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I have been living with my boyfriend for 4 years now and we have an overall great relationship.

I work and he's currently unemployed. I used to ask him small services and be happy when he'd take charge for me. Due to being bipolar and taking medications, I'm sightly mentally impaired: I am forgetful, and I am easily tired. So, I also asked him to help me remember some stuff and would be happy when he'd do so at times.

In general he has a tendency to consider doing things for me as a mark of love and affection, which made my responsibilities shrink progressively. And for some reason I suddenly woke up very anxious and would like to turn 180 degrees on the topic of autonomy.

He makes our bed. Does the laundry. The dishes. He drives and I'm the passenger. When we go somewhere he automatically checklists whether I have my keys, a mask, and other things I shouldn't forget. He asks me if I want drinks I could get myself. He helps me find my shoes. Even when I cook if I appear lost in thoughts he'll ask me what I'm looking for.

He takes pride in all these things but I'm afraid the more he does these, the less I am autonomous.

So this morning, because I was upset, I went to say he needed to stop that and that I felt like being taken care of as if I was a kid; which unsurprisingly triggered a very negative reaction, where he started justifying his actions and being overall hostile.

I would like to calm things down and communicate what I need more clearly and without coming across as rejecting. I have no idea where to start and would prefer to avoid having to repeat myself over each and every small habit he has to care for me, if that is possible.

So in that setting how to ask for autonomy without coming across as rejecting?

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    Quick question: do you you two still have your own hobbies, friends, activities, or anything of the like? Or do you do most things together? Sometimes the feeling of autonomy can come back just by not being around each other a few times a week.
    – Erik
    Jun 1 at 10:04
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    @Erik Outside work no we haven't much separate activities I do have my own friends and he got his but it's mostly us two visiting them together. That could be contributing to the feeling indeed
    – Arthur Hv
    Jun 1 at 10:36
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The first thing that strikes me in your question, is that its a good question, and you're right, needs careful thought. As Kat says, there's a lot to unpack, but I want to start in a different place.

I have several bipolar friends, so I read things in your question, that make me think about it in the context of bipolar, which is after all why your bf is helping so much.

I don't know how it works for you, but bipolar is often characterised by big mood swings, and sudden impulse mood swings, and highs and lows. It used to be called manic-depressive, which explains itself fairly well.

When I read your question, the things that stand out to me, are how you got to this point. I want to be direct, because its easier,but only in order to help you see how I see it, and why I think about your question as I do - not to attack or blame, or anything. To show why I focus so much on bipolar in how to approach this.

  • "For some reason" you suddenly woke up, and found your head has turned 180 degrees on the issue of who does what, between you, in the caring and domestic area. That's classic bipolar type of stuff.

  • You then turned to him, when he's doing what he's done for ages, stuff that you've probably asked him to help with, and appreciated, for ages, and suddenly out of the blue told him he needs to just quit it because he's treating you like a kid. It wouldn't surprise me if it was said that directly. That's something my friends with bipolar might do, too.

Your boyfriend is now confused and has hurt feelings, and you've calmed a bit and want to say it in a better way.

My guess is,you don't want him to stop everything, literally. You want to develop your own autonomy, not be so dependent, and feel more balanced in your relationship.

I would express it to him in those terms. I would say sorry for snapping it earlier, but now you've thought about it, you do want to find ways to rebalance the relationship a bit. You may have needed help, but you've slipped into asking for or accepting, more help than is healthy and good for you, and it suddenly struck you that way. Hence your comment before.

You then can ask, if its okay to look at who does what, and what help you are accepting.

But first, you need to think by yourself. You need to consider,

  • what help do you really want or need.
  • What help you want extra on a bad day/week, and what you want to do for yourself on a good day/week.
  • how will you let him know when you need more.or less help, or want to try something with more autonomy
  • how can he let you know if you aren't doing okay and he thinks you need help, when you think you don't.
  • how to overcome that part of your brain which will want so badly to just think "I can do all of this, right here, right now", even if you can't, or if you can't in a low mood.

I'm a bit concerned that because of the way bipolar head stuff works, if you need more help you might not know it, and may not want to hear it. You need to plan with him, a strategy that makes it safe for him to say if he thinks you are doing okay or need input, and a way for him to say it that makes it safe for you to listen and hear him without reacting.

In other words, you need plans and strategies, to learn and figure out together,how to work around bipolar to get what you want, safely and lovingly.

This isn't one chat. This is with luck, an ongoing process between you, taken step at a time.

Go slow and careful, and communicate.

