Boyfriend Has Depression and I Feel Helpless

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

So much has happened in the last month I am not quite sure where to start, but here it is.
Over the Christmas period my boyfriend was slightly distant, we live together but for Christmas day he went to his parents and I went to mine. He then came to my parents on Boxing day and although we all had a lovely day I noticed he was distant. Things seemed ok after that, however before Christmas he complained of an upset stomach and had not eaten much at all the week before Christmas. We put it down to a stomach bug as there seemed to be a lot going round but he was reluctant to go to the doctor. This ‘stomach bug’, however, then continued after Christmas.

We had decided that we were not going to go out for New Year’s and spent the evening at my parents house, but again, he seemed distant. The following day, he was very quiet and he snapped at me.

We both met whilst we were travelling around Australia and had been saving to go back again, however when I brought it up on New Years Day he said he didnt know whether he wanted to go travelling anymore, which was very unlike him as he had been so keen to go. He then went and sat in the living room on his own and I decided that I would let him ‘cool off’ so I went for a walk. He then sent me a text saying that he was going to go to his parents for a couple of days to clear his head.

We didnt speak all weekend and then when he returned he was again even more distant. We eventually sat down and he said that he needs to have a couple of weeks away to ‘sort his head out’. He said that he loved me and that it was nothing that I had done but that he was feeling very confused. Days past and he was still not eating and being sick in the mornings before work. He said that he was struggling at work and making mistakes and that he could not afford to lose his job. He worked late on a couple of occasions.

Then again, the following weekend he went to his parents to think things through. When he returned he said that he was going to move out and that he had found a house-share somewhere. I tried to talk with him some more but he was not keen to talk and again said that he loved me and that it wasn’t us. He then said that he thought he might have depression and got upset and would not look at me, I told him that it was nothing to be embarassed or ashamed about and that I want to help him. He said ‘why dont you just hate me!’ which I found strange and I explained to him that I loved him no matter what and would always be there for him. It was very emotional for the both of us, but he then left the next day whilst I was at work.

I then didnt hear from him for 11 days, I text him a few times to say that I was there for him, etc but received no reply. Then on the 12th day he text me to say that he did not want to hurt me and that it was nothing I had done, but that he wanted to get away from it all. He said he hadnt been himself lately and it was making him ill. I then called him and looking back now I probably put pressure on him as I asked a lot of questions that he did not have the answers to. He then told me that he could not handle a relationship at the moment and that he thought we should break up. I was completely devastated by this, we have been together 3½ years and lived together for 1 year. He is my life and I love him with all my heart, we were so happy together until this happened and it seems to have happened so quickly.

He said he would call me the following day, however he text me instead to see how I was. He had said in the phone call the night before that he would still like to have contact.

I could not face going into work that day as I had not got any sleep the night before. I text him back telling him that I wanted to be there for him but never heard anything and still haven’t.

I have read so many forums and articles about depression since this has all happened. Before I was quite naive about depression but have a better understanding of it now.

I have also had contact with his mum, who is also very worried about him. He seems to have shut us both out of his life. She said that whenever she talks to him, he thinks she is nagging him and he leaves.

I dont want to put anymore pressure on him but I want to be there for him. He says that he cant handle a relationship at the moment but yet (I know this might sound silly) on Facebook, we are still in a relationship. I asked him (on the phone) whether he had told anyone he had moved out and whether he would tell people we are not together and he said its no one else’s business. He seems to have shut his friends out too and seems to be going out with work friends he has never really associated with before.

He admitted that he needed help but everytime either his mum or myself mentioned about going to a doctor, he did not want to know. He said that he needs to sort his eating out first. He has become very thin and lost around a stone in weight. He needs to get help professionally as shutting himself away from the people who care about him is not going to help.

In November 2009, when he was working for a different company, where he used to get a lot of stress and pressure, he suffered a similar problem with his eating. However, we were not living together at this point and it was hard to see how badly it actually affected him. He said that every morning he would feel sick and he would barely eat anything all day. He eventually went to see a doctor and had several examinations but in the end it was put down to stress. I know he felt very let down by this conclusion and felt that they were not interested in helping him in any way, which is why I think he is reluctant to seek help now.

