I’ve made hope the centerpiece of this pair of posts because there’s such a powerful need for it after a depressed partner leaves. However unrealistic the hope may be, it’s necessary to take the place of pain and grief.
The problem of a hope born of desperation is the risk of further shocks in the future as the hope is disappointed. But hope is hard to analyze. The need to believe that the partner who’s gone must still feel something, however hidden, seems to me overwhelming. The moment of crisis is a poor time for realistic thinking.
That’s the problem with much of the advice that’s offered online or from friends, however compassionately it’s done. It comes out of rational, realistic thinking by someone who’s not in the midst of the storm.
On the one hand, that’s its value, a thoughtful perspective from someone you trust. On the other, the urgent need is for someone who will listen without telling you what you should be doing – someone who can respond to your feelings with compassion.
That balance between compassion and reason is also what you need when reaching out to a partner who’s breaking away. And it’s the balance you need to keep yourself going.
The suggestions I can make may not be very satisfactory in the immediacy of the loss. I think it helps, if at all possible, to keep them in mind from the outset.
Taking Care of yourself
After your partner leaves, you may pull out all the stops and follow your impulse to reach him – or you may be too overwhelmed to do anything. Whatever your initial reaction, that first wave of feeling is likely all about loss. The focus is on your partner: his feelings, what he must be going through and the support he needs to deal with his depression.
But the crisis is also about your needs. You’re under huge stress, and it could have been building over a long period. You’ve likely been living with depression for some time, even if neither you nor your partner recognized what was going on.
You need support, not just to figure out why he’s taken off and what you can do for him, but to help you deal with what you’re going through. If you don’t, you can go downhill fast into your own depression.
Depression is Contagious
Many therapists, like Michael Yapko, describe depression as contagious, and I think they’re right. A depressed partner can hit you with emotional withdrawal and refusal to talk, or go to the opposite extreme of blame, anger and emotional abuse.
Whatever it’s been like, you’ve taken the brunt of it. Stress sustained over a long period can cause numerous health problems. The hurt, worry, anxiety and anger in the closest relationship you have can readily lead to depression, along with its impact on sleep, appetite and motivation. It also can push you into isolation and hopelessness that can prevent you from getting the help you need.
Just as your partner needs help, so do you.
How to Get Help
The key thing is to find someone who will listen without judgment and help you work on the issues your partner’s depression and leaving have caused. This person could be a friend or religious counselor or therapist. Someone who has been trained to help people sort through such problems would probably be best.
If you can’t identify anyone through your own friends and family, you can consult online directories, like this one or Psych Central’s listing of numerous directories.
Talking to others who have had to face the same crisis is excellent support. You can find in-person and online peer support groups through the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance and also try the long-time online forum called Depression Fallout. These are especially valuable because you can find a lot advice that’s already been tried by people in your position.
Is Communication Possible?
This is someone you still love and you’re not going to sit by and do nothing. To a great extent, though, what you can do depends on what your partner lets you do.
Some block out all communication: no meetings, no calls, emails, letters or text messages. Perhaps they’ve moved away so you don’t even have an address. You can only talk to his friends or family to find out how he is or to convey a message for you. But there’s no response at all. That’s a pretty powerful signal of finality, but I’ve heard from many who try to find hope even in the refusal to respond.
Others are willing to talk, but the message is: I have to be alone to deal with depression and can’t be in a close relationship now. Total isolation is the answer while he works on his problems, often without help from anyone.
Some try to maintain the tie by talking frequently and express confusion about the relationship. Some stay in touch only to remind you that they think their problems are all your fault.
There are many other messages depressed partners might offer, but the bottom line is that they’ve cut you out of any active role. Often, they look on leaving as a big part of the answer to depression and never get treatment.
Generally, the behavior you see after they’ve left mirrors closely the way they treated you before taking the drastic step of getting out.
In thinking about how you can help, the key thing to keep in mind is that no one but the depressed partner can take the first steps to deal with illness. And he’ll do it in his own time, if he does it all. You can’t do it for him, but you can offer help and support.
In fact, that may be the only thing you can do, if communication is limited, and you get no response or invitation to do more. But if the door is open, you can offer help by sending information about depression or ideas you’ve found online. You can mention the types of treatment that are available, how to locate therapists, films, short videos and books that might be relevant. You can identify ways of getting help if he has no medical insurance. And you can simply indicate your availability to help whenever he might choose to call on you.
All this can clarify the options he has when he’s ready to make a serious attempt at treatment. You have to trust him to make up his own mind in his own time.
