or even if they’re not mean and you are unhappy.

  31. Polychrome said:

    I was thinking about the part where you say you share a lot of hobbies. Is the consensus between the two of you that she is better at all of them than you are? Or alternatively, has the one at which she is better (theatre) become the primary one for both of you?

    If either of these is true, my two cents would be to seek out something at which *you* get praised for being good. I say this because you praise her a lot in your letter (exceptional at theatre, incredible at her job) and based on past experience I’m sort of wondering about the praise economy in your relationship. Are you getting lots of praise too? If not, go forth and get yoself some praise! I don’t mean start a cult focused on you (ha ha), I mean, I think you might be pleasantly surprised if you go out to something without your partner how much mutual praise circulates in a lot of settings (might not be your job, if you have one, I don’t know) — a lot of average every day friendship and hobby activity involves the generous circulation of compliments.

    No doubt I am projecting, but I remember being sort of astonished after one particular relationship at just, making new friends and hearing that people liked me. And after a few months of that kind of talk, I started to feel pretty differently about myself and also pretty differently about that past relationship dynamic, in which the unspoken rules were that I was unilkeable and good at nothing and my partner was supremely talented at everything and somehow the things I were good at had fallen out of our activity set while the things he was good at were front and centre all the time. A little bit of this might be happening here, though of course I could be wrong.

    • CoolNewAnonymousNickname said:

      Just want to say how much I adore the phrase ‘praise economy’. Love. It. and am taking it home to adopt, like an adorable puppy made of words.

      • Polychrome said:

        awwww. It loves pats. 🙂

  32. “Advocating fiercely for a creative point of view while being respectful to your fellow artists is a skill. If you want to do anything in film or theater, get this skill. You will never be so talented that you don’t need this skill.”

    Yeah, this is totally true. As pointed out above, it applies to all intense creative pursuits. My experience with this is in the realm of science, where you absolutely rely on your colleagues and collaborators to be as critical of your experimental results and conceptual frameworks as possible. But it takes experience and skill to do this with respect. Also, it takes experience and skill to be on the receiving end of rigorous criticism of your work and not take it as criticism of your person.

  33. Ms. Pris said:

    I am also a person with chronic pain. I can honestly say that I am more likely to sound curt or snappy when I am in a lot of pain and urgently need to be able to sit or take a pill or etc. I am less patient at those times and I have less energy for speaking. I present mostly as female and gendered ideas of communication norms might lead some people to describe that as “barking orders.” So, I don’t necessarily believe that the LW’s partner *was* barking orders, and I note that the LW doesn’t say she was, only that a friend perceived it that way.

    My partners and I are all on the spectrum and sometimes the fastest way to communicate something is to just say it or give a command. This can be perceived as bossy from a woman, but in a man wouldn’t be. And it doesn’t bother my partners. So again, I wonder what is necessarily “bossy”.

    I also think that there needs to be a separation of issues: the issues between the partner and the LW are one thing, and the partner’s problems with their friends are another. The LW needs to tell the friends to handle their own problems with hir partner, instead of bringing them to the LW. The LW is not the partner’s manager. It’s weird to me that the LW would basically be participating in gossip about hir partner and then take it back to the partner.

    If the LW has a problem with the partner’s behavior, sie should take it up with hir partner directly. And yes, the partner should listen. But going to hir partner and saying “Our friends are complaining to me about you,” is going to piss the partner off and make her feel defensive *with good reason*. It looks to me like the LW doesn’t want to actually express hir own concerns about the relationship, but is hiding behind the friends’ issues with the partner. The partner is right to extent when she says that the LW shouldn’t care what those people think. The LW should stick, in discussion, to what is a problem for hir. If friends stop hanging out with the partner, if they kick the partner out, that doesn’t stop them from hanging out with LW. Let partner manage partner’s relationships with other people.

