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Helping him but not forcing it
July 3, 2014 11:44 AM   Subscribe

My husband is probably mentally ill. How do I help him get treatment when he really doesn't want it?

This is somewhat of a followup to my previous AskMe. My husband has been under increasing pressure to get a job after graduation. I cannot support our household on my wage without quitting school (two semesters away from graduation!), his parents have (understandably!) stopped helping us with rent, and he was expected to get a job in about a month to help pay the August rent. We just signed the lease on a small house that has cheaper rent, but even then, our finances are tight.

This month, I had been asking him repeatedly to submit an application to a job in our area that looks ideal for him in terms of skills. He had been dawdling on it for a long period of time and a few days ago I told him to submit it and be done with it. He said he couldn't do it and that he was leaving me. I left our house to cool down and when I returned he had taken off on his bike, presumably up into the mountains, with approximately two days of food. I contacted his family and we started attempting to locate him. Eventually I managed to convince him to come back. He wouldn't talk to his parents, but he has been talking to me. Essentially, he feels that there is something that prevents him from doing things he does not want to do, such as getting a job, to the point where he physically feels unable to do these things. He recognizes that this is a problem that needs to be worked on. However, he will not seek help. All he could say is that he doesn't like it, can't do it and didn't think it would help him.

His reticence to obtaining treatment is putting me in a tight bind. I feel trapped. I feel like I must ask him to obtain treatment or I will leave. However, I don't think it's right to leave him when he is in this frame of mind. I love him too much to leave without trying at least to support him through treatment. I understand that I cannot force him to get treatment, and that he has to want to get better. My question is, how can I discuss treatment with him without forcing it on him? Could I have handled this better, and how? Can you give me any advice on caring for myself and staying strong in this situation?
posted by cobain_angel to Human Relations (43 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
Decide what your boundaries are and stick to them. If him going to treatment is a requirement for you to continue this relationship, and he refuses to go, then you know what you need to do for you.

If you want to give him a chance to sort things out, please please please put a time limit on it (and communicate that limit to him) so that it's not suddenly 7 years later but nothing's changed.
posted by burntflowers at 11:55 AM on July 3 [17 favorites]


Are you talking about clinical depression? Do you think he'd be willing to see the family doctor to talk it over and see if medication could be a starting point to ease some of these "stuck" feelings? Family doctors see patients all the time for these sorts of concerns. That might be less daunting step than seeing a therapist.
posted by megancita at 11:58 AM on July 3


"He said he couldn't do it and that he was leaving me."

I'm sorry to say that I think this is pretty categorical and your chances of a positive ending here are pretty slim.

In this case I think your resources are probably best spent looking after yourself and preparing to making a graceful, respectful exit.
posted by Middlemarch at 11:58 AM on July 3 [30 favorites]


Threadsitting for just a minute: he was diagnosed as a teenager (~17) with a major depressive disorder and social anxiety, and briefly put on medication. He went off of it on his own a few weeks after and hasn't been to the doctor at all since then. So pretty much any doctors will be brand new to him.
posted by cobain_angel at 12:03 PM on July 3


Oh man. I remember your last question. I'm sorry you're not in a better place by now.

It sounds like you know what you need to do for yourself. You need to tell him your truth -- that this is a dealbreaker for you, and that while you're willing to be behind him, you need him to seek help for himself.

I don't think there's any way you could have prevented this. It's not like there's some magical "You Must Care This Much" bar to pass that would make him not like this. In order for him to get better, he has to want to get better. It sounds like you know this with your head, but you're having a hard time believing it with your heart.

Do you have anyone on Team You who you can talk to about this -- a school counseling center, or a good friend, or a faith leader?
posted by pie ninja at 12:04 PM on July 3 [7 favorites]


Oof. This is hard. As far as taking care of yourself goes:

This book helped me with self-care during a period when I was living with a depressed SO.

Keep moving, keep working, and don't let his illness and inertia bring you down.

It may feel like your time is tight these days, between caring for your husband and finishing school, and etc. etc., but don't let your social time suffer. Maintaining close friendships outside your family/marriage will keep you sane, healthy, and supported.

