how can I help?
September 28, 2022 8:53 AM   Subscribe

My partner is having a very hard time at work these days through no fault of his own. What are some ways I can be supportive until this period passes beyond what I already try to do?

His company is going through a major restructure, the department he runs is understaffed, they have bad software that they are required to use that makes simple processes take three times as long as they should, they have no support from corporate, the COO (everyone's Big Boss) us absolutely useless and ineffective as he holds no one accountable and cares more about being everyone's friend than actually managing, corporate did "anonymous" surveys of employees mid-year about job satisfaction, everyone decided collectively to be brutally honest about how bad things are, and then corporate turned around and gave the COO access to those survey results, now he is mad and the staff feel betrayed and unsafe ever providing feedback again, morale is at an all-time low, and my partner is not handling the stress well at all. He doesn't talk about work at home - he says as a way to spare me his misery - but he comes home exhausted and in a foul mood every day, and even if I didn't know these details (which I have learned in dribs and drabs from him and from a colleague of his with whom I am friends) his negative energy is palpable.

He is doing his best, but it's impacting his health. He cannot sleep. His thought process is muddled and his communication skills have taken a deep dive and he gets frustrated when I don't understand what he is trying to say. He tried to rally at home but he's also very distant and miserable and just doomscrolls the news or zones out on Tik Tok. I think he is extremely depressed, but he will not seek help as he believes this is situational and if he can gut it out till our vacation then he'll finally get some R&R and be able to reset. Sometimes I see him just staring off into space and I wonder if he is dissociating.

I have mental health issues of my own and I struggle not to take his behavior personally. When he is cranky, my first thought is that he is angry at me. This is because I have abandonment issues and grew up in a household with an emotionally abusive father who blamed me for all of his misery. I had a talk with my partner last night and he begged me not to take things personally and to just give him some space as he is burned out. When I take things personally and am hurt, he feels worse.

Ok. I've worked a few shitty jobs that ruined my health and made me feel trapped. I empathize with him. It is hard to not take angry energy personally, but I overly read into situations and catastrophize (see my recent question where I cried for hours because I had inadvertently offended my best friend and he called me out on it and I was convinced he would never speak to me again which was 100% untrue). My partner is not handling his stress well or constructively but mental health problems make that hard, especially from someone who is not used to dealing with depression and in denial about it.

Colleague texted me yesterday to say that his behavior at work is making them think he's losing his marbles. They are very, very concerned.

I cannot drag this man to a doctor or force him into therapy. But we have a month till our vacation and that's a long time to deal with this and I don't want my feelings to curdle into resentment. I love him, and this is what it is. I've done DBT. Accept things as they are, and try to turn the situation as best I can while taking care of myself.

What are some ways that I can make being at home feel more like a sanctuary from work and support him? He doesn't respond well to me bombarding him with words of affirmation; he feels like I am fussing over him and he is burdening me. Physical touch sometimes helps - I try to hold his hand or rub his shoulders or hug him periodically and he relaxes a bit. I offered to take over all cooking and cleaning and he says that would make him feel more guilty so please keep the division of labor as it is. I already handle all of the bill paying and other bureaucracy of home ownership (from our joint account).

I bought him a funny "thinking of you" card at the post office yesterday when I was dropping off a package and gave it to him. It made him chuckle. He actually responds very well to jokes and humor, so I am trying to increase that without turning into a desperate stand up comic. Playing with the dog and the cat makes him happy for a while.

Aside from the above, is there anything else I can do to make someone like him feel better at home, given his antipathy towards mushy words of love and having me take over chores that are his responsibility? I thought about buying him flowers today but while I don't think that would anger him it definitely would confuse him.

He is not angry AT me, but he is angry. He is thinking seriously about finding another job, but it's hard to job hunt when he's working 60 hour weeks. He also has obligations to his kids from his previous relationship, one of whom lives near us and the other of whom lives 2 hours away with his ex wife. I haven't heard anything negative from the kids but when they were younger they often used to tell me that they hated when he was frustrated at work because this is what would happen (this was before we lived together). The kids are older and more or less independent now and have their own lives so now instead of them bearing the brunt of his job frustration it falls on me.

I know this sounds bad but I do not feel like he is emotionally abusing me in particular. He is angry at the world and his job circumstances. When I had shitty jobs, I also didn't handle them well, though for me it would manifest in a lot of sobbing and the occasional rage outburst. He was there for me in these moments and helped a lot - maybe more than was fair before I got myself in therapy. The least I can do is return the favor right now, while I am very happy with my job and generally feel good about my own professional life. I do think the vacation will help, and we are good when we put our heads together to problem-solve; we can brainstorm how to get him into a different job when he has time to breathe.

