Help me emotionally support my long-distance SO
April 24, 2014 1:53 AM   Subscribe

My SO and I have been a primarily long-distance relationship for 3 years. Help me help him support him emotionally.

We see each other every 1-2 weekends, and occasionally for longer stretches. This is the first significant relationship for both of us (he is 25, I'm 23).

His father passed away relatively recently, and his job needs him, yet doesn't value him. The result of this is feelings of impending doom (his words), chest pain and difficulty breathing that I'm thinking are panic attacks. He has seen a therapist once, and I hope he will continue to make appointments with his therapist.

This summer, I will be even further away geographically (increasing from 1.5 hours drive to 3 hours), in order to establish a professional network in the area we want to move to in the next 3-5 years. This move was decided months before his dad passed, and cannot be postponed or altered (it's part of a professional program requirement, and without it I will not graduate). We currently have plans of moving in together after the summer (September).

But until he and I are local, I will be supporting him remotely (which means I can't do my normal "I love you, I care about you" routine of making sure he's fed, laundered, and hugged). His primary love language is touch, I subscribe to acts of service. Either one of those is fairly difficult to do from another state.

Both he and I are struggling to come up with how to support him through losing a parent and the constant stress of his job.

1. How can I best support him emotionally, while long-distance? (Most of the time he is not having panic attacks, so this is where I need the most help.)

2. How can I best support him through these panic attacks? I already know he needs to see a therapist and learning coping and breathing techniques on his end, though it's slow going on convincing him of that (I think he's convinced that I will be able to help him through every panic attack, but I am less sure.)

He is relectant to videochat most of the time, unfortunately, so text-based suggestions are preferred.
posted by smangosbubbles to Human Relations (6 answers total)
(I think he's convinced that I will be able to help him through every panic attack, but I am less sure.)

Oh man, don't do this. I have been your boyfriend in this situation, and as I shied away from therapy I would cling to others when I was having low moods/panic attacks, and subsequently smother them to exhaustion. You need to make it clear that you are not equipped to deal with this; that the point of therapy is to stop him from getting that bad in the first place, prevention being so much better for the both of you than the cure.

If you stop being his go-to when he's feeling the physical onset of his stress, then it will help wear down his resistance to therapy. "Cruel to be kind" might be a tired old saw, but your guy should have been in therapy for dealing with grief and work stress alone, and the quicker he gets there the better.

As a bridging recommendation the routines on are really good, but he needs to do these long before he's up to chest pains and breathing trouble.
posted by monster truck weekend at 2:25 AM on April 24, 2014 [5 favorites]

I think he's convinced that I will be able to help him through every panic attack, but I am less sure.

Nope. This is where love-via-good-boundaries comes in. I am in an LDR which works well for both of us but when stuff started getting crazy for him a few years ago I responded by being available to talk more than usual, visiting more than usual, sending a lot of "You are doing great" texts and emails and letters (1.5 hours away is not that far, you could pop down more often and do your service-love stuff help him clean his house, deal with specifics of funeral/grief/etc) but also saying "You need therapy and/or exercise and/or eating better" for the stuff that was his own personal medical stuff to handle.

Grief is difficult on its own and it's tricky in that it can manifest itself in a lot of ways that don't just look like "I feel bad because I miss my dad" sorts of ways. I think talking to him about ways to cope in the future is good, checking in often "What's on the agenda for today? How are you going to deal with that?" but I also think that helping people deal with stuff like panic attacks needs a dual pronged approach of love and caring but also "You don't have to live like this, let's get you attention for this" and gently nudge him towards getting professional help for something he needs a professional for.

Setting up a relationship in which one person is responsible for the entire emotional well-being of the other is not a good path to go down. You should both be helping each other to be your best selves and part of that is going to be him taking care of himself and you can support him as he does that.
posted by jessamyn at 6:24 AM on April 24, 2014

Give him a break from the relationship.

A good relationship can still be a source of low grade continuous stress (especially for men). Often a break helps one deal with the other issues better, there is one less thing to worry about. If his primary source of comfort from you is touch - then, you can't provide that to him anyway. Texting will frustrate him further. Be in contact only when you are physically together.
posted by Kruger5 at 7:17 AM on April 24, 2014

Just want to repeat that you can't help him through every panic attack. Having consistent panic attacks is a medical condition - he wouldn't expect you to treat a different medical condition, would he? Great that he saw a therapist and I think the best thing you can do is encourage him to continue those visits. is great but as monster truck weekend says, meditation practice via app or not is PRACTICE for managing the tough/panicky times better, not as great when the problem is acute.

Agreed with jessamyn's suggestions that you try to pop down more, and making a little extra time to send positive texts and be available to check in and talk - but not to help him process panic attacks or major mood crises. He has to manage his mental health himself.
posted by sweetkid at 8:05 PM on April 24, 2014

Response by poster: As a followup, he decided to dump me about 8 hours after I typed this post. So I will keep these ideas in mind for my next relationship, though hopefully it won't be long distance.
posted by smangosbubbles at 4:01 PM on April 27, 2014

I'm sorry to hear that, smangosbubbles. Take care of yourself.
posted by sockermom at 2:51 PM on May 8, 2014

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