How do you know when it's time to go?
April 20, 2010 3:21 PM   Subscribe

I love my significant other, but I don't know if I can continue being with him. We've been together (long distance at first) for six years, and lived together for almost two. He's a wonderful man in many ways - caring, a good listener, smart, and funny, but there are some major issues between us that I'm starting to feel I can't live with anymore, and I'm not sure if I should keep working on them, or leave now so that we can both move on.

My SO has suffered from serious depression in the past (not while we were together), and now has what I think of as bouts of depression - days or weekends when he won't get out of bed or talk to me, and if I try to engage him, he reacts angrily. He puts a lot of pressure on himself to perform various tasks (clean out the garage, etc.) but often finds himself unable to do so, which makes him feel depressed as well. We seem to have established a pattern where things are largely fine during the week, but when the weekend hits he feels depressed and will not participate in whatever plans we had. I used to stay home with him as well, but I've recently started trying to keep the plans to avoid living my life around him. Sometimes this works, but also often provokes a big fight. We're working to develop healthier patterns (not catering to moods in negative ways, finding outside interests), but just when I think things are beginning to change, we spend another weekend miserable and fighting because he gets upset about something and can't get over it.

The thing is, probably 80% of the time things between us are great, and in spite of all this we love each other very much. We've been talking about these issues and working on them, and sometimes it seems like we might actually be able to solve them some day. On the other hand, when I think back to when we met, this was happening then too, just not as frequently, so I wonder if it hasn't changed in five years, will it ever?

I don't want it to sound like I think our issues are only his, because I know they're not. I know that I enable him, and I'm working to stop that. I also suffer from anxiety which causes me to be needy, and I'm sure that feeds into our patterns. I guess I feel that on our best days we're great together, but on our bad days, it gets really bad. Although I desperately want to believe that we're working toward more good days, I don't know if it's ever going to be the way I believe a relationship should be, where both people are strong on their own, and are together because they care about each other, not because they need each other in an unhealthy and possibly destructive way.
posted by secretsquirrel to Human Relations (20 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
I only know of being married to a lady with anxiety, (with me being a guy who tends to float through life without much care), but has he tried medication? I know the right one(s) do wonders for anxiety, though some can be worked out with therapy.

Also, have there been any major chances (or even a number of minor changes) that would push him towards more depression?

As for making your own plans for your own life: very key. I say this as someone who wants activity and gets antsy with too much downtime, while my wife can enjoy reading or watching TV for days. At first it I felt like I should rouse her to action, which in turn would make her feel guilty for not wanting to do more, but we've come to terms with our own need (or lack) for active hobbies.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:29 PM on April 20, 2010


On balance, would you be happier with the relationship or without it?
posted by craven_morhead at 3:29 PM on April 20, 2010


Is he in therapy? Is he receiving medication? Are you? Are you in therapy together? It sounds like you guys need outside assistance in breaking a well-established pattern.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 3:29 PM on April 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


He has been in therapy for about a year, and I've starting going recently as well (to a different therapist than his). He was on medication in the past, and will not consider it again, although I do think that would help. It's very difficult for me to say if I'd be happier with the relationship or without it. In many ways, he's great to me, but I do know that I can't live for the rest of my life the way we are now, and I'm beginning to wonder if we will ever change. When I think back to when the relationship started I realize I was worried about these same issues, but just pushed them aside. The difference is that now we're acknowledging and working on them, but I still don't know if that's going to change things, and I'm starting to get frustrated with the way things are. I'm also concerned because in the past he would just shut down when he felt this way, but now he lashes out angrily.
posted by secretsquirrel at 3:37 PM on April 20, 2010


make a list of the things you need to see changed for you to feel fulfilled in your relationship. present him with this list with a timetable. after he has some time to digest all that, ask if there's anything on the list he needs your help with - or any way you can make it more likely for him to succeed. ask him to share it with his therapist and maybe request that he draft a list of his own (it's rarely only one person dissatisfied in a relationship).

and once the timetable is up, revisit the list - see if you think progress is being made. if not - things will probably never really change for the better.

maybe also discuss with your therapist some coping mechanisms while you guys are trying to repair - for instance, when he lashes out angrily at you maybe say something like "i understand that you're feeling out of sorts, but it is not appropriate for you to talk to me like that. i'm going to go [get coffee, for a walk, to target], not because i'm upset, but because it is unhealthy for me to feed into this cycle with you. i hope when i get back we can [talk, watch a movie, cuddle, make dinner].