    I also agree that pain does not justify abusive behavior or bad behavior in general, but sometimes it does cause bad behavior, and that is when the partner should acknowledge it and apologize.

  34. duck-billed placelot said:

    I found this a little worrisome:

    As I’ve asked around, others (who she respects deeply) have agreed with me that her behavior is fun-killing all around.

    Why are you asking around and getting people to agree with you that your partner is a meanie meanie bossypants? This goes beyond people telling you things, and I think speaks to some deeper problems in your relationship. Like maybe, possibly, this is less about ‘my partner is causing herself problems in her area of talent and passion’ and more ‘my partner is mean to me, and I hate it enough that I am seeking out other people to confirm that her behavior is adequately bad enough to require change’.

    So, thing one, let me tell you, if a partner told me, “I asked John and Suzy and Rajit and Marcus, and they all agreed that you’re a hypercritical grump,” I would not only not change, but maybe get deeply angry at my partner. She shouldn’t, of course, treat you or anyone else badly. But her social flaws and mistakes are hers to make, not yours to advertise. Thing two, if you are asking around for confirmation that your partner is being terrible, I think it might be time to exit, stage right. If you are unhappy with how she behaves and have asked for change that doesn’t materialize, then the situation probably will not improve. You don’t need to get buy-in that the way she treats people (you) is unacceptable; ‘not abusive’ is not a high enough bar to clear for people who want to be your partner.

    • This relates to my comment above about not using other people’s opinions as proof that you’re right. On the other hand, I can cut LW a little slack for asking for other people’s onions about Partner’s behavior. It’s so hard, when you’re in the thick of it, to draw the line between “This behavior is understandable give the unfortunate circumstances” and “No, Partner really is being a meanie meanie bossypants.” Reality checks are helpful.

      Now that the reality check has happened, however, it doesn’t need to happen again.

    • Whoops, login process ate my comment, but:

      I was going to say that I just read the behaviour as a perfectly normal “This isn’t just me, right? Can I get a reality check? Am I overreacting to something that’s supposed to be normal?”

      But given that the answers appear to be “No, Yes but it’s not good, No” respectively, your point about the possibility of an underlying problem in the relationship is taken.

      (I self-check like this a lot. About a lot of things. I understand I may see this behaviour as more unremarkable than it is.)

    • CoolNewAnonymousNickname said:

      I caught that as well, but I interpreted it as something that a person does when they’ve been consistently gaslighted by their partner and can no longer determine if partner’s egregiously bad behavior *is* bad, or if they’re just (once again!) being the Worst Partner Ever. That said, you are totally spot on with the advice that if you need to start gathering evidence that it’s time to go…..then it’s time to go.

    • Fish said:

      I think its pretty normal, especially when you’ve been abused or gaslighted in the past, to seek second opinions and emotional validation on things you’re uncertain about.

      Just because LW is seeking this information doesn’t mean they’ll communicate what they’re told in such a way to their partner either.

      It seems pretty clear to me that LW is not sure what to do, so LW seeking advice from others. Saying “look, you should just be sure what to do and not ask other people for help” is … what I’m reading in your post, though maybe you’re not trying to say that. Could you rephrase to make it clearer, if that’s not what you’re trying to say?

      • Phospher said:

        Yes, but among her friends and peers, though? It’s one thing to go to YOUR friends or family and say, “sanity check — Thing Partner Does bothers me. Is this normal?” It’s one thing to be the unfortunate recipient of other people’s unasked-for thoughts about her behaviour. But now DBP points it out, going to mutual friends all, “Hey.. my partner’s really bothering you, isn’t she? I’m doing a survey among our friends about how dissatisfied everyone is with her behaviour” IS more than a little weird.

        • SarahTheEntwife said:

          I think it depends a lot on exactly what the LW is asking — I could see an alternate situation where it turned out that a lot of her friends were fine with a more aggressive, volatile person because the group culture was just much more toward that end of the spectrum than the LW’s is. And that doesn’t make it not a problem for the LW, but it’s a *different* problem. Whereas here it sounds like more of a missing-stair problem where it’s really reassuring to finally be told that yes, it’s not just you, everyone’s frustrated with the missing-stair person.

