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Is it okay to ask my depressed partner not to tell me certain things when he is upset?
August 16, 2012 7:20 PM   Subscribe

Is it okay to ask my depressed partner not to tell me certain things when he is upset?

I have a partner who is prone to depression and it can be very hard to deal with sometimes. Usually, it is triggered by stress at work or stress involving a legal issue he is dealing with. He has a pessimistic personality type, so he will sink into this funk of life has no meaning, nobody is on his side, he doesn't care if he lives or dies etc.

I have tried to be the best support I can to him. But I have my limits too. I worry that is is selfish of me to assert these limits, but I feel like it is getting to the point where I need to protect myself because I am at risk of reaching the end of MY rope too. Last night, for instance, he got in this mood and started talking about how maybe he should just throw away his medication (which he takes for a serious chronic health condition) and that I'd get over it because I can do better. I do NOT know how to handle this stuff. Historically, it passes in a couple days and things get back to normal. But if this is the one time where it doesn't---it he really is having a breakdown or something---it freaks me out. And I do not know how to handle 'I am cancelling my doctor appointments and letting fate do what it likes with me.' I don't know what to do with that. I am simply not equipped.

He does have a therapist of his own, and we go jointly to another one. The therapist and I have talked about having a session where we discuss lines we will not cross, even in a fight. I think that might help us. But I am trying to balance being there for him with getting my needs met, and that's a tricky balance.

I don't want him to feel like our relationship has all these rules and that he can't be himself and tell me what's on his mind. But if what's on his mind is stuff that a) I don't have the emotional skillset as a helper to help him through and b) I don't have the emotional skillset as an individual to hear it and not be damaged, is it fair to say 'don't say this to me, even if you are upset and this is what you feel?' Can I ask him to save certain things for the therapist and leave me out of it?

I don't want anyone who is reading this and is the one in their relationship who has this problem to think I am not understanding what's going on with him, not empathetic, not doing the very best I possibly can to be there for him and help him and be the best support I can be. And I would like to hear from those people how they might suggest I could deal with this in a way that is most beneficial to him if asking him to keep some of these thoughts to himself is not the way. I am just at the point where, much as I love him and am committed to him and enjoy and treasure all the good in our relationship, an element of self-preservation on the bad parts is kicking in. I can't handle 'you can stay or you can go, it's all the same to me' and I can't handle 'I'm going to stop taking my medication and what will be will be.' I just can't. So tell me what to do.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (36 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
If it's not ok with you, it's not ok. Being depressed is not an excuse for someone to hurt their partner. If you want them to stop they should stop. Period, exclamation point, paragraph break, page break, the end.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:38 PM on August 16, 2012 [22 favorites]


You're allowed to ask him not to task you with his upsetters, and need to negotiate with yourself over how detached you can be. Everyone is just themself ("no man is an island" is much prettier) and mostly you can't change other people, so you need space. Doesn't mean you're not kind and caring, but if you don't care for yourself it isn't really possible to care for others.
posted by anadem at 7:38 PM on August 16, 2012


I'm not sure there's a good way around this issue. I speak from experience with both sides of the equation. You absolutely cannot continue to be worn down like this because eventually you will snap, but no matter how nicely you tell him that (if you choose to...don't say it like I did!) it will still be making a barrier and when he is in his worst of moods he could possibly feel contemptuous, hurt, alone, or more.

I would try to leverage the therapists' role in this. Possibly at the couples meeting try to bring this up gently, indirectly, as more of asking the therapist how you can stop being sucked down into it (rather than telling him to stop). Alternatively, although I would be hurt if I found out someone did this to me, you could ask one of the therapists privately to mention something along the lines of how it sometimes feels good to vent to other people, but when they are not professionals you are guaranteed to overwhelm them eventually. A guidance counselor told this to me in high school, referring to my friends and trying to encourage a therapist. It had a net positive effect in the direction that you need, but it did also make me anxious about talking to people, or lonely in my worst times. Just something to think about.