If you decide to stay together:

You seem really reasonable and like you've got a good perspective on his problems and the limits of your responsibility for it, which is good. Journaling can help track your emotions and outlook, and as burntflowers referenced above, it could prevent a "suddenly 7 years later" situation where you've lost sight of the shore.

This advice has helped me a lot in the last few weeks with a problem-drinking SO, and I think it could apply equally to depression.
posted by magdalemon at 12:05 PM on July 3 [1 favorite]


I think you should tell him that if he won't take steps to get some kind of treatment, you'll leave him, and if those steps are not taken by [time], you'll leave.

Don't drop out of school. Leave him first, if that's what it comes down to. Dropping out of school - even if you go back and finish later - has a lot, a lot of costs associated with it and will really hurt you in the long run.

There are three likely scenarios here: he's genuinely ill but can start tackling that if he gets a kick in the ass; he's genuinely ill but can't start tackling that and will be ill for a very long time or always; or he's convinced himself that he is "ill" when instead he's stubborn, afraid, selfish, self-dramatizing and/or lazy. None of these is solved by sticking around without a clear exit strategy.

It's early days in your marriage, too. You don't have five or ten years of proof that he is supportive and functional as a partner to inspire you to soldier through the tough stuff, and you don't have long history together. You also don't, in my opinion, have the same obligations. And he has family, youth and other options that he might not have if you were both older. Believe me, if you're going to leave someone because he is unable/unwilling to be a good partner, now is the time.

I have several friends whose first serious partnerships broke down much as yours seems to be. It's much better to get real about this stuff and be divorced at 25 than to be 30 or 35 with no money, lots of stress and damaged career prospects.
posted by Frowner at 12:07 PM on July 3 [69 favorites]


It isn't wrong to leave someone who won't seek treatment for mental illness. You have a right to advocate for your own needs, and to set boundaries. This isn't the same as telling him what to do; rather, you state what you will do if he does (or doesn't) do X.

You say that his parents are right to withhold financial help. Please allow yourself the same amount of understanding.

As for his leaving you -- someone who is very afraid of doing something will often try anything to get out of it, including threatening to leave. I say this as someone who is mentally ill and currently being successfully treated. It took me two years to seek help, and in that time I weaseled around, made excuses, and lied so I could put it off. It was totally unfair to my husband, and I can completely understand that you're considering leaving your marriage.
posted by wryly at 12:09 PM on July 3 [5 favorites]


This sounds incredibly, incredibly similar to what I went through with my (almost certainly) mentally ill ex. The story you tell about asking him to do something, and then him saying he was leaving you and then taking off and leaving you to worry, and the feeling trapped and feeling like it's not right to leave him when he's in a bad state of mind...

I could have written this exact post three or four or five years ago. What I mean is that my ex's behavior never changed. It was like this and got steadily worse. I finally left him, after feeling trapped for years by his behavior, once he started getting physically abusive with me on a more recurring basis.

I am not saying that your husband is abusive. It sounds like he might have depression. I am not a doctor and I have no idea what is going on with him. But in some ways - and the most important way, really - it does not matter what is wrong with him, only that he is not treating you or the marriage with the respect they deserve. This is a problem. You should not have to worry that your husband is gone and may never come home. You shouldn't be calling your husband's parents to try to locate him. This is a nightmare that I have lived and I would not wish it on anyone. The way he is behaving is very emotionally taxing and hard and I am so sorry you're experiencing this.

How can I discuss treatment with him without forcing it on him?
You say to him: "Husband, I really love you and care about you. I am concerned about you saying that you aren't able to do things that you want to do. I think that therapy is really helpful for this problem. I have read that it is helpful and I know that it has worked for . I know you don't want to go, but this problem is affecting me and our marriage. This is really important to me.

You might also want to suggest couples counseling and think about that, but if you go this route I strongly encourage you to talk it over with your individual therapist first.

Could I have handled this better, and how?
Well, there's not a lot of data here in the question about how exactly you handled it, so this is hard to answer. But based on my own experience, no, you couldn't have "handled this better." This isn't about you and what you did or did not do. This is about him. No matter how you handled it, I imagine the end result would have been exactly the same.

