My boyfriend’s depressed and won’t seek help

I love him but I have to choose

Topics: Since You Asked, depression, Psychiatry, psychotherapy,

My boyfriend's depressed and won't seek help (Credit: Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

In my heart I carry the advice you have offered readers in the past. Finally, I am compelled to tell my own story and perhaps have the good fortune to hear your thoughts on it.

My boyfriend and I have been balanced on this knife’s edge of breaking up/not breaking up for a couple of years now. Once, we actually did break up. After two months apart, we realized we were still hopelessly in love and decided to give it another shot. Now, about a year later, we find ourselves, once again, very close to ending it. We both want off this cycle, but the flip side is that I think we both still want each other.

We have great chemistry and a lot of important things in common. We have plenty of differences, too. I’ve reconciled them and decided that while there are certainly things we’ll always need to work on, our history has shown we are both capable of change and making the extra effort to have a loving, supportive partnership. The differences scare him.

What broke us up the first time was that he seemed to be choosing himself and his friendships over the wellness of our relationship, and I reacted poorly (read: flew off the handle). Admittedly, I can be a little protective of my close relationships and sometimes closed-off when it comes to outsiders. He freely admitted he was being selfish. Since then, he’s been great about giving me more of his time and undivided attention, and I have worked very hard to ease up on the social stuff, since I do tend to be an introvert to an unhealthy degree.

We even moved in together, which has been a lot of fun, and I believe he agrees. Unfortunately, we’re now both at branch points in our careers, which stand to take us in different directions. I am happy to put the relationship first and follow him, knowing as I do that my career does not hang in the balance. He is reluctant for me to follow him, the ultimate reason being that he is scared of committing to me because he is not sure if we’re compatible, and because he does not want to become his father, whom he sees himself becoming more like with each passing day, and blames the relationship for this. I practically have begged him to see a therapist and to exercise (which is very important to him), but he insists I don’t support his going to work out! He says he’s been depressed for years, and this current version of him isn’t really him … but he still refuses to see a psychiatrist. And now he’s implying that the relationship is probably responsible for his woes.

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That hurts so badly. I love this relationship, despite its flaws. It’s helped me grow, stabilized me through difficult times. He’s my best friend and the intimacy we share is special. My family likes this guy. My dad thinks the relationship is good for me, but he too is confused about why my boyfriend is so confused. On the surface, and in our day-to-day lives, we are pretty content with one another, but when it comes to commitment, we couldn’t differ more.  I suspect that if his depression lifted, our circumstances would improve dramatically. In the first several months of our relationship, he never seemed to need a great deal of space, but then the depression hit, and he’s pulled away from me ever since. So what if I AM the one causing his depression? Maybe he’s depressed because he thinks he loves me but does not truly, and is not capable of committing since I am not “the one” for him and is tired of feeling like he can’t give me what I want … Or maybe he’s depressed for a multitude of other reasons, and he feels incapable of commitment while such a heavy blanket of depression is over him, and finds it more convenient to blame the relationship, which can be ended easily, rather than the other factors, which are not so easy to pinpoint or to fix. Whether I am the one for him or not, I do not believe ending this relationship will bring him the happiness that evades him. I wish he’d see a therapist on the regular.

We spoke of going our separate ways once our lease is up in a few months, and just enjoying these last few months together until we both move out of state, but I love him so much I’m not sure I could handle seeing him every day knowing it’s on borrowed time. Then again, it might be nice to mourn the loss of the relationship together before we are geographically separated. Should we find other housing immediately and move on, cut our losses? Should I try to help him or focus on helping myself out of a seemingly endless loop? How can he be so scared to commit yet claim to love me and want me in his life? What about his depression — should I take him at face value and accept that I’m probably the cause of his mental unrest and bow out? Why does he refuse treatment now when I know he’s gotten it in the past?

Your faithful reader,


Dear Pro-Prozac,

You cannot rationally stay in a relationship with a man who knows he is depressed and refuses treatment.

However, many things can aggravate depression: stress, diet, weather, lack of sleep, allergens, work life, relationships, metabolism, hormones, drugs, job changes, deaths, vitamin deficiencies, trauma, grief. There are ways to influence his condition. If you can get him exercising and eating well, ingesting all essential vitamins he may be lacking, especially B vitamins and minerals, getting checked out by a physician to ascertain if his depression has any undiagnosed organic causes, and being exposed to as many helpful influences as possible, such as meditation, the book “Feeling Good,” depression support groups, massage, relaxation, fresh air, time off from work, etc., his head may clear enough that he can see the stark choice before him and enter treatment.

Meanwhile, he may be forgetful and unable to concentrate. He may be full of fear and react to normal situations with abnormal anxiety. You may have to do certain things for him now that in a healthy relationship you would refuse to do. You may have to make the phone call and arrange his first appointment. You may have to research the best psychiatrist. To those who may say this smacks of co-dependency, I say: You are trying to save this man’s life. This is a limited and targeted strategy to get him into treatment. If it fails, you might also try an intervention. But set a period of two or three months during which you try to get him to enter treatment, and then, if that fails, face the fact that the relationship has no future.

It’s not complicated. The stakes are high. If he refuses treatment and remains depressed, you will have to leave him. Yet you love him. You want to stay with him. So it’s worth trying.

Depression does not have to ruin as many lives as it does. It is possible to get better. If he will take steps to recover then the relationship can work. If he won’t, then it can’t. That is the stark choice: He must be willing to get help. You must be willing to leave if he does not.

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