Talking to Depression – 1

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Talking to the depression of a spouse or partner is usually a no-win trap. I speak from the experience of having angrily fought off so many attempts my wife made over the years simply to let me know that something was deeply wrong. Depression is the intruder in any intimate relationship. It creates a replica of the person you know and love, like the pod people of the Body Snatchers films – identical bodies taking the life away from the man or woman living with you and substituting a terrifying, unknown being.

People enduring the pain of relationships distorted by depression tell their stories over and over again in the user groups, blogs, forums and message boards of the internet. These partners to depression, often bewildered and desperate, need the outpouring of support they get on these sites, but they want more than that. They want to know what to do.

Advice is easy to come by on the forums, and we’ve all had mixed experiences with it. Sometimes, it’s enormously helpful, but it can be preachy, dogmatic, irrelevant and even offensive or wounding. But whatever the shortcomings of the help offered, I find it always to be passionate. Most of the participants online have learned what they know from hard experience, and sharing it is usually part of their own healing. Despite having to sort through much that is not relevant to my situation, I keep returning to these forums to understand more about the struggle of living with depression.

But I have a very different experience when I turn to some of the best known books offering analysis and advice on how to respond to a depressed partner. I’m going to avoid names here because there seems to be a more generic problem than one I find in a single writer. It’s a very tricky thing to offer step by step advice to people dealing with depression because the term covers a multitude of conditions along a spectrum from mild to suicidal.

The best writers, from my perspective, ground advice in their own experience with the illness and are helpful in guiding readers to adapt the suggestions to their own unique circumstances. I find Julie Fast’s work – though dealing with bipolar rather than depression, (Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder) to be very helpful for just these reasons.

Many other writers have their own websites and forums, and I often find a strange break between the down-to-earth advice found in their online sites and the overly neat prescriptions in their books. Now, please understand that I have enormous respect for each of these authors. Their books are best sellers, and they have helped thousands of people better understand how to deal with depression. But I’d like to review a few of the problems that most trouble me as I search for advice that would be helpful in my own marriage.

Here’s an exchange from a popular forum that captures what bothers me about the advice in one such book. A woman had posted a few times and expressed enormous relief and gratitude at finding this source of help and support. Following is a response to one of her statements – quoted first below.

“…. I am still trying to persuade him to get help, but so far with no luck.”

Response:“Stop doing that. All he will do is actively resist it. If you make him an appointment [with a therapist], he thinks you are (s)mothering him, and he resents it. Not will. He does.”

“Really, I should stop trying to persuade him? I just read the chapter in [author’s book] about using persuasive techniques — so that’s what I tried. I guess I’ll stop.”

The woman seeking help is so hurt and confused that she is grabbing whatever advice comes her way. The book’s prescriptions about how to persuade her husband to get help sounded so clear and doable that she went for it. Finding that contradicted by an experienced contributor to the forum, she goes for the new suggestion – advice which makes more sense in the context of my own experience. The problem with the book’s advice was that it ignored the storm of intense emotion and conflicting feelings in relationships damaged by depression.

In re-reading several books of this type, I’ve listed out a few of the things I find most troubling.

  1. They often present a stereotype of the depressed partner as incapable of thinking rationally, helpless, needing to be guided like a child, needing to be treated and talked to carefully lest the wrong words trigger an angry or violent reaction. Of course, there’s an element of truth in this, but there’s a lot more going on. Denial is not the same as irrationality. To use myself as an example – though I know I’m not unique in this – my rational mind is often functioning perfectly well, but in the midst of depression it is disconnected from what I’m feeling and capable of doing. The best support comes from understanding that I’m in the grip of something I haven’t been able to control, not from assuming I can’t think straight.

  2. Despite the characterization of irrationality, the advice is completely rational. Here are the stages you as the non-depressed partner go through, here are the steps to take in dealing with the depressed partner. Here is what you should say, here is what you shouldn’t say. I don’t believe it’s possible to use rational techniques of persuasion with a person in the midst of depression. More fundamentally, it’s not the words themselves that cause a negative reaction. It’s the attitude and feeling behind them. If I hear scripted words coated in reassuring tones that conceal hurt or anger – I’m not going to be fooled or pay much attention.

  3. The advice also tends to assume that the undepressed partner has a big responsibility to help change the troubled one. First, this is unfair. Only the depressed person can initiate change. Second, I worry that a person trying these techniques, which in many cases will fail, will believe they’re not up to the job of overcoming the partner’s resistance. That not only damages self-esteem, it reinforces the idea that they may have contributed to the onset of depression. Or worse – they might come to feel that success in changing the partner will make them happy That’s almost a formula for codependence – putting the depressed person’s state of feeling above your own and making it a condition of your wellbeing.
  4. There is a lot that the better books get right, but the priorities are often backwards. They emphasize that depression is the problem, not the relationship or the partner. Even though the impact of the practical advice might contradict this, it’s the single most reassuring thing a reader needs to understand. There’s an illness here; it’s not your fault. They also get to another key point, that the undepressed partners need to take care of themselves by drawing behavioral boundaries, setting conditions for what they can’t tolerate and backing those conditions with action, even if it means leaving the relationship. The problem is that these books often get to these points last, when they should be first and give shape to everything else.

  5. Lastly, the books seem to assume that this drama is a one-time thing. If the techniques are applied and work, the relationship is saved and happiness results. If they fail, the relationship may well end. But, while many people may endure only one major episode of depression, it’s more likely that there will be many more. Having dealt successfully with one doesn’t necessarily mean that the next will yield in the same way. Both members of a relationship need to understand this possibility. They may well be in training for a long struggle.

Another anecdote posted by the same woman quoted above is worth repeating here. She and her husband went to a family gathering where he was completely sociable, happy and at ease. Overcome by the terrible difference between his behavior in that setting and his silence and abuse at home, she burst into tears. The husband saw this, as did other members of the family. They told him – You’re wife is crying, you have to do something. This finally got through to him. On the way home, he told her that he probably needed to get help. A small step, but a huge change for him.

That’s the way change can begin to happen. No learned strategies, no persuasive words spoken by the wife, simply the genuine emotion of a life falling apart. Added to that was the witness of concerned relatives outside the marriage. What could be more powerful than that?

28 Responses to “Talking to Depression – 1”

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  1. Amanda says:

    Thanks for this John. Really interesting stuff. But it feels impossible to just let the person you love suffer so much. I know that they need to want to take the steps themselves and I am starting to see how pushing them into therapy can feel like smothering but if it gets them through the door, then isn’t it maybe worth it? If they are so low that there’s a fear that they really can’t get out of it unless they are forced to, isn’t forcing them maybe the right option? And you hope that in time, they come to see why, and don’t blame you any longer? Someone mentioned to me today that my partner might never want to see me again because I have potentially become an instrument in their torture by trying to help them and be supportive instead of stepping back. But there’s such fear in stepping back! I don’t want them to feel alone, or more alone than they already do. There doesn’t seem to be any direction to move in that lets them feel the love and support- pushing is smothering and keeping them down, stepping back is abandoning them and leaving them cold. What to do?

  2. Marie says:

    I forced my ex to seek help. Since then this website has been tremendously helpful for me.
    Why Men Leave, What We Deserve From Life, Finding Hope When Depression Breaks a Relationship, they have been Godsends as I’ve struggled through this. What you’ve written John, my ex might as well have been reading off a script. I worry that I violated this one piece though, even though I had a large amount of support behind me. I was trying to be a support, as much as I can from a distance, but he started explaining detailed, real fantasies about suicide. I still supported. But when he was drunk the plans got more explicit and seemed more possible. I called his family once he made a vow to not be alive by next year.