Can you give me any advice on caring for myself and staying strong in this situation?
Get busy. Get hobbies. Get out of the house. Make friends. Prioritize yourself and the things you love. Do not let this take over your life. I would strongly encourage you to find things to do that are outside of the home, things you love to do and that make you happy. Take an art class, learn to rock climb, join Meetup and get together with people who knit. Get enough sleep, and make sure you're eating well and exercising. Start a journal and write down how you feel and what is going on in your head. Pay attention to your feelings. Keep going to therapy (you mentioned that you were there in your last post).

I don't think it's right to leave him when he is in this frame of mind.
Do you think it's right for him to treat you the way he is treating you? Just a thought experiment.

posted by sockermom at 12:17 PM on July 3 [9 favorites]


Maybe he'd be more receptive to trying something where he'll know pretty quickly whether or not it's working for him?

Instead of SSRIs (which take months to build up in your system enough to be effective), maybe he could try a fast-acting antidepressant like Wellbutrin (works the day you take it) and/or an antianxiety medication like Klonopin (starts working within a few days).
posted by Jacqueline at 12:22 PM on July 3


Can you stabilize your living situation long enough to ignore him and graduate?

DO THIS.

His parents need to step in. Save yourself. Save yourself.
posted by jbenben at 12:24 PM on July 3 [18 favorites]


I think you should leave him if he will not commit to beginning treatment.

I don't say that lightly, and I absolutely understand your feelings about it being impossible to leave him when he can't care for himself. I financially support a partner with a mental illness as well. But his staying in treatment is an absolute condition of my doing that. I can't require that he get X much better by Y date, obviously, but I can and do require that he stay in treatment and follow his doctor's orders re: prescriptions and therapy.

I don't know exactly how I would find the strength to leave if he were to stop cooperating with treatment for a significant period of time, but I believe that would be the necessary thing to do for me, and that it is for you as well, as hard as that is. You cannot keep all the balls in the air completely on your own; letting his illness drag you into quitting school would not be doing him or yourself any favors.

You need support, however this plays out. If you have a friend you can talk truthfully to, talk to your friend. If not, you need a support group for partners of people with mental illnesses. Please look for one. You are not the first person to be in this situation, and you can learn from and take strength from other people at other points in this journey.

I'm sorry; I know very well how impossible this situation feels.
posted by Stacey at 12:25 PM on July 3 [4 favorites]


If part of the problem is that you don't want to look like the bad guy to other people - you need to be okay with this. Some people - especially his family - may blame you. Fuck that noise. You do the right thing by setting boundaries. You must protect your life, your career, your financial and mental wellbeing. Only you will stand up to protect yourself. Do it.
And who knows, other people can surprise you with their understanding and support.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:25 PM on July 3 [9 favorites]


As a point in favor of getting involved in treatment: if his problems are severe enough that they might eventually prevent him from working (or already do), were he to apply for Social Security Disability at some point it's necessary to be able to show a medical history of basic effort to pursue treatment. So maybe it would help to present re-engaging in treatment as a "just in case" measure, rather than stressing that it's essential for him to confront particular problems.

For what it's worth, I have some extremely similar problems and can sympathize with him. It's extremely frustrating, scary, and stressful when you get paralysed by emotions and anxieties you can't identify or name in trying to do extremely commonplace things that every rational part of your being screams are normal, mundane everyday tasks for most people that there are no good reasons to be afraid of or hesitant about.

But as everyone else is saying, do what you can for him and then don't hesitate to tap out and take care of yourself.
posted by Sockpuppet Liberation Front at 12:27 PM on July 3 [1 favorite]


Can you give me any advice on caring for myself and staying strong in this situation?
If you have shared bank accounts or credit cards, I would strongly urge you to take him off these. You do not want to end up broke because he decided he wanted something.
If you have friends or family who can help you, call them. You might need someplace to stay, or money. You can't help him if you're both out on the street.
I understand that you feel very loyal to him, but he's not feeling the same way. He ran away.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:35 PM on July 3 [9 favorites]


To expand..

Were I you, I would reach out to all family and friends possible to help pay the rent while you finish school.

I would only notify him and his parents that you can not support him financially or encourage him to get treatment while you finish school IF THAT IS SAFE FOR YOU. Otherwise, keep the lights on, the rent paid, and go about your business.

