It’s not meant to be this hard

When your wife has autism and Emotionally Unstable (Impulsive) Personality Disorder, life isn’t going to be easy. I’m pretty sure, however, it’s not meant to be this hard.

When Boris Johnson announced last night that we can only leave our house to go to essential work, buy essential food, look after a vulnerable person or exercise (once a day), and specifically that we should not see friends or family members who don’t live with us, it was a time for couples all over the county to turn to one another and say, ‘It’s okay, we’ll get through this. We’re in it together and we’ll emerge stronger on the other side. With love and mutual support, and a sense of humour, we’ll cherish this time as a family. Nothing can break us apart.’

That didn’t happen in my household. World War 3 broke out in my household.

‘They can’t stop me seeing my dad,’ was my wife’s response.

Initially, when my wife met each new restriction and condition with, ‘They can’t do that,’ I took it literally to mean they can’t do that, so reminded her that yes, they can: they’re the government, the ones with the tanks and the bombs and the soldiers. They can do whatever they want.

On reflection, I decided that when she said, ‘They can’t,’ what she really meant was, ‘I’m scared, I don’t want to do that, this is going to be hard, hold me.’ So I softened my approach to simply supporting her rants.

Last night has made me realise that I was right the first time – she does really think the government literally can’t stop her from doing what she wants to do.

Having Emotionally Unstable (Impulsive) Personality Disorder means you struggle to control your impulses. The desire to do something results in the thing being done, with no consideration for the consequences and probable negative outcomes. And if someone tries to interject between the desire and its gratification, oh boy are they going to get it! Tantrums and behavioural explosions are par for the course, as is the sudden swing from ‘I love you, I need you, I can’t do anything without you’ to ‘How dare you, I fucking hate you, I’m ringing my lawyers in the morning!’

So, as I listened to the Prime Minister asking us to be decent human beings and abide by a few rules so that – God forbid! – we save thousands of lives, while most people might have been thinking of themselves and what it meant for them, all I could think was, ‘Oh hell, get ready for the fireworks.’

And fireworks there were.

‘They can’t stop me seeing my dad.’

‘They can and they have.’

‘He didn’t mean I can’t see my dad.’

‘He literally just said you can’t visit family members who aren’t part of your household.’

‘He can’t stop me from seeing my family.’

Everybody is in someone’s family. This doesn’t work if we all make exceptions.’

She looked at me with pure hatred on her face.

‘You can’t stop me.’

And then the screaming and the shouting started, because by stopping her from doing what she wanted, I became the enemy. It’s no longer the fault of the virus or the government, it’s mine. I am truly the devil.

Midway through, she declared she was going to ring her mum and tell her what an evil prick I am. I begged, pleaded, demanded that we talk it out between ourselves, that we deal with it as husband and wife, like a family, like adults, like rational human beings. We’re meant to be a team, and inviting someone to interfere in our marriage for the umpteenth time is not very sporting.

It was all to no avail. She rang her mum, burst into tears, said I wanted to have her arrested and I wouldn’t let her see her dad.

‘That’s not entirely true,’ I said, and she screamed at me and called me a liar, and her mum said she doesn’t see any reason why my wife can’t visit her dad (because clearly the rules don’t apply to my wife’s family), and I’m being unreasonable, and I should think about the effects of my behaviour on my children, I’m needlessly scaring them and being a bad dad.

I feel so betrayed. We’re married. We’re supposed to support one another. We’re supposed to deal with issues between ourselves. We’re not meant to run to our mummies and tell them the mean man we married isn’t letting us get our own way.

After the phone call, my wife told me she’s going to take the kids and move in with her dad for the duration of the coronavirus, and I’m not invited. In no uncertain terms, I told her that would be the end of our marriage.

She insisted she’d keep visiting him, and I said that she’s quite welcome to move in with him by herself if it means that much to her.

We’ve been given rules to follow, and as responsible, socially-conscious, moral, upstanding and good people, the onus is on us to do everything we can to stop the transmission of the virus and thus save lives. I don’t understand what is so difficult to grasp about this. Her dad has multiple underlying health conditions anyway.

So, today she’s done everything she can to punish me for stopping her from seeing her dad.

‘Come on,’ I said, ‘we’re in this together.’

‘No we’re not, you’re on your own.’

‘We need to support one another.’

‘You can take a run and jump if you think I’m going to support you.’

‘Please, we need to be civil, if not for our sake then at least for the kids.’

‘No. You don’t let me see my dad, I won’t be civil. I’m divorcing you after this anyway.’

‘So you don’t love me anymore?’

‘No, no I don’t. I hate you. I hate everything about you.’

You know, really mature behaviour from your wife and the mother of your children.

I’m doing my best here. I’ve been trying to keep her calm this entire time; I’ve been trying to look after my family as best I can; but I can’t do it all alone, and I really shouldn’t have to. Not once has she asked me how I’m doing, how feel.

Every time I glance in her direction, she snaps, ‘Don’t look at me!’ So I kept the kids entertained today. We did more yoga, some writing, imaginative play. I took them for a short bike ride. I planned our meals for the next ten days so we don’t need to go out. I played with them in the garden. I cooked lunch. I cooked dinner when she refused to do it.

World War 4 happened this afternoon when she said, ‘I’m just popping out to the shop to get some eggs.’

‘You can’t just “pop out to the shop” anymore. We can’t leave the house except for essentials.’

‘Eggs are essential.’

‘We have enough food for the next ten days, and much longer than that if needs be.’

‘Are you telling me I’m not allowed to go to the shops now?’

‘We’ve been told to avoid shopping except for essentials. Going out to get one item when we don’t need it is hardly essential, is it?’