  3. Donna-1 says:

    I guess I speak of “order” because for so long it has seemed that “order” would solve my problems. If I could only arrange my priorities, if I could only plan for my future, if I could only control myself, others, and the world in general(!) and bring about an integrated whole, then the depression would end. That is the lie I was feeding myself…alnd in some ways it still calls to me.

  4. Donna-1 says:

    How sad to read through these comments. I had avoided your posts, John, about relationships and marriage. The only light I could see them in was my parents’ relationship with each other, which was strained by father’s unconfessed depression. This drastically affected the entire family. I wasn’t thinking about my own relationship with my husband…that which we had while still married. And I knew I couldn’t change my parents’ relationship, nor could I repair the past. My dad is already dead and my mom is in her elder years. So why torture myself by reading your descriptions of men in depression?

    What I failed to see was how my own depression had had a hand in wrecking my marriage. Certainly, my husband was no prize in my aspects. He was narcissistic, addicted to pornography, and in constant flux about his sexual identity. But our respective problems had been going on a long time before we met each other. It is just different when you have to share your problems with a mate; you become responsible not only to yourself (a task we each had let slip into disrepair), but to the other. If you can’t keep your own self in order, how do you bring order to a relationship?

    But today, I started tackling your relationship posts with an open mind about my own contribution (and lack of same) to my failed marriage. It is so easy to blame him, because his were the more outward and obvious faults. Mine (mainly depression) remained inward and undiscussed. Nevertheless, much as my father’s moods colored my early family life, my own illness definitely had its effect on my later relationships. It is very painful to admit. But necessary. One more adventure in wellness-seeking.

    • John Folk-Williams says:

      Hi, Donna –

      It’s true that depression always plays a role in a relationship, whether discussed or not. But I hope you don’t blame yourself at this point. There is such a mix of problems – the impact of your past, your depression, his issues. It sounds like neither of you could be fully open with the other. If I had been married to the kind of person you describe here (and I’ve read more about him on your other posts), I wouldn’t trust him enough to open up.

      I doubt any of us can keep ourselves in order, or bring order to a relationship. The openness and constant talking are basic to understanding each other – but for that to nourish the relationship I think the basic trust, love, compassion have to be there for both. It would have been hard, it seems from what I can gather, for either of you to see and hear the other very clearly.

      Anyway, I hope there’s more help than hurt in reading these posts.

      John

  5. joan says:

    after two bouts of cancer, being made redundant before retirement, losing our 43 year old daughter, his mother. Depression set in , dr put him on effexor. Our life has come to a screeching halt with a man who does not want to get up mornings, socialize, all upset that at 80 his friends are dying and I may die and leave him alone. I am at my wit’s end

    • John says:

      Hi, Joan –

      I’m sorry that you’re having to live through a devastating problem like this. This sounds like a very severe episode of major depression, and much depends on your husband finding some spark of motivation to get further treatment. The medication seems not to be working at all, and that should be discussed with a doctor – preferably a psychiatrist, who would have much more detailed knowledge of the full range of drugs and their side effects than a primary care physician. I’ve found medication to be most useful to take the edge off the worst symptoms so that other forms of therapy – and my own efforts to heal – can be more effective. It would be best to discuss all the options with a psychiatrist since there are alternatives to drugs.

      There’s a limit to what you can do to help him, but I would urge you to have your own support, if you don’t already, in whatever form you’ve found effective. Severe depression has a way of spreading to others in the family – you are so directly affected that your health, physical and emotional, can also be undermined.

      My best to you — John

  6. sarah says:

    Hi John, thanks for your helpful reply. The thing is, I already chucked out his stuff, unbeknown to him. It was such a liberating thing to do. But my main remaining question now is, since he doesn’t know that I no longer have his stuff, why hasn’t he been in touch? I was hoping you could shed some light on it. Like, would it be that he just never thinks about me anymore? Would it be because he can’t face me and feels badly about his behaviour? Is he just careless with his possessions? Or could it be that he fears being back in touch would stir up feelings for him? I know you can’t know the answer, but I’d be interested to hear any suggestions you might have!

    As I said before, this whole thing happened just after my own father had committed suicide, which makes it particularly awful that my ex has never got in touch to even find out how I am. People say to me that I should just forget about it because it all just got too messy, as if somehow it was a foregone conclusion that it could never have worked, because of what had happened with my Dad. Call me unrealistic, but I think that’s untrue. It could have worked – with effort on both sides. That’s what I’m struggling to leave behind.

    My other question for you is: do you think it’s a common occurrence for him to have turned round and started blaming ME for being the depressed one? He said to me, when he was trying to extract himself from the whole situation: “You know Sarah, I always seem to end up with emotionally unstable girls, and since I can be quite unstable myself, it’s not a good idea”. I thought that was such a cheap and insulting pretext for leaving the relationship. I’m not emotionally unstable – but I was GRIEVING, which he seemed to have got bored of, despite the fact that when we got together he swore that he was the person to help me on the grounds that he “knew all about suicidal urges”. I think it is so, so wrong to enter into a relationship with somebody who’s grieving, expect them to support you, and then when that person starts to fall apart because you have asked too much of them, you turn around and label them “emotionally unstable”. You don’t just drop people, in any situation, and certainly not when they have just been through a huge trauma. The worst part is that, when he walked out on me, he said ” you know Sarah, you’re just expecting happiness to come from outside of you, like in the job you’re doing or your boyfriend being home for dinner. But happiness can only come from the inside, when you work on yourself and face up to what’s missing”. Then he walked out the door. I mean, is it just me, or is that REALLY twisted and abusive?

    I wish I didn’t fantasize about reconciliation – because I know I never could get back with him now. But the sad thing is, I still fantasize every day that I will bump into him on the street, or on the train, and he will want to work on it with me.

    And most of all, I want to know whether he ever thinks about me. I think deep down he blames himself for most things, but as with many depressed people, he just externalizes all of that and blames everything that goes wrong on other people.

    Also I wish I could contact his parents – do you think that is a bad idea? I recently found out through a contact of my mother’s that his parents were devastated when we split up and could not understand why he had left me, as they apparently thought I was a lovely person and very good for him.

    So, if you have any other comments and perspectives – well, I can’t tell you how much it helps me. As you so rightly say, I’m not quite done with it yet. A big three cheers for your website

    • John says:

      Hi, Sarah –

      Well, to be honest, I’m not at all sure I can come up with suggestions that would be very useful. As you say, I can’t know what he’s thinking – or anything about him other than what you’ve described. Perhaps that’s what I can mention – there is one thing that strikes me about what you’ve written in this and your earlier post. It’s this: Almost all the questions you ask about him sound like you’re searching for ways to remain hopeful about getting together again. On the other hand, most of what you say about his words and actions creates a convincing portrait of an insensitive, self-centered guy who has been manipulating and at times abusive toward you. Of course, you’re writing about a lot of hurt and confusion and conflicting feelings, and I don’t know of anyone who could come to terms with all that in a straightforward way. So I’m not surprised if part of you can describe a man who’s broken with you pretty decisively and part of you tries to find some hope in his silence and distance – or the occasional comments he has made to you. I remember all too well never being able to accept a break-up I went through long ago. I couldn’t stop calling, hoping, trying to push myself back into her life, convinced that I’d be able to get her back, even when she did everything possible to make it completely clear that it was over.

      So I really sympathize with you but find it hard to say much more than this. I just hope this works out in a way that’s best for you.

