My boyfriend has been suffering from bouts of extreme apathy. It seems to come in cycles of 3 months. Everything will be great for a while, he will be optimistic about his future and content with his current situation, and then seemingly out of no where, he becomes detached from everything, he talks about how much he hates his work, how financially stressed he is- every thing just seems to be spiraling downward for him. Over a period of a week or two this apathy consumes his feelings about our relationship. He becomes distant, he stops being affectionate, he becomes very easily agitated with me, and when I confront him about it all he gets unbelievably annoyed and angry, telling me that I am being too insecure and needy- and then he breaks up with me. A few weeks later he comes back and tells me how much he misses me and he realizes it was not me that was making him so unhappy; we resume our relationship and he is the amazingly sweet wonderful man that I love again, for about 3 months, and then it starts all over again. This has been going on for 2 years. He has admitted in the past (when he is his “happy” self) that the apathetic version of him is a problem that we need to try to work through instead of just breaking up- but when he is in that apathetic state he can’t see past his unhappiness. We are currently taking a few weeks apart because he is in one of these moods (this is the first time he has taken any steps to work with me on it instead of just totally ending things and running away). I am desperate to find a resolution to these situations- it is heart breaking and stressful for me to go through this all the time, and it is frustrating to me that I can not do anything to make him happy when he is like this. I promised him that I would try to be patient through these episodes, but I’m reaching my limit. My boyfriend works in the mental health field, and I’m afraid that because of his close interaction with mentally-ill people, he may be blinding himself to the possibility that he himself may need to seek help.
Do you have any advice as to what could be the cause of these episodes, and what can be done about it? Is there something I should be doing differently when he gets like this? I love him more than I could possibly describe, I want to spend the rest of my life with him- but not like this. I’m close to giving up on him.

A: I can’t make a diagnosis on the basis of a letter, of course. But the symptoms you describe are consistent with Bipolar II. What you are describing as apathy might be depression. The regularity of his cycles from being happy and loving to apathetic and unhappy and back again could point to a mood disorder. Do a little research and see what you think. If you agree, perhaps when your boyfriend is next in a good state, you could share your information with him. Be careful to let him know that you are not attacking him but instead just want to try to get to the bottom of his mood changes. If he has a bipolar illness, he can’t help it that his mood shifts like it does. Fortunately, this can often be treated with medications. Ask him if he will let you go with him for an evaluation by a psychiatrist. He can tell the doctor what he experiences from the inside and you can talk about what you see from the outside. I hope your boyfriend will continue to let you work on this with him. It would be sad for both of you if you lost a wonderful relationship because he was not diagnosed and treated.
I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 27 May 2007

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2007). Boyfriend’s bouts of apathy damaging our relationship. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 25, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2007/05/27/boyfriends-bouts-of-apathy-damaging-our-relationship/