Oh, MeFites, I could use your insight. I'm probably going to have to call things off with my girlfriend - and it's mostly because she's depressed and out of resources to deal with things, so small things are becoming huge stressors on a near-daily basis. I feel like this makes me a horrible person, but things are so fraught, I don't know what else to do. Help? [Long, full of snowflakes and sadness]
posted by Someone Else's Story to human relations (25 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I've been seeing Mia since January, though we’ve been friends for at least 18 months. We're both poly, and both live with other partners.
Mia has been at least somewhat depressed since I first met her, but things have been getting worse in recent months. She has said more than once that she doesn’t know if she’s capable of being happy. She says she doesn’t have the skills needed to experience joy on more than a fleeting basis, that when she tries to hold on to positive feeling it slips right through her fingers. Anything less than total enthusiasm for an idea she shares deflates it completely for her, and even if she follows through she feels like the pleasure is gone. She took a holiday recently - and the prospect filled her with dread rather than excitement. Then while she was there, a bad final night managed to spoil the whole trip for her.
She has reasons to be depressed, in fairness. She got her Masters a few years ago but hasn’t been able to find work in her field (which she sees as a failing on her part), so she works in a soul-sucking pit of despair call-center. She was “promoted” to HR a few months back, so she’s been the one processing around fifty layoffs - no say in them, just getting to convey the bad news. Oh, and do things like lay someone off, then be forced to train under their resentful spouse the following week. Her workplace are making noises about how they don’t need so many Operations staff, so she’s constantly reminded that she’s still in the firing line.
Her other relationships are not currently making her happy; her other partners are great people, but not always able to give her the support she needs. Though in fairness, nor am I. There are money woes, major house projects, family issues, health concerns, all sorts of things.
And to top it off she just had one of her dreams die: she’s been talking since I met her about how one day, when she could afford it, she would move her horse up to our city and be able to ride again - a rare source of true pleasure for her. Tragically, her horse had to be put down this week after a horrific accident. She is devastated. She has withdrawn from the social circle for the last few days because she doesn’t feel like she can trust them to react appropriately to this, and not tell her “get over it, it was just a horse.” I saw people at an event I organised the night after, and they were all sympathetic and worried about her. (To me, this says I may not be the only one to whom she’s responding with unexpected distress and pessimism?)
Ours is a fairly low-key relationship; I’m partially housebound due to illness, she has a full and exhausting life. Most of our communication is via text-message or IM - affectionate notes while she's at work, bits of news, a quick chat before we sleep. We do group social things once or thrice a week, and used to have one-on-one time once a week, but that changed when the promotion pulled her off night shift and onto 9-5 hours; my life got busy around the same time (rehearsing/performing 6 days a week, then minor surgery, then travel), so we haven’t had the chance to settle into a new routine. She frets about the schedule issues and tells me she misses me a lot, but I feel like I’m the one who turns that into ideas and invitations.
I love her, and have been doing my best to support her as a friend and then a partner. But lately I’ve come to feel that I can’t provide nearly enough support for her - there are only so many ways I could say “I’m sorry, that sounds really hard, I wish I could do something to make things easier on you.” I started gently suggesting therapy to her a couple of months ago, and to her credit she did ask me for the details of someone I found in her area when I was looking for my own therapist. I know these things take time to organise, but I’ve asked a couple of times since if there’s any news on that front, and she has just changed the subject. So I don't know what's happening there.
But by this stage, she seems to be so low on resources that things are hitting her much harder than I'd expect, and things that seem simple enough to me are becoming Big Things To Angst Over. I am extremely concerned for her.
And this is hurting me, and our relationship. We had multiple conversations last week that turned into distress and angst for reasons that baffle me. She seems to be perceiving anything other than total agreement and affirmation as attack, or cause for great distress. Every conversation has included some variation on “you seem to be upset with me” or “I must have offended you” from her, usually when what I’ve been thinking is “I don’t know how to deal with this, and I’m seriously worried about you.”
In one case, I questioned something she said about disability politics, and shortly afterwards left a smiley off a joke I made (I had a migraine), and suddenly she was telling me “what I hear from you is that I am not allowed to have an opinion or try to support others in attempt at community building.” And that she was “now distraught AND an hour late for bed” because she’d spent the last half-hour talking to me as I desperately tried to work out where she was hearing things I wasn’t saying.
In another, I had to set a boundary with her recently; she was hammering my phone with 5-7 text messages in the space of two minutes, venting about things. I was resting this particular day, but I sleep very lightly and even with the phone on vibrate out on my soft couch, I hear it; when it goes off that many times, I assume it’s an emergency.