      John

      I guess

      It’s pretty hard to interpret

  7. sarah says:

    Dear John and Susan
    Just wanted to express my absolute sympathy with Susan’s dilemma and say thanks to John for clarifying certain mysteries that still linger with me over my boyfriend’s departure
    My boyfriend left on new year’s day, which was meant to be our first anniversary. Like other people who have written in to the forum have described, he was dazzlingly keen from day one, and spoke in very committed terms about the relationship although looking back I can see that those words were never backed up by action. I knew when we got together that he had been on antidepressants for some time and had suffered a number of breakdowns, ostensibly triggered by huge amounts of stress in his studies. He was incredibly bright, blustery and charismatic on the outside and in the early days of our relationship, I think I also had access to the more vulnerable, quieter, inner person. But the more I got to know him, and the more we had to deal with the inevitable conflicts and power struggles inherent to any relationship, the more distant he became from me. Any criticism of his behaviour caused him to withdraw completely. Gradually he became more and more defensive and it was as if anyone who did not reflect his “perfect’ self image was excluded from his circle. I began to notice that his friendships were kept deliberately superficial.
    It frustrated me so much that he did not seem to want to confront his own issues, and he was well aware that he had problems, because he had had some counselling and had a very difficult relationship with his father, etc. etc. I made allowances for all of this, all the way through, but like others here, I eventually burst out in a rage that had been suppressed for ages. As Susan rightly identifies, this is a subtle form of emotional abuse and as the partner you do not realise that you are being dragged into it until your own self-esteem has been completely destroyed. In other words, with someone exhibiting such behaviour, it is well nigh impossible to forge a relationship of equals.
    I began to feel resentful over time, and gradually I became depressed myself. I found myself putting his own needs well above my own, and when he was having a breakdown I put everything on hold to be able to care for him as I thought he deserved. He came through it, but afterwards, he distanced himself gradually from me. He wouldn’t invite me out with his friends, and never once took the initiative in suggesting that we go away together for a weekend. I felt I was doing all the giving. And sure enough, when I began to slide into a depression myself, he was working such long hours that he barely noticed me. It was all fine and dandy with him, and the implication was that I was now getting in the way of him having the happy time he had now “earned”.
    I felt so angry and neglected that I got angry with him at a party [mistake!!] and the next day he told me he was leaving as I was “too much responsibility” for him when I was down myself. 4 weeks previously, he had been telling me how he wanted to invest so much more in our relationship and was so happy and close to me. Now, he was coming up with all sorts of pathetic excuses why we couldn’t be together, like how we weren’t into the same hobbies, mixed in with casually cruel remarks about how he could never see himself having children with me. When he walked out, I was shaking and felt unsafe and completely blamed myself. he never even asked a friend to check on me.
    His behaviour was not only abusive, it was also highly negligent. He never got in touch to come and collect the considerable amounts of stuff he had left at my flat, or to check how I was doing, or to discuss us. So again, it was I who, by this time having seen my doctor and started a course of prozac myself – decided that I would, yet again, be the one to take responsibility for us. He still mattered so much to me and I couldn’t bare to see him throw away yet another relationship (he has a history of short-lived alliances that end in tears). So I rang him up. I said we needed to talk about us. But he avoided any discussion of us, instead pretending everything was OK and saying we could go to the cinema, and be friends. Anything but confront what had just happened. I found this behaviour immature, baffling and completely infuriating. My way of dealing with it was – rightly or wrongly – to keep trying to get through to him, but I realise now how futile some of those attempts were. When you say, John, that it’s likely to make him feel even more trapped if the woman keeps declaring her love and constancy, that really struck a chord with me. He withdrew from me physically and was unbelievable cold and distant. As if he had started that “new life” or “new self” that he so craved. And it took me a long time to work out that his level of denial was so deep that nothing and no one could get through to him. We met up a few more times over the course of the next few months, and when I offered him his stuff back he said he “wasn’t in any rush to get it back”.
    John, do you have any thoughts on all this?

    • John says:

      Hi, Sarah –

      I’m really sorry you had to go through this hellish experience, and it sounds like you’re not quite done with it yet. (?) There’s so much betrayal in this kind of self-centered and abusive behavior. Thank God you understand what he’s doing and that trying to get through to him – or taking care of his needs – doesn’t work. Depression doesn’t necessarily explain or account for this – not fully – it sounds like that’s just the way he is. (Please understand that when I hear stories like this, I get right into my judgmental, righteous mode – and I’m sure I’m oversimplifying.)

      One thing that I recognize – because it’s so common – is his wanting to hang on to you – not only with the idea of being “friends” but also by leaving his stuff at your place. That’s usually a way of maintaining some control by having you serve him – assuming you’ll store his things. Allowing that to happen assures him you’re still tied to him, even a little. Abusive behavior is more about control and manipulation – whether consciously done or not – and does aim at destroying your self esteem – as you recognize. I know how hard it is to get it back once compromised – and being decisive to stand up for yourself.

      My rational mind, as I mentioned in the recent post on the open door, advises you to let him know – through a blunt email or some other impersonal way – that unless he removes his belongings by a date certain you’ll call Goodwill to take it away and toss what they can’t use. Emotionally, I can understand the push and pull of anger and attachment and how difficult everything about him must be.

      You’ve come a long way in a relatively short time. I’m sure it seems like forever, but, as you know, others have lived through decades of this sort of relationship.

      My very best to you –

      John

  8. Susan says:

    John,

    Despite my response (No 14)your post of 17th (no 13) challenged me to look again at my relationship, in fact i’ve spent the whole weekend reflecting. I have been trying to understand including asking why this anguish keeps coming back every few weeks with renewed vigour and why, despite some misgivings throughout this relationship, I was so totally destroyed by its end. Finally I have started to realise why my mind would not let this drop and to face the unthinkable.

    This relationship seemed like the answer to a prayer and the love was something I had never experienced in all my life (I was married to my abusive & difficult husband at 18). It quickly seemed like something that was just meant to be, so right, wonderful and the love of my life that it was tantamout to heresy to think otherwise or to challenge it or admit to doubts.
    There were things that just didn’t seem right, statements, actions and I continued to be sucked into, and carried along by it. I kept suppressing concerns that, if expressed, seemed to be bypassed or taken over by his needs. Besides some of the things in my first post there were others that I’ve been almost afraid to think about. 6 smonths into the relationship there was an incident, this has nagged away at my soul and refused to lie down, something that just didn’t fit with the kind, gentle, considerate person my partner purported to be. I’m now daring to admit that this was physicalsexual abuse but I was so frightened, inexperienced and reluctant to break the spell that I didn’t protest verbally and when I brought it up later it was denied and dismissed so again I put it to the back of my mind.
    As I said before his health, life, finances seemed to take over my life and my every waking minute. Responsibility for all the depression issues were put onto me.
    He envisaged a world with just himself and me (which I believe fits your description of fantasising about a wonderful, rosy world where everything was so perfect that it cured all his problems) and was annoyed that I spent time at weekends on other things, he said he felt pushed out.
    That I refused to stop my hobby caused friction, my running and training had been instrumental in keeping me sane and maintaining some self-esteem in my marriage, but giving up was presented as ‘concern about my health’ as I’d had a couple of injuries and rounds of surgery. This hobby was so vital to my emotional health that I was happy to risk the physical consequences. I was gradually pulled away from my running friends though.
    All his opinions were presented as just good sense (or sometimes disloyal); almost treason, so you are right – his version of reality had to prevail.
    I wouldn’t conform to his wishes as I didn’t stop my hobby and I wouldn’t drop contact with my dear family, though this wasn’t directly suggested, needing to spend much more time together was more subtle. So perhaps that too was instrumental in his emotional withdrawal and eventual cold, clinical ending of the relationship.