I wish you both the best!
posted by sarahh at 7:41 PM on August 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Bring this up with your joint therapist during your next session. Threatening suicide (which is what this boils down to) is manipulative at best. I understand your partner is depressed, but it's not okay for him burden you in this fashion.

You are not being selfish for creating and sustaining self-preserving boundaries.
posted by Specklet at 7:48 PM on August 16, 2012 [8 favorites]


A short addendum: at the core this comes down to the typical advice of "communicate," my personal opinion is that the therapist is the best medium to communicate this that will create the least amount of tension. But I am nearly certain that no matter how this comes up some tension will arise, and you should watch for it and deal with it after. If you avoid bringing it up, you will crack and your relationship will likely fall apart the same way that so many friendships do when one person is depressed. Communicate communicate communicate.
posted by sarahh at 7:48 PM on August 16, 2012


This is really hard. I have been very depressed (suicide attempt and all), and I am currently in a wonderful, fulfilling relationship with a wonderful person who is going through a very difficult time. So I see both sides, in a way.

Yes, I think it's appropriate to assert the boundaries you're talking about. I think your partner needs to learn the difference between expressing his emotions to you (I feel awful, I feel depressed, sometimes I feel like I want to give up). That kind of talk should - at least most of the time - be within-bounds. On the other hand, talking about harmful ACTIONS is not necessarily okay (I should throw my pills away, etc) - that puts you in a role where you are in some sense, responsible for his safety. That is not your job.

I would wait until you're in your joint therapy session to bring this up; this is going to be a really touchy conversation, and it's going to be hard for your partner to hear both "I love you and I want to be with you" and you asserting boundaries, and believe them both. The therapist will help facilitate that.

The therapist - either the joint one or yours - may also have suggestions for what your partner can do when he is in that kind of emotional space. Perhaps he can talk to you, but frame his emotions in a different way. Maybe, if he said something like, "I feel really hopeless right now, but I know I wouldn't really give up - I just feel like I want to" - that would be within your comfort zone. Maybe he needs to have the phone number for a hotline so he can call someone. Maybe he needs to do some DBT work on distress tolerance (personally, when I was having a rough time, I found DBT distress tolerance incredibly, incredibly helpful at learning to deal with intense emotions).

Long comment. In short - yes, it's appropriate to assert boundaries, and the best place to have the conversation is a therapist's office.
posted by Why hello, I am a sock puppet at 7:48 PM on August 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


he got in this mood and started talking about how maybe he should just throw away his medication (which he takes for a serious chronic health condition) and that I'd get over it because I can do better.

"Honey, when you say self-destructive things like this it doesn't just hurt you, it hurts me too. It makes me feel you do not value our relationship. I know that you are struggling and I want to support you. But it is not fair to want me to emotionally support you while you simultaneously tear our relationship down."

If he persists in saying those things then leave the room.

Your partner is verbalizing his depression and wallowing in it. It's destructive to everyone. It is not unsupportive to tell your partner you won't be a part of his self-pity party.
posted by schroedinger at 7:54 PM on August 16, 2012 [10 favorites]


Can I ask him to save certain things for the therapist and leave me out of it?

Sure! Ask away... it won't make any difference though. He'll say the things you can't handle anyway.

Look, he's either your partner or he's not. If he really is, you gotta take the bad with the good. Sometimes you just have to apply the 'ignore' filter, call him out on it, and move on. Sorry, but I'm one of those people that is somewhat old-fashioned when it comes to serious relationships or marriages. You're either in it for the long haul or you're not. So many people are willing to jump ship as soon as it doesn't fit what 'works best for them', instead of accepting things the way they are. That may give you some bad days. Or it may give you a lifetime relationship filled with bad days AND good days. I'll take continuity over perfection any day.

That being said... I don't know you, don't know your partner, nor the daily in's and out's of the situation. You're not being selfish, after all you have feelings too. TELL him that. Communicate to him everything that you feel and think about what he is (or is NOT) doing.

