Tips For Partners Living with Dissociative Identity Disorder
Living with dissociative identity disorder (DID) presents unique difficulties, whether you're the one that has it or the person who loves the one living with it. I can only imagine how frustrating, confusing, even painful it must sometimes be to have a partner with DID.
I've witnessed how challenging it often is for my own partner and, if some of the comments I've received here at Dissociative Living are in any way representative, her experience is typical. But it's also largely ignored. Partners of people with DID don't get that much support or encouragement, primarily because only those who've been there can truly understand (Caregiver Stress and Compassion Fatigue).
3 Tips for Partners Who Love Someone Living With DID
As someone with dissociative identity disorder, my perspective is different than my partner's. I think that's what makes hers so important. Significant others are in a unique position to offer viewpoints and ideas that might otherwise be overlooked. When I asked my partner what she'd say to someone in a relationship with a person with DID, this is what she said:
- Know and maintain your own boundaries. You can't support others if you aren't supporting yourself. You're going to let your partner down sometimes. That's true in any relationship. When you let someone with DID down, the ramifications can be far-reaching and surprisingly painful. It may be tempting to make your own needs negotiable in order to ensure peace and stability. But that will backfire eventually by sowing the seeds of resentment and creating an unhealthy imbalance. Knowing your limits, and making the hard decisions required to honor them is vital. Believe me, sacrificing yourself won't heal your partner's wounds anyway.
- Nearly impossible, but try to learn how to not take it personally. You're going to be the villain to some no matter what. People with DID generally have trust issues that nearly incapacitate them in relationships. It's not unusual for protective alters to attempt to sabotage intimate relationships. That's not about you.
- Learn as much as you can, but remember all systems are different. There is no way to be in a relationship with someone with DID and not be profoundly affected. Living with dissociative identity disorder is just plain hard. It only makes sense to educate yourself. Not for your partner's benefit, but for yours. It's awfully hard to cope with something you don't understand (3 Ugly Truths about Dissociative Identity Disorder).
Living with Dissociative Identity Disorder Is A Choice for You
Those of us with DID don't have the option of walking away from the illness. You do. For my part, I'd like to remind you that no matter how it feels, DID isn't forced on you. You can leave, or choose not to get involved at all. Those of us with this disorder would spare you if we could. So when it gets rough - and it will get rough - please remember this: living with dissociative identity disorder is a decision you're making, not something we're doing to you. Blame us for our choices and behaviors ... not for having DID.
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Photo by Randy Pagatpatan
Gray, H. (2011, January 17). Tips For Partners Living with Dissociative Identity Disorder, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, October 1 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/dissociativeliving/2011/01/for-partners-living-with-dissociative-identity-disorder
Author: Holly Gray
I'm really glad Leigh asked the questions she did, and I'm glad you answered them. You've given us a much clearer picture of your situation. I want to gently offer a few thoughts ...
"I interacted regularly with other alters, and knew that some parts knew about each other and accepted that they were many, and some parts firmly thought they were the only one and would get very aggressive when I tried to show them otherwise. I had finally convinced one of his main parts, the one I was mostly in the relationship with, to get help."
You knew he was multiple, you (understandably) encouraged him to get help. But your wording tells me that you pushed it. Some parts would get aggressive when you brought up DID, and the words "finally convinced" suggest that you made a real effort to get him to believe he has DID and seek help. I understand why. You were trying to help. But DID systems are designed to go undetected, most particularly (usually, not always) to the person with DID. The aggressive response you received is a clear message: My psyche is not prepared to deal with this right now. Back off.
I see partners make this mistake a lot - and to be clear, I do believe it's a mistake - they see a problem they know can and ought to be solved and they point it out; then when they're told, in essence, to leave well enough alone, they don't. They push. And push. And then when some other part of the system is more receptive to their information, their dedication is renewed, and they push some more.
