Setting boundaries with someone with schizophrenia

My wife has a son who suffers with schizophrenia. He is almost 30 years old. He has lived with us for 3 years now. He had his first break in August 2011 and then another in January 2012. Medications have helped him greatly. After 3 years I am becoming more resentful over some of the behaviors that occur that are not handled properly ( in my opinion). Last night was sort of a breaking point for me. It’s 2:30 am and hear him hollering mom, mom! it did not sound like something bad was happening but jut like he was yelling for her like she was awake. I got up and asked him what he needed and he was in the shower and forgot to get his body wash. I understand we forget things. I could give several examples of rude behavior but maybe another post. Is this the way it has to be??? I love him and care about him but just because he has this illness is this a reason for him to have no consideration for the whole household? He is turned around in his sleeping. He is up all night and then sleeps all day. Rarely is it the other way around.

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Hi there,

oooh, you asked the tough question didn’t you? Setting boundaries can be very difficult to navigate. You remind me of my husband, I know he loves his stepdaughter, but living with someone will mental illness can be very challenging. I know my HD as the step-dad has the added worry that if he voices his opinions or feelings-because he’s the “step” it will be interpreted as not loving our daughter as much as I do. When actually, when he expresses them we often have the same feelings. But I digress…

He totally could have gotten his own body wash. My daughter does the same kinds of things sometimes. We could both be sitting on the couch and she will ask me to get up and get her water. I tell her she can get it herself. She then waits until I get up for something, and says “Now that you’re up…” Drives me nuts. I tell her no, if she wanted it that much she would have gotten up and got it herself.

My guess is that the illness plays a part in stuff our kids do like this (for example motivation to do every simple things can be real and difficult problem) but much of it is environmental and conditioned-in other words what we allow.

I am not good at boundaries. I’m just not. I’m aware of this and I’m working on it. It is especially hard with my daughter because I have a lot of guilt and so I want to “make up” for things by making her life as easy as possible. But if I do that I’m creating dependence. That is not healthy for her or for me. She will never have the self satisfaction from doing things that are hard and being successful, she will never learn to handle adverse situations, and a slew of other life skills if I do everything for her all the time,if I never challenge her. At the same time there are things that are so much harder for her than I could ever understand-and I’m not her, I can’t know what goes on in her head-I only know her outward behavior.

So what I do is test, I experiment. I do this gently, with love and understanding. I expect pushback and I remain calm and steady. I set expectations first - this is what I expect. I am firm about my boundaries, non-emotional about it. I set up easy boundaries and build more complicated and difficult ones as she gets used to the easier ones. Too much change, too many rules are overwhelming to someone like my daughter. I highly reward the things I want to see in her, I make a big deal out of them even if they’re small, I show my gratitude and appreciation for her consideration.

I don’t know if I’ve helped at all, or if you need specific examples, but those are my thoughts, anyway. It is NOT easy at all-but I think boundaries are a normal part of any human relationship that have to be dealt with for the mental health of both parties involved.

First off, I want to say it is good to know you are willing and able to share your home with your wife’s son. This comes from the mother with a husband who will not do that. Or if he did, in the same situation he would probably verbally lay into my son. I have reached a point of acceptance that this is how it will be. Doesn’t leave me happy though.

Next - yes, that behavior would certainly be aggravating. How did you respond? Did you give him the body wash? Was there further discussion (at a reasonable hour) about how such a situation could be avoided? I see no reason for you to just accept this without addressing it. Does your stepson leave the house walking on eggshells, or is he just thoughtless? When my son does such things, I try to remember that his head is full of other things that makes it very hard for him to concentrate on common things. But I try to not let him use that as excuse. We will try to come up with solutions that will work for both of us. And praise for improvement!

I didn’t read everyone’s posts but I was doing this exact same thing long before I was schizophrenic. And yes, it drove my family crazy.

@lookin4answers , The typical sign of mental illness is sleeping in the day time. I don’t know why but I learnt this in family to family classes. They have hard time taking care of things because of the illness. I am glad you are tolerating him in your house. He being your step son that is really nice thing you are doing. The illness is probably worse as We don’t know what goes through their mind. Good luck and sending you positive thoughts.

thank you everyone for your responses. I have been to this sight for 3 years off and on and finally signed up to post things. My wife will not go to support group meetings. I don’t understand it. It’s not like we don’t deal with issues together for the most part. I just feel if my wife doesn’t get help for herself, we won’t be able to help him to the best of our ability.
We will probably address it tonight when I get home. I had to speak with him last night for continual use of foul language at the house. He received that pretty good and said he would try to do better. It’s my home also and I feel I have rights in it as well.

