Mental Illness

Caregiving: Do Your Duty

Learn something new every day, right? I was hoping for cake recipes, not sexual abuse.

The hunches have been there for years. I won’t say they’ve trembled with malignant fervour or emanated some ominous aura. It’s not as though they’re sitting in a dark room drinking whisky with Rebus and dreaming of Val McDermid as they slip into the ether.

Where the hunches began? Who knows. There have always been niggles. Little wonderings. Stories told and information gleaned that caused a pause. Pieces of knowledge that felt incomplete. There have been plenty of heartbreaking moments along the way.

One sunny morning, Mr. Juniper and I were in the kitchen talking whilst the boys wreaked havoc in the living room. Leaning against the countertop, I drank hot tea. Hot tea! It was marvelous. Mr. Juniper stood across the room, every so often lapsing into staring off into the distance.

He kept talking about categories. Where did he fit in the categories? You’re kind of in all of them, darling. We knew therapy would be difficult. I’m not sure Mr. Juniper realized in what way therapy would be difficult. He had, in the time before therapy, been coming to realize that childhood incidents he knew weren’t right, had been not right in a sphere that might gently be called sexual abuse.

Juniper, he said, was – was what happened, was that sexual abuse? I was watching a grown adult look like a hurt puppy. All I could really do was shrug my shoulders and say, I think so. What could I say? Darling, given what you’ve been saying for years, I’m pretty sure the answer is a glaring YES! This needed to be a slow process. Anything faster would have overwhelmed him. I’m not sure he could have coped with the force.

Sunshine flooded the kitchen, it was a beautiful summer morning. He talked and talked. I listened and listened. Every so often, he’d stop and ask a question or I would interrupt to help him articulate his way out of a corner. I answered the questions as best I could. Mostly it was a simple answer of whether or not something was appropriate. Mostly, I said no.

The hunches that had been there for so long were coming together. I thanked the universe that Mr. Juniper was working with a wonderful psychologist. There was the spoken history coming through. There were the physical signs, too. Tiny jarring moments that were gaining significance. Ways of being touched that elicited a “no” or a “stop.” Bigger moments where Mr. Juniper moved my hand. Always an edge of alarm.

These days, I’m familiar with most of his trigger points. The hard days are when his whole being is a trigger point. A difficult day and a hug was too much. But then there are the nights when things change. A night snuggled up together watching The Great British Bake Off is a joy all of its own.

Mr. Juniper is trying to process a lifetime in a different light. I’m trying to figure out how to be a good partner through all this. Wherever I look, I see much of the same: Do Your Duty. One site, under information for partners, said in bold, “It’s not about you.” No shit, Sherlock.

We’ve been living with the effects of abuse for years. I know the drill. Most of which boils down to respecting the other person emotionally and physically, and listening to them. Prior to the more recent discoveries about abuse, we would check in with emotional and physical boundaries. Feelings were validated. And listening. Always listening.

Wherever I looked, I kept hoping I would see something about relationships. My searching left me feeling entirely selfish. How awful to think of our relationship during this time. It’s not about you, after all. Many sites made it clear that a partner is there to do their duty and nothing more. Since then, I have come across different sites that acknowledge when a partner seeks support, they are perhaps seeking support for their partnership, too. A partnership being a safe space all of its own.

Pull up the blinds, draw the curtains, fling the windows open. The rain comes on and brings a cooler breeze. Little sunshine to brighten the day. Autumn’s colder days and longer nights are all but here. I wonder what the winter will bring. Time to light the lamps and pull the windows, too. This I can do. A warm home, a light home, a safe home. Tell him I love him. Tell him I’m here. It’s all I can do.

By Juniper

Rarely to be found without herbal tea nearby. Team Unicorn. Often in pyjamas. Also: TEAM KATNISS!

8 replies on “Caregiving: Do Your Duty”

I have nothing to add to what everbody else has said, other than surely every person needs and deserves love and support, and being told to shut up can never be the solution. I’m in awe of the love and support you give. Don’t let anyone tell you your needs don’t matter. x

I’m so sorry there’s so little support for you. Mr. Juniper is absoutely working through something big and difficult, and that absolutely deserves respect. But you’re watching your partner go through all that, and trying to be and do what’s best, and that also absolutely deserves respect. Partnerships are a sacred trust, and they should be protected and worked on and cherished, even while the rest of life is happening, to whatever degree is possible. Needing support for yourself or your relationship isn’t selfish–it’s giving yourself the same compassion and understanding you give to others.

I tried to say what you just said, but not nearly as well, so I ended up deleting. I do want to add that, if I were the person needing care, I would hope that my partner and I don’t come to view it as them doing their duty. I think there’s always an element of dutifulness in any relationship, but if that’s the only thing ever, than it’s a problem. And it’s just plain rude to assume that just because Person A loves Person B, who happens to need a higher than average amount of care, that Person A has stopped existing as anything other than the caregiver to Person B.

Thank you for talking about dutifulness in this way. From very early on, Mr. Juniper and I knew that the balance of partner and caregiver was very important. We are partners first and foremost but it can be hard work, especially when people on the outside don’t recognise that. Thank you, again. x

This is terrible beyond words. My heart goes out to you and Mr. I’m sorry you are getting so much feedback that involves shutting down your own concerns. It seems so wrong to think that way. Abusers steal childhood and destroy innocence. Protecting and nurturing your relationship during the healing process seems like a way to stop those monsters from stealing and destroying more precious things.

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