When I think back to when the relationship started I realize I was worried about these same issues, but just pushed them aside.

i could write a book on this topic, specifically as it relates to long distance relationships that turn into live in relationships. the crux of it is that no matter how real you thought things were before, all you were doing was building a basement filled with issues that got brushed aside. i have faith those issues can be sussed out by two people who really have it in them to do the work - but you can't clean it up on your own.
posted by nadawi at 3:46 PM on April 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is my comment on one in three relationship AskMes these days, but: individual counseling is not the same as couples counseling. He's getting help to make things work better for himself. But if what you want is for him to make things work better for you, you need to go to couples counseling together (unless your current methods of communication are working, or unless you think it's too late to bother).

There needs to be a forum where you can talk about how he can deal with his depression in a way that works better for you generally, where he can talk about how your actions impacts his depression, where you can talk about how to deal with your anxiety in a way that works for him generally, where you can talk about how his actions impact your anxiety, and so forth.
posted by salvia at 4:05 PM on April 20, 2010 [8 favorites]


Couples counseling. Do not make any decisions about whether you need to leave him without getting a neutral party involved. They can help you guys work out new patterns of behavior and see things that can't be seen by someone hearing stories just from one point of view. Your current communication is obviously not working out in some crucial way, and a third party can make all the difference. Particularly since you say things are good 80% of the time. That means there's just 20% that's making you miserable.
posted by stoneweaver at 4:43 PM on April 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Nthing Couple's Counseling. You need someone to mediate, so it isn't you forcing him to change and to help you see what you can do to make things better.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:23 PM on April 20, 2010


I think life is too short to spend it like you are. Sometimes the best thing you can do for someone that you love, but can't stand, is to let them go. There is someone out there better suited to deal with them, and someone who is a much better fit for you.
posted by meepmeow at 5:41 PM on April 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


just when I think things are beginning to change, we spend another weekend miserable and fighting because he gets upset about something and can't get over it.

That's your cue to leave the building. Not the relationship, just the building. Literally walk out the door.

There is no point at all trying to have any kind of meaningful discussion with an upset, angry person. Just leave, go and do something else, let him stew in his own juices for a while, and talk over whatever the issue is when he's not having a bout. If he's still cranky when you get back, go out again. Rinse, repeat.

This is change that you have the power to implement right now. If you want to be in a relationship between two people who are strong on their own, the place to start is asserting and discovering your own strength.
posted by flabdablet at 5:51 PM on April 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


Even if couples counseling is unacceptable to him, you could benefit from solo counseling. As the SO of a depressed person, you want to be kind and fair, and do the right thing -- but what should you learn to live with, and when should you stand firm on giving things up?

Right now, neither you nor he knows what's fair. You and a counselor can talk about what's right for you, and come up with ways to communicate what your limits are. And some of it is quite straightforward, even if it's difficult to make new habits -- like "no yelling" or, "we'll treat each other with respect."

I really wish you well.
posted by wryly at 6:59 PM on April 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


flabdablet: "

There is no point at all trying to have any kind of meaningful discussion with an upset, angry person. Just leave, go and do something else, let him stew in his own juices for a while, and talk over whatever the issue is when he's not having a bout. If he's still cranky when you get back, go out again. Rinse, repeat.


Great advice. As a longtime sufferer of depression, this is the best thing my wife can do for me when I hit the wall. Therapy and meds did help with the big picture but as anyone with depression knows, it never really goes away - it just gets more controllable with the proper help. It's gotten to the point where I can verbalize to her, my need to be alone and check-out in my head. She is able to do her thing while I work through it. It helps if you can treat it like you would a cold. There are very specific things he and you can do to treat the symptoms and help make those days bearable.

I feel for you, I really do. I believe if my wife wasn't there for all of the bad times, I'd be history. It speaks a lot about you as a person, that you're reaching out to others with similar siyuations.

posted by Kskomsvold at 8:55 PM on April 20, 2010


Apologies for not closing italics again. Simple html is not my forte apparently.
posted by Kskomsvold at 8:57 PM on April 20, 2010


It sounds to me that you're a bit worn out from these bouts of depression, and that is completely understandable. I agree with everyone who says couples counseling in addition to individual therapy would be a huge help. Since your SO is productive during the week, perhaps the lack of structure inherent in weekends results in his getting lost in his own head and emotions. It sounds like he bails on planned things that would provide some structure, however, and as someone who struggles with depression and procrastination, I can relate to that.