I'm going to say this bluntly and it's for every partner of someone with Dissociative Identity Disorder: if any part of your partner's system tells you, aggressively, to back off - and I don't care if what comes out is denial or skewed thinking, it's still a message to back off - then you would do well to leave it alone. If that isn't possible, it's a good time to think about whether or not you can stay in the relationship with your partner *exactly* as they are. If not, the solution isn't to convince them to do anything different - even if you're utterly convinced doing something different is what's best for them (would you like it if someone presumed to know what's best for you?) - the solution is to move on.
You also said:
"I loved him with my entire soul - all of him, knowing he’s more than one.This current dominant alter is the only one I’ve ever had a problem with…and he’s never been so out and dominant than like this."
I think that perhaps some of the struggle is coming from your view of this particular alter as someone other than the man you love. You are separating them, saying I love my partner, but this alter is getting in the way. That alter *is* your partner, even if he says he's not. And I wouldn't be surprised if he feels incredibly disrespected and like his boundaries have been violated ... you said he had DID, he said No, don't talk about it, you didn't listen. Do you see? You love all of him - so treat this aspect of him with dignity and respect. If you cannot be with him without him acknowledging he has DID and going into treatment, that's 100% understandable. But it's just as understandable that he can't be with you if you won't allow him to decide what's best for himself, even if that's denying what is to you an obvious mental illness.
This aspect of his identity became so dominant because it's main focus is protecting the psyche, not your feelings. And unfortunately, you became the threat to his psyche he had to protect against.
Does that make sense? I understand it may be both confusing and painful to hear.
Thanks Tracy for adding your comments. I'm really just trying to understand versus "deciding" what to do about the relationship. I will probably stick around long enough to see if he switches, and to see if during that switch, he will go back into therapy.
If he does, that's one choice, if he doesn't that's another. I do think that this is an alter who is doing "the cheating" and that this switching of hosts came about because of the trauma of the diagnosis which sent the system into chaos. Before that, he had been stable (in terms of who was the dominant host) for years.
So, for now I'm just watching from the background, and praying that he switches back sooner rather than later, and that that part (who's the most co-conscious) will want to get help, AND...that the other parts will let him.
I loved him with my entire soul - all of him, knowing he's more than one.This current dominant alter is the only one I've ever had a problem with...and he's never been so out and dominant than like this.
From the moment I read your first post I wanted to have something valuable to contribute in this discussion, but I was remiss. I can imagine your pain and wondering, as I experience these things often myself, but only in much smaller doses. I'm very fortunate to have a DID partner that has never strayed very far from her/our "normal" day to day life.
I think Holly has summed it up best in the above comment, "It’s just that, regardless of his mental illness, you have the right to choose stability and consistency to whatever degree works best for you."
As i've often done in my own relationship, I would encourage to you to ask yourself if what is happening right now can happen again and again and make the relationship still worth it. With or without DID, we all have our limits and should be realistic about them. It's hard to do that when you're hurting (and desperately missing your man), I certainly understand that. But I have to agree with Leigh. If he's in a completely different relationship, your mental/physical/emotional health will NOT be sustained by waiting for it to change.. and then change again.. ad nauseum...
It's important to pay attention to what the therapists are telling you. It's important to look at the situation you're in right now and ask yourself if it's something you could sustain long term.
I hope you find the resolution that serves you best, and soon.
Oh, and he got diagnosed when we were sitting in the therapist's office and he was telling the therapist how much he really loved me.
Then he suddenly SWITCHED, stood up, and started calling me all these horrible horrible names in a very aggressive stance and the therapist had to intervene. Then he SWITCHED again and looked extremely confused, and wouldn't answer to his name, then the therapist asked him to go sit in the waiting room and take a "time-out"....when he came back, the therapist asked him what of the last 15 minutes did he remember, and he said he was "unclear" why he was in the waiting room. That the last thing we were talking about was how much he deeply loved me.