I will post further topics on this issue of boundaries and sight examples. I just really need help and advice right now because I feel like I am reaching a threshold.

You’re more patient than a lot of step dads I’ve heard about. Your step son should know better.

I looked into how to discipline ADHD and ODD (oppositional defiant disorder) which did help. Swearing was a big one so I made the consequence of swearing at me or my husband or excessively, losing the internet. Once my son lost the internet for about 8 days. Swearing at me stopped being normal. Boundaries are tough but I think it can help to understand that usually the behavior is not being done on purpose. With my son I called it the ‘I want, therefore I need, now’ attitude.

I’m glad you finally decided to sign up with us!

Your approach is good. Approaching it later, rather than in the heat of the moment is likely to be more fruitful. Some things need repeating, though, if he has memory problems. But yes, setting boundaries will help him, not harm him. I think if you are calm and positive your wife will see the benefits. Also, you are more likely to be able to develop a proper friendship with him if he gets to know your boundaries. It could actually make him feel more secure.

It’s so nice to hear from people I have things in common with!

Lookin-my DH sometimes thinks I am defensive too. And he’s right. Sometimes I can be. I would suggest keep trying in different ways to get your wife in a support group, or even counseling. I think the reason you have trouble working on this together and she is afraid of support groups and such is that this is SO emotional for her she is afraid of being able (or not being able) to handle facing and letting go of those emotions-like they might consume her or break her. Also, in my experience, when I call my daughter on stuff-she is very reasonable about it. She tries really hard too. It’s not just lip service. Because she is actually a very kind hearted, sweet girl. And you know lookin-there is no reason why YOU can’t go to support groups or counseling yourself too! People get burnout in caregiving-if you feel like you’re reaching a threshold you need help and support too!!! It sure sounds like your wife and your step son would miss a valuable supporter should that happen!

The swearing-Yes-she had a big problem with not only swearing, especially in public-but also other inappropriate comments in public in general. This is one of the areas she has made a lot of improvements in. And @BarbieBF-the whole “I want, therefore I need now” is one of my biggest challenges with my daughter. I don’t know how to get her to forgo the short term pleasure for the long term goal she wants for herself. It’s more than long term planing problem…I don’t know how to explain it but I have a feeling you get it.

You could help him out with lists if he often forget things like that. List of what to bring for shower. If he has hard time to read you can take pictures of the body wash, towel, clean under wear etc.

My autistic son did not know I had to sleep. He called for me all night and could not understand why I was so angry at 2 AM. He is 13 now and has learned ppl have to sleep at night. Including him.

I think you can find a lot of tips on how to make life easier if you look how to manage kids with adhd or autism.

Your wife not wanting support. It’s a lot like my husband. He stuck his head in the sand when I got ill in 2010. He still has his head in the sand. Can’t see that I’m not the same person anymore. He has not asked anything about my illness. Kids are curious and have asked a lot. But I think he is afraid of finding out how it is. He sometimes comment I use a lot of meds but he has not asked what they do or why I have them.

When I came down with schizophrenia at age 12, I was a mess - all over the place. I did sociopathic things and my father attended some “Tough Love” sessions that NAMI offered. I began to really hate the way my dad was treating me, but once I became an adult, I was able to understand what and why he acted the way he did - it was what I needed. Maybe check NAMI in your area and see if they offer this service (they may not - the classes my dad went to were 20 years ago).

Maybe your husband has just accepted it that this is the new situation as it is… Like my situation has become the new normal

Yes I get it. I wish I knew the answer. With my son it was not only that it was short term pleasure but that pleasure also only lasted a short time then it was move on to something else. PSP4 that lasted about a week. NintendoDS was a bit better and he got some enjoyment from it, off and on. Online games… he would average 3 a month if I didn’t put my foot down. 'Mom, I want this. It’s perfect and I will love it forever…" forever is lucky to last a week. Sometimes I would get lucky with the approach of “If you still want it in a couple of weeks then we can talk about it then”, and a couple of days later he would tell me that he was glad he didn’t get it. He usually seemed somewhat surprised that mom really did have a clue :laughing: Although by not wanting the first thing that could mean he found something new to want…

I think this is where the SZ comes in and has robbed him of the ability to find joy out of the simpler things but he was learning this when stable. Even food like carrots and potatoes, he was learning to enjoy. Just going for car rides or every time he put on his jacket that we got him. Simpler things began to have meaning.