          • Beth B said:

            Yes. It’s a yellow flag, because you really do not want to be polling all your friends on whether they secretly hate Partner, GO ON, IT’S OKAY, YOU CAN TELL ME, I JUST WANTED TO KNOW, HAS SHE BEEN AN ASSHOLE TO YOU? YOU SURE? And because it puts the LW more firmly in the position of being the communication bridge between Partner and people who are having problems with her, which I agree is exactly the position they should step out of.

            But IMO there’s nothing inherently wrong with a little bit of double-checking whether it’s just one person having a problem and feeling sure that everybody secretly agrees, or whether it’s actually a widespread thing that people have been too polite to mention to you (possibly to either of you) while you’ve been sure everybody’s getting along great. (“Little bit” is a key word.) Or, rather, what’s wrong with it is not the double-checking, it’s a) the possible extent of it, and b) that LW is then in the position of coming to Partner to say “all these people think you’re being a jerk! I’ve checked!” and being the Jerk Whisperer, rather than doing a little double-checking to make sure they’re aware of relevant group dynamics and then stepping way the heck back to let everyone involved sort it out themselves.

        • A. Y. Mouse. said:

          It is entirely possible that all/most of their friends are mutual. We don’t know.

          • Northlight said:

            This. Most of my close friends are a joint custody type thing with my partner. Or they’re online people I’ve known forever and they can’t actually see the behaviour.

            I would never go to my family because that’s a mistake I made when I was younger. It’s been 15 years and they still remember the disputes whereas I would not be able to come up with the details without prompting. It’s easy for them to be protective and to not remember/realize all the good things about partner. So, I don’t go to family because I don’t want to negatively impact partner’s relationship with them. That could be a thing that’s specific to my family but I think it’s somewhat common.

            So, with mutual friends I just have a pre-talk. I ask if they’d be willing to be a sounding board for things with partner. Sometimes they are not up for that, and that’s cool! Sometimes they can sit down and have a chat with me, be it to tell me to overlook the brain weasels or to tell me that I’m having a reasonable concern. Sometime’s they’ve noticed the same things I have and it prompts them to reach out to partner and suggest they have a beer and vent for a while.

  35. thebearpelt said:

    “If you want people to stick around in your life and work with you creatively, it helps to be a minimum amount of nice to them. You don’t get to just ‘passion’ or ‘intellect’ your way out of the bargain.”

    You do not get to be Dr. House in real life. The show may be fun to watch at times, but nobody actually wants to be around someone like that, no matter how creative or genius they are or whatever. (Change out the words “Dr. House” for any other character that fits this trope, such as Sherlock, etc.)

    • Light said:

      That’s part of why I burned out on the show, actually. House was a professional miserable person, and yes he had reasons but so does the rest of the world and I’m not giving them passes for it either. I just couldn’t take it any longer.

      • Notmyrealname said:

        To be fair, House paid a pretty high price for his behavior. He went to jail, he lost every romantic partner he ever had, and he had to fake his own death to be able to be with his best friend when Wilson was dying of cancer.

        • I dunno, “paid a pretty high price” makes it sound like it was at all unreasonable that he went to jail for being a violent asshole and that people were not willing to shovel his shit and smile for the Great Honour of Touching His Penis.

          He may have suffered completely reasonable consequences for regularly being an asshole, but that didn’t make him less of an asshole.

          (I am personally in the “very tired of asshole protagonists” camp; I think Bojack Horseman is currently the only exception. Other people have different tolerances; this is all fine. 🙂 )

  36. Dr Sarah said:

    ‘She responds that I need to stop caring about what other people think about her.’

