Help me support him without being his mother.
August 15, 2012 12:37 PM   Subscribe

New-ish guy friend I've been dating is experiencing a (potential) flare-up of an old, painful and worrying health issue/injury. How can I support him without going overboard into mothering mode, overstepping his/my boundaries, or otherwise screwing things up?

It's kind of a weird and potentially delicate time for this to be happening. We haven't been dating that long, we haven't had any serious conversations about it, we're just not there yet, it's still really early. The last thing I want to do is smother him or try to demand time/energy he doesn't have. I want to be cognizant of his and my boundaries also (this is hard since we are still getting to know each other).

I'm very wary of this type of situation because I've gone overboard in past situations. I'm a problem-solver and a people pleaser. My tendency is to do whatever I can, more than I should, etc. I don't want to be that girl.

But at the same time, I really do care about him and would like to help if I can.

I saw this earlier question which is totally along the lines of what I'm looking for; if you have anything to add, great. If you have any advice specific to a new dating/romantic situation, though, that would be extremely helpful.

Thanks so much.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (11 answers total)
I would text him and ask him "need anything from the store?"
posted by Ironmouth at 12:38 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ask him what he needs you to do or how you can help, and listen to the answer. In the past I had a fairly significant problem with doing things for people whether or not they wanted me to, just assuming that if I could help, I should. They are not the same thing, though, and I think I annoyed the hell out of people confusing that in my head. Make it clear that you're available and that you care, but don't do things unless he asks you to.
posted by something something at 12:43 PM on August 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

I agree, text him to check in and see if he needs anything maybe once a day, at around 5 before you leave work. He should let you know if he wants anything, otherwise let him get better.

When I'm sick, as long as I have jello and grape juice, I'd rather just sweat it out alone. I don't want to be with ANYONE when I feel like shit. I might take someone up on an offer to bring over a McDonalds hamburger and a chocolate shake, but only if they hand me the food through the door and then leave.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:55 PM on August 15, 2012

In general; don't take it into account unless he tells you to. Don't stop doing things you would normally do: you're new to the scene and he's almost certainly better at managing his own issues than you are. He'll ask you if we wants you to do something in particular. Beyond an occasional "how's the x?" go about acting as normal. Even if you feel that he's not asking for/refusing help you think he needs; respect his own calculation that he would rather deal with it himself.

Above all else, don't suggest he change his behavior in any way due to the issue (i.e., if the issue were a knee problem, don't suggest he cancel a planned hike).
posted by spaltavian at 12:56 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Okay, here are some concrete guidelines:

The next time HE mentions/brings up his health issue, you can say the following, in a very sincere way: "Please let me know if there's anything I can do to help." One short sentence, and leave it at that. By the way, saying this does not mean even if he accepts your help that you can or will do "anything" it's just the normal way to phrase it.

Do not bring it up again, now it's for him to ask you for help if he wants to.

The next time he mentions his health issue, you can say something similar, again just keeping it to a short sentence: "Is there anything I can do to help?"

If he declines a second time, then do not say this every time he brings up his issue. Maybe every 3rd or 4th time or less.

Be generally considerate of him like, you know, not asking him to do things with you that involve hours of hiking if it is a knee problem. But do not go out of your way if it is not asked for.

If he does ask for your help, that is trickier to set concrete guidelines on if you are a self-sacrificer. But I would say generally, look at whether the things you start giving are detrimental to your financial stability, work/school performance, or health. Look at the degree to which they are detrimental to the other parts of your social life, hobbies, and other goals.
posted by cairdeas at 12:56 PM on August 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think it depends on the nature of the condition.

If it's an old injury that's flaring up, or a relatively inconsequential chronic condition, think up kind things to do without needing to ask or be instructed. For example if he has a skin condition that means he can't be in the sun, plan some fun indoor activities. If he has mobility issues that make it hard to carry heavy stuff, offer to pick up dog food/cat litter/a case of wine on his behalf. If he's not supposed to drink, make a date for lemonade and scrabble. If he's on a restricted diet, make sure to factor that in if you're cooking a meal together or going out to dinner.

I don't think it's a great idea to be all tiptoey about it, or worse, Talk About What This Means. Best case, it's not really that big a deal, and you come off as smothering and over-emotional about it. Worst case, it is a really big deal, but it's not about you.
posted by Sara C. at 1:09 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Since you are anonymous, can you share what the old, painful and worrying health issue/injury is? That would make some difference in how I would answer.
posted by nanook at 2:44 PM on August 15, 2012

From the OP:
He is having neck/back pain and is worried that it may be a recurrence or re-injury of a previously herniated cervical disk.
posted by restless_nomad at 2:58 PM on August 15, 2012

Use this phrase:

"please let me know if there is anything you need, I will help out any way that I can"

Puts the onus on him to communicate his needs, puts the boundary around you to define how you will and will not be able to help, and confirms that you will be there.
posted by roboton666 at 6:40 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have chronic neck and back pain and there's not much you can do directly for it anyway. It's psychologically exhausting, so what I would do is suggest things that distract him from the pain but aren't physically taxing. For example, watching movies at home, video or board games. If he's taking painkillers: don't suggest events that revolve around alcohol, don't count on him to drive, and allow for some goofy behavior.
posted by desjardins at 7:04 AM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

"He is having neck/back pain and is worried that it may be a recurrence or re-injury of a previously herniated cervical disk."

Thanks, OP. I would do nothing, I would barely think about his condition except if he brought it up, then I would sympathize. (I am fascinated by medical conditions so I would most likely ask for an entire case history at that point, but that is just me). If he was incapacitated and needed help, and asked me, I would of course help out if it felt like the right thing to do at the state of your relationship. But I wouldn't make any kind of generalized offer of help out of the blue.

I am early middle-age, and virtually everyone I know has something going on that is a mild, chronic condition similar to this that causes them trouble from time to time.

I guess I would be nervous if I was dating someone who made my illness or injury a focus, you should use this an opportunity to practice detaching.
posted by nanook at 6:14 PM on August 16, 2012

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