But for now, can anyone think of other ways to help my guy just... cope a little better, given his strong desire to not be a burden to me? Believe me, I see the paradox of his not wanting to burden me being a burden to me but this is where we are and I don't want him to land in a psych ward.

BEFORE ANYONE ASKS OR SUGGESTS THIS, YES, I MYSELF PERSONALLY AM IN THERAPY WORKING ON MY ISSUES AROUND MY CATASTROPHIZING AND OTHER SHIT. Sorry to shout but answers that advise me to seek therapy for myself are not helpful. My therapist is aware of the situation and is trying to give me some actionable ideas, but if anyone here has been in the scenario my partner is in, what would have helped most in terms of support at home?

When he's not unhappy at work we have a lot of fun together. This is a recent development, and he's angry because this is not what he signed up for when he accepted this job for which we had to relocate.

Thank you in advance and please be kind. He is not a bad person, he just has poor coping skills, as do many people I know, including myself when I am under stress, and this job of his is absolutely horrendous right now. Everyone is updating their resumes and slamming doors and desk drawers in the office while the COO seethes about how no one likes him because he is bad at being in charge. It's probably the most abusive workplace situation I have seen, and man have I worked for some awful dysfunctional places.
posted by nayantara to Human Relations (37 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I see this:
He is thinking seriously about finding another job, but it's hard to job hunt when he's working 60 hour weeks.
I think the standard advice here is to focus more energy on the job search and less at the current job. I guess it depends on what the prospects are for finding a new job quickly, but the situation sounds bad enough that it's probably worth the risk of just phoning it in for a while and concentrating on getting out.

So, to answer the question about what you can do, maybe you can offer to help with his resume, look up other places to apply, etc. Hugs and jokes and cats are helpful but they aren't going to change the overall situation. I think you can probably be most helpful by working to change the underlying situation (which sounds horrible and also sounds like it is not likely to change anytime soon).
posted by number9dream at 9:09 AM on September 28, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I was going to say, have nice meals ready at home, but since he's asked you not to do that, maybe at least take care of the shopping and make sure the house is stocked with stuff he likes?
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:10 AM on September 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Hi, I am a person who has been in a terrible, mismanaged, abusive, bullying workplace for a few two-three-oh wait SEVENTEEN years. Sometimes I am cranky about it, yeah. Sometimes I am tired and just need to zone out on the internet after a particularly bad day. I'd bet every now and then my colleagues wonder whether I'm losing my marbles--lord knows I wonder that about all of them every damn day.

I'm not dissociating, I'm not going to land in a psych ward. Nobody around me should be in a panic spiral about my condition. This is a fairly commonplace range of human emotions to have, to sometimes be cranky, especially when one is in a bad situation and not sleeping well.

I don't live with my partner (in part because honestly, my job IS very draining, and I need solitude to recharge), but we do often spend time together on a work-night. And yes, sometimes he does check in with me if I seem exceptionally frazzled, or upset--he gives me a little space to vent, if I need it, or just to be quiet if I need to decompress. If I am super overloaded and ask him to please make decisions for the night (figure out dinner, for example, or pick a TV show), he does. He does not tie himself into knots trying to anticipate my needs and moods--he asks questions, I answer them, he accepts and trusts my answers.

I think what would super not help is having to be aware that my partner is hypervigilantly monitoring my situation like it is a Level 7 Nuclear Catastrophe, frankly! You've asked him what you can do, there are a few things (touch, humor) that work, there you go. You are handling. It is handled. This is not an emergency, this is a crap job.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:11 AM on September 28, 2022 [19 favorites]

Best answer: I pretty much entirely agree with We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese above, apart from this paragraph:
Colleague texted me yesterday to say that his behavior at work is making them think he's losing his marbles. They are very, very concerned.
Without more detail, this seems like a much bigger problem, given how dramatically it's worded. Everything else in the question does sound like someone who's going through a stressful time at work, knows it, and doesn't want to inflict it on their partner as much as they can help it.
posted by sagc at 9:18 AM on September 28, 2022 [10 favorites]

I went through something like what is happening to your partner last year. It sounds like you are doing the right things already: providing a listening ear and shoulder to cry on (n.b. this should definitely not be his kids' job—even as adults, children confide in their parents and not vice versa), and working on the parts of this that affect you negatively in therapy rather than asking him to help you with your reactions. Your urge to fix this is also something you should keep talking to your therapist about.

