I want to support you, not enable you
August 5, 2011 12:33 PM   Subscribe

Am I being too impatient and unsupportive with my depressed boyfriend?

Dear Hivemind, I never thought it would happen to me.... but one day I wrote up a long relationship question and posted it to Ask Mefi....

I’m an early twenties female living with my late twenties boyfriend. I love him and I think he’s wonderful, and I have no doubt he loves me too. We moved in together a few months ago and things were pretty awesome for a while. We do occasionally have issues communicating, however, because he is much more likely to deny any kind of emotional turmoil and instead blame arbitrary (to me) external circumstances for his mood, whereas I like to articulate my feelings at any opportunity. The fact that we have very different communication styles has sometimes turned minor issues into big deals because of how difficult it can be to discuss them at all.

Unfortunately, I feel that his avoidance of any sort of discussion of emotional needs has also left him unable to deal with his own emotions in a way that actually works for him. He’s normally a calm, easy-going guy, but when something ineffable or non-obvious (ie, non material issues, like anxiety or depression or other stuff) really bothers him, he will find a scapegoat in the form of something obvious and material (a dirty floor, a broken object, that kind of thing). Not infrequently, he deals with these feelings by physically acting out- he’ll throw stuff or punch the wall and whatnot. This has never been directed at me in any way, but I do find it alarming. This wouldn’t be so bad to me if he would acknowledge the link between how he is feeling and how he is acting. But instead, he adamantly denies that he’s been perturbed by anything other than the faulty object- I know him well enough to guess what kinds of things might be really bothering him, but he will insist that he just really cares about objects working properly or being in the right place or whatever.

Fast forward to the past couple days. His outbursts had been growing more frequent, including a couple of almost complete breakdowns (that were emotional in nature, not physical), and through which I comforted him. It made me realize that he is definitely struggling with more anxiety and depression than he is able to cope with, and that he needs both my help and support, and to develop better coping mechanisms. However, I’m having trouble figuring out what is appropriate for me to help him with. Things had gotten so turbulent in our house that at a certain point, I wasn’t sure if I could continue to be in the relationship.

However, we recently had several long talks in which he acknowledged that he is feeling extremely depressed (in despair) and that this is the cause of all his outbursts. I felt that this was an extremely important step, because it meant that now we could both focus on getting him the resources he needs in order to feel better. He has agreed to see a therapist once our financial situation improves, but in the meantime, I’m wondering what role I should play.

Specifically, I’m having a hard time differentiating between behavior that I need to be patient with, because it’s a symptom of what he is going through right now, and behavior that is outright unacceptable. There have been a few incidents recently which, if I hadn’t seen how distraught he has been lately, would have almost certainly made me end the relationship immediately. But I do love him and I believe he deserves the benefit of the doubt, just as when I have been depressed in my life I am grateful that my family was patient with me, unpleasant though my behavior was.

For example, I’ve spent the last couple days helping him update his resume and apply to some jobs (he is currently unemployed, which is one major source of his unhappiness). Yesterday, he was feeling discouraged about the whole process, so I offered to write a cover letter for a specific job for him. I spent an hour or so writing up a cover letter, which he was very happy with and he felt would really help him. Just as I was putting the finishing touches on the letter, he came into my office brandishing a wicker bowl of his that had been in the kitchen. He started scolding me for allowing it to become discolored (overripe tomatoes, I think) and demanding an apology for allowing this to happen. I was really taken aback, both because I had asked his permission to use the bowl and it had been sitting in the kitchen for months without any complaints, and because I felt like my help in writing the cover letter was less valuable to him than his feelings about the fruit bowl. I got pretty upset and told him that if he wanted a cover letter, he could write his own (immature, I know), at which point he became extremely upset and demanded that I send him the finished copy because of how perfectly it suited his needs. He also continued to demand an apology on account of the fruit bowl, one which I was unable to sincerely give.

This only made me more upset, so I refused to send him the letter. He then told me he wanted to break up, along with some other unsavory things. At that point, I was incensed enough that I was on board with this idea. Being fully convinced that this was the end, I went ahead and sent him the letter (because even if we do break up, I still want to see him succeed and after all, I’d already written it). Not long after that, he came to my office and told me he didn’t mean it about breaking up, etc, although he continued to reiterate how important the fruit bowl was to him (I really had no idea) and justifying his outburst.