And, with a ton of other stuff and examples, that's how he got officially diagnosed. I never saw my guy as a dominant host again...only the small pop outs mentioned above. Since that time, The Protector became very aggressive towards me verbally, and since then has found someone else (which, at this writing has been going on for two months).
I'm just watching from the background, trying to comprehend.
Thanks for emailing me. I hadn't checked this post. I am just still trying to comprehend what has happened, and how I lost my man. My own therapist, as well as the therapist we were seeing together, have both said that he is in a "switched state," that this is an alter, or a different "blend" of him who is now having a relationship with this other woman (So Leigh, he is having a serious relationship now - just not with me!), and that the parts that I know and love, and who love me are still in there, intact, underneath.
They believe he will just spontaneously switch back, and be very confused about who this new person is, where I am, and how everything in his life got rearranged.
They're not telling me to wait for him, or not wait for him...just trying to help me understand that this isn't "just a man who cheated on me" or decided to move on in the traditional understanding of what those phrases mean. Basically, like you said Holly, that EVERYTHING in him is colored by the DID.
To answer the other questions posed, I did know he was a multiple, and have known for years. I interacted regularly with other alters, and knew that some parts knew about each other and accepted that they were many, and some parts firmly thought they were the only one and would get very aggressive when I tried to show them otherwise. I had finally convinced one of his main parts, the one I was mostly in the relationship with, to get help.
And, that's when the other part came out, quit therapy, "quit" me after seven years, and for the last two months has put up a barrier by having a relationship with someone else. This is the part, by the way, who's a Protector, and thinks he's the only one.
The therapists tell me that he very well might switch back and seek me out, but of course he will always be switching, and switching, and switching. We had been pretty stable for years...there was just this one part who hated me, and would tell me so, but the other parts (the warm, nice parts who loved me) seemed dominant.
But now, there seems to have been a changing of the guard, as you say Holly. He seems to have switched not just alters, but dominant hosts. Worth saying, I still see "my " parts pop out -- I saw a little just the other day, looking longingly at me from afar like he was going to cry.
I'm really sorry to say that I don't keep up in this site the way I think I should, but ... how to say. DID is so small a part of our lives now, mine and my partner's, that it just doesn't seem pertinent most of the time. That having been said, I do have a lot of experience in this arena and, as a partner, probably offer a different perspective than most of the people found in DID support areas. So,
You don't say, Elizabeth, what led to his diagnosis. I mean, was he switching a lot? Losing time? Was he presenting as a cohesive personality before this? Did you know he was multiple? All those things, I think, are perhaps pertinent to whatever's now going on.
In any event, and reiterating some of what Holly said, including the fact that I don't know him and this is all speculation - however experienced and education that speculation might be - it sounds to me as if there has indeed been some kind of switch, whether to an entirely different personality/alter or to some sort of modified version of "himself," probably because (again, as Holly said) he doesn't want to admit to/deal with the DID and that's hard to avoid if he's involved with someone who knows. It could also be that a serious relationship is just too much to deal with on top of the diagnosis. Serious relationships take a lot of emotional energy and require a strong amount of system cooperation.
I would also add that diagnosis itself generally throws a system into fairly complete upheaval -- it's scary, and people panic and every defense mechanism generally goes into overdrive.
Personally, I would suggest that you get on with your life. I don't mean that in a callous way, I mean it the way Holly's partner meant it in the original post when she said set your boundaries, take care of yourself ... do not get into the habit/pattern of letting yourself be a puppet on the strings of his DID. Theoretically, he could switch back and forth every month, break up with you and walk away, call you desperate to get back together, break up with you again ... set your boundaries now, it's much harder to do later. Don't make his DID the overriding fact of your life. Go out with friends, keep up with your hobbies ... I myself would be really leery of trying to be in a serious, monogamous relationship with someone who's still so fragmented and has (apparently) such mixed feelings about the relationship, though I'm not saying it's necessarily impossible.
What do you think, Holly?
I think your comment is so well said and you made really important points, Leigh.