If your partner ever raises his voice at you, you can tell him "please do not yell at me" and leave the house. If your partner raises his voice or slams doors near you in a way that is frightening, skip step one and just leave the house.

Tell him you share his colleague's concerns that he's in a mental health crisis. It helped to hear from my partner "I'm seriously worried about you" and "you haven't been acting like yourself", plus other symptoms I was showing that were obvious to him but not me (teeth grinding in my sleep).

One last thing: is there any kind of support you could provide him if he quits his job with nothing lined up? Let him know if so! Even hearing that you wouldn't think any less of him if he does so would likely mean a lot.
posted by capricorn at 9:22 AM on September 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

Sometimes starting seriously down a job search path will do the work of flipping that mental switch that makes you way way way over-identify with your job. Kind of the same way deciding to move will suddenly flip this "eh, I'm sick of this place" feeling.

He's making choices. You cannot backchannel trick or manipulate him into making different ones. This is what he wants right now, whether he would frame it that way or not. They're bad choices. They've already hurt his kids and that wasn't incentive enough to change.

To that end, maybe he needs more alone time. You can provide him with that by using boundaries that you do not need his constant grinding agita in your airspace at all times, and retire to your own space and leave him to do whatever he's going to do. It may honestly help, if he's having to be part of this miserable hive-mind at work all day and desperately needs to totally disconnect when he is off the clock to let his brain reset.

That a colleague is texting you about his behavior at work, though... your guy may be about to lose his job or get a forced vacation for inappropriate behavior. What if that happens and he still doesn't make any attempt to get help? That's a sticky situation, because I don't know that you telling him about this is going to improve anything, but it's also a thing that probably shouldn't be kept from him. This feels extremely serious, you know? Surely that person had a hard talk with themself before hitting send to you on that message.

You CAN actually make an attempt to force him to a doctor, but you have to be ready to put the relationship on the line to do it, and say so. This is something we do when we are so desperately worried for a loved one that getting them safe is the highest priority, and sometimes is the only thing that will startle someone enough to accept that help. It IS a form of manipulation, but it's one of the few I think is legitimate if the stakes of not doing so are high enough. It's up to you to decide if you play that card now, or wait for him to be walked out of the building/his logins cut off. Because he's NOT going to chill out if that happens, this kind of personality will take it as a value judgement on him as a human being and you may have to move fast to prevent damage he can't come back from.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:30 AM on September 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: All this comes with the caveat that none of us can know at a distance what his mental health is really like and whether he needs a serious intervention to get him to a doctor, but that said:

Part of this might be just about you accepting that you actually can't do any more than you're doing. When someone we love is in pain (and especially when that's making our own life more difficult) there's a real urge to do The Right Thing, to find the one thing/set of things that we can do that will make it better. But you have to be capable of finding the stop point, of knowing that there is a point where you've done everything you can, and it might not be signified by your partner saying "Oh, phew, I feel better, thank you!" - it might just be signified by you have done some things and your partner still being stressed. If he's telling you that he doesn't want you to do specific things you've suggested, then you're possibly now at that point and will have to just know you've done as much as is actually doable.

Also, sounds like he doesn't have a lot of free time, but if you can get him out of the house for walks, especially in nature, that can be amazing for putting stuff in perspective and changing your brainwaves to run a little less frazzled for a while. It also improves sleep - it doesn't have to be exhausting exercise, just moving about in daylight will flip a switch with your hormones that helps you sleep better, which in turn helps everything else.

If he won't come for a regular walk, at least go for one yourself.
posted by penguin pie at 9:44 AM on September 28, 2022 [11 favorites]

I separated from my partner over a situation very much like what you're describing. It is understandable that a horrible workplace situation would make him depressed and angry. It is not acceptable that he is taking it out on you instead of seeking help, especially since this has happened in the past and apparently his kids have borne the brunt of it?! Therapy is absolutely for situational depression as well as depression due to chemical imbalances; he should use it.
posted by epj at 10:17 AM on September 28, 2022

Response by poster: To clarify - the colleague's concern yesterday seemed to stem from an observation that he was wandering around the building singing showtunes and old cartoon theme songs and avoiding his office. This may be a self-soothing technique but it is WILDLY out of character for him. I cannot even begin to explain how not normal this is. Imagine early-Mad Men Don Draper skipping through the halls singing 42nd Street while completely sober - this is what it looks like. A stoic dude who's belting out the Mikado while doing laps around the building. Combined with a lot of visible stress, exhaustion, and depression symptoms, the colleague was just alarmed. He's not running around screaming at others or being violent or destructive. He is being deeply weird but not in a way that will get him suspended or fired.