On the one hand, I know he’s going through some emotional distress and this isn’t what he’s normally like. But on the other hand, I feel like he’s only being halfway reasonable now that he’s gotten what he wanted (the finished letter). Moreover, his arguments for why I should send him the letter anyway left a bad taste in my mouth. He was very vocal about how perfectly the letter suited his needs and how much he needed the help, as if that alone meant he was entitled to it.
I don’t want to be one of those people that offers to help someone and then demands obeisance and ass-kissing in return. But I feel that I didn’t expect anything in return at all while I was writing the letter- he wasn’t particularly gracious then about it either, but I didn’t really feel like I should hold that against him since I was the one that had offered to help. It was only after he made a big deal out of the fruit bowl that I began to feel like he was abusing my help.

If you’ve read this far, I am impressed at your stamina. Please tell me if you think I should be more patient and supportive. I feel like this whole incident with the letter and the bowl is horribly petty and I feel like I’m being over dramatic by trying to draw any conclusions about our relationship from it. Should I scale back my expectations for his behavior while he deals with his feelings? I don’t want to be a fair-weather girlfriend, but I don’t know anymore what we should expect from each other at this time.

TL;DR How can I support my boyfriend while he goes through a tough time, without feeling like a punching bag?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (33 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
This has never been directed at me in any way, but I do find it alarming.

As well you should.

This wouldn’t be so bad to me if he would acknowledge the link between how he is feeling and how he is acting.

Deal with the behavior, not what you think is behind it. It's unacceptable to throw things and punch walls, full stop, no matter if he's upset because he spilled milk or his dog died. It's also unacceptable to take out his frustrations on you verbally (and obviously, physically, if it came to that).

Depression isn't an entitlement to be a dickhead. You're perfectly with in your rights to say "I'm not going to talk to you when you're being like this" and walk away. Keep consistent with your boundaries - if he values the relationship, he'll work hard in therapy. If he doesn't value the relationship, well why would you want to be with someone like that anyway?

Many therapists will operate on a sliding scale. If your relationship is worth it to both of you, you will find the money. This is quickly approaching becoming a dealbreaker, if it's not there already.
posted by desjardins at 12:42 PM on August 5, 2011 [14 favorites]

He needs to find some kind of outlet besides blaming you. Are you sure you can't afford therapy right now? Does he like to go to the gym? Anything that gets him out of the house and not focused on his negative thoughts would be good.

Also, throwing stuff and punching walls are what toddlers do, or teenagers at the very oldest. No matter how depressed someone is, I think it is legit to tell them you will not put up with tantrums, and the next time you will (walk away, leave the house, end the relationship, etc). He can't control how he feels, maybe, but he CAN control how he chooses to express it.
posted by nakedmolerats at 12:46 PM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

*I should also add that if he claims he can't or can't seem to stop himself from expressing anger by throwing, punching, etc. that is a good sign that it is a toxic environment for you right now and you need to at the very least move out and have your own space while he is trying to get help. Rational people are able to control what they say and do even when they are upset.
posted by nakedmolerats at 12:48 PM on August 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

and this isn’t what he’s normally like.

You don't say how long you've been together, but you do say that you've only been living together a few months. I think that you don't truly know someone until you've lived with them so maybe that is what he's normally like.

Personally, I would break up because I would fear for my safety. He's already acted out physically (hopefully not at you) and is veering into the verbal abuse category. If he's as unstable as you're making him out to be, I'd get out because you don't know where his behavior is going to escalate to next.

Depression isn't an entitlement to be a dickhead.

I just wanted to emphasize this because it's the truth.

Lastly, it sounds like you want to break up but are second guessing yourself. Never, ever feel guilty for wanting to protect yourself from a toxic environment. Your gut is telling you what to do, listen to it.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 12:52 PM on August 5, 2011 [6 favorites]

There have been a ton of boyfriend without a job postings here.

Let me say this. It is devastating.

Set boundaries for him to express his honest emotions without hurting you. If he does, leave for a time. It will change the behavior. Comfort him when he needs it. Step out of gender roles and let the guy feel bad. But never at the cost of you being attacked. Leave the house when he does that.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:54 PM on August 5, 2011

Look, I totally feel for you and you are both in a tough spot, but this?