"Theoretically, he could switch back and forth every month, break up with you and walk away, call you desperate to get back together, break up with you again … set your boundaries now, it’s much harder to do later. Don’t make his DID the overriding fact of your life."
Yes. Just because he's not purposefully jerking you around, Elizabeth, doesn't make the situation any healthier overall for you. I guess healthier is a bit of a sanctimonious word to use. I don't by any means want to imply that loving him and wishing to understand the underlying issues rather than just point fingers is somehow "unhealthy." Far from it. It's just that, regardless of his mental illness, you have the right to choose stability and consistency to whatever degree works best for you.
"I would also add that diagnosis itself generally throws a system into fairly complete upheaval — it’s scary, and people panic and every defense mechanism generally goes into overdrive."
Again, yes. Leigh is so on the money here, Elizabeth. It's totally unfair that you're experiencing some of the fallout here, but it makes perfect sense. I'd imagine he is, somewhere in there, freaking out. Or was, at any rate. And has created as much distance as possible between himself and this diagnosis, this reality.
Hoping to hear how you're doing with all of this, Elizabeth.
To clarify the above, I should say that my SO is very conscious of the fact that we were together for years, but "doesn't care" - it "doesn't mean anything to him" at all...he is completely disconnected from any FEELING or emotion about it, or me, in general.
He just suddenly doesn't have any attachment to me at all and started something with this other woman, and I just can't separate whether this is an alter doing this, or whether this is "my" man and a symptom of the DID. He quit therapy right after he got officially diagnosed, and that's when he left me. So alter or not? Is there any way to really tell? I'm so devastated and confused.
I've been thinking about your situation. I understand your confusion. And my guess is there are a number of variables at play here, but I'd imagine Dissociative Identity Disorder at least has something to do with how he remembers your relationship, even if it doesn't have anything to do with the break-up. His inability to relate to his feelings for you, in particular, sound highly dissociative. I'm guessing he has compartmentalized those feelings (probably not intentionally) and is now, as you say, only aware of the facts. That's very, very common in Dissociative Identity Disorder.
" ... I just can’t separate whether this is an alter doing this, or whether this is “my” man and a symptom of the DID."
Either way, you're talking about symptoms of Dissociative Identity Disorder. Even so, and I know this is difficult to conceptualize, he is one person with highly compartmentalized aspects of self. In other words, even if he has experienced a changing of the guard, so to speak, and the parts of him that were once accessible are no longer ... it's still him, the same guy. I mention this because - and correct me if I'm wrong here - I sense that you may be hopeful that this situation has been caused by an alter, someone who isn't the man you were involved with. And that's understandable. But that leaves you with the sense that your partner is in there somewhere and if you could just get to him the nightmare would be over. As painful as it is, you must understand that even if that's true we're still talking about a man who is, as a whole, deeply ambivalent about your relationship.
I want to, on the heels of those painful sentences, offer a theory. You said he quit therapy and left you right after he was diagnosed. That is important. Really, really important. It is possible - and I'm speculating here about someone I've never even met, keep in mind - that his system is not prepared to for recognizing itself, let alone getting treatment. It is perfectly reasonable for his system to therefore flee ... from the diagnosis, the treatment, and anything that keeps the system in a state that's vulnerable to suggestion about the diagnosis and the treatment. Do you see what I'm getting at here?
Feel free to email me, Elizabeth, at dontcallmesybil [at] gmail.com
I can't make sense of what happened to me, and didn't know if there's anyway I can email you directly -- my SO of seven years, who has diagnosed DID, suddenly had a "hard switch" and remembers our relationship in FACT, but not in feeling, and abruptly left me and is now having a serious relationship and sleeping with someone else every night!
Its like I've been erased from existence...he doesn't remember all the years we spent together at all. They mean nothing, and I'm having a hard time processing all of this in light of his DID...because it looks like the same man.