A complication is that he is actually very good friends with the ineffective COO, who is his boss, while also very aware that the COO is fucking up big time. There seems to be a personal loyalty/professional frustration cognitive dissonance in action right now that is making things feel more complicated then they are and might well be what is holding back from a "quiet quitting" approach with an active job search.
posted by nayantara at 10:22 AM on September 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I burnt out in a similar situation.

The best change I've made in my life is one I had to make on my own which is to calm down a little bit at work (note: I'm not in the medical field.) If something is running late and making it on time is not in my control, all I can do is say I can't concentrate past X o'clock and do that.

My partner really helped me with this by:
- loving me and reminding me that I'm a full person, not just a worker...he didn't do it by saying that, he just reminded me of other identities like friend, nature-lover, etc.
- taking me out to do some chill-but-fun things like mini golf, walks after dinner, explore a shop
- doing his own thing and inviting me along. By doing that, he made "not work life" - attractive, but also he kept his own energy up. That also made me see that I was not exercising my full range of choices and I starting applying for other jobs.

Do your best to do what centres you. Support you. I recommend the Dance of Intimacy and the other books in that series. Sometimes you have to let your partner take care of their business, because sometimes they need to learn to change the business.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:43 AM on September 28, 2022 [12 favorites]

I think this might be comforting:

Make an actual plan, with dollars and numbers and week counts, of how he can quit his job, take a real break, do something that makes him actually happy (vacation, visiting family, writing retreat, or hanging around the house with no obligations for a couple of months), then find a more fulfilling (possibly lower paying) job -- then show him that, as a potential thing that you both could do.

Bonus if you find a bunch of hiring notices that match his skills and interests -- as examples, not suggestions.

I think that just knowing that, yes, he really can quit, would give him a huge boost.

Also: knowing that he can actually quit gives him a huge hit of LEVERAGE to advocate/request/demand/just-do-it change.
posted by amtho at 11:06 AM on September 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

You’re describing a man who won’t take responsibility for himself. You’re hyper vigilant about him because of your own issues, yes, but also because you’ve yolked yourself to a grown adult with depression who won’t seek help and won’t look for another job. He’s making his problems everyone’s problems, under the guise of “protecting them.” If he wanted to protect you all, he’d lose the ego and seek help. Bottling everything up inside is not a favor to you, it’s what’s easiest to him. This is not a man with healthy boundaries (with you, with work, with his COO friend, etc.)

From what I can tell, he’s not a socioeconomically disadvantaged person. He is not trapped. But he’s behaving like he is. It is in your best interest to disconnect and decide how much of this you can tolerate. Because it sounds miserable. I get that he probably can’t quit tomorrow, but it’s time to develop an exit strategy from this situation, 60 hour weeks or no.

You say this is a recent development, but also that it’s happened before (according to his kids). He needs to get a handle on this life pattern. Especially with kids in the picture.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:27 AM on September 28, 2022 [14 favorites]

Most of your post is about helping him, but you do point out that his desire to not be a burden is, well, burdening you. And of course it is; he’s avoiding intimacy and dragging out the pain of the situation. Much worse for the relationship than connecting with your partner and letting her into your world.

If I were you, I’d be frustrated and angry. If he’s burdening you, you probably are. I’d try to connect with those feelings and see what they tell you about your own needs (i.e., which ones are not being met).
posted by stoneandstar at 11:30 AM on September 28, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, hey. I recognize the person in this situation because I've been there / am there.

I don't think this is depression, it may be anxiety.

One thing that would probably help is... stop trying to help so much. Absent going to therapy he has to work through this on his own and get to the place where he seeks help, quits, finds a new job, whatever.

He's asking for space. Give it. Some people need support and some people need space.

Being angry is... reasonable! As long as he's not taking it out on you, that is. Imagine if your partner had cancer. They'd be angry about that! (Probably.) You wouldn't tell them not to be. It just sucks and anger is valid.

So is being trapped in a job that isn't what you were promised. Because, you know what? Quitting and finding a new job doesn't mean it'll be better. Again, been there. Left a job I was unhappy with and then... ended up landing what was on paper a great job and in reality doesn't much look like what I expected. Even though I am pretty sure I made the right choice leaving, I question it a lot.