    John, I think you should move our exchange to your post on psychological abuse, you were right on this. There is much more that I can’t face today. It is summarised well in your description of this type of abuse in your post date 17th June.
    I still believe that this is very closely linked to depression-there was much evidence of this. This level of abuse is perhaps, as you say, driven by emotions like fear & shame and reflects both the extreme level of denial needed to keep introspection at bay and also the feelings of things like personal inadequacy. I am convinced he had a lifetime of these issues but whether his abuse of me was unconscious or conscious is one thought too many for today.
    I’m obliged to you for pushing me into confronting the fact that what I thought was the most wonderful experience of my life was a complete illusion but it’s been a very distressing journey.
    Thanks for saying that it was not my fault – that helps though I know that I was so submerged that I suppressed my fears and instincts.
    I will try to relate some of the story to help your readers as soon as I can.
    By the time you write a book, as I think you will, hopefully I’ll be able to provide more case study details.
    All the best, God bless and take care of yourself and your family.
    Susan

    • john says:

      Hi, Susan –

      I’m so glad you’re beginning to find a way to work this out and get closer to some resolution. Most people I know can’t achieve this level of clarity without a lot of time in therapy. I’m glad if anything I’ve said could help, but it’s all your inner strength to keep pushing yourself to look so closely at these painful experiences. There have been many times when I’ve tried to do that but wound up blotting the whole thing out (often by falling asleep in the midst of thinking or writing my way through it) or else just anguishing over the past without learning anything from it.

      You’re so candid and just plain brave to write all this and share it with others here. As you suggest, I’ll move this exchange to the recent post. In fact, I’d like to base a new post on what you’ve written – consisting mostly of quotes from your comments. Your writing and experience are so powerful, just as you’ve put them so far, that they should have more attention than the comments often get. Let me know if that’s OK with you.

      I welcome and thank you for anything else you’d feel free to contribute here.

      My very best to you as you continue to work on this.

      John

  9. Susan says:

    John,

    Thank you for your reply. You are right that the reply was not what I expected partly because it’s focus was on me when I anticipated more of whathow he might be feeling and the consequent behaviors. Also partly, as you suspected, because of his possible role as the emotional & psychological abuser.

    I have considered this before and I have to admit that I had some misgivings (and feelings of being taken advantage of) on and off through this relationship – this sometimes makes me wonder why I have been so totally broken by the end result. I’ve also asked myself if I’m not facing up to this possibility as it is so painful for me. However I’m trying to think rationally and objectively through many incidents and concerns in this relationship and, though there are many ‘close fits’ on both possible explanations I feel that the situation is one of a depressed person who acts abusively.

    This is because I think that I know every nuance of emotional and psychological abuse and manipulation; I came to know it intimately during the 33 years of my marriage and the first 5 of my separation because, as you rightly say, I became unable to resist and was, in a way, almost complicit in the abuse. Contact only ended because husband found out sbout my relationship, refused to speak to me and started to speak abusively about me to my sons instead of to me personally. He could always find new reasons for abuse regardless of whether they had a slight, manipulated basis in fact or whether they were totally fictitious.

    When I met my partner I certainly was very vulnerable and was swept of my feet very quickly. My experiences convince me that he, from childhood, has externalised and blamed others for his internal termoil and feelings of inadequacy. Also that this pattern of behavior is well-entrenched and that he paid lip-service to medication and therapy. I say lip-service because he seemed to expect a ‘cure’ to come to him, for example he said that he recognised that he took offence very easily and critised others too readily (from earlier rounds of therapy I think though he was not too forthcoming on this) but he carried on and on doing more of the same. I take the point, and agree, that only he can recognise and commit to making the changes needed for recovery despite his efforts to shift resposibility and blame onto me. But waiting, hoping, helplessly for that to happen is almost as hard for the non-depressed partner as living with the fall-out. Maybe harder because there’s no rules, guidance, measure, certainty and in my case neither hope nor closure.

    My partner did not deny the depression it felt as if he used it as a weapon to demand special treatment from others and justify his lack of regard & care of them. He did deny any responsibility for the pain and damage it caused I think because of the gap between the things he knew in his heart were good and kind & his own behaviour was just to wide to face.

    I haven’t closed my mind to your suggestion; some of your words were very close to the mark and thanks for the suggested reading, I will follow up on this.

    I’m actually an intelligent, educated, competent professional person who can make an attempt at objectivity and moving on…. for a week or two … and then the hurt, confusion, loss and so much more comes flooding back with renewed vigour as does the need to try and understand. My instinct is saying that I need to understand to heal; hence my query. I just seem incapable of accepting and moving on even though this has destroyed me and my future as everything we had planned is no more. Underneath all this, and the knowledge that something very precious to me is gone forever, there is a very small voice saying “what about me”.

    Your writing, your honesty and your willingness to examine your own behaviour and the consequences, even when it is painful, is helpful to partners who are feeling the hurtful consequences of depression. It is also rare as most information is focussed on the needs of the sufferer and completely omits, or understates, the harsh reality from the perspective of the non-depressed sufferer.

    Thanks again I appreciate your time
    Susan

    • john says:

      Hi, Susan –

      Your clarity of insight is wonderful – though I gather it sometimes eludes you. Staying sane through 35 years of such treatment shows what a strong person you are. In the end, I suppose explanations of behavior and the labels that go with them aren’t so important as preserving an emotional integrity while doing what you can to save a relationship. I think men who are depressed and abusive are driven by fear and shame, and the most powerful thing they can do is just admit that to themselves. It’s even more powerful if they can say the words to the person who loves them. There’s nothing like telling the truth.

      The severity of their behavior with others probably signals the level of denial that keeps them from taking a good look inside themselves. In a way, my own lack of self esteem helped turn me around. I could never fully believe that anyone else caused my problems – it was more typical to blame myself for everything when I was completely depressed. So when I was acting out – doing my worst – there was always that bit of doubt – who are you kidding? At least I knew I was out of control.

      If I had not stopped and realized the depression was mine to accept and do something about, I might well have walked out on my family and then repeated the same pattern through a succession of failed relationships. People I’ve known who’ve caused the most harm have been completely oblivious of the needs of anyone else – and they never seem to get that wake-up call.

      It’s hard for me to see a good outcome if that moment of truth never comes. It’s the precondition for allowing therapy of any kind to work, and certainly to reach recovery.

      I’m sorry if I got things wrong in responding to your post – the impressions I’ve had come from your keen observations and clear writing. But it’s my armchair advice, and you’re living through it.