What You’re Really Communicating
It’s hard, though, to be that detached when you do get in touch. Usually, the motive for communicating is not simply to help but to keep the relationship going and keep your hope alive that he’ll return. It’s easy to push too hard so he’ll get rid of the depression that’s keeping you apart.
The message you communicate may come across in a way you don’t intend. He might read it as having to do more with your needs than with his. It may not sound like a disinterested offer, and that makes it hard for him to take your advice. Doing so would seem more like a sign that he was coming back to you, and that’s too sensitive to consider.
Making lots of suggestions about what he should do implies that it’s within his power to take action. However, he may not be able to do much of anything if he’s really going through an episode of major depression. He might just castigate himself all the more for not being able to follow your advice. Even after deciding to get out of his dark room and seek help, he’ll have a long way to go before learning how to cope with the illness and get back to his vital self. Inaction may not be a refusal to help himself but rather a sign of the depth of his depression.
Letting him move at his own pace is essential, but that too is hard when you long so much to restore the relationship or at least be assured that getting back together is a goal he shares. He might not know the answer to that himself.
Your Decision about You
Whatever you try to do or communicate may never have much effect. You may never get a signal that gives you real hope. Just as your partner has to decide about treatment, you’ll have to decide what’s best for you, and you’ll do it your own pace. There are no fixed rules to follow about any of these, just a series of examples of what others have done.
That’s why I emphasize the importance of taking care of yourself by getting the help and support you need. If you can do that, hopefully, you’ll get the guidance you’re looking for.
Some Rights Reserved for the image by mralsultan at Flickr
Westwood 123 says
Sorry was unsure how commenting worked on my last post. This is my first time writing in any forum. Anyhow here’s my story….. My husband and I have been married for the past 24 years. We met while he was drinking and using drugs but he went into treatment and has been clean and sober for nearly 20 years now. We did two years of aftercare together after treatment but he never really went to AA meeting etc. But life was great and we had three beautiful boys who are now 22, 15 and 6. His own family are pretty dysfunctional and he doesn’t have a great relationship with his siblings. His dad passed away 4 years ago … lovely man and his mother is still alive. His relationship with his mother has been fraught at times while he was growing up but he seems to have made his peace with her now. Anyway he was totally immersed in our family life…. my parents, siblings and all my extended family were his family also. He has a good job and a small circle of friends but again my friends were his friends also. There were times throughout our marriage when he was a bit paranoid and insecure about me. I always reassured him that his thoughts were totally unfounded and I loved him only. He would always say he was sorry and he didn’t know what was going on with him and he needed counselling but unfortunately he never followed through and here we are now today…… On 10th May he accused me of having an affair of some sort with someone I worked with…. the person he was accusing me of being with was a small bald headed man not at all attractive but he was convinced 110% that I was attracted to this person…. what I am trying to say is I knew something was wrong and that fir him to have thought any thing like this his own self esteem must have been on the ground…. He was like a man possessed…. he had been watching my wats app and this other person’s wats app on the times I was on and off line and comparing it to the other persons and decided that we were in contact 24/7 which was completely not the situation at all…. he had concocted stories in his head about who knew about the affair and how and where I was meeting this person… It was all really scary stuff and he had been doing all this for 6 months and I had no idea. He must have been totally tormented. There was no convincing him at all that it wasn’t true so I had to ask him to leave the house as I felt I couldn’t live with someone who was accusing me of something that wasn’t true…. any time we met up talk he was so convinced and he just could not se the wood from the trees. We were txting and he was blowing hot and cold… one minute he was all sorry and once I told the truth he’d come home.. he missed me and the boys so much and couldn’t live without us. He couldn’t eat, sleep or function and just wanted the truth. Anyway to make a long story short I suggested I would go a lie detector test!!! I knew I had to do something irrational as I was dealing with an irrational person and more so I was dealing with someone who was not well at all and was having some kind of paranoid/ depression episode. Of course the test came back all clear and then he realised he wasn’t well!! He was so sorry and realised all the damage he had done and promised he would spend the rest of his life making it up to us. He said he had so many issues to work out and he started counselling… I managed to convince him to go to the doctor who sent him straight away for a psych assessment that evening. We ended up going back to our own Gp who gave him rivitrol and antidepressants while he is waiting for a private appointment with a physchiatrist. So he’s heading into his 3rd week in the meds and things have completely changed. He has totally shut down all his emotions towards me… two weeks ago we were planning to do up the house, go on holiday and plan for the future and he was going to move back home. And literally overnight he doesn’t know if he wants to be married anymore or even if he loves me the same anymore. He says he can’t work out his feelings , and says he hasn’t felt loved by me in a few years…. This is all such a shock to me as I have never done anything to make him feel unloved. Other than trying to run a house and just get in with life like every other married couple…. I know life can get in the way sometimes but we always tried to make time for us with weekends away etc. He only rings now to talk to the children and really can’t communicate with me at all…. he’s living with his two friends in an apartment. Both their marriages are gone for a long time. One of them is a child hood friend but he has a big influence in my husbands life. He looked up to him totally and his friend loves this as it feeds his big ego. He never liked the fact that my husband was married and always wanted him as his sidekick when he would be pulling women on a night out. I just feel my husband is so vulnerable at the moment and he’s listening to all the wrong advice??? He has always adored his family and always said that I saved his life when he was using in that I got him to treatment….. He is a family man and never wanted to living in a flat only seeing his children every now and then… He rang my son this morning and I could hear he was upset on the phone while waiting to speak to my son….. I’m at a loss to explain all this but it’s like dealing with a complete stranger. I’m hoping when the meds kick in he’ll see some sense . He was looking to start with a new counsellor but he hasn’t organised anything yet…. he says he wants to try marriage counselling but I’m not so sure now…. he’s just all over the place and not the same man at all😢😢😢It’s just devastating as I don’t know who the real man is now… is it the depression talking or is it actually how he feels???