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  • There is a lot of truth to that although particularly for the subjects I get angry about it's often the ones I'm really autonomous about; like I feel more strongly about the fact he helps me find my shoes than he drives me somewhere. The problem is also I have to repeat myself and I lack the patience and consistence. For example I tried several times to tell him I can find stuff alone in the apartment, but I give up or accommodate even if many of the times I'm annoyed and tell him. It's hard to figure if I need or not the help and whether I'm in the truth getting angry or accepting.
    – Arthur Hv
    Jun 8 at 7:58
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    Setting boundaries and keeping them sounds like a difficulty. May I suggest - seriously - that's such a good area to learn to handle and get good at, especially with bipolar. Most people get that one wrong, so you're far from alone if so. May I suggest, its worth its own separate question, along the lines of "I am bipolar. How can I learn to set and enforce boundaries, when my needs and state can vary so much?"
    – Stilez
    Jun 8 at 8:19
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    The other thing I would suggest is, learn what triggers you. Like for me, being "jumped on" with demands to do stuff or listen to stuff as I walk in the door, or having things said in a way that feels like I failed, or needing time to figure out my real feelings but being put on the spot instead, or feeling pushed into stuff that makes you anxious... Notice what triggers you, and begin to tell people, "I need you to handle it this way not that, or bold off a bit when (whatever). because I get triggered when people (whatever)". That can help a lot too.
    – Stilez
    Jun 8 at 8:22
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There's a lot to unpack here.

First off, you've already figured out the hard way that you should have this conversation at a time when you're both calm and can dedicate some time and attention to it. Pick a time when neither of you are in a rush, stressed, upset, tired, etc. to bring this up. You'll both be better able to express yourselves and process what your partner is saying in a productive manner.

Next, you say you work and he doesn't. It's pretty typical for the non-working partner to take care of household chores as their contribution to the household. Telling him you don't appreciate his contribution and want him to stop is likely to hurt him. People like to feel helpful and like they're doing things that are valuable. Him making sure you have your keys is one thing, but doing dishes and laundry is another. You may want to think about which of these types of things you actually have an issue with him doing for you all the time. Probably you won't actually be happy if you take on all the cleaning.

Another thing I suggest you consider before you talk is whether there is something else going on in your life that's driving this sudden change of heart. Maybe something else is going on that you don't have any control over or you feel you can't handle? Maybe not and it really is all about this, but I wonder because it's a sudden change. Regardless, think a bit about why a lack of autonomy is suddenly an issue and what you're hoping to achieve by making a change. Having this clear in your mind will make it easier to communicate it. If you're not totally sure where the urge for more autonomy is coming from, then that's fine, but it's still good to realize and acknowledge that.

Once you have straight in your mind what you're hoping to change and have given some consideration to his perspective, have that conversation. I'd probably start with an apology for snapping at him and show sincere appreciation for doing so much to help you. You did ask him to start doing those things in the first place, after all. Make sure the apology is accepted before moving on, hear him out if he has something to say. If he feels like he needs to defend himself with something like, "I was just trying to help you like you asked," then acknowledge that's true and again express appreciation.

After you've smoothed any hurt feelings over, explain to him how you're feeling lately about being so dependent on him for everything. At this point, don't ask for a change or say he's done anything wrong. In fact, if you can do this part without using the word "you" at all, that'd be ideal. Something like the following would work, obviously change the wording to reflect how you actually feel:

The reason I snapped at you is because suddenly I started thinking about how I can't even get out of the house or make a meal without being kept on track by another person. Although it does make my life a lot easier, it also makes me wonder if I could even do those things at all without help. I worry what will happen if no one is around to help me with those basic tasks.

Okay, it does technically have a "you" in it, but hopefully you get what I mean. Note that someone will really have to try to feel attacked by that. You aren't saying he did anything wrong, you aren't blaming him for making you feel badly, you're just explaining how your feelings have changed. If you know this is partly driven by some other event, then say so. If you don't know why, simply say something like, "I can't explain why I suddenly feel this way, I just know that I do and that I need to do something about it." I say this not because you need to justify wanting autonomy, but he's going to wonder why you suddenly changed your mind. You don't need him worried you've decided to leave him or something like that when it isn't the case.

Once you've talked through that bit, ask for the change you want. Keep in mind that he's developed habits that are going to take some time and effort to break, so maybe start small. Perhaps you could ask him to let you be when you seem like you're not completely sure what of you're doing, unless you explicitly ask for help. Say you'd like to drive sometimes when the two of you go out, or help him with chores, or whatever you decide is most important to you.

Again, even if his intentions are the best and he's absolutely on board with all this, changing habits is still hard. If he asks what you're looking for in the kitchen, feel free to say, "I can't remember, but I'll figure it out on my own, thanks". If you're heading out and he automatically grabs the car keys, tell him you'd like to drive. If you see him folding laundry or making the bed, jump in to help. When you're getting ready to go, announce that you have your keys, mask, and wallet. This is as much on you to be proactive as it is on him to stop doing things for you.

It sounds like you two have a great relationship and that he really cares for you, so I'm sure you'll work this out just fine. You've got this.

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