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Your Tired Partner

It seems to you that your partner consistently neglects his or her own needs in favor of responding to the needs of others.   She or he is often tired and stretched thin.  You miss a sense of presence, playfulness, and aliveness in your relationship.

You have likely tried all sorts of ways to get your partner to do better self-care.  You may have asked for and tried to plan more quality time together.  You may have tried to help your partner with strategies for setting boundaries and saying no to requests from others.  You may have made threats of one kind or another.  You have perhaps found that you cannot plead, cajole, or strategize your partner out of a pattern of what you perceive as self-neglect and taking on too much.

What you can do, is stay in touch with your own feelings and needs and communicate them directly.  Many needs may come up for you in this situation.  You have a need to protect and nurture life and in this case the life of your partner.  In regards to that, you may frequently say something in a particular moment like, "When I hear you say you are going to help your mother tonight and I see you slumped in the chair with exhaustion, I worry about your well being.  Would you be willing to consider a way you could get some rest and your mother could still get the support she needs?"

With regards to your relationship, needs for presence, play, and aliveness may be up for you.  You can communicate these needs situation by situation, stating a specific observation, feeling, need, and request.  For example, you might say things like, "I hear you say you are willing to go to the park with us and at the same time I hear how tired you say you are, I feel anxious and downhearted because I am wanting a sense of energy and presence.  Would you be willing to take the evening to do what is restful and rejuvenating for you and come to the park with us in the morning?"

You might also want to communicate about the pattern you are experiencing and your need for consistency with regards to the energy your partner brings to the relationship.  It might sound something like this, "When I think about the last month and a half and remember that you spent five of six Saturdays working, I feel hopeless and sad because I am longing for a consistent sense of energy and play in our partnership.  Can you tell me what you are hearing me say?"

Referring to patterns is tricky in relationship because it is easy to shift from a collaborative consciousness to an argument about who is to blame and who has contributed to what needs.  Naming a pattern in your partner's behavior can quickly shift to making him or her the problem and the thought that ‘if only s/he would change, everything would be better'. 

As you enter into any conversation about what you perceive as patterns of behavior in your partner, it's important to ask what pattern of behavior you have developed in reaction to this.  Perhaps, you shut down and quietly endure the absence of your partner.  Perhaps you move toward distraction through food, movies, or computer games.  Perhaps you swing from hopelessness to explosive demands. 

Whatever accompanying pattern you notice in yourself, you can bring yourself back into present moment aliveness by asking yourself what you value most and what you want to create with your partner.  This is your north star.  With each situation and interaction, you can ask yourself, ‘Is what I am doing or saying moving toward or away from what I want to create with my partner?'

The purpose here is come into ever more subtle levels of honesty with yourself and your partner without the goal of changing your partner.  Your partner will either find a way to collaborate with you or not.  As you stay honest with yourself, you will be able to more accurately discern your partner's efforts and your own willingness to continue to engage in an effort to meet the needs you would like to meet in your relationship.

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4 Responses

  1. Sep 22, 2011

    Thanks LaShelle for this intriguing post about how to offer care to a tired-out partner/caregiver who tends to put others' needs ahead of their own....

    I think you also touch on an interesting dilemma when you state:
    "Naming a pattern in your partner’s behavior can quickly shift to making him or her the problem and the thought that ‘if only s/he would change, everything would be better’."

    Sometimes I think this underlying pattern shift is part of a caregiver's unspoken (and maybe un-acknowledged) wanting for a greater "sense of control" over their own life.

    Thus resulting in a complicated tangle of feelings, wants and needs from multiple sides.

  2. Sep 23, 2011

    Yea, there are so many layers. We humans are complex. I am glad to hear that these simple articles can still help a little with clarity.

  3. Sep 25, 2011

    Hi Lashelle
    I really appreciated the honesty and realness of this very pertinent and difficult situation. I recognise I sometimes go into hopeless/occasionally explosive mode in reaction, so its good to have such dire situations and hopeful solutions in the example. It gives me hope - and that in itself can help break my pattern. Thanks

  4. Sep 25, 2011

    So glad to hear it. Thank you for taking the time to share this.

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