I’m sorry if this is a bit all over the place but I’m just typing as it’s coming into my head…
I don’t know what are you but I know not what are used to be. I’m too afraid to ask for help Because I’m tired of giving all of myself for not getting anything in return. I don’t wanna lose anymore and it feels like that’s all I am doing here lately so I push everyone away and I keep to myself that’s safe.
This doesn’t make sense. What are you saying?
18 months ago my boyfriend of five years broke up with me. I had a deep sense of unease about the relationship for a long time. He had experienced a terrible childhood and throughout our relationship refused to communicate with me about his feelings, even minor issues couldn’t be discussed, he would leave or sometimes literally hide his head under a pillow (and I mean minor incidents, the conversations didn’t involve shouting but he would shut down or lash out with something hurtful to make me retreat). We had bought a house the year before, redid it and I think that briefly masked the problems. The hostility was unbearable, my self esteem was completely shattered. I over compensated by avoiding talking about any feelings and trying too hard to “fix” us. Anyway he ended our relationship in a five minute conversation and was completely detached, at that point he felt I was the reason for him feeling the way he felt. I moved out, completely shattered by how little he cared. He went away a couple of weeks later to see his family and i moved my things out. While doing that, I was taking stuff from one of our cupboards and he left a bunch of stuff which made it obvious he had slept with someone else the week he ended our relationship. I was so incredibly hurt, i knew it was his way of avoiding dealing with his issues. I realised during all this that he had been experiencing a deep depression that had gone on so long I didn’t even realise it, I was just so used to his mood being low and his disinterest in us or socialising, he was incredibly isolated. This forum helped me a lot at the time but I did tell him he was depressed, ignored my feelings of hurt, anger and betrayal, I kept focusing on him and how bad things were for him. He did realise it, started anti depressants and therapy and would reach out only to push me away and lash out at me. After six months I drew a line because I couldn’t cope with being blamed anymore. That’s when he seemed to emerge from the fog. He desperately tried to get me back, I was heartbroken saying no but I knew the amount of damage that had been caused was irreparable for me, I wouldn’t be able to trust him again. It was a sick twist of fate that he only saw what we had once it was lost. He said everything I had wanted to hear for so long but i couldn’t put any faith in it. He had been diagnosed with PTSD, severe depression and severe anxiety, the therapy did help him to realise how he interacted with me stemmed from a truly awful childhood. Anyway I realised from this that I had made my own mistakes by avoiding issues, harbouring resentment, losing my own self worth and not looking after myself. I began dating someone else six months ago. I feel like I had learned a lot and even though it petrified me I would name my feelings if there was an issue, I tried to stop being hyper vigilant and looking for signs to distrust him. He is a very kind, quiet, thoughtful person who after a few months I started to feel secure with. Until he had a panic attack several months ago. He had admitted recently before that that he experiences a lot of anxiety/stress due to his job (I was shocked, he seems very easy going). Anyway I panicked, i thought here we go again, this person is going to bail on me. But he didn’t, he started counselling. I was mindful of the mistakes I had made before and instead of trying to “fix” things I just tried to be there and give him space to talk. And things between us were great. For the first time in a long time I felt like I was in a reciprocal relationship, he took as well as gave, it wasn’t all take. Months passed and I let my guard down and stopped expecting it to go wrong. Then the second panic attack happened. I saw him a few days after, we were still great but he was slipping in terms of managing his work stress. But in terms of us, no change, very happy together, good support systems to each other. He told me a lot how he felt in terms of the quality of the relationship and how happy he was. Anyway, our last date was just before last weekend, we were fine. Then Saturday out of the blue he text me and ended it. It was a completely impulsive decision which went against all his words and actions before. I’m sure it is due to an acute episode of severe anxiety clouding his rational thinking. I haven’t met up with him or spoken to him really since, I feel after my last experience it won’t help. I spoke to my counsellor who agreed that it sounds like it was an irrational decision made in the fog of anxious thinking. But I’m really hurt that I’m here again. I feel like this relationship had a great potential, I let myself feel like I could trust in his actions and words. I have been taking care of myself and I reason that telling him my thoughts on why he made this decision will fall on deaf ears and sound like bargaining. I don’t know if I would want to continue seeing him given what happened to me before, I don’t know if I can do it again, it’s brought up a lot of feelings from my last relationship. But I don’t want to close the door just yet either, I just don’t know how to approach it. I’m not sure if I wrote this just to get my feelings out or for advice, but if anyone has any id love to hear it. I am taking care of myself, at least I’ve learned that much