Yep. Quietly close all joint accounts, cancel non-essentials like cable tv if you can, etc.

Can you stay with friends until you graduate?

After graduating, formerly separate. You can't fix this. Enough with the ultimatums. Get out of the formal & legal side of this marriage.



Maybe the relationship is salvageable down the road, but don't be legally responsible for this fellow. His parents can & should step in.

Why? Because you are not equipped to handle this or fix it. His parents really need to step in.

Sorry you have to make these hard choices. Above all, stay safe.
posted by jbenben at 12:57 PM on July 3 [3 favorites]


Essentially, he feels that there is something that prevents him from doing things he does not want to do, such as getting a job, to the point where he physically feels unable to do these things.

I didn't read your previous question, but he was able to attend and graduate school, but is now incapable of working? That raises a red flag for me. Generally, anxiety like this doesn't restrict itself to just the not-fun parts of life.
posted by xingcat at 1:13 PM on July 3 [9 favorites]


Put on your own oxygen mask first. If leaving him is right for you, you can leave; you're responsible for doing what you can for your own happiness and future, but you're not responsible for taking care of him at the expense of taking care of yourself, especially when he won't take care of himself!

You say "I don't think it's right to leave him when he is in this frame of mind," which is a valid concern -- but not one that overrides your needs. You get to leave if you want, even while he is hurting. And if he continues to evade treatment, his mental state will probably become worse and the strain on your marriage will also become worse -- waiting for a "good" time to leave someone is often futile.

I've been watching someone recently going through something very similar and her dad gave her the excellent advice, "Charity is no reason to stay in a marriage." Only stay if you feel like you can or might be able to salvage this relationship without giving up yourself and your needs.
posted by anotherthink at 1:18 PM on July 3 [3 favorites]


As frowner said I think you should tell him that if he won't take steps to get some kind of treatment, you'll leave him, and if those steps are not taken by [time], you'll leave. but, you've presumably both signed a lease. So, stop paying for things. What's in your name? Electricity, gas, water, cable, internet? Cut off cable and internet. Tell him he has to put other bills in his name by , or you will have service terminated. Tell him he has to pay rent or leave. He has to buy food, gas for a car, if any, etc. Do you have a shared credit card? Get your name off it, so no new charges can be made in your name. Tell him it's time for him to start paying any credit card bills or any other debt.

For many years, I subsidized my ex-. When it was his turn, he was out of the relationship. It doesn't feel nice.

Encourage him to get help because he will feel better, and make it clear that you care for him, but will not allow his issues to derail your education.

posted by theora55 at 1:22 PM on July 3 [3 favorites]


I remember your last question and I'm so sorry this is happening, but I'm not surprised.

My outsider perspective where it's possible that I see some things jumping out and a pattern that you don't:

a few months ago, your husband generally felt that work wasn't really something that he wanted to do and he wouldn't do any work around the house,

and he refused to get help;

now he won't apply for a job (that you found for him), ran away instead of having a conversation with you, recognizes there's a problem,

and refuses to get help.

What I'm seeing and what I'm saying is that your husband is not only not working with you but he's raising the stakes by running away and saying he has problems that he won't get help for.

Yes, he may be ill. He may not be.

I know...believe me, I KNOW...this is not easy. But I would leave.

He can get help, get a job and demonstrate that he's responsible and can treat you with love and respect, and he can contact you when that's happened.

But in the meantime, you have your own life to live. I'm sorry. In my experience, this is not going to get better and you need to take care of yourself.
posted by kinetic at 2:00 PM on July 3 [26 favorites]


I remember you from your last Ask - you are so thoughtful and accomplished. I'm sorry this hasn't gotten any better.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say it: I don't think he's mentally ill. Sorry. I've followed your questions and followups and I think he's manipulating you. It may be easier to be sympathetic to a mentally ill husband, but I don't think that's what's going on here, and I think you'll be much better off once you can make that distinction.

You need to take his "I'm leaving you" at face value: he has left. You don't need to decide, now, whether you should leave. It's done. He has done it, and those aren't words you take back. He's on his own now.

