How can I help my boyfriend de-stress?
December 16, 2007 12:24 PM   Subscribe

What can I do for my boyfriend when he's going through a rough patch?

I'm in a completely amazing relationship. We get along like pigs in mud and have a great time when we're together. Lately, he's been having trouble with work and other life stresses though and it's affecting our time together. He's distracted, he's distant, it sucks. (He does recognize that this is happening and he'll apologize and make an effort to stop it, but it always comes back.) This wouldn't be such a dig deal, except we live in different cities and it's hard when the limited time we have together has this giant stress cloud hanging over it.

So, I know when things are bad for me, it helps for him to just be there. When I can just vent and tell someone what's going on, I feel better. The trouble is, he's not like that. He doesn't want to dwell on the problems so he tries to ignore them which (IMHO) just makes things worse. I don't know what I can do to help.

So my question is this: for those of you who have similar coping mechanisms, what can people do to make your life a little better? Send flowers? Call every night to say "I love you"? What really makes a difference, both in regard to things I can do while we're apart as well as things I can do/say when we're together and this is happening? Our methods of dealing with stress are so different, I really feel out of my league here.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Well if you believe John Gray "Women go to the well, men go to the cave."
posted by Bonzai at 12:34 PM on December 16, 2007

"He doesn't want to dwell on the problems so he tries to ignore them which (IMHO) just makes things worse."

I would respect his wishes in this regard and "just be there" for him too. It may be something of a male/female difference in coping with stress, and his way may be right for him (it's how I do it too). If you really feel there is a problem with the way you are interacting, then I would send him a similarly worded email, and ask him for advice. Specifically mention that the reason you are using email as the mode of communication is that he can choose a time when he has the mental bandwidth to spare to address this additional problem and let him be the one to bring it up, if at all.
posted by Manjusri at 12:43 PM on December 16, 2007

I think you should ask your boyfriend if he would like to vent about his problems. Maybe he'd welcome the opportunity to try a new coping method. He should at least have the option.

It seems to me that saying something out loud makes you feel better about it and puts it into perspective. It also changes it from being a worry inside your mind to a problem you've put out there for your friends and family to help you on. Perhaps you could say, "I see you dwelling on your problems and it seems like this makes things worse for you." Offer to take a night, several nights, or as long as it takes, to hear his worries out and offer support. I think this might work well, especially since you get along so well together.

My best wishes to him.
posted by halonine at 12:52 PM on December 16, 2007

I'm a woman who copes similarly to the way you're describing your boyfriend. I do sincerely appreciate an offer to talk out what's bothering me; however, I'll usually say no, and then it really helps if that's just accepted and the topic is dropped.

From someone who's physically with me, it helps to be distracted (i.e. my partner plans a fun day out for us doing something I like, gets me involved in a big cooking project, or whatever). A physical gesture of affection goes a long way too - a hug, or better yet a backrub. To be perfectly honest, it also sometimes really truly helps to just be left alone, if I specifically ask for that. I know that's harder to deal with when you're in a long distance relationship, though, and leaving the person alone for the afternoon may eat up a third of the time you'll have together.

It's harder to think of what someone far away can do, other than offer to listen, do so wholeheartedly if the offer's accepted, and don't keep repeating the offer if it's turned down. Long-distance distraction is still good - a great email or letter, a book the other person liked and thought I'd like, a tiny inexpensive gift that shows the other person is thinking of me.

But really, even when people cope in broadly similar ways, I'm sure the details are different. Maybe sometime when your boyfriend is not under such a cloud, you could initiate a conversation about what you could do or refrain from doing that would help when things get bad. That conversation's a lot easier to have when neither party is right in the thick of it.

If it makes you feel any better, I'm sure that even when you're not getting it 'right' in terms of what works best for his coping mechanisms, he still knows and appreciates what you're trying to do. I always, always feel grateful for the loved ones who try to help me out of a funk, even if they're doing so in a way that drives me absolutely batty.
posted by Stacey at 1:04 PM on December 16, 2007

Say these words:

"Baby, you are my man. Whatever shit you're dealing with now, I am here if you need me. If you don't need me then I know you can cope with all the slings and arrows that life is throwing at you right now. How do I know this? Because I'm you're woman and I wouldn't be with you otherwise."

Tell him he's the fucking man, that you love and believe in him. And if the shit hits the fan, your gonna be there to mop is brow, pick up the pieces, rub those tired shoulders when it does.

If he still wants to go it alone then he knows you have his back. And sometimes all a good man needs is a good woman to do just that.
posted by brautigan at 1:09 PM on December 16, 2007 [11 favorites]

Seconding what Stacey said about planning a fun day of things to do. What are his hobbies, activities he enjoys, etc.? Do those with him, or set it up for him to do whatever that is alone if that's what he likes.
posted by entropic at 1:35 PM on December 16, 2007

My boyfriend's preferred method of dealing with stress is cuddling, receiving a massage, and talking about it. I am more like your boyfriend--I prefer to put my mind off the issue entirely, generally not discuss it, and I don't want hugs or cuddling at all if my mood is really black. If he is stressed but you know he's taking care of his problems, then just provide the distractions he needs. Watch a movie, hang out, go to restaurants, don't dwell on his problems with him. Be his escape and help him have fun.