My bp 1 husband of 12 years for the first time ever left a month ago today after a small fight that turned into a manic blow up on the eclipse and moved overnight cross country to his moms and brothers he had her bus him and his son overnight to her and spent quite a bit of money doing it as well. After 11 years of being medicated he went off them about 6 months ago after having a bad side effect and wasn’t really good about taking the new meds he was prescribe maybe got out of habit I don’t know. I didn’t realize he had stopped taking them altogether till after he left and I found almost full bottles in the cupboard. I just noticed he has been more irratable and much, more angry with lots of blowups than usual ,but we had a appointment to see the psych doctor at the end of the month so I thought we would address it then. It was at such a point the last two weeks we had been sleeping in seperate bedrooms because he was so mean and kept telling me he didn’t want me in there. Before he left it was the day before school started , he was slated to quit his 2 low paying jobs and start his new high paying job in a week, and we were supposed to look at enrolling his very troubled teenage bp son into a behavioral institute in two weeks as well. We’ve been talking finally . After several days of silence he told me he loved me he missed me and dreamt about me every night . He says I am the hardest addiction he has ever had to break and he craves being with me . That I am absolutely the best he has has ever been with. We talked for a week straight off and on good and bad. Then when he posted a meme to me about him having to break his own heart by walking away then by staying and dying a little everyday and I shot back about it suggesting he was at fault he stopped talking to me. Then he started talking a couple days later and I think he is rapid cycling manic. He says he’s sorry and he is sorry he is a crazy fuck up and he failed me and is holding me back in life. He won’t come back home says there is no saving us that we will have better happier life’s apart . It sounds like his family is putting major pressure and financial guilt to stay on him because they spend over $2000 getting him down there and they are helping him put down a deposit on a apartment when he finds one. Till then he is staying with them. Now he decided he won’t talk to me so he can get over me quicker . He is currently looking for a job and a apartment down there. It’s been four weeks so is this it? Am I never going to see my husband again? Is he just totally threw with me or is there a hope he might cycle and change his mind in my favor again ?. He says he dreams about me every night and his heart aches for me ,but he says it’s too late for us, for our marriage , and our family. He says I just hurt him too bad, he says he is never going to date again, or have sex, or be in a relationship again , and just wants a divorce but all he wants out of the house is his wedding ring so he can wear it and be faithful and our wedding photo above the bed. He says he will love me and miss me till the day he dies . He is looking for a apartment and a job down there and enrolling his son in school up there. I don’t think his family will let him come back because they spent so much money getting him down there and then when manic he made me out to be horrible and made it seem like I kicked him out instead of he left. They think we are toxic together ,but it is the bipolar when it flares up not us. They also don’t think he is bipolar that it is just me stressing him out and they don’t believe in medication. I think the new and better life thing is from them. I have thought of writing them letters but I don’t know if they will believe me or if I will further alienate him. I have tried everything I can think of to reason with him and let him know I forgive him and I am here for him and I want to work this out and have told him over and over I am not hurting him his illness is and he is projecting onto me because bipolar people often lack insight . I have told him he needs to get back on his meds and seek treatment . He says he is fine now that he is down there and away from me. I have said and tried everything I can think of and I finally just told him after he pushed for the divorce again that let’s push pause on the divorce talk and I would give him his space . Any ideas on how to get him home where he belongs? Any hope that he’ll come back?
Also now he wants to be friends is that wise?