Some of the ADHD and ODD approaches work however trying to gear it more towards adult children took some thinking. So I centered on the main behaviors I wanted to change. Swearing and slamming doors. I’m pretty sure my son has ODD so if I didn’t like it… he liked doing it. When stable he could acknowledge that even he didn’t understand why he acted certain ways and once I explained ODD to him, he agreed.

the subject was brought up with my stepson last night. I asked very nice in front of my wife why he felt it necessary to wake everyone up at 2:30 am because he didn’t have body wash in the shower. He just grins and laughs like he doesn’t have an answer or doesn’t want to answer. We just told him it was very inconsiderate. When he wouldn’t answer, my wife just said well never mind we aren’t going to get an answer, that was the end of that. He didn’t say he was sorry or acknowledge that it was not a right thing to do. I kept my frustration to myself.

I’d like to suggest that instead of asking him why he does things, instead, express to him how it impacts you - “It really bothers me getting woken up at night. I cant fall back asleep easily, and then I am tired at work the next day. I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t wake me up at night. Lets figure out a way to keep this from happening.” Then propose a solution. If something is happening repeatedly - for example, forgetting shower gel - be proactive and make sure it is available before you go to bed.

Sure you want him to be responsible for himself, but sometimes that little task done by you when it is convenient for you can save a lot of bad feelings. There are a lot of things I want my son to do independently - but when in his head he is dealing with voices, it can be very difficult to remember those mundane things.

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I didn’t mention that we did tell him first how it affects everyone. He doesn’t “seem” to care. That is the hard part to deal with. At least for me. We did say make sure your body wash is in the shower. He just stands there and looks at us. Very frustrating :smile:

@lookin4answers, when boundaries are created when someone is not used to them-expect some pushback-knowing it’s going to happen, and it’s a normal reaction to the change can help you tolerate it better. I mean, why would someone take boundaries seriously when all they’ve had to do in the past was XYZ and it broken down that unwanted boundary? And if boundaries don’t stay firm then the next time they are imposed the person will pushback even harder-it makes things worse. Staying calm and consistent is key. I would also make sure you state what the consequences are. Um-like with the shower thing-I might say “next time you don’t check and make sure you have everything you need in the shower you before you get in-if you don’t have something-I’m not going to get it for you. You’ll have to get it yourself or go without it.”

Things can get better when you and your wife get better with boundaries. But you have to get on the same page too-because if you step-son is like my daughter-he will play the two of you against one another (behavior left over from divorced parents). If I say no my daughter asks my DH, and visa/versa-but it doesn’t work because we are in it together!

Yes, I think you won’t get an answer and the grin etc is a common reaction to shame. One of my son’s biggest problems has been shame at his own childishness and dependency. When you knock to hard on that door, you can get a really aggressive push back because the various aspects of sz combine to make the individual feel trapped and humiliated. Your wife is trying not to humiliate him unnecessarily. You can make point, and keep repeating it calmly and firmly until he can take it on, but setting boundaries doesn’t actually CURE his sz, just gives him some targets to work towards.

I do really try to be aware of self esteem issues surrounding my daughter’s challenges with doing certain things-and difficulties with processing things emotionally and mentally. That is why it is important to be unemotional about it. Be very neutral about it. And have an attitude when it doesn’t go well of “we’ll just keep trying. No big deal.”

Edited to add:

I just wanted so say one other thing because I think it’s important-at least for me-when it comes to boundaries, my daughter’s reactions, why she does what she does. Quite simply-I don’t know why she does what she does. I will never know-just like I can never know what anyone else really thinks or feels. When someone does or says something-I filter that through my own personal lens-I associate it with all my own “stuff” and experiences. I can’t know with my daughter, what stuff she does is sz related, what is conditioned, what is normal developmental issues, what is personality and temperament. If she does something I don’t know if a voice told her to do it or if she just felt like it. She might never tell me, and even if she did tell me I will never know if what she told me is true because she is suggestible, she lacks insight. I can guess-I might even be right. But it will still only be a guess.

My point to all this is it really doesn’t matter. There are observable, external behaviors I can deal with. If trying to understand the “why” makes me second guess myself, or beat myself up, or lose my resolve to deal with something that needs dealt with I remind myself that I might never know the “why” but I know the result and how to handle it.