I got pretty upset and told him that if he wanted a cover letter, he could write his own (immature, I know), at which point he became extremely upset and demanded that I send him the finished copy because of how perfectly it suited his needs. He also continued to demand an apology on account of the fruit bowl, one which I was unable to sincerely give.

This only made me more upset, so I refused to send him the letter. He then told me he wanted to break up, along with some other unsavory things.

...this is crazy. He's upset over a fruit bowl, so you refuse to send him a copy of a cover letter you promised and that he needs to apply for a job? This smacks of a manipulative, power struggling, point scoring dynamic that is really, really fucked up.

He was very vocal about how perfectly the letter suited his needs and how much he needed the help, as if that alone meant he was entitled to it.

Do you think your partner needs to earn your help? If so, why are you in a partnership with this person? If your partner is able to clearly state a reasonable need and you withold help to punish him, that's toxic.

Which is not to say that his behaviour isn't also toxic but this is not, I am at pains to point out, a one-sided communication issue. I'm leaving the boundary and enforcement examples to others.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:55 PM on August 5, 2011 [19 favorites]

"Please tell me if you think I should be more patient and supportive."

I think you should be in couples counseling. He certainly needs help coping with his emotions, but you are adding drama too, and both of you seem to be making demands of the other without being willing to GIVE. From reading this, you're BOTH counting markers, you're BOTH convinced you're right, you're BOTH unwilling to budge.

Not that you should "budge" on throwing things, etc., but neither should your respond with your own form of juvenile behavior. You're both escalating and digging in, and it's not going to end well -- and you're both contributing to it. The solution is almost certainly in counseling, since it's very difficult for most people to start undoing this dynamic without just "giving in," which isn't very healthy either.

(On preview, a lot of what DarlingBri said about power struggles, etc.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:58 PM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I also thought you sounded like you wanted to break up but thought it might be a dick move because he has a wounded wing or whatever.

Personally, I think outbursts and arguing with your mate in times of stress is OK if the argument or outburst is TRULY a once in a blue moon thing and folks are super sorry afterwards. People are human. We're messy sometimes. Meh.

But this sounds like it happens every other day or just about. That wears you down, no matter how understandable the cause.

Do whatever you think is best. Really.
posted by jbenben at 1:03 PM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sounds to me like you two are at completely different developmental stages. He sounds really emotionally immature, and it sounds like you are a good-hearted person who is tempted to step into the counselor or mother role. This does not sound like the kind of situation that usually works out ok, but I'm not god.
posted by facetious at 1:07 PM on August 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

- you are perfectly within your rights to ask that he not engage in physical violence around the house out of frustration (e.g., kicking walls, throwing things)

- the thing about the fruit bowl is f-in ridiculous, but if it is out of character with him and not repeated, I guess I would let it slide

- depression is not an excuse for being a dick. he still has to treat you well.

- ultimately, the problem here is that you are too enmeshed with him. you can't get him a job; you can't get him to seek therapy; you can't make him happy. you need to separate from your need to fix him.
posted by yarly at 1:09 PM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't reward people for yelling at me.

I've been on the other side of this--lashing out at someone over nonsense because I didn't want to address my real feelings--and you know what? When I've yelled at my partner over something stupid and irrelevant (along the lines of a fruit bowl) while he is trying to help me with something, he's been totally justified in saying, I'm not going to help you if you're going to treat to me that way. He wasn't trying to manipulate me or engage in a power struggle. He was trying to set a boundary: I love you, but you can't treat me like that. I value his willingness to do that rather than leave me outright.

Maybe I'm misinterpreting what the OP is saying. Maybe she refused to help him even after he calmed down, stopped yelling, and apologized for speaking to her that way. But if not, then I don't read this as an immature power struggle: I read it as a person at the end of her rope because even when she goes out of her way to be helpful and supportive, she's his emotional punching bag.

So my take, OP, is that he needs treatment. Maybe that starts in couples counseling to figure out how to communicate better while he deals with depression, or maybe that starts with him in individual therapy to address his depression directly, but he needs professional treatment. He's going to keep treating you as his emotional punching bag, as the outlet for his frustrations, as long as this problem stays inside your relationship with just you and him addressing it.

