Mutual Depression

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

My fiancé and I met on an online videogame. We spoke for several months before he came to see me for Valentine’s Day. After that, he made plans to move to me (He lived 3000 miles away). That summer, he moved into an apartment near my home and started going to college. During this time, I practically lived with him. I was at his house from the moment I left school until I went to bed at night. He took me to appointments and important events. We did everything together. Sadly, that winter he got seriously ill and ended up moving back home since he had no job and no money to support him anymore. I’m still here going to school, though I have plans to move to be with him if I can.

Now, for the problems: I am miserable without him. My family refuses to acknowledge that the only times I’m happy is when I talk to him on the phone or via online chatting. Otherwise, I’m miserable. I can’t sleep, I barely eat, I can barely concentrate on school, and yet my family thinks that if I move to him, I’m going to ruin my life. I can’t convince them otherwise. They think I’m going out there to babysit my fiancé and that’s not the case. I expect him to work and be productive, or I’ll go back home and he knows this, I’ve made this very very clear.

As for his problems, he’s been extremely paranoid. He thinks I’m cheating on him, even though I talk to him for 90% of the day. He’s afraid that if I’m away from the computer for 10 min, I’m off cheating on him with some guy. He thinks that all our friends are in on it too. He tells me this because he says he feels so bad and wants it to stop. I want to help him. I know he’s depressed: he’s ill, we’re apart and he can’t find a job, that’s plenty to be depressed about. I try to help him feel better about the paranoia by telling him that paranoia happens, but I don’t think it’s helping much.

I’m hoping that moving in with him will help ease these issues, but that won’t happen for another 6 months and he’s already threatened suicide more than once because of this paranoia and depression. How on earth can I help him cope for 6 months?

(please note that I’m not moving just for him, but for me too. I want to go. Our relationship means so much to me and I don’t want to lose it.)

A: Please understand that I do understand how painful this is for you both. Pain is pain regardless of whether it makes any sense. But I do have to tell you that your family may be right. What you are describing has all the hallmarks of a codependent and potentially dangerous relationship. Neither of you can function without the other. He accuses you of cheating when you are just living your life and, worse, he subjects you to emotional blackmail by threatening suicide if you’re not at his beck and call. On your end, you can’t function without him. Not good.

Strong relationships that last are relationships between two strong, independent people who want to be together because they love, trust, respect, and enjoy each other. As romantic as the movies can make it sound, needing another person desperately is just that — desperate. it’s not healthy. It limits both people instead of helping them grow.

If this guy was right for you, he’d be encouraging you to do well in school, to go out and do things that are part of the college experience, to have friends, and to be happy. He’d be your biggest fan in your efforts to grow as an individual. If you were right for him, you’d be telling him to take his many problems and suicidal feelings to a professional therapist instead of relying on your untrained efforts. You’d be encouraging him to get off the computer and to take charge of his illness and his life. You’d be his biggest fan in his efforts to man-up and make an adult life for himself. If instead, you two repeat your life of being joined at the hip and retreating from the world, I predict that neither of you will become a fully functioning adult and your relationship will eventually end badly.

As painful as a breakup might be, I still think it might be for the best. On the other hand, I’m judging the situation only on the basis of a letter. It would be a good idea for you to seek out a therapist who can hear the whole story.

I do wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 7 Jan 2010

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2010). Mutual Depression. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 1, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/01/07/mutual-depression/