‘So you won’t let me go and get some eggs?’

‘No, we need to do as we’re told.’

‘For fuck’s sake, for fuck’s sake, you can’t stop me going to the shop! I want eggs! I want to bake!’

‘It’s day one of this – we’re going on be shut in together for at least three weeks, probably more. Please, let’s make it bearable.’

‘No, I’ll do what I want.’

In all honesty, if the coronavirus wasn’t going on right now, I would walk away from this toxic situation. Of course, without coronavirus, perhaps my wife wouldn’t be acting like such a crazy person.

The trouble is, some words once spoken can’t be taken back; some things once broken can’t be repaired; and when someone acts selfishly, unsupportingly, and irresponsibly during a national crisis, and makes it far harder on the people around her than it needs to be, sometimes that changes how you see that person.

We’ll revisit this conversation after the crisis is over. In the meantime, we just have to get through it.

6 thoughts on “It’s not meant to be this hard

  1. She’s feeling trapped and you’re focusing on the rule rather than the reasoning behind it so maybe a compromise?

    Okay, go get eggs, get more than usual, and please pick up this list as well while you’re there. Just be sure to stay about 6 feet away from people while you’re out and take the hand sanitizer with you, I want you to be as safe as possible.

    I don’t mind you seeing your Dad and I know how much you want to, the problem is that he has these issues that put him at a much higher risk. Just being old makes him far more likely to die from the virus if he is exposed to it, underlying conditions make it even more likely. There’s a reason most of the people who have died have been old and had other health problems. You’re young and healthier and a lot of people are carrying the virus but don’t have symptoms so any of us could have it and not even know it. Or maybe it’s in the car or on a door knob or anything else you might touch without even thinking about it. If you go to visit him you could unknowingly transfer the virus to him either directly or by bringing it into his environment, that’s what makes this so dangerous, we can’t detect it well enough yet or know for sure all the ways it can spread. Think about how you would feel if he got sick and had to be hospitalized and put on a ventilator so he could breathe and it was all because you wanted to go visit him. No, no one can force you to not visit him, you have a choice. But the choice is not just see him or don’t see him. The choice is: A) do you want to wait until this is on the decline and you can visit knowing he will be okay and you will be able to spend years to come with him, or B) do you want to visit him right now during this and potentially put him in the hospital or even cause his death by infecting him? It IS a choice, but be clear on what the choices are and why you’re being encouraged to wait.

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    • That might work when dealing with a rational person, but I think my wife gave up on reality a while ago.

      I’ve tried explaining it in various ways. They said on the BBC that if an infected person infects 2.5 people every five days, at the end of 30 days there are 406 people infected, whereas if we follow the rules and halve the infection rate to 1.25, only 15 people will get infected, a reduction of 95%.

      I’ve drawn diagrams to show how just one household in three self-isolating dramatically slows the infection.

      I’ve shown her the statistics on survival rates for people with different underlying health conditions and different ages.

      I’ve explained we don’t need to protect ourselves from getting infected, we need to act as though we’re already infected and do our best not to pass it on.

      I’ve explained that we’re in a great place – on benefits, in a house with a garden – and it would be so much worse if we lived in a flat, paid rent and were on a zero-hours contract.

      I’ve explained that even if her parents don’t get sick, they might pass it on to someone who does further down the line.

      I’ve explained that none of us are immune and if we have underlying health issues without knowing it, we could die too.

      None of it seems to be getting through.

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      • I’m so sorry, it hurts everyone when there’s so much added stress in the home! I hope you and your wife can find some peace.

        I was just thinking of the situation in terms of my son who has autism but his initial diagnosis was Oppositional Defiant Disorder and that diagnosis fit the person I had to live with for several years, much more so than the much broader autism term. I couldn’t approach anything as ‘this is what you have to do and here’s why’. I would lose him instant it had any hint of an order or command or sometimes even just a plea. If it was something that I wanted then his natural instinct was to oppose it. So everything had to be presented as his choice along with the natural consequences of each choice. I had to remove the premise of ‘i want you to do this’, even though it would be obvious to anyone else. It was frustrating as hell as a parent, and God knows I did not always manage it!

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  2. The other corona posts have been encouraging. This post made me especially sad for your situation.
    It is really hard being the only responsible adult in the household. Especially when the outside world insists on seeing the mirage of a two parent household. I hope you have someone to talk to and to support you that sees your situation for what it is.
    If it’s any consolation we’re not really hugging through this either. We’ve previously been holding our family together by avoiding seeing each other. We’ll see how things evolve now that we have to tolerate each other in close quarters.

    As an attempt to lighten up the mood: Have you heard of Finnish Nightmares (a comic)?
    Maybe you should take the kids and move to Finland. Obviously an autistic/introvert/engineer society!

    Does the logical reasoning the above commenter suggests have any effect on your wife?
    Can she see the fault in her actions afterwards and apologize? It would be really beneficial to the kids, to see parents settle their arguments.

    Next spring all things will look different, we just have to get there.

    All the saintly patience to you.

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    • Oh my gosh, Finnish Nightmares is soooo accurate! Thank you for introducing me to it!

      No, logic isn’t working on my wife (see my latest post) and nor does she think she’s done anything wrong or have anything to apologise for. I’m the one with the problem because I won’t let her see her dad, wouldn’t let her mum in this morning when she turned up unexpectedly (for me, that is, my wife had conspired), and wouldn’t let her go shopping for eggs (which she did anyway).

      I went out into the garden after this morning’s debacle, rang my autism support service and vented at them for an hour, because otherwise I thought I might explode. It helped. It’s the main help right now, other than being able to write this blog.

      Thanks for the positive thoughts.

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