I'm not saying you have carte blanche to treat him with contempt or disdain when he has an outburst, or that there aren't dysfunctional things happening between the two of you that are unrelated to his depression, but I just wanted to give my own perspective on the cover letter incident, because I think that perhaps the people who take issue with your actions in that situation are judging you too harshly.
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:25 PM on August 5, 2011 [17 favorites]

Some people have to go through that phase before they become an emotionally mature adult who can recognize when their behavior is abnormal and should be addressed. 99% of the time, they don't do that inside a relationship. Too many patterns get established, and too much structural damage gets done to the relationship (and also the walls). You run the risk, ten years from now, of still having to deal with wall-punching tantrums, because it's already okay for him to do that.

You are not obligated to stay with him just because he's going through a hard time. Certainly don't stay with him to fix him, or out of pity. You can't fix him, and pity doesn't help him. The best thing for him might be an environment where he's not having to suffer the stress of dependence on someone else, and can focus on his own needs.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:26 PM on August 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

I know him well enough to guess what kinds of things might be really bothering him, but he will insist that he just really cares about objects working properly or being in the right place or whatever.

You can't help someone who doesn't believe they have a problem. Also if this were me I'd lose my patience and say something like, "Either you are going through something heavy that you refuse to accept help with, or else you are just behaving like a child over minor matters. Either way it's hard on our belongings and it's intolerable for me to deal with. It makes me feel totally exhausted and unsafe. If you don't decide what you're going to do about it, then I'm going to have to decide what I'M going to do to make things better for myself."

I honestly don't think it sounds like he's ready to live with someone. He's re-enacting a whole bunch of family drama that has nothing to do with you, and you won't be rewarded for becoming his caretaker -- you'll just become the closest person around to kick, metaphorically or otherwise.
posted by hermitosis at 1:36 PM on August 5, 2011 [10 favorites]

You say that he's never directed this behavior at you but guess what--he has. That's what this is.

The whole dynamic doesn't seem healthy and I'd really question whether you being together is even helpful for his depression at all.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:41 PM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, everything that hermitosis says.

My partner occasionally does this kind of thing where he's angry at, say, the trash can for being in the way when really he's angry because of random other thing X. It's something the people in his family do because they're all really not into expressing anger at one another directly.

After a few times playing guessing games, trying to figure out what he was really feeling, and apologizing for whatever it is I could think of that I might have done wrong, I realized that I was sick of dealing with it and I started saying basically what hermitosis said:

"If you're upset about something real, you need to use your words. If you're pissed about the trash can, you need to take it down a notch because it's really stressful to have you yelling about pointless shit."

Then I would go off and do my own thing and ignore him as much as possible until he was calm enough to actually talk about what was going on. He occasionally flips about little things (as do we all!) but he no longer uses it as a proxy for communication, which is good.

(He has never punched a wall that I remember, though...that would really frighten me.)
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:54 PM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I’m having a hard time differentiating between behavior that I need to be patient with, because it’s a symptom of what he is going through right now, and behavior that is outright unacceptable.

Let me stop you right there. Behavior that is a "symptom of what he is going through right now" and "behavior that is outright unacceptable" are not mutually exclusive things.

Likewise, just because something is a symptom of what he is going through right now, does not mean that it is behavior you "need to be patient with."

I have a relative who is mentally ill with schizophrenia, who has been ill since before I was born. Before he got sick he was a promising young man with a lot of great qualities who was even engaged. Even now he's been nothing but warm and friendly and sweet to me all my life.

He also pushed someone off of a subway platform in front of an approaching train. Did the cops say, we need to be patient with him because this is a symptom of what he is going through right now, and just be accepting of this behavior? Fuck no! When you cross the line into hurting other people, it's not okay just because you are ill or going through a hard time.

The girl he was engaged to when he first became ill did not marry him. Now she is married to someone else with a daughter and a very nice life. Many people in our family are still friends with her. Does anyone blame her for breaking up with him? Does anyone think of her as just a selfish and unsupportive person? No! I would be shocked if anyone thought what she really should have done is suffered the rest of her life and sacrificed her future just to be supportive of him.