End answer... I don't think it's ok to ask your depressed partner to not tell you certain things when he's upset. But I DO think it's ok for you to tell said partner exactly how his statements make you feel. And I REALLY think it's ok to tell your partner that you love him, but there's times when you're just gonna tune him out till he gets back on track.
posted by matty at 7:54 PM on August 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Your partner is verbalizing his depression and wallowing in it. It's destructive to everyone. It is not unsupportive to tell your partner you won't be a part of his self-pity party.

This is uncharitable, crude, ignorant and unhelpful. Please do not describe a serious depressive episode like that again. It can confuse or distress people dealing with a very serious medical condition.

In reply to the OP...

I agree with the suggestions for joint therapy, to help you maintain your own boundaries... It's not his fault this is happening, but it is his responsibility to deal with it, and that means not doing or saying upsetting things to those closest to him. He might not even realize the impact he's been having on you, or not know how to handle it. The therapist can help here.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:14 PM on August 16, 2012 [6 favorites]


Is it okay to ask my depressed partner not to tell me certain things when he is upset?

Just because someone is sick, it doesn't make it okay for them to harm you. Just because someone is sick, it doesn't make it okay for them to do and say whatever they want. Just because someone is sick, it doesn't mean that they can't control anything they say or do. And just because someone is sick, it doesn't mean that your own health and well-being should be sacrificed for their slightest (or even major) comfort or you are a bad person.

I think anyone who tells you that you are a bad partner for not just submitting and taking it as you are harmed and your well-being is damaged, is today's version of the people who would have told you in the '50s that if your husband hit you, well marriage is marriage, and as a wife your duty is to just keep quiet.

The short answer is yes, of course it is okay.
posted by cairdeas at 8:16 PM on August 16, 2012 [11 favorites]


Personally, if my partner were making passively suicidal statements like that, it would drive me out of my mind too. At the same time, you want him to be able to tell you if he is thinking about harming himself because that is an important part of being able to be safe with mental illness.

I may have a different outlook than others but my attitude would be "listen, what you're telling me is more or less that you are thinking of harming yourself, or expressing that you wish you were dead. I think it is important that you are able to express these feelings to me and that you feel safe doing so, but I want you to know that if you tell me that you are thinking of harming yourself, I am going to call your psychiatrist, or if I think the situation warrants it, I am going to call 911 and have you taken for an emergency mental health evaluation to make sure that you are safe."

There are definitely people out there who say things like this because they're just trying to get your attention and pity, and that isn't fair or appropriate. Expressions of a desire to harm oneself are serious and should not be used as a ploy. My hope would be that by saying something like the above and being really serious about following through on it a few times if need be, that would discourage the other person from saying this sort of thing unless they really meant it and were essentially asking me to help them because they were afraid for their safety.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:19 PM on August 16, 2012 [22 favorites]


This is uncharitable, crude, ignorant and unhelpful. Please do not describe a serious depressive episode like that again. It can confuse or distress people dealing with a very serious medical condition.

I have Major Depressive Disorder. I have had multiple suicide attempts. Medication is pretty much the only thing that keeps me function and it doesn't even all do that. So please do not assume I do not know what it is like to deal with a very serious medical condition.

I have been this woman's partner, subjecting my partners to long tirades about how they don't deserve me, the world doesn't deserve me, I should kill myself, everyone hates me, on and on and on. It's cruel to me. It's cruel for them. It is driven by my disease but that doesn't make it any less self-pity and any less wallowing, and it doesn't give me a right to engage in behaviors that punish and cause pain, and it doesn't make me less responsible for being aware when I'm hurting those I love and doing what I can to mitigate my disease's effects on other people. I did the "Well I'm depressed so they need to deal" thing for a long time and it didn't help me and it just led to hurting a lot of people who cared about me.

This does not mean it is wrong for me to have those "I'm worthless" feelings. But it does mean when I'm feeling these things I tell my partners "Right now I feel like . . ." and have an open dialogue about my frustration and feelings, with acknowledgement that they're driven by my disease. I do this instead of engaging in long arguments about how awful I am where they feel compelled to engage in the soul-destroying, impossible process of trying to convince a depressed person of their worth.

