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Is it the depression talking, or am I making excuses for my boyfriend?
November 4, 2012 1:13 PM   Subscribe

Help me understand what’s going on in my relationship and to set appropriate boundaries. My boyfriend’s possibly depressed behavior is triggering my feelings of abandonment/insecurity and I want to know how to support him through this without getting taken advantage of.

My boyfriend and I: early thirties, dating about 2 years, both experiencing a lot of stress around work and less than fruitful job searches. He has added financial and living-arrangements issues.

Additionally, although we’re both smart, awesome people, we’ve both experienced major depressive episodes and anxiety in the past, which have been treated with medication and therapy. This was also a major factor in the end of each of our previous relationships.

About 2 months ago, I started taking an SSRI for work –related anxiety. I’ve also taken a short holiday from work, made plans to see a therapist & made lifestyle changes around sleep, exercise and diet. This has all helped a lot, but it means a lot of my focus has been on myself. In retrospect, I can see that around the same time, Mr Anonymous’ has been becoming increasingly negative and hopeless about his life, saying there was nothing he could do to help himself and suffering insomnia during the week, oversleeping on workdays and sleeping all weekend.

Recently, we were out with a group of friends and I noticed Mr Anonymous paying a lot of attention to a girl he’d had a previous flirtation with. When a few other people mentioned it to me, I pulled him aside and said that I wasn’t accusing him of anything, but it was upsetting me a bit and triggering some old hurts and asked for some reassurance that everything was OK between us, specifically “Could you give me a hug and tell me I’m being silly.” He was very dismissive and said he was going through a lot and didn’t want to talk about it and immediately left the party.

Since then, we’ve hung out, but things have been OK but a bit tense. When I’ve tried to raise the issue with him to try and clarify that it wasn’t a huge deal but it was important to me that what I raised was acknowledged, he’s clammed up and just zoned out and said that he’s not coping and then cried and been so totally worn out he’s gone to bed in the middle of the day.

He’s recently confessed that he went to his GP about depression recently, and I was a bit shocked he hadn’t mentioned anything. Mr Anonymous is an intensely private person, whereas I’m much more open. Although we’ve always been physically very affectionate and have lots of silly little in-jokes, we’re not the sort of couple who has long conversations about our feelings, but we’re pretty adept at saying things like “I’m really tired and stressed now, could you give me some time to process this/give me a hug.”

He's been pretty awesomely supportive and patient with me in the past and I want to return that. I've been through recurrent depression and I know how hopeless and isolating it feels. I also know I tend to feel really abandoned and seek company and reassurance from those I love, and to try and “talk through” what I’m feeling, and I’m having trouble processing his disengagement and inability to articulate what’s going on. I’m trying to look after my own hurt feelings appropriately by turning to my support networks, but I need a hand figuring out what’s reasonable to expect from my guy in these circumstances.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
specifically “Could you give me a hug and tell me I’m being silly.” He was very dismissive and said he was going through a lot and didn’t want to talk about it and immediately left the party.

Ugh ugh ugh. If he wants support, he's going to have to:
1. Open up about how crappy he feels (which should be easier since you both feel crappy)
2. Give support when requested
3. Not making things more difficult than they already are by introducing uncertainty about your relationship.

I think you're just going to have to tell him all of this and put the ball in his court. If he's decided that he's too "private" to treat you like a partner then he's not worth the bandwidth you're willing to spend on him that you need for yourself right now.
posted by bleep at 1:56 PM on November 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


About two months ago you started focusing a lot on yourself, and in the same time frame your boyfriend's ability to maintain seems to have tapered off. Coincidence? Possibly, but...to me, his recent dodging of your request that he allay your concerns about your relationship does seem to undercut the likelihood of that.

The way you handled it was great. You brought your concerns out front, acknowledged your own hurts, and specifically referenced them to him. I think that that is a reasonable expectation from him.

You seem pretty self-aware, so you have probably already considered that his disengagement/inability to articulate in this situation is very likely an attempt to suck you back in closer to him. That doesn't mean it's a conscious ploy. We tend to learn these emotional tricks at a reflexive level when we're very young. By requiring him to engage and articulate, you are not demanding that he be attentive to you, but rather that he be attentive to himself. And that's the best thing for him.

You already know this.
posted by perspicio at 4:24 PM on November 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think his behaviour sounds really insensitive and needlessly hurtful.... maybe manipulative, as other have suggested. Whether or not that is 'the depression talking'... it's still not nice behaviour to be around. If he's not able to articulate these issues in a way that is respectful of your (seemingly legitimate, if others commented on it) concerns, then that seems to be an issue, regardless of whether depression is a contributing factor to him being arsey.