Now, you may think that this is a more extreme example than your situation, but I think it has parallels.

1. It's not okay or acceptable for anyone to hurt anyone else no matter how sick they are or what kind of situation they are in. In my opinion, your boyfriend is verbally and emotionally abusive to you for lashing out at you over petty bullshit like a dirty bowl that he hasn't done anything about for months and otherwise using you as his emotional punching bag. Also, in my opinion and in much of the reading I've done on domestic violence, physical outbursts like breaking things and punching walls count as physical abuse. People who do those things, even if they never actually touch you, are considered to be appropriate candidates for many batterer programs. None of this is okay. None of this, in my opinion, is behavior you should be understanding about.

2. The responsibility is on your BF to not hurt you, not on you to figure out why he's hurting you and what his deeper issues are and cajole him to get help, etc. If he's incapable of stopping, then he needs professional help. You are not and cannot be expected to be his professional help, and you should not be playing therapist. You can't fix him.

3. You haven't made a life-long vow to this guy to be there for him in sickness and in health (and even if you had all the above still applies). There are good reasons we date for a while instead of just getting married or making life-partnership vows right away. One of those reasons is so that we can decide IF we want to take on the heightened responsibility toward someone that society expects of life partners. It doesn't sound as if you and this guy have agreed to permanent life-partnership in any form yet. So, it would not be appropriate at all in my opinion for anyone to expect that heightened level of responsibility of you. You said when you were depressed you were glad that your family was patient with you. It doesn't sound like you have agreed to be this guy's family.

Breaking up with someone before committing to them permanently, because they treat you like shit and make you miserable, and aren't dealing with their problems in a healthy way, does not make you a fair-weather girlfriend. It means you have good judgment.

4. Just to reiterate, even when you are someone's life partner or family, which you are not, appropriate things to sacrifice for your partner doesn't include your dignity in allowing them to treat you like shit.
posted by Ashley801 at 2:00 PM on August 5, 2011 [23 favorites]

What DarlingBri said, times a million. The "Cover Letter and Fruitbowl" story perfectly illustrates that the way that BOTH of you communicate with each other is unhealthy. You can pinpoint which of his behaviors are unacceptable, but you should know that there are probably behaviors of your own that he finds unnacceptable, too.
posted by 23skidoo at 2:10 PM on August 5, 2011

Nthing Ashley801 a 1000x for truth. It doesn't matter what the underlying cause is and it doesn't matter what thing you did - his behaviour is completely unacceptable. It is verbally and emotionally abusive and the punching the wall and so on is also not okay.

On the letter and the fruit bowl - I'm with Meg_Murray. Setting a boundary for his behaviour is APPROPRIATE.
posted by zia at 2:13 PM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just also want to add, as to this:

when I have been depressed in my life I am grateful that my family was patient with me, unpleasant though my behavior was.

I've had times in my life where I've done things that upset or bothered people, and while some of them were patient with me, other people really gave me a piece of their mind, and other people just ditched me *without* giving me a piece of their mind. And while I'm grateful to anyone who was patient, I'm even grateful to the others, because otherwise I would have kept bopping through life without realizing how wrong my behavior actually was. I'm GLAD that if I was hurting or bothering anyone, they stood up for themselves or removed themselves from the situation. Because the last thing you'd want to do is hurt someone you care about, right?
posted by Ashley801 at 2:20 PM on August 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

I love you, but you can't treat me like that.

as others have said: boundaries are important. they can be difficult to assert, but they're vital to your mental health. a book recommendation, whether or not you stay with him: How You Can Survive When They're Depressed: Living and Coping with Depression Fallout (there's one for couples too)

a friend whose husband is bipolar recommended it to me several years ago. she felt that the book and couples therapy (and him getting treatment) saved their marriage. it helped me too.
posted by JBD at 2:27 PM on August 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

If someone came in flipping out at me over a fruit bowl while I was in the process of basically doing his homework for him- I think I would be irritated enough to stop doing his homework.