If she loves this guy then she needs to be compassionate and understanding. It does not mean she needs to be his whipping-post and it does not give him free reign to engage in hurtful verbalizations that are counter-productive to his mental health and hers.
posted by schroedinger at 8:29 PM on August 16, 2012 [46 favorites]


I think anyone who tells you that you are a bad partner for not just submitting and taking it as you are harmed and your well-being is damaged, is today's version of the people who would have told you in the '50s that if your husband hit you, well marriage is marriage, and as a wife your duty is to just keep quiet.

So incredibly shortsighted and a PERFECT example of people who go into relationships expecting Sunshine and Lollipops!

Relationships are WORK. They require time, understanding, and acceptance. And sometimes, they require that you bend in the wind a little bit. It's a matter of what can you accept, what you can't, and where is your 'line'. When the 'wind' subsides, you either have stood back up straight or you've been laid down flat. Let's not turn this into a dissection of women's lib or rights since the 50's.

Nobody is suggesting you're a bad partner. You're not 'submitting'. But at the same time, if you're in it to win it, then take the good with the bad - and KNOW what the 'bad' really is - and take it from there.
posted by matty at 8:30 PM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Relationships are WORK. They require time, understanding, and acceptance. And sometimes, they require that you bend in the wind a little bit. It's a matter of what can you accept, what you can't, and where is your 'line'. When the 'wind' subsides, you either have stood back up straight or you've been laid down flat. Let's not turn this into a dissection of women's lib or rights since the 50's.

Having a mental illness does not give you a free ticket to do and say things to your partner that cause them deep and lasting pain. She is allowed to draw boundaries and tell him that there are behaviors she simply cannot tolerate. If his illness involved anger control issues, does that mean she should tolerate him throwing plates at the wall? Of course not.

The partner of someone with a mental illness needs to understand their partner is not always going to have an easy time of it. There are going to be spots where they slip up. If her partner is working hard to control his illness, is actively pursuing treatment, and these episodes represent occasional slip-ups then I would say give him a break. But it sounds like this is not the case.
posted by schroedinger at 8:38 PM on August 16, 2012 [7 favorites]


So incredibly shortsighted and a PERFECT example of people who go into relationships expecting Sunshine and Lollipops!

FWIW, Matty, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder at 10 years old and, in the past, have been the person to lean extremely heavily on my partner. That is the perspective I am coming from.
posted by cairdeas at 8:42 PM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Occasionally depressed partner here.

This is something you could negotiate when his psyche is less sucky, or with your joint therapist.

In the meantime, I would encourage you to name to him the concern and anxiety you feel in the moment, and prompt / prod him to call a distress line or others to work through it. He can probably still care for you while he's beating himself up.

My guess is that it's probably not a good thing to refuse to hear these passive threats, but you should find a backup so it doesn't have to be you alone. I know that if I said those sorts of things my GP would roll right into the 10 question screener.

Best wishes to you both
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 8:55 PM on August 16, 2012


Wish I had a sock puppet account, but no. So, here goes:

This is manipulation. He may not intentionally be doing it. Frankly, it sounds like he just lacks the tools to empathize when he's so deep into the rabbit hole. Which is why you need to take exactly this dynamic straight to the therapist you both see. If he truly is in danger of killing himself, he needs to see a psychiatrist immediately. If he's not, and this verbal flogging has become habitual to him as a way of coping, you both need to work on communication.

Do you, by chance, have depression? If you didn't before, I bet this dynamic is pushing you in that direction. No wonder you're struggling.