Do this to a point--give him the space he needs to work on his problems and allow him to talk with you about them when he feels like it.

Of course, if he is really like me and not only retreats within himself when he's stressed, but ignores his problems and doesn't deal with them thus becoming more stressed, then sometimes he just needs a good kick in the pants.
posted by schroedinger at 1:39 PM on December 16, 2007

Seconding brautigan. The best (and perhaps the toughest) thing you can do is to tolerate his distance but frequently let you know you're there for him 100%.
posted by rxrfrx at 1:56 PM on December 16, 2007

Thirding brautigan. He'll let you know when he's ready to come out of his cave.
posted by Argyle at 2:41 PM on December 16, 2007

why don't you ask him? if he doesn't like to dwell, he will probably enjoy distractions. goal-oriented things he can succeed at are, scrabble, poker, hiking, cooking, etc. then praise him intensely (but not falsely) for his accomplishments.

sex is always good, too.
posted by thinkingwoman at 3:38 PM on December 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

sex is always good, too.

thinkingwoman said briefly and politely what I'd like to say crassly and describe in detail -- but won't because I hear the internets are public. Sounds like I handle stress like your man and, ahem, an "energetic stress management" session works wonders. Talking has little to do with it.

Long distance relationships can be tough; good luck with that.
posted by GPF at 4:22 PM on December 16, 2007

Exercise, especially outside, is a great way to manage anxiety and depression. Going out for walks/hikes, bike rides, ice skating, sledding, or whatever else appeals and is seasonally appropriate might be a good way to not only be with him without having to talk about the problems but also help him deal with the stress in healthy ways that don't have to involve talking about it. (Though y'all might also find that those activities provide a low-pressure venue for talking about some of stuff that's in his head, too.)
posted by occhiblu at 4:32 PM on December 16, 2007

"he trouble is, he's not like that. He doesn't want to dwell on the problems so he tries to ignore them which (IMHO) just makes things worse. I don't know what I can do to help."

Just be sure you understand the difference between ignoring something and compartmentalizing something. When I am ignoring something it means that I am failing in my responsibilities (i.e. missing deadlines). When I am compartmentalizing something it means I am meeting all my responsibilities but that there are times I don't want to talk or think about something that is causing me stress. I am not ignoring it, it probably gets a great deal of my thought time, but I've put it away for a while and I want to focus on other things.

If I had a long distance relationship and I went to see my girlfriend, chances are that I would have compartmentalized a lot of the things that were stressing me out in order to shift my attention onto to her and relaxing. If she were to then go and focused on the things that were stressing me out I would find it very frustrating because it isn't always easy to get to the point were I can put some of those thoughts on the back burner and focus on other things.

Just because someone doesn't want to talk about something doesn't mean they are ignoring it. When he doesn't want to focus on something that's stressing him out, help him to do so by talking about something else.
posted by 517 at 7:11 PM on December 16, 2007

I feel like the boyfriend in this question (if that's you, hi and thanks, but really you're doing fine, so stop worrying.)

I like many of the above suggestions. If I'm not working (trying to empty my brain for awhile, often mistaken for "avoiding" it), I like the massages. Sex. Cookies via Fedex. Four hour phone calls. Strip-o-grams. Or any kind of attention that doesn't bring up the (work) stress that I'm trying to keep out of my mind for a few hours or days. If I'm not talking about work, please don't bring it up. If I'm trying to distract myself from work, help me be distracted, please!

If I am working, though... well, I like offers of help even if there's not much that can be done (no, honey, I think I need to rewire this fuse myself... but I guess you could hold this flashlight, or bring me a coke?), or the kind of help that just saves me time ("I did your laundry for you. I found this book you said you wanted. I did SOMETHING so you have more time to work through this.")

I don't like interruptions while trying to work, but a quick e-mail or SMS "I love you" message or something does make me smile even when I'm in the middle of a work funk. (Phone calls are not so good since they require immediate handling.)

I also love brautigan's advice. Anyone of either sex would love to hear that.
posted by rokusan at 10:58 PM on December 16, 2007

Giving people space helps more than crowding them.
posted by xmutex at 6:58 AM on December 17, 2007

if He does recognize that this is happening that opens the door for you to say his method of dealing with isnt working, cue giant stress cloud. Maybe if you can get him to talk about his day, every night it wont be all bottled up for when you do spend time together. Whatever the stresses are try and find and express repeatedly postive aspects of them. Every cloud has a silver linning sort of thing. The best thing you can do is alter his perception of his problems and helping him to have confidence that there are ways out/around/whatever.
posted by browolf at 10:29 AM on December 25, 2007

« Older scam or no scam?   |   Going where the wind takes me. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.