The only thing you can decide is whether you will give him another chance ............. AFTER he has fixed himself (no one else can), taken care of himself (no one else should), owned up to the hurt he's caused you (that's his to own!) AND created a clear path forward for your marriage (you get the idea: his job. No one else can hold up his end of a relationship).

So in the meantime: figure out how a) how you're going to take care of yourself (and I mean only yourself, not both of you), and b) how you're going to create boundaries that will preserve a) until he does the stuff in the paragraph above. You have a year left for your degree - you CAN do it, please don't let this take you down. Focus on what you, and only you, need.

Let him do ... whatever he's gonna do (and I know it's going to KILL you to not step in and help and caretake and all - but really, don't) and if he does get around to realizing what he walked away from, only then do you need to consider whether you will give him another chance. But that's a long time away from now -- you'll be a different person.

What you need to do now is kick him back to his parents, stop making excuses for him, stop letting him come back. Boundaries. You need to let him hang it out there, and see exactly what he does in the face of not being taken care of.

Time tells the truth like nothing else. Let it.
posted by Dashy at 2:13 PM on July 3 [11 favorites]


I remember your previous question too. I'm so sorry. I don't think your husband is mentally ill.

I think you are both very young and that this marriage is not right for either of you. You two have been married since you were both 19 or 20. Your husband is not ready for the level of lifetime commitment your current relationship demands and is not able to communicate this to you in a mature way. It sounds like you are very clear-headed and very accomplished and goal-oriented, and like you've been the major engine behind your marriage and current life-- you picked the house, you picked the "ideal" job for him to take, you've now decided that the explanation for his behavior is mental illness and want him to get into treatment. This unbalanced dynamic is unfair to him and unfair to you. He is being pressured into a life he doesn't want and you are doing the labor of two people while breaking your heart. When he said "he couldn't do it and that he was leaving me" he was not talking about the job application, he was talking about your marriage.

Please do whatever you can to take care of yourself and finish your degree; that includes getting assistance from your friends and possibly his family while you two work things out. Take care.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 2:33 PM on July 3 [4 favorites]


When a person shows you who they are, believe them.
posted by ApathyGirl at 2:39 PM on July 3 [11 favorites]


I want to add -- you asked about how to stay strong through this. I would answer -- there is tons written (not to dismiss you! but so many have said better things than I can) and AskMe'd here about how to mentally and physically deal after breakups. And that's what you really need to do right now: approach this as a breakup, and take care of only yourself. As for the questions that preceded "how should I stay strong through this?" -- let them go.

It may not be that way in the end; he may turn himself around, he may not. But your task right now is to take care of yourself. That's all you can do, and it's all you should do.

I wish you the best. I hope your next question is something like "I have these two great jobs waiting for me after I graduate, which should I choose?".
posted by Dashy at 2:42 PM on July 3 [2 favorites]


Listen, there will be many people in your life that you love. The person you're married to needs to not only be a person whom you love, but a person who has similar goals, ideals and a shared vision of the future. It sounds as if you two share none of these things. It's ok to end a non-functioning partnership. In this case, it's not as if you have a ten year marriage going through a rough patch, it's all been rough. This does not a happy, healthy life make.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 3:09 PM on July 3 [4 favorites]


If you think that your husband is actually sick, as opposed to just being a slouch, a yearly physical workup might be the first thing to obtain.

If he's unwilling to go to a Psychiatrist, a GP is much less threatening - and an overall physical may find a genuine issue that can be treated, and thus improve his health.
posted by spinifex23 at 4:13 PM on July 3 [1 favorite]


Your husband doesn't sound ill to me.

He sounds fundamentally very lazy, entitled and immature -- but not atypical for a very young man. Is he about your age? 24? I think it's a lot more likely that he's just a garden variety, twenty something flake with entitlement issues, who resents having been asked to grow up and take on husband responsibilities, than that he has something mentally wrong with him.

The term "starter marriage" exists for a reason. It may not seem so from where you sit, since you are very young and I think possibly from a more conservative culture, but it is PERFECTLY OKAY and NOT UNUSUAL to ditch a marriage when you're in your twenties, you have no kids, and you find out you're fundamentally incompatible, which I think is what's happening here.

