Energy for everyone but you

What I’m struggling with is that my partner has very little energy and is anti-social with PTSD attached. Because of this, I am the primary caretaker of our daughter and I also tend my partners daily needs. I become insecure when my partner manages to muster the energy to drive and see her potential partner, but consistently doesn’t have the energy to drive to pick up or drop off our kid at school. Because of my doing for all of us, she has no responsibilities. I wake with our kid, get her ready and take her to school, pick her up, get groceries, cook, bathe child, read child to sleep, etc. These things I have no problem doing. I have a problem when my partner decides she wants to attempt being more generally able by chasing after romance elsewhere. I feel very insecure in my relationship and I want to. Please help.

This is such an incredibly difficult situation to be in and I want to first convey my sympathies. It can be so difficult to feel like your partner cares more about finding a new love than providing you the support that you need.

The most important aspect here isn’t necessarily your partner’s behaviour now because sometimes I do think, especially people who struggle with mental health problems, are always fully aware of how their actions impact others. I’m not sure what conversations you’ve had with her already and how fruitful they have been, but it’s possible she’s not fully aware of just how much you’re juggling. And sometimes, the amount of energy one has for tasks that have what seems like a reward that might solve a problem is more than the amount of energy one has for other things.

However, I find it very difficult personally to extend more leeway when there is a child involved especially because that child does not get to choose their parents. You can dump someone if they refuse to meet your needs but your daughter cannot just get a new mother. Consider what her actions would say about her if she weren’t living with you. She’d essentially be a deadbeat parent. It’s not acceptable for someone to shift all of the parental responsibility onto one parent and if they’re going to do that, they can at least give you the freedom of moving out, separating themselves from your and your child’s life and let you have the freedom of not taking care of them as well as your own child.

I’m not suggesting this is the option to go on because for perfectly understandable reasons, you’re only going to want separation to be a last resort, but it is something that you may need at least think about and mentally plan for if she’s unwilling to pick up slack. There are some people both in monogamy and polyamory who don’t like to do the dirty work of breaking up but will instead make a relationship so unbearable that they leave their partner no other choice so that they don’t have to take responsibility for their own decisions and… given her lack of ability to take responsibility, this may be what will happen.

But in the meantime, you can set some very clear boundaries about things. You need to sit down and explain that this situation is untenable for you and not fair to your daughter. If she has energy to go and see new loves, she has energy to be a parent. If she is going to be a parent, she needs to step up and take care of her daughter. You can be sympathetic to the fact that she may be struggling with mental health problems and start by giving her some small duties to start up (such as reading your child to sleep) and working up until the distribution of labour is more equal. And, if she wants to have a night off, then that can only be scheduled when *you* have a scheduled night off and she is able to take over while you go out and hang out with your friends as much as you’d like.

Regardless of her energies for being a parent, you need to take a good, hard look at how you tend to her daily needs and really consider if what you’re doing isn’t going to drive you to resentment. I struggle with this a lot. In relationships, it’s sort of my natural state to give and sometimes I give to people as a way of establishing interest and intimacy with them and they don’t see it as that so quite often I find myself having given a lot to a person and getting taken advantage of because either the person intended that or they didn’t have the boundaries in place to say ‘no’ to me being giving. My experience is that many people don’t know how to say ‘no’ to someone who is giving more than they are comfortable with so you will have to learn how to be aware when resentment is growing for you.

I don’t think everything in relationships always has to be 50/50, especially since life happens and sometimes we need more support at times than our partners do. And you may enjoy supporting your partner in some ways. But be aware when it starts to make things difficult as it can when someone seems to have more energy for romance than they do for giving you the support you need too. Be willing to withdraw that support and secure your own mask and your daughter’s mask so that you can make sure you’re taken care if she continues to refuse to have the energy to devote to your family.

In summation, I think you need to consider what will happen if she refuses to give you any additional support but for the time being, be explicitly clear about what the consequences of her continued neglect of the family will do and what you want her to pitch in. Start with a few tasks and ramp up until there is more of a distribution of duties. You will be anxious and scared because she has to build up the trust with you that she will step up and do the things you need her to do to raise your daughter, but give her the chance to show that to you. And lastly, really consider the role you play in supporting her and whether or not that is actually benefiting you as a whole or will inevitably lead to resentment.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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