Having to be performatively happy or even just neutral at home is a shit-ton of work when you're being sapped by emotional vampires all day at work. So please, give your partner the space to not have to do that. Let them have some space to just be and recharge without making demands -- and "how can I help" can be a demand when you just want to be left alone. If you're taking this personally, work on not doing that.

One thing I might suggest. He doesn't want to try therapy, OK - but I'd recommend he see his doctor or a psychiatrist and look into something like trazadone to help sleep. When I have shitty times at work, I don't sleep well either. That feeds on itself. Bad sleep equals grumpy. Grumpy makes bad work worse. Worse bad work leads to worse sleep. While he is right that this is situational - not sleeping is not sleeping. He can admit to not sleeping well and seek a solution to that without having to go all-in on therapy.
posted by jzb at 11:38 AM on September 28, 2022 [4 favorites]

> the colleague's concern yesterday seemed to stem from an observation that he was wandering around the building singing showtunes and old cartoon theme songs and avoiding his office. This ... is WILDLY out of character for him. I cannot even begin to explain how not normal this is. Imagine early-Mad Men Don Draper skipping through the halls singing 42nd Street while completely sober - this is what it looks like.

I believe you. You aren't catastrophizing, and it's not all in your head because his co-workers are sharing the same concerns with you. There is something SERIOUSLY wrong, and yet:

>he will not seek help

So: I suggest you stage an actual literal intervention. Best done with the support of other loved ones, but you can also just do it on your own. Your responsibility as a partner is to shake him awake (or at least try) when he's this deep in denial.

But just as importantly, that is also where your responsibility ends. You must protect yourself and your peace of mind by maintaining your own boundaries. Right now you're bleeding into his heasdspace, taking on his worries and concerns, working overtime to handle this issue for him. What you have to do instead is rein yourself in, get out of his head and back into your own skin, your own life. Disengage emotionally from what's going on with him. Other than the intervention you need to leave him severely alone, not just physically but also in your thoughts. He's a big boy, it's his job to figure himself out. You need to take care of you.
posted by MiraK at 11:48 AM on September 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

Agreed with MiraK, but also, if you find that he is incapable of figuring this out on his own, giving a partner space indefinitely is generally not an acceptable bargain for most people, who have emotional needs they wish to meet in a relationship. Don’t trick yourself into years and years of playing second fiddle. You are not a parent with the spiritual task of giving this one specific man unconditional love, support, and acceptance. He does need to be an adequate partner to you. Awareness of your own needs will help shake this situation loose. (I’m not trying to say you’re totally unaware of your own needs, but getting very very clear about them will help a lot.)

I remember your older posts and we had similar issues in upbringing. Emotional abuse tends to create people who try to fix an unsatisfactory or inadequate situation much longer than another person would put up with it. So, make sure you are valuing yourself at least equally here.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:10 PM on September 28, 2022 [6 favorites]

Imagine early-Mad Men Don Draper skipping through the halls singing 42nd Street while completely sober - this is what it looks like. A stoic dude who's belting out the Mikado while doing laps around the building.

This is very concerning! Is he eligible for FMLA? Would he consider taking the full 12 weeks of leave, spending the first month of it decompressing, and the next two months job hunting?
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 12:14 PM on September 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I had two suggestions, but they synergize well:
1: offer him something to do in the evening that isn't doomscrolling or chores. Do an activity. Go for a walk. Go play mini golf. Have a friend come by and play dumb bluffing card games. (Above there is a comment about reminding him of identities he has other than work, this was a cool lightbulb moment for me of one reason this kind of thing works)
2: find yourself something to do that isn't fixing him. Keep yourself and your relationship alive for the next month until your vacation and don't burn out yourself.

Synergy mode:
3. Find yourself something to do a couple nights a week that you can invite him to but he isn't required for. So if he wants to just crash he can crash with the quiet freedom of a home all to himself, and if he wants to join you for coffee with a friend or for dancing or whatever, he has the option.
posted by Lady Li at 12:16 PM on September 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Could you make an agreement that you take a 5 min stroll around the block, holding hands and not speaking, every night after work, and then have a 5 minute cuddle on the sofa, again, silent (and make a rule it's not allowed to become sexy to avoid that adding any pressure - if sexy vibes surface, act on them after dinner instead). That might help you both shake off the moods and ground yourselves in your bodies.
Also, maybe a Benadyl or Gravol to help with sleep? Both are non-addictive. If you're sensitive to medication even half a tablet might be enough.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 12:36 PM on September 28, 2022 [6 favorites]

if it's helpful at all - trazadone is a wonderful, helpful, easy medicine.