    I think it is worth pointing out here (to you, I mean – whether or not it’s worth you pointing this out to her is something for you to decide, along with CA’s very good questions) that what you’re caring about is not so much what other people *think* as about what other people *feel*. There’s a big difference between “I’m bothered that other people have low opinions of my partner” (= excessive concern for the opinions of others who don’t get a vote on how *you* feel about your partner) and “I’m bothered that my partner is hurting other people’s feelings” (= appropriate concern for other people’s feelings).

    • Light said:

      Good point. I’m kind of wary when I hear people say that, because it often turns into, “I don’t care if I hurt other people’s feelings- but mine are sacrosanct.”

  37. HistoryOfAllThat said:

    Hi, first time commenter here, and only commenting because I thought I might have one tiny insight: LW is your partner on corticosteroids for her lupus? If so, well…she may really not be herself. I spent some time on them for an autoimmune disease. Apparently I functioned well enough to fool everyone that I was okayish, but actually? I was having some kind of year-long mental illness. I do not remember that year. I am, 12 years later, still finding out about some of the awful things I did to people. If there are steroids involved, and there has been a personality change since they were included, maybe look to them as the cause first. It doesn’t help the people she has hurt that it is medication, but maybe just maybe there is a way to dial it back in the future.

    If I am completely off base I apologise for intruding, and I will move myself quietly into the corner, but some of what you describe sounds so like me from that year that I had to bring it up.

    • Guava said:

      That’s a really good point. Steroids are useful, but man…the side effects. When I went on steroids for my autoimmune disorder, it turned me into a seething rage monster! It was horrible feeling so out of control. I did some unintentional but real damage to a few close relationships during that time too.

      On the other hand, I got the impression from the letter that perhaps the LW’s partner’s behavior had been ongoing prior to the lupus diagnosis? So maybe the chronic pain and/or med side effects are magnifying certain aspects of an already kind of aggressive personality?

      Either way, it seems helpful to set the boundaries that the Captain has suggested, but yeah, I hear you on those side effects. UGH.

    • That’s a very good point. Steroids can be BRUTAL. However, even if that is why, LW’s partner has had their behaviour pointed out to them and needs to apologise.

    • malkavian said:

      This, about a thousand times over. I’ve been on prednisone for my own autoimmune disease, and roid rage is a real thing. I’ve literally caught myself in the middle of unthinkingly lashing out at people and been like ‘Oh, shit, I did for that to happen.’ I had very little self control and would literally react without thinking. And if she’s tired (and steroids cause insomnia) or hungry (they also cause hypoglycemia) that can amplify the problem. Hell, those things can cause issues even without steroids. In addition, she’s probably grieving the loss of her health and might be stressed out because she’s giving so many spoons to do this and doesn’t feel like anyone else is willing to put in effort to make that loss of spoons worthwhile.

  38. actual neuro-atypical psych major said:

    You know, for a place that always gave off a vibe of trying not to be ableist, this site sure loves to pick letters for publication where the mentally ill/chronically ill/autistic person is an abuser, or otherwise hard to have a relationship with.

    Because it’s not like abuse is indelibly connected with mental illness and autism (because theory of mind and scary lack of empathies!!1!) in the public eye already. It’s not like a mother (Kelli Stapleton) who literally wanted to murder her autistic daughter (Issy Stapleton) was able to go on national television and accuse said would-be murder victim of “abuse.”

    I’m not saying abuse is ever excused by any condition. It’s not. But we already have voices within the feminist and therapeutic communities telling us that. What we don’t have are voices acknowledging that statistically, the people most likely to be abused are mentally ill, chronically ill, autistic, intellectually disabled, and physically disabled people – the same people who seem like such burdens to those around them on sites like this.

    You get so many letters you routinely have to shut your inbox. You decide which letters to publish. Maybe try to pick more representative letters?