Just get out. Let his parents take care of him. Graduate, do not disadvantage yourself any more than you have already, disentangle your finances and go. You have a lot of goals to meet and a lot of living to do and it doesn't sound likely that you're going to do it with him. Good luck.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:41 PM on July 3 [21 favorites]


The best definition of marriage I have found is "pulling on the same end of the rope". You have been working and going to school and supporting both of you while he flitted from major to major, leaking existentialist angst everywhere and his parents and you financially and emotionally supporting him.

He has never pulled on the same end of the rope as you.

And he never will, as long as you continue this dynamic. Sorry, but the ONLY hope if for you to make a life for yourself as a separate person without him as an albatross and hope that he grows up and changes before you have truly moved on.
posted by saucysault at 4:50 PM on July 3 [7 favorites]


Not saying this is the best option for you, but something to think about if it makes sense to you: you can maintain a relationship with him, even a romantic relationship, without sharing finances/ housing/ other things that you need to have settled in your life. Regardless of what happens with your marriage, try to get yourself in a position where you don't have to rely on him shaping up to keep yourself on track to finish school.
posted by metasarah at 5:32 PM on July 3 [1 favorite]


In honesty, I recognise some of my own past behaviour in what you've written about your husband. Particularly when you wrote "he feels that there is something that prevents him from doing things he does not want to do, such as getting a job, to the point where he physically feels unable to do these things". Yep.

I don't know you or your husband but in my case, it went beyond "things [I] didn't want to do" - often they were things I DID want to do, and knew I HAD to do, but I was just paralysed by fear.

The metaphor that strikes me about those times is that it was like being in a car that is bogged in sand or mud - the increasing pressure (from myself, from external circumstances, from well-meaning friends and relatives) was like flooring the accelerator, causing the wheels to spin faster and faster, causing me increasing agitation, but not making any progress. In some cases, flooring the accelerator will be enough to pull you out of the mire, but more often you will be up to your axles in mud and feeling helpless.

If it's possible to back off on the pressure enough to try a different strategy, that would be ideal, and to my mind getting him to sit down with someone and work on getting unstuck from this situation would be a good example of this. If he's not open to that idea, at all, can you ask him how he thinks the situation should be resolved? He's got to be seeing the same numbers you are, after all. If his solution is for you to drop out of school, or for him to run for the hills, I wouldn't accept that, but perhaps he has another idea that you're not aware of? Would it be a relief, for example, for him to take a job flipping burgers while he gets his head straight?

Bottom line, I don't think it's unreasonable for you to be looking at leaving him if he's this stuck and is refusing help, but that is of course applying more "accelerator" to the situation, and if there's another way around it I would tend to try that first. I noticed from your previous post that you are yourself getting help for anxiety, and while it's completely understandable to be freaking out about this situation, I imagine your own anxiety might also be feeding into this cycle. Is it possible for you to have a conversation about the situation that is neutral and empathic, and not about blame (however richly deserved) but about your needs and boundaries? It sounds like you've been carrying more than your fair share for a long time, so I'm not sure if you're up for dealing with more things that shouldn't really be your job, but if you and your husband can get on the same side against the stuckness, rather than feeling like you're battling each other, there may still be hope.
posted by Cheese Monster at 8:05 PM on July 3 [4 favorites]


(I don't believe those who say he isn't sick. I suspect anxiety myself.)

Regardless, at the end of the day, you can't be with a person who acts like this, and you can't force him not to act like this. You don't really have a choice. You're seeing how unsustainable this is. I'd tell him you need him to deal with this (that means: get mental health help and find a job) or you need to leave and take care of yourself.

Ultimatums suck, but he was the one who first said that if the choices were (a) apply for a job or (b) not be together, he'd pick (b). I think it's fair for you to say "yes those really are the choices still. have you actually changed your mind?"

You love him and I can see why, but the current situation just can't continue. I hope he steps up and I'm sorry this is happening.
posted by salvia at 8:26 PM on July 3 [4 favorites]


I think the way you are handling it is correct and appropriate. I don't see how you could do it better. You have been dealt a crappy hand of cards here -- and if there is no graceful next step, that is not your doing or your fault.