I keep getting the DID confused with the thought, "maybe after seven years he just had enough, and decided to move on to someone else." Can you maybe email me some perspective? Your blog is so helpful.
Thanks for your site! I'd also love to find resources for me as a partner, also same-sex, and to hear more of your partner's experience. Reading about your relationship experiences I feel that I'm not alone. God bless, and thanks!
Hi Karen and Katherine,
Thanks for commenting. There really are little to no resources specific to partners of those with Dissociative Identity Disorder. But I believe anyone living with DID (whether they have it or not) owes it to themselves to educate themselves about the disorder itself, and that that education is an enormous support in and of itself. When you have a solid grasp on what DID is and what it is not - something very few people do, but everyone can - life gets significantly less mystifying.
Perhaps I'll ask Tracy to contribute her thoughts in another post. I'm glad you two found it helpful. And I hope to hear from you again. :)
I've been trolling the internet relentlessly for the last couple of months, reaching out to any and everybody, both legally and mental health related. I just happened upon this page and the tears are literally streaming down my face. Just to hear there are people out there like me, it was like exhaling for the first time. I'm not same sex, but I live in Palm Springs :) LOL. (I always fall back on humor when i really just want to collapse.) I've been so immersed and alone in this bubble of mine. i feel like I'm screaming at the top of my lungs and nobody hears me. There are so many questions I have, so many stories i could tell, most of which, at the time i didn't realize what was happening. It is now, now that its too late that I'm putting all the pieces together. Here is basically what I've been putting out there....
I need help!!! My boyfriend , I believe, no, I’m CERTAIN has DID. (Dissociative Identity Disorder)The more I research, the more I know without a doubt. He has not even fully come to grips with it. He is very good at hiding it. Most people just think he's a jerk, but I swear, he has like 17 alters. A good majority are childlike or adolescent. And for every thing that he absolutely hates and will not tolerate, there’s an alter that does that exact thing. It took me a while to put the pieces together. I’m no stranger to mental illness, but this is like nothing I’ve ever seen. The man i fell in love with is the sweetest, funniest, cuddliest and introspective guy. He is always working on himself, admitting his faults and trying to get better. And then, there’s that m@$&#%*%er that has not an ounce of soul behind his eyes. No feelings, no remorse ….. nothing. Just pure hatred.
I am not naive nor am I ignorant. And my intuition has always been notable, and everything in me is saying DONT GIVE UP! He has never been treated for or diagnosed properly so he has never even had a chance. He is one of 9 kids raised by a single mother in a Hispanic family where mental illness is not talked about or considered. I know that he for sure has attachment disorder and abandonment issues compiled in there.
He is a case study for sure. I have no doubt with the right psychiatrist/therapist who can tap into what caused the dissociation (I am certain it was severe abuse and his vehement denial of such makes me even more certain) he could be a highly functional flourishing individual. He is very smart, driven and kind. This is a person who would NEVER pass a person who needed help, ignore a homeless person, He even negotiates with bugs to get them out the door so he doesn't have to squish them. He is tortured inside. You can’t fake the fear, sadness and defeat you see in his eyes. He thinks he has a demon in him. He feels unworthy of love.
The reason I’m asking for help is he is currently in jail awaiting trial for torture and battery…….. I’m the victim. I can tell you , the person who did those things to me was not him. He doesn’t look the same, he doesn’t talk the same and he has NOTHING behind those eyes. This may sound nuts, but I swear , he’s even taller and more muscular. When he is present, I feel nothing. Well, I do, but it’s all bad. I could kill him with my bare hands and dance on top of his dead carcas . Part of me is nothing but relieved to be rid of him.
But when I see the light come back to his eyes and the shame and sadness in there, it breaks my heart. Its worse than anything he could do to me.
As you know, torture is a life sentence. I can’t let them throw away an entire life without at least trying to save it. I've attended NAMI support groups and they did say not to mention the DID part. As that diagnosis is still not accepted as valid by some.