Keep in mind that a depressed individual who must be a productive person and present themselves as "normal" during the work week might just be flat-out exhausted by the time the weekend rolls around. Projecting a positive version of yourself when you're feeling anything but is incredibly draining for anyone, nevermind those struggling with depression. So the weekend becomes a time to retreat and recharge. That, of course, doesn't mean you should be confined by these issues.

If your SO starts giving you a hard time about going out and participating in the outside world when he just wants to hermit himself away, well, explain that while you can make allowances and leave him to the downtime he wants, you need to be out and about in order to be a happy, fulfilled person, and while you would prefer he was with you while you were doing that, you are giving him the room he needs to do whatever it is he needs and you would appreciate the same courtesy. All easier said than done, of course, but necessary if this relationship is going to survive.

While I would say that an 80/20 ratio in a relationship is pretty good, that doesn't mean that 20% can't undermine that 80% and quickly reverse that to 80% awful and 20% awesome. Take care of you, encourage your partner to take care of himself, and in order to take care of your relationship, go see someone who can be objective and provide you with tools to negotiate these very difficult issues as a couple. While it sounds like there is a lot to indicate a relationship that might thrive, even if you come to the conclusion you are better off parting ways, you will know you tried everything possible and can move on without any regrets or pesky "what-if"s. Best of luck to you both!
posted by katemcd at 9:44 PM on April 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


What are his reasons for not considering medication? I think that refusing to do something that will help him regulate his moods and improve his depressed feeling doesn't bode well for things getting better. The fact that he's going to therapy is a good sign, but I really believe that medication helps lift people out of the fog of depression so that the therapy can actually make a difference.

I speak as someone who has struggled with off and on depression, as it sounds like your boyfriend has, and for me medication is critical to staying on an even keel. Even though everyone responds differently to medication, a complete unwillingness to investigate this type of treatment makes me pessimistic that things will change.
posted by Colonel_Chappy at 7:48 AM on April 21, 2010


Since your SO is productive during the week, perhaps the lack of structure inherent in weekends results in his getting lost in his own head and emotions. It sounds like he bails on planned things that would provide some structure, however, and as someone who struggles with depression and procrastination, I can relate to that.

Keep in mind that a depressed individual who must be a productive person and present themselves as "normal" during the work week might just be flat-out exhausted by the time the weekend rolls around. Projecting a positive version of yourself when you're feeling anything but is incredibly draining for anyone, nevermind those struggling with depression. So the weekend becomes a time to retreat and recharge.


Also seconding this. This has often been my experience. My sense of obligation/survival instinct can get me through weekdays but I crash on the weekend. Even if he seems fine on weekdays, he may be more depressed than he seems.
posted by Colonel_Chappy at 7:59 AM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


--He is angry and lashes out at you, this is something that has been getting worse even as he is in therapy
--He won't try medication

I don't see it getting better.

Does he apologize or try to make it up to you when he lashes out at you? It is not OK for him to do that, depressed or not.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 1:52 PM on April 21, 2010


He's taken medication in the past, but felt it just masked his issues, and that it's better to try to work through them. I think that this makes some sense, but I also think that medication could help him feel better, so it's a difficult debate.

Also, he does apologize, and we talk about what led to his reaction. I think the advice to just leave when that happens is very good, and I'm going to start doing that. I also think that couples counseling is a good idea as well, and will talk to him about it.
posted by secretsquirrel at 4:32 PM on April 21, 2010


When you do just leave the building, the first thing you should do is walk energetically for about ten minutes. Until you get used to doing this you're going to be somewhat jangled by it, and a good fast walk will burn off the stress chemicals quickly for you and let you get on with your day.

All the best. What you're living with isn't easy, and I hope things improve for both of you.

Oh yes: at some point when he's not having a bout of down, you might gently suggest that the point of medication is to take off enough emotional pressure that it becomes feasible to work through any underlying issues, and that medication in conjunction with couples counseling might well be your most reliable road back to a healthy and mutually supportive relationship.
posted by flabdablet at 4:48 PM on April 21, 2010


I recommend this for everyone who asks about marriages/relationships lasting: "Marriage Clinic" by John Gottman. It has a lot of interesting stuff, predictors of divorce, etc. Very scientific but a really entertaining and relatively easy read. There are some technical chapters you can skip but otherwise it's accessible to the layperson (you).

If that seems too technical grab one of his other books.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 5:19 PM on April 21, 2010


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