Tips For Partners Living with Dissociative Identity Disorder
Living with dissociative identity disorder (DID) presents unique difficulties, whether you're the one that has it or the person who loves the one living with it. I can only imagine how frustrating, confusing, even painful it must sometimes be to have a partner with DID.
I've witnessed how challenging it often is for my own partner and, if some of the comments I've received here at Dissociative Living are in any way representative, her experience is typical. But it's also largely ignored. Partners of people with DID don't get that much support or encouragement, primarily because only those who've been there can truly understand (Caregiver Stress and Compassion Fatigue).
3 Tips for Partners Who Love Someone Living With DID
As someone with dissociative identity disorder, my perspective is different than my partner's. I think that's what makes hers so important. Significant others are in a unique position to offer viewpoints and ideas that might otherwise be overlooked. When I asked my partner what she'd say to someone in a relationship with a person with DID, this is what she said:
- Know and maintain your own boundaries. You can't support others if you aren't supporting yourself. You're going to let your partner down sometimes. That's true in any relationship. When you let someone with DID down, the ramifications can be far-reaching and surprisingly painful. It may be tempting to make your own needs negotiable in order to ensure peace and stability. But that will backfire eventually by sowing the seeds of resentment and creating an unhealthy imbalance. Knowing your limits, and making the hard decisions required to honor them is vital. Believe me, sacrificing yourself won't heal your partner's wounds anyway.
- Nearly impossible, but try to learn how to not take it personally. You're going to be the villain to some no matter what. People with DID generally have trust issues that nearly incapacitate them in relationships. It's not unusual for protective alters to attempt to sabotage intimate relationships. That's not about you.
- Learn as much as you can, but remember all systems are different. There is no way to be in a relationship with someone with DID and not be profoundly affected. Living with dissociative identity disorder is just plain hard. It only makes sense to educate yourself. Not for your partner's benefit, but for yours. It's awfully hard to cope with something you don't understand (3 Ugly Truths about Dissociative Identity Disorder).
Living with Dissociative Identity Disorder Is A Choice for You
Those of us with DID don't have the option of walking away from the illness. You do. For my part, I'd like to remind you that no matter how it feels, DID isn't forced on you. You can leave, or choose not to get involved at all. Those of us with this disorder would spare you if we could. So when it gets rough - and it will get rough - please remember this: living with dissociative identity disorder is a decision you're making, not something we're doing to you. Blame us for our choices and behaviors ... not for having DID.
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Gray, H. (2011, January 17). Tips For Partners Living with Dissociative Identity Disorder, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, July 18 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/dissociativeliving/2011/01/for-partners-living-with-dissociative-identity-disorder
Author: Holly Gray
You don't say, Elizabeth, what led to his diagnosis. I mean, was he switching a lot? Losing time? Was he presenting as a cohesive personality before this? Did you know he was multiple? All those things, I think, are perhaps pertinent to whatever's now going on.
In any event, and reiterating some of what Holly said, including the fact that I don't know him and this is all speculation - however experienced and education that speculation might be - it sounds to me as if there has indeed been some kind of switch, whether to an entirely different personality/alter or to some sort of modified version of "himself," probably because (again, as Holly said) he doesn't want to admit to/deal with the DID and that's hard to avoid if he's involved with someone who knows. It could also be that a serious relationship is just too much to deal with on top of the diagnosis. Serious relationships take a lot of emotional energy and require a strong amount of system cooperation.
I would also add that diagnosis itself generally throws a system into fairly complete upheaval -- it's scary, and people panic and every defense mechanism generally goes into overdrive.
Personally, I would suggest that you get on with your life. I don't mean that in a callous way, I mean it the way Holly's partner meant it in the original post when she said set your boundaries, take care of yourself ... do not get into the habit/pattern of letting yourself be a puppet on the strings of his DID. Theoretically, he could switch back and forth every month, break up with you and walk away, call you desperate to get back together, break up with you again ... set your boundaries now, it's much harder to do later. Don't make his DID the overriding fact of your life. Go out with friends, keep up with your hobbies ... I myself would be really leery of trying to be in a serious, monogamous relationship with someone who's still so fragmented and has (apparently) such mixed feelings about the relationship, though I'm not saying it's necessarily impossible.
What do you think, Holly?
"Theoretically, he could switch back and forth every month, break up with you and walk away, call you desperate to get back together, break up with you again … set your boundaries now, it’s much harder to do later. Don’t make his DID the overriding fact of your life."