If he's dead set against prescription stuff, a Tylenol PM usually provides solid sleep as well, and isn't addictive. I find 1 to be plenty, 2 risks morning grogginess.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:37 PM on September 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have to add that wandering around singing showtunes, while deeply weird, is not the worst behavior I have experienced in a dysfunctional office. If he needs to sing the whole book of Cats or Les Mis, let him at it if he's not screaming at people or throwing things (the more "normal" way to let off steam, unfortunately).
posted by kingdead at 12:39 PM on September 28, 2022 [5 favorites]

I want you to take half the energy you are spending figuring out how to take care of him and use that time to focus on yourself. Is he cranky a lot after work? Make plans to go for a walk on your own. Is he working a lot and doesn't have free time? Make plans with friends. Is he cranky when he is free? Make plans to do your beloved hobby during that time.

You can't fix him or his job. That's up to him. You can take care of yourself and use that space to figure out what kinds of boundaries you might want to draw with him. And it's good to spend time with people who can be present, whose company you enjoy.

It's okay to tell your partner that his frustration is really hard for you and his kids to be around and so you are going to spend some time doing other things right now. He might want to join you in those things if they are fun, or he might choose to stew.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:27 PM on September 28, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I am absolutely crispy-fried burned out at work, and someone who really needs solo time in order to not be angry at everyone, all the time. Something like a daily 5-minute walk *with someone else*, even my partner, would make things so. much. worse. for. me. Just thinking about it has my stress rocketing up.

I don't want to excuse his behavior here - lashing out at people around you isn't cool. But instead of trying to come to him with more ideas, maybe try asking him what would help him in the moment? If he says nothing, you really do need to take him at his word. Let him take care of himself, and you take care of yourself. Like blue daisy says above, that might include drawing really firm boundaries for yourself.
posted by okayokayigive at 1:42 PM on September 28, 2022 [3 favorites]

I agree with stoneandstar - he might think he's sparing you by not talking about work at home, but if "his negative energy is palpable" that's a problem that isn't tenable. I've been guilty of making work stress turn me into a less-than pleasant partner at home without realizing it - it took my partner saying to me firmly, "Look, your stress is obvious and I need to you do something to start managing it better" for me to realize I wasn't hiding it so well, and to start viewing my stress management as not just a "me problem" but a problem that was impacting my relationship. So perhaps he should try talking about it with you.

he's also very distant and miserable and just doomscrolls the news or zones out on Tik Tok. I think he is extremely depressed, but he will not seek help as he believes this is situational

I mean yeah, that and the not sleeping - does sound very dysfunctional. I think you can help by suggesting alternatives, but also making it clear that this isn't just "situational" - yes, jobs can be stressful, but job stress can be managed. My work life is still stressful, but I've done some things in the last couple of years (prioritizing sleep, cutting back alcohol, cutting back on social media, developing a regular exercise schedule, making sure I spend sometime outside every day, etc.) that have not only made me happier, but have made me a better partner.

Good luck.
posted by coffeecat at 2:09 PM on September 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

A staycation is always a possibility. Sounds like he needs a time-out, and a way to manage his stress at work.
posted by kschang at 2:09 PM on September 28, 2022

Best answer: For the next few weeks, gift him the breathing room to be miserable after a terrible day. Agreeing with everyone who said you should plan to be out of the house more on work nights. You're highly reactive to his mood, and he's wound up from that horror show; he's apologized, and reassured you that it's not aimed at you, but it's all still really hard on you. (Kudos to you for telling him directly how it's impacting you. I'm sorry he's against therapy for himself; it really sounds like he could use the tools one picks up there, now and later on.)

- Agreeing with everyone who mentioned a sleep aid at this time, whether OTC or prescription.
-- What the colleague related about the singing at work sure sounds like it's a flag for your particular person. (If it's not: karaoke night as stress relief is a thing.) Will your SO agree to a general medical check-up in the next month, even as an 'all-clear' for your vacation plans?
--- If he has the sort of commute that lends itself to it, maybe he can listen to comedy podcasts, or albums, or watch funny videos on his way home to start mood transition. Make a few (optional/no-pressure) playlists.