Have had depression all my life. As a teenager, one of my parents, who also has it, constantly told me they would kill themselves one day and I would be just fine in the aftermath. For years, I allowed these declarations to trigger my own depression, cry, beg them not to kill themselves, tell them, over and over, how much I loved them and needed them. Finally, as an adult, I realized that simply saying "if you continue to talk like this, I'm leaving" was the only thing that worked. And that kind of talk always stopped at that point, because what this really was was a way of seeking attention, and a way of controlling. If this is what's going on between you and your partner, sounds like you have a lot more to work through in therapy. However, my parent never said, "I'm going to do X now, and will be dead by next week." So it's understandable that you're concerned...which is why you should do exactly what treehorn+bunny suggests by taking these threats absolutely seriously until you two see the therapist together and talk about this specific issue. Which should probably be the very next time you see the therapist.

when I'm feeling these things I tell my partners "Right now I feel like . . ." and have an open dialogue about my frustration and feelings, with acknowledgement that they're driven by my disease. I do this instead of engaging in long arguments about how awful I am where they feel compelled to engage in the soul-destroying, impossible process of trying to convince a depressed person of their worth.

This. This is the way he needs to learn to express himself to you. I disagree with Matty; this is not an issue of riding out relationships, being "in it to win it." Firstly, nobody wins in your current situation. Secondly, nobody's suggesting you quit the relationship.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 8:56 PM on August 16, 2012 [10 favorites]


Here's a thought. Many years ago I had a close friend who discovered that she had Multiple Personality Disorder. She and her partner each picked one friend to be their confidant for things that they wanted to talk about related to MPD and how it affected them. I was lucky enough to be my friend's chosen sounding board and I was able to give her a safe place to talk about how her MPD affected her relationship and listen to things that she didn't necessarily want her partner to know. I think it worked out well for them, though the relationship eventually ended years later. Is that something that you could discuss and agree on as a couple?

In my case, I was friends with her partner, but not a very close friend. It definitely would not have worked as well if I had been equally close to both of them.
posted by bendy at 9:01 PM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is a dynamic I've witnessed in a parent's marriage and it's a dynamic I've worked very hard to avoid (not always successfully) with my partner. Schroedinger said it best: Having a mental illness does not give you a free ticket to do and say things to your partner that cause them deep and lasting pain.

I don't think it's so much that you're not equipped to deal with his feelings, I think it's, in large part, the way he's expressing them. Saying things like "You'd get over it [my death], you can do better." is pretty inconsiderate towards you; it implies that he knows your feelings better than you do, and that your love for him is a sham on some level.

One of the coping strategies that's really, really essential to develop as a person with a long-term mental illness is being able to distinguish and disclaim, on some level, how much of what you're feeling may be due to illness, and what effect it will have on people around you. If he were to say "Right now, I'm in a bad place, and I feel like you could do better than me, and that my death might be a good thing for you," I think you'd still be (understandably) upset, but I don't think you'd feel as overwhelmed as you do. In that case, he's still expressing to you that his depression is bad to a point that he's having suicidal thoughts, but he's doing so in a way that doesn't pin it on you. Part of that is going to rely on him being able to recognize the way in which depression and stress fucks with his feelings, but as I said, this is a coping strategy that he needs to develop sooner or later.

(Note: Like schroedinger, if this were something that he only said when he was knee-deep in a mental health crisis, then I'd say to view in that light and deal with your feelings about it once the immediate crisis had passed, but if it's something that's coming up consistently, you're within your rights as his partner to say "Babe, I want you to be able to tell me how you're feeling, whether it's good or bad, but it really hurts and scares me when you refuse to listen to or believe me about my feelings about you.")
posted by kagredon at 9:09 PM on August 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


Thank You to Miss T.Horn. I can't see sometimes what other's can, and he/she has hit the nail on the head.
posted by matty at 9:11 PM on August 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Tough love" answers are all too easy and not very loving when it comes to depression.

Self-pity is a natural emotion, like anger, sadness, or happiness. Depression by its very nature involves self-pity and is one of the most insidious and damaging aspects of the disease. Having self-pity, having feelings of worthlessness does not make the sufferer a terrible or weak person. Learning to deal with depression is not about crushing these feelings, but learning to identify them as an aspect of the disease, understand their triggers, and learning healthy methods of coping with them as they arise.

