Our new weekly advice column, in which practising psychotherapist Ms. X answers readers’ questions on manners, morals and mental health.
Dear Ms. X
I have a tricky issue. My partner likes a drink which is fine because y’know, she doesn’t drive drunk or drink all the rent money but she does end up using social media drunk and it’s getting a bit worrisome.
Fridays and Saturdays are the high risk days and she works in an industry where there are lots of eyes on her various accounts. Last month she nearly started a really pointless fight with ex colleagues on Instagram for chrissakes! They all chose to ignore the giant flaming shit of a comment she left on someone’s post but this is a small place and I know people are talking.
How the hell do I take a grown woman’s phone off her?
About five years ago I was trying to explain social media to an ancient relative with not much English. I ended up saying “It’s just like the village, if you are an arsehole in the village then people will find out, sooner or later.”
Now sooner has rolled around for your partner.
So let’s review your options here:
1. Old school confrontation/intervention type thing.
2. Hide the phone/laptop every Friday and Saturday night (slightly unrealistic but an amusing jape for 5 seconds).
3. Design a breath-testing app for phones and make a mint while saving your partner’s career. It’s a long game, my friend, but I like it.
So it looks like we’re stuck with option 1. You seem to suggest that your partner is only an arsehole when she has liquor inside her. That could be the opening to a straightforward conversation about how you’ve noticed this and as she is leaving a great swathe of evidence behind her every weekend, other people will have noticed as well.
If she is going to get all antsy and litigious at this point then you may need to produce a small folder of evidence such as those Instagram burns. There’s nothing wrong with being prepared but be calm and humane as this will be confronting as hell for her.
Summarise your concerns in bullet points and then leave her to think it over. She will absolutely need some time to process this. And she might have to do the wallowing in shame thing for a while too. But if she seems able to recognise that this is an issue then it may be as simple as agreeing on a workable equation for her:
1 drink = phone rights, 2-10 drinks = no phone till the morrow pussy cat.
But if her problem is the alcohol itself then she may direct a scrap at you to deflect from the real issue. Be aware and figuratively sit with your back to the wall if that is how it shakes down because you shouldn’t have to be the target here
And if the social media scrapping is replaced by real life scrapping then she needs to get her ass along to some talk therapy.
But if you seriously consider hiding her phone then we all need you to secretly film that for YouTube. Because LOLS.
And if you make the Prevent Posting Pissed app, I want 12% in perpetuity across all territories.
Dear Ms. X,
I’m a 27-year-old man. I don’t go out often, maybe once a month, if that. When I do my partner has panic attacks and can’t stop crying. She will keep texting and calling me throughout the night and can’t go to sleep until I come home.
We’ve been dating for almost one and a half years and a few months ago we moved into our own flat together.
When I bring her out with me she clams up, has social anxiety and wants to leave early on. I know I can’t expect her to become a social butterfly (I have anxiety too but I take medication for it), but it would help both of us if she could somehow open up and have fun. It doesn’t help when one of us has to be sober driver and can’t unwind.
She says she feels jealous because I have friends and she doesn’t. Which isn’t true. She’s got a few close friends, like me. But then she says she’s not friends with her workmates like I am. She’s also afraid of getting too close to my friends, in case we break up, she will lose them as they will side with me.
She’s also afraid I might sleep with someone else, that she can’t trust my work friends (and in effect me). I don’t blame her, her ex-husband cheated on her with one of her friends, but it sucks not to have her trust.
I suggested she invite a friend over when I go out, but she says they’re all busy.
She said she wants to go back to therapy (she had extensive therapy after her divorce) but she puts it off.
I love her and I don’t want her to worry. But I can’t stay home all my life. I want to her to come along with me and enjoy herself, or at the very least feel comfortable at home.
What can we do?
As the kids would say, this has given me all of the feels.
I feel for both of you because this is a tough situation. Your partner is being held hostage by her own condition and you are trying to combine being a good boyfriend and a hostage negotiator and I’m exhausted just thinking about it.
I won’t attempt any kind of clinical diagnosis of your partner here because that would be some dangerous rookie bullshit BUT her anxiety is at a level that it is making both of your lives very uncomfortable. Even you reaching out to me to try and solve her condition tells me she is in a very locked in place.
She already deploys arguments to counter what you proffer (have a friend over, you suggest; they’re all busy, she says) so I have worries about how much YOU can do to change this situation with her defences so high. And you might need to consider that she may never, even in a perfect world, be a relaxed and chatty person.
That said, I feel that for your own welfare you need to seek out a circuit breaker. Literally and emotionally something has to give here.
Optimally it would be your partner wanting to get better and to stop living with all this fear. But it may need to be you saying that if you are going to continue to live together then she has to get help. Serious help too. I believe that she must return to therapy and perhaps investigate medication, or have a review of her meds if she is already on some. And caller – file this question away for later for yourself – but do you think her initial therapy worked as such? I’m struck that she held off returning to it despite her obvious level of distress.
That said, she may balk at anything so blunt and non-negotiable. So you should only say “enough now – get help” if YOU mean it – not just because it is what I think you should do.
And her balking may take any number of forms. She might answer your ultimatum with one of her own, threatening to leave if you don’t “love her as she is”. I don’t know what she will do exactly, but that is the kind of pattern I’ve seen play out when people are confronted with their own conditions. I don’t want you going in without the emotional Kevlar on.
Bottom line is that the level of anxiety she is experiencing is intolerable in the long term and makes for no quality of life for either of you. You are being a stellar partner right now but being a good man also means knowing that it is time to acknowledge your own needs and tell her you will not stand by and watch her fall further down the hole. Enough is enough.
Please don’t hesitate to get in contact again caller.
Need help now?
Lifeline 0800 543 354
Youthline 0800 376 633
OUTline (LGBT helpline) 0800 688 5463
Got a question for Ms. X? Send an email to email@example.com, ideally including key information such as your age and gender.
All messages will be kept in the strictest confidence and your name will not be published. If you wish to remain completely anonymous, consider using a free remailer service like Send Email.