    – a mentally ill autistic person with multiple sclerosis

    • sarahcircusnachos said:

      This is the best piece of criticism I’ve ever seen, and I’m also really impressed that CA allowed it to go up. Commenter, I think your perspective, if you have the time and willingness to lend it, would be extremely useful over at the Captain Awkward Forums.

      I would also like to add, however, that we know nothing about LW’s mental states. You say here: “statistically, the people most likely to be abused are mentally ill, chronically ill, autistic, intellectually disabled, and physically disabled people” and I agree with you. It may be that LW fits into one or more of these categories, but without knowing more about LW, or attempting to diagnose LW over the internet (which we don’t do) we can’t say.

      I know from my own history a very similar story. I could have written a letter much like this one, about a very passionate and talented artist. The fact that I struggle with bipolar disorder and anxiety was irrelevant! Why wasn’t I a better partner? Why couldn’t I support the passionate artist better? Why was I so terrible? Why was I abusing the passionate artist with my terribleness? Abuse does awful things to our sense of ourselves and our ability to maintain a firm grasp on reality.

    • misspiggy said:

      As someone with disabilities I would be very sad if letters like this stopped being posted. I want places where we can respectfully discuss ways to manage the situations we find ourselves in. The Captain’s response, and the vast majority of comments, looked at the issues without making assumptions. Most suggested that if the LW’s partner was being abusive, it shouldn’t be primarily associated with her condition, and that any sick or disabled person is just as capable of improving their behaviour as anyone else. I don’t see that as ableist.

      So many topics and situations are covered on this site that I don’t feel there is a bias towards ‘disabled people are abusive’. There are a good number of letters from people with disabilities who have experienced abuse. I think talking about stuff that actually happens to sick and disabled people, without making prejudiced assumptions, is valuable for everyone. The more that happens, the easier it gets for disabled people to be visible as full members of society.

      • twomoogles said:

        I think also that it’s a natural thing for a person to want to explain a partner’s behaviour, so often letters mention things like chronic illness or another condition, and it’s not mentioned as “people with X are bad” but more of a “the letter writer wants to show the partner in the best light possible, so will add any mitigating information in an effort to do this.”

    • You get so many letters you routinely have to shut your inbox. You decide which letters to publish. Maybe try to pick more representative letters?

      We’d need to hear from CA or a member of Team Awkward who screens the letters, but it’s at least a possibility that these letters are representative. Not because people with disabilities/mental illness/autism/chronic illnesses are more likely to be abusive, but because people are more likely to feel conflicted about how to deal with the behavior when the abuser has disabilities/etc. From time to time, I’ve been in situations where I felt mistreated in a friendship or relationship. Most of those situations wouldn’t have inspired me to write a Captain Awkward letter (if the site had existed at the time). I simply thought, I don’t think I deserved that. I’ll confront her/back off from the friendship/say something if he does it again. And then I would do that.

      When the person faced extreme difficulties, however, the issues felt more clouded. Can I really blame him when he’s in so much pain? Maybe his very real needs make his unreasonable demands reasonable after all.

      Or, maybe these aren’t representative letters, but the Captain feels more equipped to give useful answers to them because she’s experienced depression and being the depressed person’s friend.

      For whatever it’s worth, I haven’t agreed with every part of every answer given here, but I haven’t come away believing that able-bodied, free-of-mental-illness people are so much nicer than everybody else.

    • Dr Sarah said:

      I’m biased on this one, because I’m one of the people who has spent years living with a husband whose excuse for chronic longstanding low-level poor treatment of me is “But, Stress!! And maybe even depression! And general difficulties of my life!”, and it was such. a. relief. to see someone making it clear that, actually, no, even if your life is difficult you are still obliged to act decently towards others and it’s perfectly all right for me to want decent treatment and not be happy about the fact that I often don’t get it. So I am maybe not the best person to be deciding about whether or not it’s OK for CA to be publishing a letter now and again about someone who acts in a shitty way and who also happens to have a chronic health condition.

