This is a follow-up to “One Of Those Weekends.” First, thank you for your responses and concerns — and validation for how much this coil business bothers and worries me.
Advance warning: This is a rant. And I am consciously using what my partner’s Therapist #2 referred to as “kitchen sinking” — i.e., throwing everything into my argument.
The coil is only the latest manifestation of the kind of stuff I’ve been dealing with for years. Namely, my partner’s insistence on doing unsafe things because she (a) doesn’t see the danger and (b) is convinced that what she is doing is helping the situation.
She also reacts very poorly to authority. (Hey, why not generalize while I’m at it?)
@Denise asks, “Is it possible for you to simply say, ‘This isn’t safe so it’s going’?”
I can say that the coil is unsafe, so it’s going. I can sneak it out of the house while my partner isn’t looking and dispose of it. That’s the easy part.
Can I stop her from buying a new one? No. I have no legal authority to do that. She is not incompetent enough. She is not dangerous enough in the eyes of the authorities.
Here’s what happened with the clutter situation: When the DCF inspector told me the house was in danger of being condemned, it was after I had warned my partner for years about her clutter. Vehemently.
Even after DCF, my partner still refused to comply. She micro-questioned everything: What was our deadline? What constituted cleaning? What was our deadline for how much of the cleaning? What did they require as proof of the cleaning? How much cleaning was acceptable to them? Over what time period? She insisted on specifics about every single little thing, otherwise she couldn’t even begin. Not only that, she said she couldn’t work under the pressure.
Imagine being exposed to those questions and arguments every single day, sometimes several times a day. There’s a reason why I waited until she was hospitalized before I took matters into my own hands on that score. Much of my living style these days involves waiting until an opportunity comes along and then jumping for it.
We had not come to physical force concerning the clutter, but my partner had once tried to wrestle my laundry bag away from me when I wanted to do my own laundry at the laundromat after she had taken our old washing machine apart (she swore it had mold; it didn’t) and couldn’t put it back together again. Her back had been gicked at the time and I was afraid of damaging it further, so I just stood there and held onto the clothes as tightly as I could until she gave up and let me go to the laundromat. She had insisted she would wash my clothes for me, but I had a conference I was speaking at and I needed to be prepared. (I now no longer go to conferences.) Her own clothes, which she didn’t want me to touch, had lain on the laundry room floor for several weeks after that. Based on past experience, I knew the same would happen with my own laundry despite her best intentions.
In 1982, before we had met and when she was in the hospital for “probable viral encephalitis,” it had taken three nurses to hold her down. Even 30 years later, and despite my larger size, my partner can be physically powerful. One of her childhood nicknames included the word “muscle.”
If I tried to remove the heating coil from the premises in her presence, I’m pretty sure she would fight me physically for it. Frankly, given her various conditions, I don’t want to go there.
When we lived in Boston, in a 100-year-old Victorian, my partner had insisted on flushing food scraps down the toilet. I couldn’t convince her to do otherwise. She insisted that the organic materials in the food scraps benefited life in the ocean, so she wanted them to go there instead of to a landfill. We actually had a composter out back, but she had not followed the “no fats or oils” dictum about composting, which led to neighbors’ well-founded complaints.
The old plumbing couldn’t take it. The toilet backed up into another tenant’s apartment while our landlord was literally halfway around the world. Thank goodness for email. I got a plumber in and got repairs made while communicating with the landlord in Australia and New Zealand.
That was a dozen years ago. That was when a neighbor had told me, “You know, she’s only going to get worse.”
I was working multiple shifts at the time. I couldn’t watch my partner every minute of the day. On the contrary — I was either at work or meeting freelance deadlines at home, because we both were dependent on my income. And we were already living in a marginal neighborhood.
As I have written here before, I have gone to the authorities for help, to no avail. The responsibility is put on me, but I am given no power of enforcement.
It has taken us years and much, much talk time to heal our relationship from my forceful decluttering, and frankly the house is reverting to its old state little by little. If I force the issue on anything, I jeopardize our relationship. I’m not talking about a “Does she love me?” relationship — I am talking about my ability to negotiate anything about this household. I am talking about my ability to continue to work without her distractions, because I remember when we were at loggerheads every single day — because I tried to assert myself so that I wouldn’t lose my house.