Yes. Just because he's not purposefully jerking you around, Elizabeth, doesn't make the situation any healthier overall for you. I guess healthier is a bit of a sanctimonious word to use. I don't by any means want to imply that loving him and wishing to understand the underlying issues rather than just point fingers is somehow "unhealthy." Far from it. It's just that, regardless of his mental illness, you have the right to choose stability and consistency to whatever degree works best for you.
"I would also add that diagnosis itself generally throws a system into fairly complete upheaval — it’s scary, and people panic and every defense mechanism generally goes into overdrive."
Again, yes. Leigh is so on the money here, Elizabeth. It's totally unfair that you're experiencing some of the fallout here, but it makes perfect sense. I'd imagine he is, somewhere in there, freaking out. Or was, at any rate. And has created as much distance as possible between himself and this diagnosis, this reality.
Hoping to hear how you're doing with all of this, Elizabeth.
He just suddenly doesn't have any attachment to me at all and started something with this other woman, and I just can't separate whether this is an alter doing this, or whether this is "my" man and a symptom of the DID. He quit therapy right after he got officially diagnosed, and that's when he left me. So alter or not? Is there any way to really tell? I'm so devastated and confused.
I've been thinking about your situation. I understand your confusion. And my guess is there are a number of variables at play here, but I'd imagine Dissociative Identity Disorder at least has something to do with how he remembers your relationship, even if it doesn't have anything to do with the break-up. His inability to relate to his feelings for you, in particular, sound highly dissociative. I'm guessing he has compartmentalized those feelings (probably not intentionally) and is now, as you say, only aware of the facts. That's very, very common in Dissociative Identity Disorder.
" ... I just can’t separate whether this is an alter doing this, or whether this is “my” man and a symptom of the DID."
Either way, you're talking about symptoms of Dissociative Identity Disorder. Even so, and I know this is difficult to conceptualize, he is one person with highly compartmentalized aspects of self. In other words, even if he has experienced a changing of the guard, so to speak, and the parts of him that were once accessible are no longer ... it's still him, the same guy. I mention this because - and correct me if I'm wrong here - I sense that you may be hopeful that this situation has been caused by an alter, someone who isn't the man you were involved with. And that's understandable. But that leaves you with the sense that your partner is in there somewhere and if you could just get to him the nightmare would be over. As painful as it is, you must understand that even if that's true we're still talking about a man who is, as a whole, deeply ambivalent about your relationship.
I want to, on the heels of those painful sentences, offer a theory. You said he quit therapy and left you right after he was diagnosed. That is important. Really, really important. It is possible - and I'm speculating here about someone I've never even met, keep in mind - that his system is not prepared to for recognizing itself, let alone getting treatment. It is perfectly reasonable for his system to therefore flee ... from the diagnosis, the treatment, and anything that keeps the system in a state that's vulnerable to suggestion about the diagnosis and the treatment. Do you see what I'm getting at here?
Feel free to email me, Elizabeth, at dontcallmesybil [at] gmail.com
I can't make sense of what happened to me, and didn't know if there's anyway I can email you directly -- my SO of seven years, who has diagnosed DID, suddenly had a "hard switch" and remembers our relationship in FACT, but not in feeling, and abruptly left me and is now having a serious relationship and sleeping with someone else every night!
Its like I've been erased from existence...he doesn't remember all the years we spent together at all. They mean nothing, and I'm having a hard time processing all of this in light of his DID...because it looks like the same man.
I keep getting the DID confused with the thought, "maybe after seven years he just had enough, and decided to move on to someone else." Can you maybe email me some perspective? Your blog is so helpful.
Thanks for your site! I'd also love to find resources for me as a partner, also same-sex, and to hear more of your partner's experience. Reading about your relationship experiences I feel that I'm not alone. God bless, and thanks!
Thanks for commenting. There really are little to no resources specific to partners of those with Dissociative Identity Disorder. But I believe anyone living with DID (whether they have it or not) owes it to themselves to educate themselves about the disorder itself, and that that education is an enormous support in and of itself. When you have a solid grasp on what DID is and what it is not - something very few people do, but everyone can - life gets significantly less mystifying.
Perhaps I'll ask Tracy to contribute her thoughts in another post. I'm glad you two found it helpful. And I hope to hear from you again. :)
I need help!!! My boyfriend , I believe, no, I’m CERTAIN has DID. (Dissociative Identity Disorder)The more I research, the more I know without a doubt. He has not even fully come to grips with it. He is very good at hiding it. Most people just think he's a jerk, but I swear, he has like 17 alters. A good majority are childlike or adolescent. And for every thing that he absolutely hates and will not tolerate, there’s an alter that does that exact thing. It took me a while to put the pieces together. I’m no stranger to mental illness, but this is like nothing I’ve ever seen. The man i fell in love with is the sweetest, funniest, cuddliest and introspective guy. He is always working on himself, admitting his faults and trying to get better. And then, there’s that m@$&#%*%er that has not an ounce of soul behind his eyes. No feelings, no remorse ….. nothing. Just pure hatred.