      I wish you the very best,

      John

  10. Susan says:

    John,
    I’d value your help and insight to help me understand and cope with a problem that has almost destroyed me.
    I had 33 years of unhappiness in my marriage, I now realise things I suffered were probably due to my husband being depressed. I stayed in the marriage so long because other people’s needs were always more important than my own eg my younger son’s lung disease, caring for my mother-in-law, my father’s Alzheimers etc. Things were so bad that it took me 5 years to recover after my separation, then I met a wonderful man, we quickly fell head-over-heels in love and I had so many new and happy experiences – it seemed as if someone was smiling on me at last. This man is the love of my life. A few things concerned me, even in the early days, but I tried to put them aside as I’d never been so happy in all my life. He had no friends, was very critical of other people, he used worrying words like ‘belittle’, status was important to him, he could be ‘touchy’.
    After about 3 months he told me was suffering from depression, consequently was on benefits, and gave an outline of the condition. But, due to our relationship things were looking up, he couldn’t understand why he never totally recoved that first year. At the time I admit I was shocked, especially when I read up on some of the behaviors and consquences on partners which I put to the back of my mind. I also found it a bit difficult to understand as I had (somehow) come through a truly awful life with years of emotional abuse and much more.
    He’d had a traumatic divorce after his wife left him after an short affair with a rich, childhood boyfriend. So in just a matter of weeks his marriage & business were destroyed leaving him, mid 50s with no job and two very young children. She never provided a word or a single penny of help or support despite a very affluent lifestyle. This was followed by, what he described as, an unhappy relationship with an abusive, ‘power woman’ who repeatedly verbally attacked him.
    During that 1st wonderful year there were a couple of incidents when he withdrew rather than admit he was wrong that caused me huge distress as I’m a kindly sort who always puts other people before myself. He also needed a great deal of help and support; so much so that I felt almost squeezed dry, especially as I’d gone into the relationship feeling that I needed someone ‘for me’, but I was doing more and more giving and less & less receiving. However we were inseparable, totally in love and we had so many good times so I seemed to get sucked into putting my worries aside, when I tried to express them he didn’t really listen, the conversation inevitably turned to his needs and everything seemed to be about him. I was reluctant to divorce and marry him, despite his requests, partly due to fear of a claim against my pension scheme and partly due to a nagging concern about his behavior.
    In our second year together i suffered a series of blows; my mother & sister diagnosed with cancer, my sick son had 4 major crises, a dear uncle and a close friend died, a dear friend had a traumatic pregnancy and eventual Down’s child then my cat, my constant companion over 16 years died. I needed help and support but, in reality, little was forthcoming despite his assertions of being a caring, wonderful person. Sometimes he barely listened or his interest felt mechanical, almost as if he was reading questions from ‘The Kind Person’s Guide’ and as soon as he got to number 6 he could forget the whole thing and go to sleep; he couldn’t comprehend why I couldn’t do so too. He went from being ‘touchy’ to selfish and quite unkind.
    There was a major incident when I got back from a clinic where my mother’s cancer had been diagnosed (I’d already spent the morning dealing with a benefits claim for him when I really needed some comfort & encouragement)
    and I needed some kindness and support. He’d had a problem with one of his daughters that I asked him to keep until the next day so I could cope but he continued pressing his story and ignoring my pleas until, in despair, I shouted that I couldn’t take a ‘selfish family’ story that day. Result: he withdrew totally for 5 days when I was in despair. He had been endlessly asserting his kind, supportive qualities when his actual behavior was the opposite. He never, ever could say sorry or accept any fault for anything. Afterwards he felt he was entirely justified had been offended because I had ‘attacked’ him (when, in fact, I was challenging thoughtless, selfish behavior) and said that because he hadn’t intended to hurt me the actual hurt he had added to my pain was inconsequential & due to my ‘bizarre’ aggressive behavior.
    I was seriously down at this time and it seemed as if my needs (and, I think, him denying his own behavior) caused pressure that caused him to start pulling back from me and made me very unhappy and tense. Also he had almost exhausted his savings and his financial situation was becoming desperate. My natural kindness, generousity, considerate nature and love seemed to annoy him yet he was taking more and more from me. He was annoyed when I said I was tired after work a couple of evenings even though he told me how exhausted and tired HE felt every single day. This continued for almost 5 months with me becoming more anxious and him more difficult, the last weeks much worse with increasingly ‘odd’ behaviour. I didn’t recognise the depression storm clouds though he was becoming more self-absorbed, selfish and clinically, coldly cruel.
    Then a huge row, (that I beleive he intentionally provoked) when all my fears erupted, he didn’t listen at all, so I repeated it shouting. I know i went over the top and I realise now the impact it had on his increasingly fragile condition – this grieves me and I feel so guilty. I rang him after a week and we spoke and met up a few times – but he was distant and unwilling to discuss anything but mundane things – any suggestion of ‘us’ or my feelings brought a complete blank; or the phone going down.
    I was distraught, grief-stricken, angry, everything and he was clinically detached “we had argued, he had been offended and had withdrawn (in the face of unjustified attack – every challenge or request for some consideration of me was always an attack) totally normal, understandable and 100% justified and any mention of my feelings just brought stares of disbelief.
    After a month of this I visited him and brought up the ‘us’ question. He (the love of my life) looked at me as if I was a thick, tiresome piece of trash and said sslowly that “he felt absolutely nothing for me”. I rreminded him of some of the wonderful things we had done together and all his assertions of love, marriage, mme being his soul-mate and the love of his life. wWithout a trace of compassion or kindness he said “it might have seemed like we were in love but people like me often assumed their partners returned their feelings when they actually did not. He admitted that it might seem a bit strange that he had been completely in love with his former abusive girl-friend and that he felt absolutely nothing for me even though i was the kindest, most considerate, most caring & loving, generous and thoughtful person he had ever met. If there was any chance that he might find some feeling for me I had to leave him competely alone for him to ‘recover’. The only concern he expressed was about being worried about his being single again. I was in total despair and spoke of my unhappiness and the wonderful things he had promised. His response: that my feelings were not under consideration and that what he wanted had to happen. As there was only the very slightest chance that he would find any feeling for me my thoughts & feelings were completely irrelevant.
    Since then I have been so griefsticken but also angry and disbelieving about his callous cruelty and not able tto understand how anyone, no matter how ill, could iintentionally inflict so much pain on anyone, let alone tthe person who was supposed to be the love of his life.
    Despite my grief I tried to be quietly ‘there’ and after a month of no contact I sent him a photo (of himself) and the next month a book both of which elicted a polite, but distant thank-you email. Then I got an email from him asking for help with a benefits overpayment charge and I responded with some suggested points. A few days later a letter came, somehow I expected an acknowledgement of my hurt, a reconcilliation, a kind word, anything. In fact it was a benefits appeal letter for me to check. This caused me to be near suicidal I have been so hurt, wounded & confused and since then have read all the information on depression on the internet and now appreciate what I found so hard to believe and accept before; particularly the ‘don’t take it personally’ but too late.
    During our relationship he had two periods on medication but was not convinced that they helped though he was more concerned with avoiding side effects than recovering. In our final weeks together he was having counselling but, at the time, I was pretty certain he was telling her lies, or recounting things out of context, to avoid any thought of his having shortcomings but now I’m wondering if he was fighting accepting them or taking any responsibility for his actions.
    3 Three months ago I got a polite two-line email saying that his appeal had failed and thanks for the help and since then there has been no contact as I’ve just tried to give him the space he requested but this has been very hard on me and not a single day passes without unhappiness and grief. I have taken up a new hobby, started meditation classes and postponed my retirement, (he was pressing me to retire so we could spend more time together), so I really have tried to help myself but the pain never goes.
    I do not know what to do next for him, or me. Do people recover from where ever he is now? I truly cannot take much more, after a difficult life this has brought me to my knees and sometimes I just want an end to the pain, sometimes I just want the wonderful days back and sometimes I just want to tell him what he has done to me (and make him listen not dismiss, or zone-out, on anything that’s not about him)or to ask him where the wonderful person has gone.
    I do care about him and his welfare first and foremost, but I also know that I’m just too fragile to cope with recurring problems like this but I just can’t walk away either, despite the advice from my counsellor.
    I feel as if his condition has bled me dry, left me with absolutely nothing despite me giving my all(in fact less than I had before I met him as he gave me a glimpse of something good then took it away in the cruellest way possible)and I have neither hope nor any kind of closure.
    II half suspect from some of the expressions he has used ((e.g.”it wasn’t right but she was a wonderful, kind, thoughtful person”)that he did something similar to the girlfriend previous to me but over a much shorter timescale(she tragically lost her sister early in the relationship). This lady died, perhaps a year or so ago so I keep wondering if he is denying letting her down and perhaps any possible guilt that he caused her unhappiness that contributed to her death;but this is sheer speculation.
    I’ve read your comments on men who feel the need to move onto something new – as cure for all ills – instead of looking into themselves and I’m tortured by the thought that I was just seen as a ‘fixer’ for his problems but when rationality returns I realise that the love we shared couldn’t have been faked – or just turned off – and is still there somewhere.

    Susan

    • john says:

      Hi, Susan –

      This is such a painful story to read. I can’t imagine what you must feel living through it all. But, Susan, the advice I have to offer is probably not what you want or expect to hear. Remember, I’m no therapist, and it’s always hard to tell exactly what’s going on from reading even a very detailed post like this one. But please – please – listen carefully to your counselor!