@Gail asks, “[P]erhaps the neurologist could be employed to explain its dangers to her?”
My partner does not process explanations well. Neither does she listen well. She also interrupts frequently.
Therapist #2 once told her, “You’re not listening to what I’m saying. You’re not listening to what [ejourneys] is saying. You’re too busy formulating your own counter-arguments.”
This does not stop my partner from dragging out the therapist’s handouts on communications when she believes I’m not listening to her. She uses those handouts quite selectively.
Based on past experience, my guess is that even if I could sit her down in front of the neurologist, show him my photographs of the coil, and have him explain the dangers to my partner, she would find some reason to rebut those arguments. She has argued against the clutter photographs I’ve shown to doctors by saying that I took them at an unflattering angle. Heck, she didn’t listen to the DCF inspector, who had been here and had seen our living conditions for himself.
As for what the neurologist has already said, my partner quizzes me on whether what she says sounds schizoid or psychotic. I often beg off answering, because when I answer in the positive, she throws it back at me and says that this is how I feel. The neuro once told her to her face, prior to her diagnosis, “You’re either demented or you’re crazy,” to which she didn’t seem to respond at all. (I think he was being blunt to see if she would respond — and, if so, how.)
She uses the heating coil because she doesn’t like the fan action of our HVAC system. In other words, it hurts her in some way. So, by taking away her heating coil, I am hurting her, and she is fighting to keep the heating coil to protect herself.
And if we have, heaven forbid, a fire? I am willing to bet she would find fault not with her arrangements, but with the extension cord or with anything else that she can rationalize. She would find a way to use the coil again, by replacing something else.
When I tell her my worries, she can be very reassuring — in her eyes.
I could show the photos of the coil to our local firehouse. They’re volunteer firefighters. I’ll bet they’ll tell me the same thing the DCF inspector did. Will I get any help in enforcement? Not bloody likely.
@Trish asks, ” Is there a different (less dangerous) heating solution that your partner would go for?”
We’ve tried. My partner is open to alternatives as long as they meet her requirements. Anything that has a fan of any kind is an automatic no. We have looked at fan-free baseboard heaters, but they’re not powerful enough. Most other non-fan heaters seem to be ones that are oil-filled. In addition to the oil itself, another danger is their placement requirements and their required distance from other objects, which is incompatible with my partner’s clutter.
I don’t mean to sound negative. I don’t mean to shoot down your well-thought-out and heartfelt suggestions. Your care and concern mean more to me than I can express. To be perfectly honest, I have been scared for a long time and I feel as though I’ve been living under siege for a long time. I don’t like to think about the risks I’m taking, because I feel powerless against them and against my partner. I work on enjoying and being thankful for what I have, while I have it. That includes my own life and safety and that of my partner.
Going for help in these matters has several times made our situation even more stressful and accomplished nothing constructive. Worse, what little advance we’ve made in communication gets wiped away and we have to start from scratch. Every time I ponder going to an authority or pressing the issue, I ask myself: Am I ready for that setback to happen again?
The two incidents I can point to where my partner had ceased her activities were her overinflating her tires and her picking up feces from outside and putting them in the fridge. In the case of the tires I had stayed up until 3 a.m. because she was convinced they would deflate to the right psi during the night. I then had her measure the psi of the tires herself. (This was after her blowout from a past overinflation. This time she had overinflated her 35 psi tires to 50 instead of 60 psi.) She was surprised to find that the tires had not in fact deflated. She agreed not to overinflate them in the future.
In the case of the feces, she is still arguing that what she did was safe. So I’ll have to see what happens if a dog poops near the house again and the poop isn’t cleaned up. My partner had rationalized storing the feces in the fridge until trash day, because she didn’t want them smelling in the heat.
The heating coil differs from these two other situations in that it relates directly to my partner’s physical comfort. I’ve tried suggesting bundling up more if she doesn’t want the fan on, but that creates a different discomfort for her.
I’ll keep looking for an opportunity to make a difference (at least my getting the “coil kennel” removed it from being directly in foot traffic). And I am open to more suggestions, truly I am. I hope there is something out there that I’ve missed, something I haven’t tried yet.
Thank you all for everything. (((Hugs)))
(Broken window screen, re-cast in grayscale. I took this shot shortly after getting my “good camera” in 2005.)