It is not tough love to say emotional manipulation is inappropriate. It is not tough love to draw boundaries. As I have already stated, having a mental illness is not a free ticket to treat one's partner like shit. Feelings of worthlessness go part and parcel with depression. A compassionate partner of a depressed person will be open to listening a depressed person work through these feelings in an honest and open way. Not in a damaging way.

These are two very different conversations:
Depressed Person: "I am feel really down on myself right now. I would really like to talk to you about it and get a hug and some reassurance."
Partner: "I understand, let's snuggle on the couch with a cup of tea and talk about what's going on inside you right now."

Depressed Partner: "I hate myself! I suck! You hate me, you just don't know it yet! Everyone hates me! You'd be better off without me! Everyone would be better off without me! I'm just going to end it all one day and you'll all be happier for it, you'll see!"
Partner: "No! Don't do it! Please! I love you! We love you! You're worthwhile! It's not that bad! Please!"

These conversations involve the same feelings of worthlessness. One involves someone who is an active participant in coping with their illness. The other involves someone who has wholly given themselves over to the symptoms of their illness and is not attempting to cope whatsoever. But one involves self-awareness and compassion, while the other involves damaging self-pity, manipulation, panic, and fear. It is not tough love for her to refuse to engage in the latter.
posted by schroedinger at 9:14 PM on August 16, 2012 [41 favorites]


I was the partner of a depressed individual who occasionally threatened suicide and now work in the mental health field. Here is my advice resulting from my life experience.

Let him know that you love him and will help him get help for his disease. This means you call the suicide hotline for him when he makes threats of suicide or call the police so they can 5150 him (put him on a mental health hold.) I don't think it is healthy for you to stay just passively listening to all the nasty comments. It is not good for the relationship and does not fix the disease.

If your partner was having a heart attack, you would call 9-1-1. Yes, maybe that means they will pound on his chest, stick a needle in his arm, maybe operate on him and do other things that invade his body. But you are helping him fight the disease. Mental illness is a disease. Making suicide threats is a symptom. Help him get a doctor who prescribes an antidepressant that actually helps him, get him in contact with the suicide hotline, maybe take the drastic step of calling the police (which may be the thing that saves his life.) Talking will not fix his disease any more than talking to a cancer victim will cure their disease.
posted by eleslie at 9:16 PM on August 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Relationships are work, yes. But one should do work that is useful, protective and reinforcing of the two of you, not (self-)destructive. Swallowing bottomless negativity from a partner spiraling into depression is not actually productive work, it doesn't help. It's being pulled under by a drowning victim. Look at it exactly the same way: to do the work of pulling the two of you to shore, you have to keep a certain safe distance from your partner's flailing.

I say this, like others in the thread, as the person who's been the drowning victim. What was most useful was my partner establishing limits concerning my behavior, and how help and intervention would be provided.
posted by ead at 9:29 PM on August 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


In a related situation, I sought out a therapist of my own, partly to help me acquire some of the skills I needed to manage my partner's mental health challenges, and also to provide the space to vent and get feedback and support that my partner wasn't always able to provide. It was helpful to have an external person, with a much greater understanding of how to manage and help with mental health issues to give me support and insight and help. So I recommend finding your own therapist, in addition to the joint one.
posted by gingerbeer at 9:31 PM on August 16, 2012


[Some comments deleted. Don't fight with each other in this thread; don't make this into a round-robin discussion. Answer the question if you can, and try to help the poster. These are the rules of Ask Metafilter.]
posted by taz at 10:07 PM on August 16, 2012


As a sometimes depressed and anxious person, I think you should totally reframe this debate.

He's not saying things things to have an effect on YOU. He is saying them to express how he feels about HIMSELF and his life.

So the right question isn't "How do I get him to stop saying these things that disturb me?" It's: "How can I help him when he feels this way inside?"

You aren't required to do anything in particular. This is his mind and his responsibility. But... if you want to help him, you can.

So don't think about it in terms of yourself and how his suicidal thoughts affect you. Think about how his suicidal thoughts affect him.
posted by 3491again at 3:08 AM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Treehorn+bunny is right on here. The best thing for him to hear from you is that you take his statements seriously, but as a layperson you are unequipped to deal with them. You love him, but love is not a substitute for mental care.