Take care of yourself. I realize it's difficult to prioritize your own needs in normal, non-stressful circumstances, and now your SO is in crisis; think of your self-care as modeling good behavior for your SO, and the kids, if that's what it takes to galvanize you? Best wishes to all of you.
posted by Iris Gambol at 2:17 PM on September 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

I don’t want to scare you, but “behavior wildly out of line with the typical behavior” can also indicate physical health issues. Is there a way you can find to schedule him a physical?
posted by samthemander at 2:18 PM on September 28, 2022

Is there a funny and easy tv show you both enjoy that you could rewatch? Maybe in a physically comfortable way with a blanket or hot chocolate or snacks? The key for me with this is that there needs to be a lot of episodes to look forward to but it can't take energy to follow. Taskmaster works well. It functions as escapism and helps me wind down in a way scrolling and tik tok don't, without feeling overmuch of a caring gesture from a partner like cooking or flowers.
posted by lizard music at 4:56 PM on September 28, 2022

I don't think you necessarily need to help him with his work stress. I think you just need him to stop being horrible to be around so that your life with him is tolerable again -- right?

That's not really a problem you can fix, nor is it within your remit or responsibility. It's a problem that only he can fix and only he should fix. You can tell him he needs to change his behavior at home because he's hurting you, and then he can decide to either do what it takes to make that happen, or not. If the work stress is so bad that he can't help but lash out at you, then he needs to take responsibility for fixing that situation and finding a new job, and/or he needs to learn better coping strategies for leaving that stress at the office and not bringing it home.

I think the best things you can do in this situation is to tell him that you know he's stressed and regardless of the causes you need him to change the way he behaves with you, and that you are willing to work with him but you need him to see that he needs to make changes -- and focus more on yourself, take care of your own needs, take time for yourself away from him especially when he's in a foul mood.
posted by PercussivePaul at 5:21 PM on September 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: >Playing with the dog and the cat makes him happy for a while.

Does he like animal videos? When my wife, who loves cats (and all animals, really), was hellasuperovermega-stressed (to the point of hair loss) at her last job, I got in the habit of sending her cute/dumb/silly tweets about cute animals doing funny things once a day, without commentary. Just to give a little burst of cute in the midst of a lot of shit. I had no expectation she would respond to them in any way, nor did I need her to - I just wanted to give her a second's respite from the shitstorm, via watching a cat on a playground slide.

Those little videos won't of course solve any of the bigger issues, and they won't permanently relieve the stress, but they might put a smile on his face for a couple seconds at least, and that has value, even if that value isn't massive.
posted by pdb at 5:29 PM on September 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh hey, it's me. Formerly.

I quit my job. My partner did a ton of the things suggested here, one of the biggest was letting me know that she supported my decision if I decided to just blow up and walk out one day. I didn't of course, but knowing she'd have my back and we'd figure it out was important.

For me, and I probably should have been in therapy earlier about it, the difficulty in stepping away mentally or quitting was a deep seated feeling that choosing to walk away from an insurmountable problem instead of dogging through and finding some magical fix that proved I was a smart and special boy was quitting, was failure, was weakness. I just couldn't give myself permission to give up, to "fail," until my partner was pretty clear that this was causing long term problems with our relationship. Mild medication helped, but mostly in that it put me in a little bubble of not caring and gave me some space to think about things without getting bogged down in that fear and anxiety.

I'm in a better spot mentally now, even though I took quite a hit financially.

I wish you and your partner the best of luck, and I hope they recognize what you are doing for them. I tried to be very cognizant of that even on my worst days when I was lashing out and being a little shit. I am thankful my wife didn't leave me.
posted by jellywerker at 5:43 PM on September 28, 2022 [5 favorites]

If your partner is skipping down the halls singing show tunes and this is wildly out of character for him, he needs actual medical intervention. At the very least a checkup to make sure it’s actually ‘only’ severe stress (which is bad enough and needs immediate addressing) and not an indication of something physically wrong as well.

I get that he doesn’t want to go. No one like going to the doctor, he needs to do it anyway and this would be the hill I would die on.

I’m sorry, but watching a nice tv show is probably not going to be the fix for whatever is going on for him. Quitting his job will almost certainly help and getting a checkup to make sure there’s not a bigger problem will also give you both some peace of mind.
posted by Jubey at 8:35 PM on September 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A stoic person uncharacteristically breaking out into song seems like he’s trying to release some tension in a bodily way, perhaps a bit loopy from extended pressure but not toxic (not to dismiss the seriousness of the overall dysfunction). The environment is absurd so this ridiculous but harmless behavior is almost like a recognition of the folly and lack of control? Others have opinions about severity but I personally would be immediately resistant to urgent medical intervention, which is not to say it’s not a good idea if feasible to get an appointment in the near term, but y’all’s call. In the meantime, could you help him complete the stress cycle? You’re already doing affection and laughter. Going for a walk as many have suggested is an example of physical activity, or gentle stretching could work too.