(My phone stays on because I have friends & family around the world, and want to be reached in an emergency. My little sister attempted suicide in another time-zone last year, and people couldn’t get through to tell me she’d been found & hospitalised - that made the whole thing worse for me. So yeah - my phone stays on.)
I explained that, and asked her to please try contacting me once by text/IM/whatever, but wait for me to respond before continuing to send message after message - the same thing I’ve asked of everyone who texts/IMs me regularly. She agreed, but says she now doesn’t feel “safe” initiating contact at any time, and that “I understand the reasons for your boundaries and can respect them. It just stifles me from feeling like I can "share" or from contacting you first.”
I went to visit my old city recently (I sent messages almost every day on the trip, whenever I was able to), and on my return, it took several weeks before she “believed” that I was back. During those weeks, I texted/IMed with her almost daily, saw her, hugged her, kissed her, but on some level she still “missed me in the pessimistic way” that meant “she didn’t believe she would ever see me again.” She says that wasn’t an issue, it’s just how she is and it’s over now... but it was an issue for me, being told she felt I was never coming back to her even after I had done so and was right there next to her.
I’m starting to feel like I have to walk on eggshells, because she’s just so very fragile. I want to pull back from IM and text-message conversations because they’re so often leading to misinterpretation, but she will be hurt by that, and that will cut our communication dramatically. I’m losing sleep over this, and that’s sapping my already limited energy.
And worse, I’m starting to get triggered by the similarities between this and how I was treated by my emotionally-abusive ex-girlfriend - the problems with her started to really show when she was severely depressed, and led to my feeling I had to second-guess everything I said in the same way...
I firmly believe Mia doesn’t intend to be passive-aggressive, but many of the things she’s saying could be taken that way: the schedule conflict is “just another reason to hate [her] job,” the request to not send torrents of texts is “stifling” her, and she says things like “I should refrain from just sending messages that are the things that are going on with me, or are information I want to share with you or someone safe, because they are seen as attempts to get your attention...” After I shut down my computer for the night last time we chatted, my phone got seven messages from her, ending with “sigh. and now I may be violating the communication rule, because you don't appear to be there. and I have sent too many messages. My apologies. there is no emergency.” After I suggested a few days’ break (and stopping electronic communication for a while because it’s just so fraught), she’s saying that that’s not how she works, but what she wants is “irrelevant.”
It saddens me that she genuinely might believe these things, but my repeated reassurance hasn’t changed that, so I don’t know what else I can do.
I feel like at the moment, our relationship is doing more harm than good - we’re both getting hurt when conversations go so badly awry. I’m losing sleep, having tension headaches for the first time in years, off my food, and having trouble making decisions because my mind is full of this. (I spent my last therapy session talking about this, but didn’t find clarity or a resolution.)
My feeling is that we should call the relationship side of things off at least for a few months, so that we stop adding to each other's stresses, and hopefully she can get the help that she needs. I have already stopped the text/IM conversation for a few days, to hopefully give myself/us a chance to calm down and get our thoughts in order. Historically, I've held on too long; now I'm afraid that I'm jumping too soon...
I think individual counseling is the priority for her - if she can’t find time/money/energy for that, I’m unlikely to get her into couple’s counselling. And every time I’ve done couple’s therapy with a depressed partner, it’s only lasted a couple of sessions before individual therapy was recommended for the depressed one.
I can’t fix her, I know that.
But on the other hand, I want to support her, and have been able to give her some support until recently. What she needs now is more support, not less - and I want to remove myself from the equation? Even pulling back on the text-based communication feels like cutting her off. I know that if we do end the relationship, it’s extremely unlikely we can instantly go back to being friends; I had an ex expect that of me, and it caused more drama than the break-up did. And what sort of person am I if I decide that her issues are too much to deal with, and pull out? I know you put your own oxygen mask on first, and all, but still...
It’s worth noting that some months before we started the relationship, we had a conversation where I said I wasn’t ready to get involved with anyone else: I had to get back into therapy and work on my issues with PTSD before I would be ready. She told me I was “making that decision for other people” and “denying them the right to choose for themselves” whether they got involved with someone who had trauma to deal with. I argued quite vehemently with that, and she saw my point that that was a decision for me, but damn right I had the right to choose unilaterally not to get involved with someone. However, I’m concerned that any attempt I make to step back will bring up the same “making the decision for her” response - even if I’m doing it for my sake.
So advise me, people. Am I just a heel for wanting to step back from this? Is there another way I can still support her without walking a minefield or huge amounts of stress myself? What would you do?