I think you're being very generous in your interpretation of the behaviour and your response to it. Not to imply that you should think that there is anything dodgy going on between him and this girl-- only that he hasn't given you any reason to interpret his behaviour as anything other than rude and selfish really. I don't think the crying and vague descriptions of going through 'something' are sufficient explanation for really quite crappy behaviour.

I do not think that somebody's mental health issues negates the validity of the feelings of the people that they hurt. So yeah, it sounds as though, at this stage, you are kinda making excuses for him. I hope that the two of you are able to work this out and congrats on your own progress.
posted by jojobobo at 4:32 PM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


(At the end there, I should have said, "you are not merely demanding that he be attentive to you, but also that he be attentive to himself.)
posted by perspicio at 4:40 PM on November 4, 2012


Depression isn't a "get out of jail free" card when it comes to treating other people, especially SOs, respectfully. And him responding to your reasonable statements with "I'm going through a lot" and "I'm not coping" while being dismissive and crying means he is shifting the focus from your feelings; instead making you feel guilty for not putting his feelings first [that were previously unstated to you - I guess you were expected to just "know"]. Is he being purposefully manipulative? Probably not, but it is manipulative behaviour regardless. So the question becomes do you reward the dysfunctional behaviour or use positive reinforcement instead?

You mentioned wanting to support him but becoming a doormat that he increasingly treats worse and worse (as shown by his subsequent behaviour when you try to talk to him) is unhealthy for both of you. It is good that you are so tuned into the type of support that helps you most. I think for him he needs a different type of support, including someone calling him out on his shit and giving him consequences for his behaviour. I kinda wondered that you included the detail that you were more focused on yourself when you were doing really normal, independent, healthy things and that your healthy behaviour tied into his slide. Do you feel you "give more" on a regular basis, propping him up to your own detriment? Right now you need to focus on your own health; giving him the support you would like to receive back may actually be harming both of you.

He has gone to the Doctor; what else has he done to combat his depression? It isn't his fault he is sick but it IS his responsibility. After years of experience, I no longer let people use the excuse "I'm depressed" for their rude and disrespectful behaviour unless they are actively working on their depression (meds, exercise, lifestyle changes, therapy) AND they have enough self-insight to apologise quickly and make amends just like "normal" people do.

I would try to have one honest conversation with him, ask him what type of support does he need right now and decide if you are able to offer what he needs. If he is unable to open up with you and continues to expect you to be a mind reader then maybe dial back the relationship, don't look to him for support for yourself and plan a lot more light and easy things out of the house (like meeting for an excercise class or going for a walk) that and keep up with your new healthy habits. I am sorry, this is a tough situation for you.
posted by saucysault at 4:56 PM on November 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


Sounds like you a beingway too nice and that he's hiding something. Or a bunch of different interelated somethings.

You have to figure out if any of those "somethings" threaten your relationship.

From where I stand, keeping important hurts private from your partner does undermine the relationship overall.

I know you want to support this guy, but I think you should draw a line in your mind that you will not cross as you try to be supportive.


For me, that line is likely not being too understanding when my guy flirts with ohers in front of me. That act deserves a respectful conversation - not dodging, silence, or tears and excuses.


Decide how understanding and supportive you want to be before you proceed. Your needs matter, too.
posted by jbenben at 5:21 PM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think you're making excuses -- and I've been in some crappy relationships. This is the kind of thing guys do when the relationship is "winding down" (in their mind).
posted by 3491again at 5:59 PM on November 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


Where do you live? Can you get a mod to post that? I ask because you mention seeing a GP, and it's possible there are cultural issues here which might make some of the advice in this thread (specifically regarding how people engage emotionally when under pressure) not completely valid.
posted by Acheman at 10:03 AM on November 5, 2012


we’ve both experienced major depressive episodes and anxiety in the past, which have been treated with medication and therapy. This was also a major factor in the end of each of our previous relationships.

Take a look back at how your other relationships ended because of depression. Does this mean you are depressed too? In which case, you should take care of yourself first and let him sort himself out but let him know you're there.
posted by brokenwitch at 9:37 AM on November 6, 2012


This from saucysault hits the mark:

"He has gone to the Doctor; what else has he done to combat his depression? It isn't his fault he is sick but it IS his responsibility. After years of experience, I no longer let people use the excuse "I'm depressed" for their rude and disrespectful behaviour unless they are actively working on their depression (meds, exercise, lifestyle changes, therapy) AND they have enough self-insight to apologise quickly and make amends just like "normal" people do."

Boundaries are massively important. Knowing that I'm not allowed to emotionally abuse my girlfriend has done wonders for my reaction to depression. It allows me to let her help me, instead of me treating her like the cause of my problems (which she isn't!)
posted by fredmounts at 9:52 AM on November 8, 2012


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