I have been severely depressed, and at times I've had those dark end-of-the-world I'm-just-a-burden-on-everyone thoughts. Being called out on it in the moment - even though you would be right - would have just given me further mental evidence that I was awful and didn't deserve to live and all that. But hearing something like "you're saying some disturbing things and a professional needs to hear them" tended to always get me to step back.

Another thing to do is bring up this issue when he's not in the middle of a meltdown. He'll be better equipped to recognize his behavior and empathize with you if he's feeling more okay.

You do not want him to feel like he's not allowed to say whole categories of things to you; that will make it worse. You do want him to recognize that they're hurtful and terrifying things that have a damaging effect on you too.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:51 AM on August 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


It sounds like the difference here is what the intent is. When he says these things, what's his goal? Sharing his feelings? Kvetching? Pressure-relief valve? Scared that he's feeling suicidal?

Figuring that out will help you figure out which of these answers are the best answers are for you.

IE: He's not saying things things to have an effect on YOU. He is saying them to express how he feels about HIMSELF and his life.

That's certainly possible. But it is also possible he IS saying them to be manipulative. I know lots of people who suffer from depression at various levels, and a good many of them play this little game. Their depression is hurting them, and they want to make sure everyone else around them hurts too.

But I will say this: we almost always have control over the things that come out of our mouths. Whether it is conscious control, or subconscious control via the beliefs we allow ourselves to have, we usually have control. Our feelings are not excuses to say hurtful things, and we don't get to choose what other people consider to be hurtful.
posted by gjc at 7:04 AM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


The problem for you is that you choose to be in a relationship with someone is suffering from depression.

1. Those who have depression issues and are not in a relationship, should not be entering into such relationships (for the reasons such as the burden of decisions you are facing).

2. If you were aware of his depression bouts, honestly, you should not have stepped into a relationship with him. If you found out after the fact, then you should have made a decision at that very moment to exit.

You are not in the position to help him medically, therefore you still need to make a choice: the issue of not wanting to hear his depressive comments is a "red herring" - the better decision is, Do you have the courage to be all in, our leave this relationship? Only you know what you are really capable of over the long run.
posted by Kruger5 at 10:01 AM on August 17, 2012


I suffer from depression and I think your boyfriend's behaviour isn't okay. It is harming you. He likely isn't consciously aware of it, but when it comes down to it he is using his depression as a free pass to say whatever he wants and to not consider at all what it could be doing to you. He either isn't aware or doesn't care that all of his "I am going to throw away all my pills and die" talk hurts more than just himself. Not only is it not healthy for you and your relationship, I don't think that kind of talk needs to be part of a depressive state. I'm all for therapy and just talking out how you're feeling and expressing that, but he isn't saying it to feel better or to try to gain perspective.

When I'm in a bad way and I have bad feelings and thoughts I will talk to my partner, saying things like "My emotions and thoughts aren't healthy right now. I keep feeling like I don't deserve to be with you, that I'm worthless, and that I don't deserve your love or understanding when I'm like this. I'm feeling like I am an unworthy partner for you or anyone. I logically know these feelings aren't true and that it is the depression that is making me feel this way, but emotionally they are feeling very real and pursuasive."

I say basically everything your partner is communicating to you (minus the self harm), but I am doing it in a way that doesn't put immense pressure or guilt or stress on my partner, I try to make it clear that I know it is the depression but that the disease is trying very hard to convince me of bad things.

My feelings are no different, but it is a very very different message to my partner.

tl;dr - as a depressive myself, I don't think that depression gives you a free pass to say harmful, hurtful, destructive things to your partner.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:43 AM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do you have the courage to be all in, our leave this relationship?