That said- you are both in your early twenties? now is the time to learn when to fold 'em. This dude is having tantrums over bowls and is insisting that fruit bowls are important enough to have a tantrum over. It's time to fold 'em.
posted by Blisterlips at 2:28 PM on August 5, 2011 [6 favorites]

Dude is in his late 20s, OP is early 20s.
posted by sweetkid at 2:36 PM on August 5, 2011

As others have said, unacceptable (violent/aggressive/other) behaviour is unacceptable regardless of his motivations behind it. Be firm with this but don't treat him like a child that needs to have certain things revoked so he learns his lesson (this is an awful thing to do to someone who is already in despair and feels like they don't have any control over anything in their lives).

You're not his therapist and you're not his mother (and even those people would be drawing boundaries at this point). When he's upset, don't engage. Tell him that you love him and support him but he can't treat you this way. Don't psychoanalyze him, don't withhold things from him, just walk away and refuse to play this game with him.

The other best thing you can do right now is try to find a way to get him into therapy. This is something he needs to deal with on his own terms and at his own pace. You can't force him into being better. Find sliding scale therapists in your area and give him the list (but don't call them for him! that will only make him develop a resentful relationship with the therapist you chose for him).
posted by buteo at 2:48 PM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have been the chronically depressed partner bringing the other partner down with my bad behavior. Now I am a lot more proactive about managing my illness, and looking back I cringe at the negative effects I had on previous relationships because of my unwillingness to deal with the illness head-on.

You need to learn to set boundaries. Depression fucking sucks and has wide-ranging effects on a personality. But that is not an excuse for disrespect, random angry outbursts, and initiating petty arguments.

Ground rules for dating a mentally ill person:
1) They need to be proactive about getting treatment.

This is non-negotiable. Would it be acceptable if he had a giant sucking chest wound and refused to go to the hospital to get treatment, but demanded you take care of it and clean the blood off the carpet? I doubt it. Mental illness is no different. There is a lot he can try without therapy. Investigate CBT--there are many free online programs and the book Feeling Good provides excellent, concrete methods for working through one's own mental illness. He should also look into community support groups and low-cost health centers for referrals to therapists.

2) They cannot take their illness out on you and must be willing to recognize and apologize if they do so.

They must also resolve to try to more self-aware about how their illness is affecting their feelings and behavior. The mentally ill person has a responsibility to be even more vigilant about their own behavior around loved ones to ensure those loved ones are not negatively affected by them. Your boyfriend seems to think he has absolutely no agency in management of his illness and therefore it's up to you to deal with its side-effects. This is wholly unacceptable.

3) You are not obligated to stay with them due to their illness.

At any time, if you feel threatened, if you feel abused, or if you have come to the conclusion that you simply cannot continuing progressing and growing into a happier or healthier person you are not obligated to stay with them because of their illness. The fact that their illness may serve as a root of some of the relationship problems does not mean you are a bad person for not wanting to bear the brunt of those problems. You are allowed to break up with him and find someone who treats you better.
posted by schroedinger at 2:52 PM on August 5, 2011 [25 favorites]

I'm even grateful to the others, because otherwise I would have kept bopping through life without realizing how wrong my behavior actually was. I'm GLAD that if I was hurting or bothering anyone, they stood up for themselves or removed themselves from the situation. Because the last thing you'd want to do is hurt someone you care about, right?

THIS. Patience is understanding that your mentally ill loved one will not always be 100%, they'll not always be happy or rational, and it is something they'll be working with for a long time. Patience is not taking their shit day after day because you think you have to in order to be a good partner.
posted by schroedinger at 2:55 PM on August 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

The thing with the fruit bowl is meaningful to him in some way that you haven't conveyed (because it doesn't make sense to you.) Similarly, you're not giving him the letter (an act which was meaningful to you--it meant "you don't appreciate me, based on how you're treating me over this fruit bowl.") made no sense to him. These are symbolic acts but the symbolism is lost on the other who doesn't get it. You two need to communicate better--understand what the other is trying to say, and what you are trying to say, through these peculiar means. In so far as you can learn to do that, you can be a couple. In so far as you can't, or one or both of you refuses to, you might as well break up.
posted by Obscure Reference at 3:25 PM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

He needs to go to therapy and make some attempt at getting better. I am of the view that if your behaviour is significantly affecting the life of another then you should get some form of help and try to rectify the situation. Wishing it away will not work.