      It may well be that this man is depressed, but it sounds like his pattern of behavior fits another one that is more destructive – that of an emotional and psychological abuser. I just wrote a post here on exactly this problem. That might be a starting point to understand how this form of abuse pervades a relationship from beginning to end, including the love he shows at first and the dazzling experience of feeling like you’ve found the love of your life. Then things go wrong bit by bit as the woman’s words get twisted, his version of reality has to prevail and blame is shifted entirely to his partner. Since I’m no expert, I’d urge you to read the books I reference in that post. The pattern of the relationship you describe is exactly what those books are talking about – at least it sure sounds like it to me.

      I’ve been finding out a lot about this form of abuse because my own behavior when depressed was extremely abusive emotionally to my wife and family. While it’s true that depression warps a personality and much of what a depressed person does and says is not intended personally, the effect and hurt is completely personal. I was responsible for that abuse, and it was up to me, no one else, to get treatment and to make that the most important thing I needed to do in my life.

      The advice I offer in the case of depression and its “fallout” on the family is two-fold. First, that nobody but the depressed partner can change – it’s up to him (or her, but I hear mostly about depressed men) not the partner. Not only is there little the partner can do – despite the strong belief that there must be something they can do to get him back – she also has to look out for her own wellbeing and get all the support she can get, including therapy. I believe she also needs to be clear about how much abuse she can take and let the depressed partner know her limits and that the emotional harm may never heal if it keeps going on.

      Whether this man is primarily an emotional abuser – with a history of this type of behavior – or a depressed man who is acting abusively, there is nothing that you can do for him. He is the only one who can and must take responsibility for getting well – and to stop blaming and hurting you. As I said, it sounds like the emotional abuse pattern is the major concern – and that leaves your mental health and wellbeing, frankly, at risk. That’s why I urge you to pay close attention to your counselor, who can offer a much clearer and more objective view than you can. It’s not your fault that this is happening to you.

      I know this must sound harsh – perhaps way off the mark – but that’s the way it looks to me.

      I really hope that all this pain can come to an end soon.

      John

  11. Gem says:

    Thank you for replying. I’ve told him many times. I had what i feel was a breakdown last night and i tried asking him for just a little contact. He says he can’t talk to me. I need to get myself sorted before i can do anything. He just said me being “Depressed” isn’t helping him get better. He doesn’t seem to care about my feelings anymore and would rather talk to some random women from America. I’m only 18 and i need to be happy with myself first so i’m going to work on that whilst being on some herbal remedy to calm me. Thanks for your help =] x

  12. Gem says:

    Hello,
    My boyfriend and i had been together for 9 months, he came down often as we live 500 miles apart. He lives with his nan as he had bad parents and she took him in. He’s always had depression but told me i could make him feel better and happy. He moved in with me just before christmas, before this we talked all the time on the phone. After he’d moved in everything was fine, then 2 weeks in he suddenly said he felt lost here, alone. He left that day, when he got home i had a phone call saying he really missed me and wanted to come back. He came back the next day. A few more weeks went by and everything was fine, he was going to propose to me, i felt perfect. He went home again within an hour. He ignored me at first then i called his nan asking her to let me talk to him. He said he was going to stop taking his pills for a day or two so he could make out his feelings, he says his pills numb them. It was different each day, one minute he loved me and wanted me, next he loved me but didn’t want me. We haven’t talked for a few days now and it kills me. He said he wants to be friends in the future but he needs to concentrate on getting better. I’m left in limbo, not knowing where i stand. How can he want to marry me and have children then suddenly want to be friends? I want to be there for him, when his nan dies he’ll have nothing, i’m scared of what he’ll do. I know it sounds horrible to say that but it’s something i think about a lot. Is he really feeling that he needs to get better on his own? Or is it an excuse to break up with me? I love him so much and haven’t wanted to eat or do anything, i just cry and hope something bad happens to me, every day. What should i do? My family just say he’s fallen out of love with me, i just want to know if he ever loved me and if depression is this way as i don’t know much about it. Will he come back to me?

    • john says:

      Hi, Gem –

      From what you’re saying, my first concern is about you. I hope you have some support to turn to and also hope you’re not blaming yourself. It sounds like his behavior is triggered by depression, and you’re not causing any of this. It’s a horrible blow to have this torment going on, and I’m really sorry you’re feelings are being so abused. This is about his depression, but still there are limits. He’s responsible for the impact of his behavior and can’t keep playing with your feelings. The danger for you is that his feelings start to seem more important in your life than your own. If he can’t stop exposing you to his back and forth behavior, I hope you can set a boundary for yourself – as anguishing as that may be. Part of being depressed is that you become self-absorbed and stop thinking about what you’re doing to others – somehow the depressed person has to wake up to that damage.

      Taking antidepressants can dull your feelings. That happened to me over a period of several years. I felt detached, and it was easy to be careless about relationships. Another problem is imagining that moving to a new place, finding a new partner – or some other big change – will “make you feel better.” That never works. Trying to depend on someone else for a cure is abdicating responsibility for facing the inner pain on your own. No one made me depressed, no one could make me better. The hardest part of long-term depression for me was realizing that nothing would cure me if I didn’t make recovery the most important thing in my life – and stop fantasizing about cures happening through a new relationship.

      Trying to find out what he really feels probably can’t be done at this point because he doesn’t know. As long as he’s subject to depression, he’s playing by a different set of rules. I don’t see how he can get in touch with his feelings by switching his medication on and off. Depression is probably the dominant force in his emotional life, and I hope you can get enough support to make sure his depression isn’t controlling your life.

      Letting him know the depth of your feelings and setting a limit on what you can tolerate from him may be the best things to do for him – but mostly for you.

      All my best to you =

      John

  13. Shelly says:

    Hi John,

    Thank you for responding to my post. Here is really what happened. Him and I carried a long distance relationship (in different countries) for 6 years and finally decided we were getting engaged. He was going to move here to the US and despite the fact that he was going to start a new life away from everything he knew, he was sooo excited and just wanted to be with me. I came back to the states after visiting with him for 3 weeks and when I got back and called him, he would complain about feeling depressed. He linked it to our separation and even though it was temporary (he was planning to be here in December), he said his mind played tricks on him and told him that perhaps things were too good to be true. Another thing was that the contract he was working on was taking forever to cut him a check which he was going to use to get my engagement ring. Additionally, the jewelry store had the ring on hold and was calling him daily to see when he would pick it up.
    Two weeks after being back in the US, I called him one night and he was out and we got into a very insignificant argument and I did not call him for one week. When I called him after the week, he seemed very mad and said that he thought I had decided to leave him because I did not call and that he was so upset that one night he tried to take his life. I confirmed with him that I did not call because I was busy but that I did not break with him. Within 5 minutes of the conversation, he broke up with me!
    HE broke into tears and cried and said that he tried everything but that things were not going to work out because he had lost his passion towards me. He said he loved me soo much but the passion was just not there and he didnt understand why and that this hurt him soo much.
    I called him everyday to try to get him to change his mind and to give us a chance to fix things but he refused, the more I insisted the more aggressive he became. He blamed it all on me saying things like “i would call all the time and you never picked up the phone” you did this and that and it was disrespectul, bla blah blah. He made me feel like it was my fault that our relationship had ended.
    So i finally got into researching depression and realized that all his symptoms just fit in. I tried to tell him repeatedly that he was feeling empty inside because of his depression and/or the medication and he would say “well whatever the case may be, our relationship is now over and you may actually want to seek some help because I think you are the depressed one”.

    He went through the agressive phase first. after 2-3 weeks, he went through the empty feeling, he was so emotionless and nothing faze him. I would cry, I told him this depression was taking away our lives and what we loved the most and his response was “it is too late, the person you knew died that night when I tried commiting suicide, I am no longer the same person, I dont have a soul. You need to save yourself from me, I dont want to hurt you, I want you to be happy and when I see that you find happiness, I will die happy”

    I did not talk to him for one week because i was traumatized by how he would be with me. It killed me to feel that he was so distant and agressive and nothing fazed him and even though I knew it was the illness, I would still take things personal. When I then called him again, he picked up the phone and said he was busy and that he would call me back. Of course he didnt call back that day but surprisingly enough, he called me 5 days later and his mood was so positive. He wanted to know how i was doing and when I asked how he was doing he actually was honest and said he was feeling better and was taking the medication, etc. etc.