He has never suffered from depression in the past and nothing has happened in his life to have triggered these feelings. Could this be a whole host of things, that have creept up on him and all of a sudden become too much?

His parents divorced when he was in his early teens and he has never really spoken about this. He did not see his father for the majority of his teen years (not because he couldnt but because of the way his father had behaved) and I think in some way this has had an effect on him. He now has a fairly good relationship with his father but again he does not like to talk about things like that.

I feel very lost, confused and helpless. He is the love of my life and I do not want to lose him. I want to be there for him every step of the way but just feel lost as to what I can do to help him. I know that he has to want to get help for himself but with him being in such a distant place at the moment I want him to know that I am there for him.

Thank you for taking the time to read this, I apologise if it is all over the place, that’s kind of how I feel at the moment. But I will not give up and I will stand by him.
Thanks again

Kind regards

A. Relationships can be difficult. When they are going well, emotionally they can provide feelings of happiness, joy, contentment and love. When a relationship is ending it can produce painful emotions, including disappointment and sadness.

In every relationship it is important to be realistic. In this case, it appears as though he is ending the relationship. Even if he hasn’t told the world or you directly, he’s still pushing you away from him. Distancing himself from you is another way of ending the relationship. It could be that he is having problems with commitment. It might also be clinical depression or another issue that no one but he (and maybe not even he) is aware of. It is impossible to know with certainty because only a clinical evaluation could determine the cause but he is unwilling to seek help. He’s not willing to listen to the suggestions of you or his mother. Both you and she have expressed your concerns about his behavior and have suggested that he seek help, to which he has replied and essentially said “no.”

Not only is he pushing you away but he is also moving away from his family and his regular friends. This might be his way of avoiding having to deal with his problems. New friends make it easier to step away from one’s problems. With his new friends, the level of conversation and interaction is likely superficial. It may afford him the luxury of not having to discuss deeper personal issues.

He is not eating in response to stress and that is not healthy. It indicates that he is feeling strong emotions but as you noted, it’s unclear what the cause may be. The fact that there is no event that precipitated his unusual behavior is another reason why it is important for him to seek help. Unfortunately, if he is not willing to seek help, then there is virtually nothing that you or his family can do to force him into treatment. The standard for forcing someone into treatment is that they must be a danger to themselves or others. An individual might also be forced into treatment if he or she cannot competently care for themselves. It is very unlikely that a court would believe that he is incompetent and thus force him into treatment. He may not be eating well but he has a place to live, he’s paying his rent, he’s going to work, and he has a social life. It is evident that he should seek treatment but the reality is that no one can force him to do this.

What should your response be in this situation? It is important to be realistic in a relationship. When you are being shut out you need to be realistic and to realize that no matter how much you may love him he is ending the relationship. Perhaps down the road he may receive professional help or decide that he wants to reconnect with you but at this time he has shut you out. In relationships, both parties have to agree to continue the relationship. When one party decides that he or she no longer wants it to continue, there is nothing the other party can do to change this fact. He has voted “no” to the relationship even if you have voted “yes.” You can’t even be his friend because he is not willing to communicate with you. You could be there in the event that he decides to reach out to you but it is important to recognize that the relationship as you knew it with him is over. It’s essential to come to terms with that fact, as difficult as it may be.

I understand that this is a very difficult time for you. If you need extra support, don’t hesitate to contact friends and family. The more support you have during difficult times the easier it will be to deal with the pain and loss. Some individuals have found it helpful to attend a grief and loss support group when dealing with similar issues. I wish you the best of luck. Please take care.

Dr. Kristina Randle

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 23 Feb 2011

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2011). Boyfriend Has Depression and I Feel Helpless. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 26, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2011/02/23/boyfriend-has-depression-and-i-feel-helpless/