Agree about being mindful not to let your caring concern tip over into fussy anxiety or neglect of your needs for both of your sakes and doing your own thing while he processes negative emotional reactions. Depends on his receptivity and sensory preferences, but there could be some low-key actions to provide or offer temporary yet real comfort without it being mushy or having to talk about it when he’s not ready. Maybe not give him flowers directly, but bring some home anyway to spruce up the place as passive, pleasant visual stimulation? Scented candles if that’s your thing for “sanctuary” vibes? Make the place where he scrolls cozy with a nice blanket, pillow, and slippers and then just be there in proximity while doing an easy jigsaw puzzle or engaging in some relaxing creative hobby? Hopefully he might join in sometimes when he has energy and interest. But just your stable presence can help ground him, even if not necessarily in an active or conscious way. It’s not always possible, but you can give him the space he’s asked for while still sharing space so that his distance doesn’t feel so personal to you. And yes, if it’s hard to be around his agitated state when you’re sensitive to spikes in crankiness, then stepping away can be a relief for both of you and actually a way of being supportive.

If his scrolling is a form of mindless, numbing distraction, could you find small, healthier alternatives for soothing if he’s up for it, but not make it a forced imposition? Try reading him a short story that amuses but doesn’t demand too much attention, playing a really simple game like Mad Libs or Wordle to give the restless yet tired brain a chew toy, putting on a calming or familiar movie in the background, sharing a cup of hot herbal tea or treats you both like, listening to a record with eyes closed and just breathing — still rest even if not sleep. Even watching TikToks together could be marginally better and more connecting?

He’s in the grip of things and holding on for a month, at which point you can start the deeper discussion (count down the days if you must). Beyond coping with the day to day, it seems like he’s also contending with the fact that it’s a friend who’s at fault and potentially feeling guilt about relocating you two for something that turned out so frustrating. Also is your vacation going to be a good chunk of time somewhat slower paced, to be able to truly unwind and get into a headspace with a longer-term perspective to plan changing the job situation? And can he take a sick day or two before then if needed for his mental health? Bon courage to you both as you do your best to get through this — which you will in due time. Take care.
posted by eyeball at 9:54 PM on September 28, 2022

I started collecting short YouTubes that we would both like and now almost always have a nice little custom vaudeville show cued up for couch-snuggling. They always start with music and food, and wander through progressively calmer stuff, and end with an episode of Time Team, and after Time Team there’s a lo fi beats vid with meditative visuals. It’s all designed to be slowly calming.

Putting it together calms me.

It doesn’t always work - we are big into night audiobooks and soft headphones too - but it helps.
posted by clew at 7:11 AM on September 29, 2022

I think there could be a lot of different stuff going on with him. I second the idea of telling him you are fine with him quitting his job. But maybe look at it another way. He needs some kind of medical evaluation and possible intervention, that much seems clear. If this job is something he's put a lot of time into, and if it has good benefits, maybe he should take a good look at what this job can do for him now. All the medical benefits, all the possible PTO, he might as well milk it now. Maybe he is not the type who like to admit they need help but how about maximizing your resources and getting what you need while you still have good insurance? (If that is indeed the case.) And how about Employee Assistance? At this point, they are aware he has issues so trying to fly below the reader is kind of pointless. Actually they owe him help after what they have been putting their employees through.

Good luck with all this.
posted by BibiRose at 8:18 AM on September 29, 2022

Best answer: Oh, how long has this been going on, and how have the weekends been? Sleeping in if possible and having one or two flexible plans to go out to a movie, live performance, or restaurant or other immersive activity like a bike ride or something that he doesn’t have to think up can break away from that unnourishing phone screen time and remind him of the value of being present outside of work. Daytime outlets for anger could help too. It can also be an indulgence or ritual to look forward to and a nice memory to hang onto for the next work week.
posted by eyeball at 6:19 PM on September 29, 2022

Response by poster: Thank you all for your input and compassion.

A brief update: we talked. I was brutally honest about my concern for his health and that he has my support if he just wants to throw in the towel. We have enough money that we'd be fine for several months.

So. He's giving notice at work on Monday. We are both relieved.

He is walking around the house singing the Mikado, but happily now as opposed to in a depression-induced semi-fugue state. It's cute.
posted by nayantara at 4:10 PM on September 30, 2022 [14 favorites]

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