    After this good week of feeling better, I tried to take advantage of the fact that he was in a good mood and suggested that he starts seeing a therapist formally and so that he could get the appropiate medication (unfortunately the psychologist that treated him initially gave up on him because he would not open up during therapy sessions and basically gave him a prescription with as many refills as possible for antidepressants without the need of check ups every so often, I know this sounds weird but thats how things are in South America). He agreed to it, but then he got into the stages of feeling guilty and lots of remorse which he indicated was suffocating him. He felt guilty that he gave up so many things after being depressed (he was referring to our relationship) and he felt the need to scape from it by taking a vacation outside of the city he lives in because again he thought this would solve the problem. I dont know why he was feeling guilty at this stage, perhaps he came off the medication, I am not sure. All he said was that he was going to leave town and was going to the pharmacy to get his medication. He came back from that trip a couple of days ago and was back to what he calls “normal” just feeling nothing.
    I couldnt deal with just talking to him and seeing how he wont do the right thing to help himself, he’s convinced that by making new friends, moving into new things and leaving the past behind and going to the gym 7 days a week, working all day and isolating himself to what he calls the past (me, his family, old friends) wil make him feel better. Yesterday I called him and I broke into tears and told him how much it was hurting me to not only see that depression was taking evrything away from us but it was also destroying his life and it was painful to see that he did not want to seek the appropiate treatment. He listened to me calmly and begged me to calm down and stop crying. In the past when he was not depressed, if I cried, he would freak out and break into tears with me. Yesterday he just heard me cry and I realized that he listened to everything I said, but it was like he did not feel anything. After talking for two hours he then said that the solution could that I find another man to be with and that would solve things for both of us. However, its ironic that when he hears that I am hanging out with other guys (friendship) he gets pissed off, so of course its confusing.

    I know deep inside, he loves me because feelings do not change from one day to another. BUt the person he’s turned into now is completely cold hearted and distant. Not soo much agressive anymore but just cold and distant. When I ask him if he realizes that he’s distancing himself from me by cutting communication he says “no I am not, I am just making new friends and trying to move on from all this and travel and do new things that I now enjoy without any sadness and my friends never talk about anything negative, we laugh and talk about positive things”. Another important thing I forgot to mention is that he has not disclosed to his family that about the suicide attempt and I am the only one that knows. I called his sister to inform her but in South America, they dont always think depression is that serious so she didnt pay much attention to me. Additionally he hides his depression so well from everyone and does not allow anyone to get into his private life, I am the only one that he’s actually opened up to about everything. The friends he hangs out with dont know the real situation, he told them that he broke up with his girlfriend that that he was a BIT depressed so of course they are hanging out with him to support him and providing advice based on what he said.

    Does this hurt me? I honestly have never gone through such pain before. This is the man I was going to marry and spend teh rest of my life with. He still wants to maintain communication with me and has promised that when he’s ready to get help, he will tell me. I told him that I will be there for him that that he needed to initiate the process first.

    I guess what I would like to know is (based on your experience). He;s going through sooo much and I want him to get better and I have hope that he will (not soo much expectation) and I am telling myself that our relationship is over so I can go through the grieving process which is extremely painful but this is my mind talking. My heart wants him to get better so that we can pick up our relationship where we left off. He does not have the family support where he lives. I am afraid that if I cut communication, he will think that I have forgotten about him and that now there is nothing to live for. I know I have no control over him or what he does at all but I want to help him. Any suggestions, advice is highly appreciated.

    -Shelly

    • john says:

      Dear Shelly –

      There’s so much anguish and hurt in your writing, and your words bring me right into the center of this storm you’re in. I wish I could wave a wand to help you or list the five sure-fire things to do in a situation like this (there are many writers who will give you a list, of course), but I can’t. The man has put himself so out of reach that it is hard for me to see any way that you could help him. And I hope you understand that you cannot bring him back from depression – or help him in any decisive way. Only he can do that, and right now he’s cutting himself off not just from you and the rest of his old life but from reality. He wants to hear only positive things, hang out with people who don’t know him deeply, won’t remind him of anything unpleasant and actually “protect” him from facing the fullness of life. Talking to a therapist only makes him feel “worse” so he rejects that, and that decision helps keep him at a distance from what he actually feels – and from whatever it is he so deeply needs to avoid. He also seems not to be feeling much of anything. All of these are symptoms and experiences come with depression.

      I’ve lived through periods of behaving as he is now. Depression was so dominant that it didn’t seem to be a serious problem. I was taking medication and didn’t feel so down all the time. I was sure everything was looking up – all I needed was a completely new life, and I’d be fine! I didn’t for a moment question that kind of thinking.

      The depth of feeling you have seems inaccessible to him at this point. If anything, it scares him – and that may come across as anger. That’s why attempts to get through and be helpful might backfire and only put you through more pain. It’s hard to reawaken or appeal to the feelings you have shared in the past when that’s exactly what he’s shutting out.

      I may be way off base with this – and that makes me all the more hesitant to suggest really specific things for you to do. All I can describe is what my wife did when I was in a very similar state. She kept reminding me that I had her love and that of my children and also that I was jeopardizing everything I had. She learned the hard way that she couldn’t change what I was going through and that it was better for her to let me know what her limits were. She was firm and loving at the same time and never hesitated to show her anger as well as hurt. While I was dishing out emotional abuse and living in a fantasy land, she was a touchstone of real, complicated life and feelings. But if I hadn’t turned myself around and decided to get on top of depression, we couldn’t have stayed together. I’ve written about all this in several posts here because all that was about the most powerful painful set of experiences I’ve ever gone through.

      That example is really what I have to offer. I so hope this can offer some help to you at a terrible time.

      All love to you —

      John

  14. Shelly says:

    I am glad to have found this blog because it helps me understand what my partner is going through at this moment. We’ve been on a long distance relationship for 6 years and he broke up with me after trying to commit suicide a few months ago. Yes he went through the 4 phases that are mentioned on this blog (anger, emptyness, remorse feelings, etc.
    At first I did not understand what was happening, he is the one that told me that he tried to commit suicide and that our long distance relationship was destroying him (even though one week before this happened, we were planning our engagement and wedding to finally be together) and he cried so much saying that he tried everything but his passion for our relationship disappeared (although his thoughts were different one week prior, we were soooo in love). I was confused and in denial, I called him everyday to try to convince him to think things through and he said “no”.

    He finally asked for some space and asked me to stop contacting him. Surprisingly enough, he decided to make new friends and wanted to start a new life. I was still soo confused and extremely hurt. I gave him the space he asked for because it was better than talking to him and getting hurt by his distant attitute and aggressiveness towards me (keeping in mind this man is known to be extremely passive and sweet).

    After two weeks, I contacted him as I was dying to know how he was doing, he picked up the phone and still seemed surprised to hear from me and told me he was busy and would call me back. Of course he did not call back that night and I was finally told by friends to leave him alone for at least one month. Surprisingly enough, he called 3 days later with a different attitude, wanting to know how I was doing, concerned and at that point I asked him how he was doing and he was actually open about his situation and said he was feeling better.

    I took advantage of his positive attitude and suggested he seeks therapy, well he was not in agreement with this. He is on the medication (for 8 weeks now) but aside from his positive attitude its hard to tell how he’s feeling as he does not want to talk about it.