      Still, here is my view, for what it’s worth: These aren’t characters in a book or a film where we can point out the merits of aiming for a bit of stereotype-smashing in the way the characters and situations are constructed. These are real people, struggling with real problems, who deserve to get a bit of help and support with those problems even if said problems do happen to follow a particular stereotype.

      • Yes, this. Thank you. I was struggling with whether to respond to this or not, given my own past history.

  39. Erica said:

    Yes to everything the Captain said. And also, one thing which I would like to point out, LW, is that it isn’t clear from your letter whether your partner is explicitly asking you and/or other people to tolerate her bad behaviour because she’s in so much pain — I can’t tell if that’s your interpretation, or if she herself is using the pain as an excuse on purpose (or even some kind of grey area where she’s aware people are cutting her more slack than they would with others and is choosing to take advantage of that). The Captain seems to have interpreted the situation as being in the latter category (your partner is actively using her chronic pain as an excuse to be a jerk). And I just want to say that whatever is going on, whether she is or is not deliberately or explicitly using her Lupus as a free pass to be mean and bossy, she still has a responsibility to change her behaviour when you call her out on it.

    Also, something else: as you talk about this with your partner, one thing which you might try suggesting is that on a day-to-day basis, before she heads out the door to go to the theatre, she could do a quick check-in with herself about how she’s feeling. She should ask herself how much pain she’s in, and also if there are any other factors at play which might make her prone to jerky behaviour: is she tired, is she hungry, is she upset about something. In other words, she needs to ask herself whether or not she’s capable of being respectful and friendly at the theatre that day. Sometimes the answer will be no, and when that happens, she needs to decide to do something else instead (hopefully something very self-caring and soothing, if she’s feeling less than 100%).

    This is also something she could maybe try doing before spending time with you. Just a thought. Good luck, however you decide to handle this.

    • Yes, Hungry Angry Lonely Tired FTW. A little HALT is good for most everyone.

      • *squeeeee!* My favorite movie ever!

      • 42tlh42 said:

        I’ve had to make it HHALT (Hurt or Hungry Angry Lonely Tired), but even without that addition, a VERY useful tool!

  40. Hi, teacher with chronic health problems that have, at times, included months of unremitting pain here! (As in, having a period of a few hours where my pain levels went as low as 2 on the 0-10 scale was a really amazingly awesome day.)

    Teaching can be incredibly rewarding. It can also be incredibly draining. Even before the chronic pain stuff started, I would sometimes have days that left me so psychologically exhausted that there was just no way I could interact pleasantly with anyone. (Once I learned to keep my blood sugar stable by periodically munching on a few almonds [or some other protein source], those days decreased in frequency, but never stopped altogether.) So, on those days, once work is over, I don’t interact with anyone if I can help it. I let my partner know that I need to be completely antisocial for a little while, and then I go to another room and watch Netflix or read a book or something.

    As far as a social life goes, it helps that I’m able to predict which days of the week are most likely to be giant energy siphons. (Thursdays, for example, are DANGER WILL ROBINSON DANGER territory, while Tuesdays are usually fine, and Mondays can go either way.) And it’s worth it to me, because I grew up in households where if one of the adults had a bad day, I was almost certain to have a fairly unpleasant evening. So I promised myself I would try not to do that to other people. If I can’t be nice, I don’t participate.

    Your partner seems to have prioritized her right to be a jerk over other people’s rights not to have to interact with jerks in their free time. She’s allowed to make that choice, but it doesn’t sound as if anyone is getting any benefit out of that. She’s putting her scarce spare energy into a hobby where she’s surrounded by bumbling incompetents who can’t handle a little honest criticism, they’re having their amateur theatrics steamrollered by someone who seems to think they’re opening on Broadway in two weeks, and you’re stuck in the middle hearing how unhappy everyone is. Unfortunately, the only one of those things that you can directly affect is the last one.

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