Have you talked with your husband about what he thinks comes next? If he isn't going to get a job or talk to a counselor, what does he want now? What does he imagine will happen? From your description that's the only way I can imagine him consenting to "treatment" -- if he dreams up some kind of treatment himself. (Anarchists do try various kinds of mental health treatments -- maybe he should look up the Icarus Project?)

In terms of staying strong. The way it sounds from your description is pretty bad. The way you describe it, it sounds like you are quite concerned with his well-being, even to your own detriment (i.e. you'd stay with him even if he didn't get a job, as long as he was getting mental health treatment). But he isn't extending that same generosity to you. Right now he's feeling like it's more important to stay in his comfort zone around both job-seeking and therapy, than it is to make some money so you two can pay rent. He'd rather get divorced and ride his bike into the hills, two semesters before you graduate, rather than do something he doesn't like. So that does not sound very loving and generous towards you. It doesn't sound like he has your best interest as a really high priority. He might -- I am just responding to what I read -- but what you wrote makes him sound pretty self-involved.

Like someone said above, he could have an anxiety disorder, or he could have a personality disorder, or he could just be in the grips of selfishness and dogmatism -- but it doesn't matter one bit what the diagnosis is if he's unwilling to do anything about it. If I were you, I would say "therapy or the highway, husband," and be prepared to move out and finish school if he chooses the highway. You might benefit from Al-Anon, not that your husband is an alcoholic, but that it's a twelve-step group that helps people whose lives have gotten messed up by the disordered behaviors of their loved ones. Other than that, yes, be as kind to him as you can, but also be as kind to yourself as you can. No matter what his situation is, you deserve support and generosity, and if he's not extending that to you, please do extend it to yourself.

Sorry this is happening to you guys. I hope the situation resolves itself quickly and for the best.
posted by hungrytiger at 1:18 AM on July 4 [2 favorites]


He feels that there is something that prevents him from doing things he does not want to do...

Well. My initial response was, wow, I have that too! How come nobody is paying my bills and supporting ME?

Seriously, I am not a psychiatrist, so I suppose it could be anxiety, or some form of mental illness, which will only improve when he commits to getting treatment. Or, it could be simple laziness, immaturity, and selfishness, which will only improve when he experiences real consequences to his behaviour. Either way, the person responsible for changing his situation is him. You are responsible for yourself and your future. Do what you need to do to avoid being pulled under.

You have been more caring and responsive that most people would have been but it sounds like you have reached your limit. It is important that you respect your own boundaries just as much as you do his needs and emotions.
posted by rpfields at 1:36 AM on July 4 [3 favorites]


I feel like I must ask him to obtain treatment or I will leave.

Yes. You must. Give him a timeframe.

Do not drop out of school.

The thing about relationships is that no matter the form of the relationship, we set boundaries all the time. We don't control the behaviour of our partners, but we tell them "If you do X, I will do Y" all the time.

Tell him if he doesn't seek treatment (for something he's already been diagnosed with!) within a reasonable timeframe, you will leave him, because it's not your job to support his untreated mental illness if he won't do anything about it himself.

Make it crystal clear that if he seeks treatment (honestly I doubt he will, and I think this relationship is capital-o Over) you will support his treatment 100%.

Honestly, I think you're going to be living on your own sometime very soon. If you have to convince your partner to come back to you, that's not a good sign at all.

I'm sorry.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:00 AM on July 4 [2 favorites]


Never ever ever ever subsidize someone who isn't working at the expense of your long-term financial security unless it's your minor child. Especially never ever financially support a grown adult who has supportive family at the risk of your long-term security. Just don't do it.

Right now you're in a financial emergency and it needs to be your top priority.

Hang in there. This is such a tough situation.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:36 AM on July 5 [4 favorites]


I've marked a number of best answers, but ALL of your answers have been extremely helpful and I want to thank you all for that. I decided on a deadline, and now it's up to him and time.

I was concerned that setting up an ultimatum like this is manipulating him. Multiple psych classes have drilled into me that motivation for these things must come from within. If any of you are still reading this and would like to offer a thought on that, it would be very welcome.

