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I’ve been with my partner for three years, and we’re engaged. We were supposed to get married this spring, but he got laid off earlier this year. So, we postponed the wedding, and I’m glad we did. He’s suffered from depression the whole time we’ve been together, but this recent bout made me disconnect. Many times, when I reached out to him, my feelings would get hurt because he didn’t have the love, attention and sex I needed. Me disconnecting certainly hasn’t helped his depression and neither has the fact that I’ve started traveling all the time for work.
Even though he’s recovering, I’m still just not feeling it. I love him, but I’ve started imagining futures without him; where I can live in permanent wanderlust, or move to a different city (I moved here partially for him). He’s not interested in traveling with me, and it feels like my life is very separate from him right now.
We’ve had a few good dates that made him feel really reconnected, but not me. He’s made several uncomfortable comments like, “Please let me try to fix this before you leave me.” He’s been left by all of his serious exes due to his depression, so he probably knows I’m still not 100-percent here. However, he’s made those kinds of comments even when I was 100-percent in it.
I know his depression is a lifelong battle. Am I just not cut out to be with someone depressed? How can I reconnect again?
— Depression Disconnect
This week, I’m turning this space over to fellow LEO writer and friend, Eli Keel. A while back, Eli wrote an honest, beautiful Facebook status update about the hard work his wife has put in supporting him over the course of their marriage. Their present might not be your future, but his words might serve you all the same:
First off, I’m not an expert, just a bipolar addict who’s been clean for nine years and married for almost 11. That doesn’t make what I say right. I still fight with my feelings every day. I also don’t know your partner’s diagnosis, or how they identify their mental and emotional state. With that caveat…
What is your partner doing to treat their depression? The kind of treatment a person receives should be tailored to them — drugs, no drugs, one-on-one or group therapy, faith-based, eco-therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, AA or whatever — but dealing with depression requires actively dealing with depression. If they aren’t working at it, you can’t do it for them.
I say this as someone who took my ass to therapy, despite an incredibly strong distrust of the psychiatric community, because I knew my wife could not be responsible for my mental health anymore. It was crushing her and by extension, our relationship.
I think your instinct to take issue with the phrase, “please let me try to fix this before you leave me,” is right on. While it’s not bad enough to be an immediate deal-breaker, there is a hint of manipulation in it, and too many men have pulled the old “I’ll kill myself if you leave.” That is some abusive bullshit.
I believe you can reconnect if you want to, though, but my question is; Do you really want to? Or do you just not want to be a person who left someone who was depressed?
Because it is a lifelong battle and it is hard.
If you want to stay:
1. Make sure they are actively treating their depression every day, whatever that looks like.
2. Talk about boundaries and responsibilities. He can’t put responsibility for his depression on you, and he can’t use it to get things he wants. But you should research all the therapies above and others, as well as the movement to excise the phrase “mental illness,” and look at it instead as “neurodiversity,” a beautiful and natural part of the spectrum of humanity.
3. Give emotions space. There will always be some days that he is sad for no reason. Let him be sad. Do keep an eye out for danger signs. If he is in formal therapy, and he is OK with this, get concrete instructions from his therapist about when to be worried.
4. Get a support group. Maybe a formal Support Group™ maybe just a circle of people you can count on, including a couple of people who also deal with partners who fight this stuff.
5. I believe that if y’all do all that, the reconnecting will either take care of itself or you’ll know that it’s time to walk away, hopefully guilt free. Because you will know you did your best.
— Eli •