I am not naive nor am I ignorant. And my intuition has always been notable, and everything in me is saying DONT GIVE UP! He has never been treated for or diagnosed properly so he has never even had a chance. He is one of 9 kids raised by a single mother in a Hispanic family where mental illness is not talked about or considered. I know that he for sure has attachment disorder and abandonment issues compiled in there.
He is a case study for sure. I have no doubt with the right psychiatrist/therapist who can tap into what caused the dissociation (I am certain it was severe abuse and his vehement denial of such makes me even more certain) he could be a highly functional flourishing individual. He is very smart, driven and kind. This is a person who would NEVER pass a person who needed help, ignore a homeless person, He even negotiates with bugs to get them out the door so he doesn't have to squish them. He is tortured inside. You can’t fake the fear, sadness and defeat you see in his eyes. He thinks he has a demon in him. He feels unworthy of love.
The reason I’m asking for help is he is currently in jail awaiting trial for torture and battery…….. I’m the victim. I can tell you , the person who did those things to me was not him. He doesn’t look the same, he doesn’t talk the same and he has NOTHING behind those eyes. This may sound nuts, but I swear , he’s even taller and more muscular. When he is present, I feel nothing. Well, I do, but it’s all bad. I could kill him with my bare hands and dance on top of his dead carcas . Part of me is nothing but relieved to be rid of him.
But when I see the light come back to his eyes and the shame and sadness in there, it breaks my heart. Its worse than anything he could do to me.
As you know, torture is a life sentence. I can’t let them throw away an entire life without at least trying to save it. I've attended NAMI support groups and they did say not to mention the DID part. As that diagnosis is still not accepted as valid by some.
Nobody will listen to me. They all label me as traumatized, making excuses, in denial, codependent.....etc. I have no doubt that I am a lot of those things, but I am also a very smart, educated and strong woman and I have the ability to sift through the BS, and differentiate FACTS from FEELINGS. I've got a long road ahead and i am well aware of the physical and severe emotional damage that i have endured. I know that i need help with that. There's no way I can deal with it alone. I also know that i have all the time in the world to utilize these resources. He, on the other hand, has none of that. So, for now, i am putting my issues aside and forging on! Every day that i wake up, i brush off all of the rejections and try something new. I tell myself "today is going to be the day". I am no quitter! I am a fighter! I know I'm going to do something important, and when I get to the other side of this, i know I'm going to be able to help somebody else who feels just as defeated as I do now.
I’m not even saying that I can stay with him because I can’t ever risk being in that place Again. I could've died. But I do know the wounded,tortured and loving soul in there. HE DESERVES A CHANCE!!!! I’m not going to just give up on him and throw him to the wolves. All he's got is me. My words mean nothing to anybody. I need someone to stop what's going on. Put on the brakes and have him evaluated. NOT BY ANOTHER BIASED PERSON ON THE STATES PAYROLL.They claimed that's what they were going to do, but they are liars. His PD won't even return my calls and I guess she doesn't even have any contact with him either. No evaluation has been done and his next court date is the 28th. HE HAS NO IDEA of the magnitude of his situation. Any help would be most appreciated. There is also a criminal protective order keeping him from contacting me. I want to file a motion to have hat removed. I'm the only one out there fighting for his rights. I have nothing left, but my will and determination but Trust, it is fierce! I will do anything to make sure he doesn't get tossed aside with yesterday's trash.
Thank you, Tracee Ekins
Well, that's my situation in a nutshell. I am struggling with how to deal with HIM because I cant look into his eyes and know how to deliver what I need to say. I struggle with how to deal with THEM because i can't show any emotion at all, otherwise I'm just a victim. This happened April 4th. I have not stopped fighting for a single day since. Court is on Thursday, and I have NOTHING solid. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what it is I am even looking for? Now, of course, he thinks God is going to take care of everything. Until I have a plan in action, I am just letting that one ride with him. Now that I know the various alters, it is anywhere BUT safe to be tapping into any of them where he is now.
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Would love to hear more from your partner. There is oodles of research, memoirs, etc for those challenged and rewarded by life w/DID but very little for their partners, and specifically partners in same-sex couples. Thanks!