Will Depressed Boyfriend Get Better?

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I am 27 years old and i have a young daughter who is 6 years old. I suffered with postnatal depression for a year after her birth and developed bad panic attacks and emetaphobia. I was put on medication and received counselling and made a full recovery by the time my daughter was 3. I started college and started rebuilding my life. I am now in the final year of a nursing degree and i have been with my boyfriend for the past year.

When i first met my boyfriend, although he seemed ok, he was out of work and told me of the recent passsing of his dad. As the months passed i tried to be there for him as much as i could. He would talk about his dad and sometimes cry. He would be in a great mood one day and be withdrawn the next. I thought he was going through the grieving cycle.

One night my boyfriend told me that his dad physically and mentally abused him as a child. On a regular basis he was hit, punched and made feel worthless. He told me that he took an overdose after his dad died. His mother is a very quiet lady and has never mentioned this. My boyfriends sister and brother have both suffered badly with depression also. His sister also self harms. A few of my relatives knew my boyfriends dad and described him as a horrible man with a drink problem.

This past few months my boyfriend has been unable to keep a job, feels depressed daily – but tries to hide it from me. He has told me that he sees me as a motivated person who knows what and how to get the best out of life and feels that if he talks about his feelings, it will bring me down also. And in a way he is right. I worry for him. I have tried to get him to see his doctor, i booked counselling sessions for him and i tried to support him and help him find a job. He says he wants my help but doesnt do anything about it when i try to help him. I booked us summer holidays, weekends away and we went on a few concerts. I just wanted him to feel better.

Last sunday night, i was working on an assignment for college. My boyfriend was at home with me helping me with my daughter. He was a great help as always. I went to college the next day and came home to discover that my boyfriend was nowhere to be found. He wouldnt pick up his phone and told his mum to say that she hadn’t seen him. That night he took an overdose and was admitted to hospital. I was devastated. All he said when i went to see him was that he couldn’t cope with his past and that he didn’t want to see me.

I told his mum and sister (who were great) that i couldn’t continue in a relationship like this. They were very understanding. After all they saw how i tried to help him before. I am so hurt i cant stop crying or thinking about him. I have my daughter and my life to think about. But i love him so much.

He has phoned me since to say sorry and we both cried for ages. He has asked me not to leave him, and that he loves me. He has said that he wants to get better so we can have a future together. Something we talked about all the time.

I don’t know what to do, my heart is saying stay and my head is saying leave. I have tried to tell my boyfriend this but it makes him more upset. I don’t want to add to his pain already. I need advice. I fear that if i stay with him, he will hurt me again or maybe try something later down the road. And i fear that if i leave, i will take away the only thing he has to hold on to.

He is getting the help he needs now, but im scared for my own future and my daughter. What do i do?

A: This is a really, really hard decision. I can’t offer you specific advice on the basis of a letter but perhaps I can offer you some things to think about. Sometimes a person has to really bottom out before they realize how much they have to lose in life. It’s possible that your boyfriend’s recent suicide attempt was like that. It took getting close to losing everything for him to realize that he in fact had something important to lose – your love being part of it. If in fact that was a needed wake-up call, he will behave differently. He will find a therapist who specializes in childhood sexual abuse and trauma. He will go to counseling and if a psychiatrist thinks it will help him, he will take some medicine to help him feel better enough to take advantage of the talk therapy. He won’t miss appointments. He will include you in his therapy. He will get a job and do his very best to start building a life. He will work on taking in the idea that he can’t let his past determine his future. Then was then. It’s over. Now is now. He can make the kind of family he always wanted. It won’t be all smooth sailing. There will be slips back (sometimes big ones). But if he is generally moving in the right direction and keeps you informed about how he’s doing, it may well be worth it to hang in with him. If he loves you enough to face and overcome his demons, he loves you a lot!

On the other hand, if he slips back into feeling sorry for himself and not being willing to do the work, you have some serious thinking to do. You can’t save him if he isn’t willing to save himself. It’s not fair, and probably won’t be helpful, if you feel “blackmailed” into staying out of fear that he will kill himself if you leave. If that is the case, I suggest you meet with him and his counselor to talk about how you two can take a break while he gets himself together.

In the meantime, I strongly suggest that you keep your little girl out of this as much as possible. Little children love easily and hard. She needs to be protected while this man figures out what he wants to do. You’ve been with this man a year. For you, that’s only 1/27 of your life. For her it is 1/6! If she has become strongly attached, losing him will be devastating. If he isn’t working hard to stay alive and well for her sake as well as yours, then you need to find a way to put some distance between them to cushion her if he hurts himself. Your first loyalty, after all, is to her.

I’m sorry you are in such a difficult position. Please don’t try to go it alone. Get involved with his therapy and get yourself a therapist to give you support and advice that is based on the whole story (rather than only on what you could put in a letter). You deserve to have some support too.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 26 Dec 2007

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2007). Will Depressed Boyfriend Get Better?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2007/12/26/will-depressed-boyfriend-get-better/