It is easy to read stories about dysfunctional relationships and wonder why people engage in them. Although, it may seem obvious to us that people should remove themselves from toxic relationships, sometimes this is easier said than done. What about when there’s mental illness involved, and people can’t consider their relationships in the same way that we might? When my sister got married, I realised that a lot of things can influence the way we go about relationships. The way we grow and the way we perceive ourselves all impact the places we look for love. This is my sisters’ story through my eyes. I hope it gives you context.
I’ve realised that it all started when we were younger. I now know that my sister Bridget has always felt like the odd one out. The eldest in the family, she has straight hair and brown eyes like my mother. The rest of us have curly hair and green/hazel eyes, like our father. When we were younger, Bridget never wanted to include herself with the rest of us. While everyone was playing outside, she chose to stay inside to either watch tv or read a book. This wasn’t odd to me because our Catholic parents, brought us up to value independence as being the key thing in life. We weren’t the richest of families but, they made sure that we never wanted for anything so we never had to depend on anyone else. Unfortunately this meant that our emotional needs were something that were never met. Emotional contact was something that became nonexistent around the time we all started school.
When adulthood came around, due to her feelings of being a black sheep, Bridget turned into a woman that isolated herself from her family. This took a toll on her mental health; she had a very poor perception of herself and her worth. Therefore she tried to fill the void with an endless stream of toxic relationships and one night stands. She quickly found herself in situations where men would take advantage of her good nature and eventually abuse her both on a physical and emotional level. She weaved in and out of these unhealthy relationships without allowing herself time to heal and recuperate from the damage it had on her mental and emotional state.
At the age of 42, Bridget was still single, and as she looked at her younger siblings, everyone seemed to be making something of their lives. Two of us were married with kids, and I was getting ready to graduate from uni. She didn’t want to be left behind, so she took matters into her own hands and signed up for the free online dating site OkCupid! It took about a week of being a member for her to meet and start dating her now husband of three years. When they met, he was an unemployed 48 year old who was still living at his parents home. He was also bipolar. None of which was mentioned to my sister in the beginning. But despite all the secrecy, it only took three months for him to propose to my sister, and another month for them to be married.
Three years later, and Bridget is now a woman that needs her married partner to hold her hand before they step outside. Married life to someone with mental health issues has turned my sister into a very needy and clingy woman that can’t do anything for herself. Her dependency on this man resembles something out of the 1987 film Fatal Attraction. The way that they portray their relationship to the world via social media or social gatherings feels very forced; but behind closed doors it turns into a completely different ball game.
She speaks down to him and embarrasses him in front of our family as well as his. I have been witness to some epic fights that resulted me in locking myself in a back room until the war was over. Their relationship doesn’t just affect them, it affects everybody close to them. Seeing Bridget live with someone so unpredictable worries us. We have spoken to her about the situation countless times before, and her go-to-excuse was always “you just don’t understand. Stop judging what you don’t understand.” As a family, we felt helpless and confused, we didn’t know how to get her to see the truth, we didn’t know if she ever would.
One day he went out and bought a gun because our other sister Sabrina’s husband has a gun for protection, so he decided that he should follow suit. A few months later at Christmas as we were all gathered around the dining room table he went into the bedroom and came out waving the gun in the air. He wanted to impress my father, but my dad wasn’t impressed. In a very neutral and calming tone, I simply asked him to kindly put the gun back where he got it from, because no one found his little show and tell efforts to be amusing. It doesn’t feel right for me to have to neutralize a situation in my older sisters home. I always thought of older sisters as the ones who were supposed to protect me, not me protecting her.
Another year later, and Bridget is now starting to realize the seriousness of the situation. She now sees that he is not someone that she can rely on due to his mental state. She has also come to terms with her own mental instability and has decided to seek out help. Bridget wished that she never rushed into things with this man, she wishes that she could’ve been strong enough to stand on her own. She now knows that the combination of both their mental states in one relationship is just something that can’t work. However, although she’s kicked him out of the house, she still wants to hold onto the relationship and try to make their marriage work. Everyone is against it, due to the ramifications that came after the fact, but this is a decision that she needs to make on her own.
My sister is a very educated and a smart woman, but no amount of education can make a person walk away from a relationship that has been compromised by mental instability. Mental health should be taken seriously, and for someone who has bore witness to a relationship that was born out of the mental state of loneliness, please understand that just because you feel a certain way about yourself doesn’t mean you should rush into something as heavy as being fully involved with another person. Relationships aren’t the key to loneliness, relationships aren’t the key to making you feel whole again, and you shouldn’t use them as a crutch to make you feel better. Work on yourself first, love yourself first, and make sure you are mentally healthy and ready to take on another person in your life.
Written by Candyce Bailey
Mental health's influence on relationships