Nobody will listen to me. They all label me as traumatized, making excuses, in denial, codependent.....etc. I have no doubt that I am a lot of those things, but I am also a very smart, educated and strong woman and I have the ability to sift through the BS, and differentiate FACTS from FEELINGS. I've got a long road ahead and i am well aware of the physical and severe emotional damage that i have endured. I know that i need help with that. There's no way I can deal with it alone. I also know that i have all the time in the world to utilize these resources. He, on the other hand, has none of that. So, for now, i am putting my issues aside and forging on! Every day that i wake up, i brush off all of the rejections and try something new. I tell myself "today is going to be the day". I am no quitter! I am a fighter! I know I'm going to do something important, and when I get to the other side of this, i know I'm going to be able to help somebody else who feels just as defeated as I do now.
I’m not even saying that I can stay with him because I can’t ever risk being in that place Again. I could've died. But I do know the wounded,tortured and loving soul in there. HE DESERVES A CHANCE!!!! I’m not going to just give up on him and throw him to the wolves. All he's got is me. My words mean nothing to anybody. I need someone to stop what's going on. Put on the brakes and have him evaluated. NOT BY ANOTHER BIASED PERSON ON THE STATES PAYROLL.They claimed that's what they were going to do, but they are liars. His PD won't even return my calls and I guess she doesn't even have any contact with him either. No evaluation has been done and his next court date is the 28th. HE HAS NO IDEA of the magnitude of his situation. Any help would be most appreciated. There is also a criminal protective order keeping him from contacting me. I want to file a motion to have hat removed. I'm the only one out there fighting for his rights. I have nothing left, but my will and determination but Trust, it is fierce! I will do anything to make sure he doesn't get tossed aside with yesterday's trash.
Thank you, Tracee Ekins
Well, that's my situation in a nutshell. I am struggling with how to deal with HIM because I cant look into his eyes and know how to deliver what I need to say. I struggle with how to deal with THEM because i can't show any emotion at all, otherwise I'm just a victim. This happened April 4th. I have not stopped fighting for a single day since. Court is on Thursday, and I have NOTHING solid. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what it is I am even looking for? Now, of course, he thinks God is going to take care of everything. Until I have a plan in action, I am just letting that one ride with him. Now that I know the various alters, it is anywhere BUT safe to be tapping into any of them where he is now.
Tracee, I hope and pray that things turn out for the best. I know what your struggling with. My husband which i was married to for 27 years also had DID. Unfortunately he hust died on June 22, 2018. He was only 48 we have 5 daughter's together. The struggle was like living in hell since we dated. The problem is that I also was diagnosed with DID. Now my daughter's and I are living with the pain of loosing him. People like us need alot of love, understanding amd psychological help. I went through a 6 month live inrecovery program called CRASH GOLDEN HILL HOUSE in San Diego California. It saved my life. Unfortunately it still wasn't enough. I got out and had 10 years of therapy. Things got better but I'm now back in therapy. It's a life long struggle but people like us cant get better if we dont have professional help. I'm still struggling today but I try to live for my daughter's. Unfortunately my husband never wanted help he was extremely abusive. He got high blood pressure at the age of 18 diabetes at 21 strokes at 44yrs old and dialysis at 47. He recently died. All could of been prevented if he would of got help like I did. I still have suicidal thoughts and i prefer not to live but I think about my daughter's and God helps me. All you can do is pray and suggest to him to get help which most men wont. Please hang in there but dont put yourself in danger. You might be able to do more for your loved 1. I often blame myself I didnt know about the disease till i got help. Our story : On June 22 2018 these 5 girls found their father in a pool of blood. The girl's had to clean it up themselves due to not having money. I know and I'm sorry but i don't know how to put a story out. Please this family is in need and grief
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Would love to hear more from your partner. There is oodles of research, memoirs, etc for those challenged and rewarded by life w/DID but very little for their partners, and specifically partners in same-sex couples. Thanks!