I think that kind of blamey language is not okay. People can choose to leave relationships for a variety of valid reasons and framing the choice to stay in a relationship as either "all-good" or "all-bad" is really unfair. You will notice the relationship has not been given the length of time they have been in a relationship, if it has only been a year and this is the first depressive bout she has experienced then now is the perfect time for her to evaluate her boundaries and get a little reality-check from the hive mind about her expectations. Good luck to you, OP; I wish you peace with your decision.
posted by saucysault at 2:14 PM on August 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


You're allowed to support him as best you can, but bow out when you can't. That's normal and reasonable. I've found the most helpful way to deal with this is to wait until he is feeling reasonably normal and realistic, then address it in a straightforward way: "I care about you, and I want to support you. I want to be there when you need me. Unfortunately, when you start talking about how horrible you are and how bad things are and how nothing can ever fix it, I have a really difficult time supporting you, or even understanding how to support you, because those feelings don't reflect reality and I'm not a therapist trained to deal with them. How can we work together to help you reframe your perspective and see that you are having these feelings, but also that these feelings do not represent the reality of your world? Let's talk about it."

Of course, if after talking about it you can't find something to try, or when it comes up again he doesn't want to try/says he can't try, then see him through to the end of it, and the next time he's feeling reasonable and normal again, address it: "we discussed what to do, so that I can support you in a helpful and productive way, and it doesn't seem to be working. Let's talk about this in therapy in our next session." Then keep on working from that perspective: as partners, and with a bent towards making it possible for you to help him. He might actually find it easier to reframe his perspective if he's thinking of you instead of himself. Ultimately, though, the goal is to help him realize it is a problem in a non-judgmental way, and turn it into therapy session fodder.
posted by davejay at 2:36 PM on August 17, 2012


oh, and it is probably helpful to both of you to say to him, during one of these moments: "Wow, you must be feeling really, really awful right now. Here's a huge hug, because I love you, and I'm going to go get you some ice cream/pull up your favorite show on netflix/take you and the dog for a walk/etc."
posted by davejay at 2:38 PM on August 17, 2012


almost forgot the end of that sentence... "...and we should write these feelings down right now, so that you can bring them to your next therapy session."
posted by davejay at 2:40 PM on August 17, 2012


The only correct answer to your "Tell me what to do" is "Ask a professional" but since you asked, no it seems hardly fair to you. Sounds almost exactly like DF Wallace's short story "The Depressed Person". I couldn't finish it, too realistic (also I read DF Wallace lost friends while writing it). But I became aware of this as a thing maybe first due to a scene from Virgina Woolf's To The Lighthouse. A young boy is observing a conversation between his parents in which the father beats himself up, the mother comforting the father, and the boy sees a hoe hitting a tree and drawing the sap; over and over.

I think it's fair to say, if I am depressed and I want a relationship I have to take responsibility for myself and find outlets which are filtering my death drive into some abstract or creative expression instead of mainlining it. (Say, wasting some productivity time making Rageface comics about clients and emailing those to my colleagues, instead of complaining to my colleagues about what the clients did to piss me off.)

In the past I have been seriously lucky to have had people close to me who (to my surprise) wouldn't listen to any of the living hell I was trying to describe to them but they let me stay close and do sort of normal life things together with them. And it was still recognised how I feel and I didn't have to pretend to be happy BUT they would insist on keeping on doing both mundane and spirit nourishing things. I learned a lot and I will always be grateful. Good luck to you.
posted by yoHighness at 8:00 PM on August 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Have a last thing to say for you, OP. When you talk to him about this, you might feel like you need to frame it so that it is all about HIS well-being. Like you are just trying to find the best way to support and help him.

I hope that you move away from that framing if you can. Because it seems like you're already in a dynamic where maybe he is often the only one whose well-being is explicitly considered or valued. And it is understood that your well-being is not as much of a consideration, or is maybe important in a theoretical way, but practically, just "needs" to be on the back burner right now.

I think it is really important that it is explicitly stated and agreed that your well-being is VERY important, it is important to preserve and take very good care of. To get away from a dynamic where the benefit to his well-being is the only thing that could justify any kind of action or change.
posted by cairdeas at 11:20 AM on August 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


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