Thank you all again for your help.
posted by cobain_angel at 4:50 PM on July 5


Speaking as someone with multiple mental health issues--including at-times-crippling depression, sometimes the external motivation is the kick in the ass you need to find the internal motivation.

Or to put it another, painfully personal way, if you don't know the stakes, you don't know how to play the game. He knows the stakes now. It's up to him.

I hope it works out well for all concerned.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:53 PM on July 5 [2 favorites]


I put my grandson in touch with these folks at the Icarus Project. They are a coaching mentoring group that he has found helpful for just the same type of situation. www.theicarusproject.net/

Prayers.
posted by OhSusannah at 11:19 PM on July 5 [1 favorite]


I've struggled with this manipulation question as well.

There is a difference between setting healthy boundaries for yourself and manipulating another person. Setting boundaries says, essentially: I accept others for who they are, but I choose what behaviors are acceptable from people to whom I am close. I will not tolerate behavior that crosses my personal boundaries. An example of a boundary is that I will not be yelled at or cursed at during a disagreement. If that behavior occurs, I will tell or remind the other person of that boundary in a respectful way ("I care about you and this discusssion is important but I will not be screamed at. This is emotional enough and yelling makes it too difficult. I am going to go calm down now for about a half hour. Thanks for understanding.") Then I will walk away so that we can both cool off. My boundaries have been violated and I need space at that point.

Manipulation says, essentially: I do not accept you for who you are. I am going to use my words and actions to force you into changing yourself. I will use bargaining chips and tactics to get what I want. An example of this is: "If you yell at me again, I am taking the car and driving away. You will never hear from me again. Good luck finding someone else to love you the way I do. No one is ever going to put up with you like I do, you know that."

They're not the same, but someone like me or maybe you who has a hard time with boundaries can find this confusing. I think that talking about boundaries and boundary setting and the differences between boundaries and manipulation is a great thing to talk over in therapy.

It is not manipulative to say to your husband that you love him but you also love yourself, and you do not want to put yourself in this position any longer. Boundaries are really hard. Another thing I learned about boundaries is to set them very wide at first and then they can narrow over time. We do this all the time with strangers: I don't let random people hug me, but I let my friends hug me and I let my lovers hug and kiss me. This is an example of boundaries becoming more narrow over time, as someone becomes closer to me - and I've also learned to watch out for boundary breaking or pushing behavior so I can move back or cut those people out before it gets too late and I am in a sticky situation. It's harder to set boundaries after those bounds have been allowed for a long time.

Good luck.
posted by sockermom at 5:51 AM on July 6 [5 favorites]


It's not manipulation to set a clear boundary and timeline and let him decide what he wants, particularly when he's absolutely refused to work with you when you've spent your entire marriage bending over backwards to accommodate his search for himself?

Your husband may be mentally ill, but clearly he is a man-child who needs to be forced to fend for himself if he is ever to grow up. I predict you'll be leaving him. If not for this, for the next thing that comes up. And it will honestly be the best thing for both of you.
posted by rocketpup at 6:55 AM on July 7


No man is entitled to your body, your time, your effort, or your affection. You can withdraw them at any time for any reason or no reason at all. You can withdraw them because you love basketball and he loves hockey. He is not entitled to be in a relationship with you.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:57 AM on July 7 [2 favorites]


Also, it might not make him change. You're making the common female mistake (because we're socialized this way) of seeing him as the "main character" and the rightness or wrongness of your actions in relation to how they affect him. You're the main character of your life. What do you want to do? Finish school, have a relatively pleasant day-to-day life, spend your effort and money on things that benefit you. GREAT! Is this plan going to help you achieve these goals? I think that it is. If it helps him get help, that's great and all, but it is by no means the focus of your life.

You're the main character. Not him. Remember that.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:00 AM on July 7 [9 favorites]


The idea that was conveyed in the psych classes was that "change must come from within" FOR HIM. I.e., YOU can't achieve his welfare for him. And that's right, you can't - you can't force him to change - heck, you can't even force him to come home. However, we're not here talking about what HE needs. We're talking about what YOU need. And you can do whatever you need to do to achieve the life you want. And that may very well include breaking up with a grown adult who refuses to contribute to your partnership.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:29 AM on July 7 [2 favorites]


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