You can be kind and supportive and understanding and feel empathetic, but you are not obligated to be with someone who makes no attempts to get better because by not doing anything they're affecting your own mental health and physical safety and that for you should be paramount.
posted by mleigh at 3:37 PM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hmmmm, so his bad behavior is a result of his depression. He can't get treatment for his depression until he gets a job. He can't get a job because he's depressed.

That might all be true, but it's also a very handy excuse he's built for behaving badly indefinitely.

I wonder if the stress of a new job will depress him, too. I wonder if he'll be so busy he doesn't have time for therapy. I wonder if he won't like the first few therapists he tries.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 6:10 PM on August 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've never met an adult capable of an emotionally healthy and mature relationship that choose to manage their stress with tantrums. Your boyfriend's depression isn't a choice - taking it out on you is.

There's nothing wrong with you taking a relationship break so he can focus on his mental health and job status and you can think about whether this relationship is good for you. Hopefully one of you has someplace else you can go while you reevaluate?
posted by Space Kitty at 8:17 PM on August 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

I don't think you did anything manipulative. You protected yourself from being a fucking doormat. I disagree with DarlingBri. You need to stand up and never regret asking questions, actions or anything. He freaking attacked you emotionally and you had enough. You are not rewarding bad behavior and I say, good! Him freaking over a fruitbowl smacks of indignation when you took time and effort to help him out.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 6:13 AM on August 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Disengage. He is not capable of being fully calm and rational. He seriously needs therapy, immediately. You can help him by giving him some structure. Get him outdoors; sunshine and exercise help a lot. Do not tolerate rude behavior, or worse. "Yes, we discussed the basket. I apologized. I'm done discussing it."
posted by theora55 at 7:14 AM on August 6, 2011

I've commented on similar questions that, in the end, whatever diagnosis or label is applied to his "condition," is ultimately a "so what" proposition. It may make you feel better that his mean behavior is not personal toward you, it's his depression, but, as with addiction or borderline personality disorder or whatever, that label or diagnosis also has the effect of your staying in an unhappy situation and/or enabling his rotten behavior.

If he's not trying to get help, it's not fair to blame his depression and sit and take it.
posted by Pax at 9:34 AM on August 6, 2011

OP here.

Thank you all for taking the time to respond to my situation so thoughtfully. Every single comment gave me some serious food for thought, which isn't surprising given that the A-Team of AskMefi-relationship-question responders showed up here. I can't tell you how much I've learned from reading your responses in not just this thread but in many others. Sometimes I feel like Ask-Mefi has been an online finishing school for me- a lot of what I've learned about how to treat people and ask to be treated myself has come from the conscientious and considered responses that are given here daily.

My only problem with getting so many quality responses is that I don't know how to respond to them all, but just to tackle some of the main themes:

Meg_Murry's response in particular resonated with how the situation feels to me, and what I was trying to communicate. I do appreciate the people (Darling_Bri, Eyebrows McGee) who pointed out that my actions were juvenile and unhelpful- it definitely wasn't my proudest moment, but my intention, however clumsily executed, was to assert that I deserved a minimum level of consideration (on account of being in the relationship, not on account of the assistance being given), the absence of which I refused to tolerate. It was a mistake to make the letter represent that boundary, so I agree that our communication issue is not one-sided as long as I do shit like that (of course I will be more mindful of it in the future).

Reading your responses also helped me figure out what is fair to ask of him. schroedinger's list in particular succinctly summed it up for me. It's been the absence of the first two conditions that has really been bothering me, but this was the area where I second-guess myself constantly.

Ashley_801 also helped me take seriously some of my own concerns and doubts. I don't think I'm ready to call it a day yet; I have a lot of faith in therapy (we have the number of a great therapist recommended from a very good source), whether we both go or it's just him (I wouldn't mind going too, just to make sure I learn how to communicate clearly without resorting to power struggles).

Ultimately, I love him and I think he's wonderful, and worth helping through this tough time. However, you've helped me realize that there is only so much I can do, and that whatever I do, I need to make sure I respect myself in the process. I have hope that we can navigate this gracefully; in any case, I will be paying more attention to my own boundaries.

Thanks again!
posted by Aubergine at 10:51 AM on August 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

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