Am I being too impatient and unsupportive with my depressed boyfriend?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (33 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Dear Hivemind, I never thought it would happen to me.... but one day I wrote up a long relationship question and posted it to Ask Mefi....
I’m an early twenties female living with my late twenties boyfriend. I love him and I think he’s wonderful, and I have no doubt he loves me too. We moved in together a few months ago and things were pretty awesome for a while. We do occasionally have issues communicating, however, because he is much more likely to deny any kind of emotional turmoil and instead blame arbitrary (to me) external circumstances for his mood, whereas I like to articulate my feelings at any opportunity. The fact that we have very different communication styles has sometimes turned minor issues into big deals because of how difficult it can be to discuss them at all.
Unfortunately, I feel that his avoidance of any sort of discussion of emotional needs has also left him unable to deal with his own emotions in a way that actually works for him. He’s normally a calm, easy-going guy, but when something ineffable or non-obvious (ie, non material issues, like anxiety or depression or other stuff) really bothers him, he will find a scapegoat in the form of something obvious and material (a dirty floor, a broken object, that kind of thing). Not infrequently, he deals with these feelings by physically acting out- he’ll throw stuff or punch the wall and whatnot. This has never been directed at me in any way, but I do find it alarming. This wouldn’t be so bad to me if he would acknowledge the link between how he is feeling and how he is acting. But instead, he adamantly denies that he’s been perturbed by anything other than the faulty object- I know him well enough to guess what kinds of things might be really bothering him, but he will insist that he just really cares about objects working properly or being in the right place or whatever.
Fast forward to the past couple days. His outbursts had been growing more frequent, including a couple of almost complete breakdowns (that were emotional in nature, not physical), and through which I comforted him. It made me realize that he is definitely struggling with more anxiety and depression than he is able to cope with, and that he needs both my help and support, and to develop better coping mechanisms. However, I’m having trouble figuring out what is appropriate for me to help him with. Things had gotten so turbulent in our house that at a certain point, I wasn’t sure if I could continue to be in the relationship.
However, we recently had several long talks in which he acknowledged that he is feeling extremely depressed (in despair) and that this is the cause of all his outbursts. I felt that this was an extremely important step, because it meant that now we could both focus on getting him the resources he needs in order to feel better. He has agreed to see a therapist once our financial situation improves, but in the meantime, I’m wondering what role I should play.
Specifically, I’m having a hard time differentiating between behavior that I need to be patient with, because it’s a symptom of what he is going through right now, and behavior that is outright unacceptable. There have been a few incidents recently which, if I hadn’t seen how distraught he has been lately, would have almost certainly made me end the relationship immediately. But I do love him and I believe he deserves the benefit of the doubt, just as when I have been depressed in my life I am grateful that my family was patient with me, unpleasant though my behavior was.
For example, I’ve spent the last couple days helping him update his resume and apply to some jobs (he is currently unemployed, which is one major source of his unhappiness). Yesterday, he was feeling discouraged about the whole process, so I offered to write a cover letter for a specific job for him. I spent an hour or so writing up a cover letter, which he was very happy with and he felt would really help him. Just as I was putting the finishing touches on the letter, he came into my office brandishing a wicker bowl of his that had been in the kitchen. He started scolding me for allowing it to become discolored (overripe tomatoes, I think) and demanding an apology for allowing this to happen. I was really taken aback, both because I had asked his permission to use the bowl and it had been sitting in the kitchen for months without any complaints, and because I felt like my help in writing the cover letter was less valuable to him than his feelings about the fruit bowl. I got pretty upset and told him that if he wanted a cover letter, he could write his own (immature, I know), at which point he became extremely upset and demanded that I send him the finished copy because of how perfectly it suited his needs. He also continued to demand an apology on account of the fruit bowl, one which I was unable to sincerely give.
This only made me more upset, so I refused to send him the letter. He then told me he wanted to break up, along with some other unsavory things. At that point, I was incensed enough that I was on board with this idea. Being fully convinced that this was the end, I went ahead and sent him the letter (because even if we do break up, I still want to see him succeed and after all, I’d already written it). Not long after that, he came to my office and told me he didn’t mean it about breaking up, etc, although he continued to reiterate how important the fruit bowl was to him (I really had no idea) and justifying his outburst.
On the one hand, I know he’s going through some emotional distress and this isn’t what he’s normally like. But on the other hand, I feel like he’s only being halfway reasonable now that he’s gotten what he wanted (the finished letter). Moreover, his arguments for why I should send him the letter anyway left a bad taste in my mouth. He was very vocal about how perfectly the letter suited his needs and how much he needed the help, as if that alone meant he was entitled to it.
I don’t want to be one of those people that offers to help someone and then demands obeisance and ass-kissing in return. But I feel that I didn’t expect anything in return at all while I was writing the letter- he wasn’t particularly gracious then about it either, but I didn’t really feel like I should hold that against him since I was the one that had offered to help. It was only after he made a big deal out of the fruit bowl that I began to feel like he was abusing my help.
If you’ve read this far, I am impressed at your stamina. Please tell me if you think I should be more patient and supportive. I feel like this whole incident with the letter and the bowl is horribly petty and I feel like I’m being over dramatic by trying to draw any conclusions about our relationship from it. Should I scale back my expectations for his behavior while he deals with his feelings? I don’t want to be a fair-weather girlfriend, but I don’t know anymore what we should expect from each other at this time.
TL;DR How can I support my boyfriend while he goes through a tough time, without feeling like a punching bag?