    Just last week, we agreed to talk on the internet (something he hates doing since he’s been depressed because he wants to isolate away and the internet makes him feel really exposed)he logged in and basically told me that he did not want to talk about his situation and wanted to put it in the past because otherwise the remorse feelings for ending our relationship was going to smother him and he did not want this so he wanted to scape from the physical location he was in and decided to leave the city for the weekend. He told me I was very special in his life and that he wanted me to take care of myself and that everything that was going on had nothing to do with me and that it was him and his life and things that were happening with him.

    Sorry to give soo many details but as you can see, this man sees that he’s depressed and he has admitted this to mme. However, he does not want to seek therapy because he does not think it will help him even though he’s on medication. Another reason for not seeking therapy is because he says that the therapist/psychologist opens up wounds that he wants to heal overtime and his belief is that by going to therapy, he feels worse.

    I love this man to death and yes I know that I am supposed to be taking care of myself which I’m trying to do but I do not want to lose him to his depression. Now at times it seems that he’s getting better, whereas other times, I feel (through his moods swings) that he’s sstill stuck in that hole. He’s been working out excessively, changed his friends for new ones (weird) and changed his hobbies to something else as well.

    I would like to know based on our situation (long distance in different countries), what I can do to help? HI have huge influence over him and I know he cares for me in a huge way. I am even willing to go see him but I am asking myself if that would even help. I dont nag about getting help but I would like to get through his depression so that he seeks the appropiate treatment.

    • john says:

      Hi, Shelly –

      I’m really sorry to be so late in responding to your comment and the last several here – it’s just a busy time!

      This is such a difficult thing to go through with your partner – especially when he won’t talk and breaks contact. Refusing to get therapy after a suicide attempt is pretty extreme and just shows how much he’s wrapped up in the idea – I would call fantasy – that he can deal with everything on his own by getting a whole new life. Of course he can’t. Until he finds this isn’t working, though, and starts to deal with those wounds that he thinks will heal on their own, it’s hard to see that you can do very much. Even though I think he’s relying on a fantasy of external change as the answer to internal pain, his feelings and conviction are certainly real, if desperate. It’s really hard to get through the barriers he’s put up. The encouraging thing is that he tells you what’s happening to him has nothing to do with you. That’s exactly right – and it’s an important realization.

      I know how frustrating and hurtful it has to be, but if my experience is any guide, at this point he’s just not the person you know. One thing I’m not clear on from what you’ve written is whether or not you’ve told him the whole truth of what this is doing to you. I think that’s important – though it might not make an immediate difference.

      It’s so hard for me to give advice, not knowing you or the full extent of this. All I can really do is speak from what happened to me and my marriage – perhaps that’s of some help.

      And, yes, I do hope you can take care of yourself. That’s no easy thing to do.

      All my best to you — John

  15. Anonymous1 says:

    About 2 1/2 months ago, my partner of many years broke up with me out of nowhere. He had been suffering from depression, which seemed to be getting worse and worse. He lived his life prior to that with GAD and then he had a car accident, not his fault, someone hit him and that’s when the depression started. His anxiety worsened and he started getting panic attacks, etc. His family doctor put him on several medicines and suggested that he seek psychiatric help. He had many reservations, but as he too felt his condition was worsening he sought help but only wanted to have his medicine regulated and not to talk about it with anyone. The first medicine made a markedly good change in him but it gave him palpitations so they had to change it. The second medicine made him worse and what was even worse than that is they continually put him off when he asked to have it changed. They told him it takes time.

    After about 1 month on it he started staying in his room all the time withdrawing from people and social situations, etc. And then about 1 week and a half before he broke up with me he was very short, always seemed angry and when I would call he seemed mad. At that time, I did not really understand what was happening to him and didn’t even try to pretend I did. I just kept asking if there was anything I could do? He always told me no. I told him if he needed sometime alone I would respect that (big mistake)he responded with “I will have to think about it” Even worse, I told him I didn’t know what to say to him anymore because I felt like everything I said was just making him angry (another big mistake). I tried my hardest to apologize in a way that would make him understand why I was feeling this way. I told him that the way he was feeling affected me to that if he hurt, i hurt, if he was happy, i was happy (later I learned not a good thing to do) For the next two days, he had very brief conversations with me. He never even told me goodnight or that he loved me after that.

    On that last day, i called him while he was napping so I offered to call him later. He seemed in a reasonable mood and so I called him later as I said he would and when his mom told him I was on the phone, I could feel the anger and rage when he told her “Tell her I will call her back” About half an hour later he called me and said “I just called you back because I said I would, It’s over, we’re done, I am breaking up with you!” When I asked “Why?” he told me “You don’t deserve to know!” Then he was silent for a bit while I continued asking “Why?” and he just hung up. I have not heard from him since. I had trying texting professing my love for him, telling him I would be here if he needed me, that sort of thing. No response. I then switched to trying to leave light-hearted messages, just asking how he was doing. No reponse. I would wave to him in the street and he would pretend I didn’t exist.

    I decided to take sometime and look at myself as the source of the problem and realized that many of the problems that we had in our relationship pre- and during his depression were because I was needy and clingy and after a great deal of self-introspection and work on my own issues, I have been able to become a better more confident person, secure in myself as an individual. It led me to believe that I was probably the worst thing for him at that time in his life. I had to take care of me first to be at all helpful to him. I even sent him a message when I came upon this epiphany telling him that we both needed space right now, etc.

    My trouble is I still love him and I just wonder do you think it is possible that he could even consider getting back together with me? Somewhere on his road to recovery. There is a lot I do not understand about depression and men and I just wonder if you know of anyone where this has happened before. And if he does go into depression again (it runs in his family) or is still suffering from it what can I do or not do to make it easier for us both? Also, how long would you wait before you would contact him again. I want to give him some time to heal. He went back to work for about a month, but about two weeks ago he seems to have taken another leave and I saw him earlier today on my way to the post office coming out of the counselor’s office and he lost sooo much weight. Does it go back and forth like that?

    • john says:

      Hi, Anonymous1 –

      Thank you for your willingness to share such a painful story. As I’ve said before here, I can only speak from my own experience. I’m not a therapist, and, of course, there is much more to know about a long-term relationship.

      Is it possible he could consider getting back together with you? Anything is possible, but I think he would first have to face the full impact of depression, realize that it’s not you that causing whatever pain he’s been experiencing and take charge of his own treatment. And, of course, start talking to you about what he’s going through.

      It’s great that you’ve had that moment of insight about the need to take care of yourself. That’s basic as well. I’d be tolerant of whatever feelings you’ve been going through since a breakup like this is so traumatic – it takes a lot of time to settle down enough to get some distance about what’s happened. Getting some form of counseling or therapy has been helpful to me, but that may not be the right approach for you. Support of some kind for yourself can really help. I know a few people who have isolated themselves after being left – in those cases, they felt embarrassed, humiliated and had a hard time facing friends. That can be another part of the loss.

      You can email me if you want to talk further about this.

      All my best to you —

      John

  16. Jaliya says:

    Hi, John … I’ve been awake through this night and have been perusing your beautiful blog … I love the garden photos … and Sylvie! Is she yours?

    About books: the one book I would recommend above all others is *A General Theory of Love*, by Lewis Thomas et. all (three authors altogether). This book states the most obvious things in a way that lyrically conjoins clinical and human truths with philosophy and a poetic sensibility … Essentially, the authors state that loving relation is the pivot around which our health turns …

    • john says:

      Thank you, Jaliya (that’s such a beautiful name!) –

      I’ll let my wife know you like the photos – those are hers as well. And Sylvie is definitely ours – one of four cats, each so different.

      Thanks for recommending the book. I actually got it some time ago, but for some reason never got into it – I’ll do that now.

      And thank you for your kind words about the blog – though I hope it wasn’t the reason you were up all night. Get some sleep!

      All my best —

      John

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