I have been in a loving relationship for almost a year. My partner is really really ridiculously awesome.
Zie is also very depressed, and occasionally suicidal. Zie has had a very rough life, with a lot of trauma and abuse, so that’s not surprising. Zie does not want outside help of any kind, and gets angry if I or anyone suggests it.
I want to be a loving, supportive partner, but I’m not always good about it. We fight. Sometimes I feel angry, trapped, and resentful. Occasionally zie lashes out at me for no obvious reason, because that’s the only way zie can express the hurt inside.
Sometimes seeing my partner in so much pain feels like more than I can deal with. I hate knowing that zie will probably never get better, and there’s nothing I can do to help.
I love my partner, and I want us to stay together.
But I feel like I’m in over my depth, and I don’t know what to do.
Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
Your letter affected me very deeply, and I am glad you wrote to me, though what I have to offer comes in the form of an open-book essay exam to which there are no right or easy answers.
1. Your partner didn’t choose to be depressed, but by refusing to even consider seeking help, could we make an argument that they are choosing to stay depressed?
2. What goals and dreams do you have for yourself that you are ignoring or putting off “until someday, when partner gets better”? Is there any way you can get started on them now?
3. In your opinion, what level of shitty upbringing, past trauma, or depressive episode makes it acceptable for someone to “lash out at you for no obvious reason“?
4. What do you mean by “lashing out“? Yelling? Sulking? Mean criticism? Silent treatment? Throwing/breaking things? Slamming doors? Hitting?
5. If your child or your closest friend was experiencing these kinds of “lashing out” behaviors from a partner, what advice would you give them?
6. Do you find yourself making excuses about your partner and/or downplaying the seriousness of what’s going on to your family & friends?
7. Does your partner ever use their miserable past to justify their behavior toward you? Have you ever started out hearing an apology for something bad they did or said to you that ended with you comforting them? “Sorry I cheated on you, but you know I grew up without a lot of positive male attention and I have a lot of issues around sex” or “I’m sorry I failed to show up at that event you were counting on me to come to. You know how I get when I’m this depressed”?
8. Have you ever said to your partner “That’s not okay, I don’t care how sad you are or what you’ve been through, you can’t talk to me like that?” How did they react?
9. Have you ever told your partner “Your unwillingness to treat your depression and the way you lash out at me for no reason makes me feel angry, trapped, and resentful?” If so, how did they respond?
10. Do you spend a lot of your relationship apologizing to one another?
11. Have you ever though the words “I could leave, but then partner might commit suicide, and it would be my fault?” to yourself?
12. Do you have a plan in mind for what to do if your partner attempts or commits suicide?
13. Do you think you can change people if you just love them enough?
14. Do you think that if you could just learn to be a better partner, you would fight less?
15. Do you think things will be better a month from now? A year from now? If you knew that in five years things would be exactly like they are now, would you stay?
16. If you were watching a movie about your relationship, where you could see a character go through everything you go through with your partner, how do you think the movie ends?
17. Do you know the story of Orpheus and Eurydice? What do you think is the lesson or theme of that myth? Do you think another ending was possible?
18. Have you thought about seeking therapy for yourself? Not to “fix” your partner, but to nurture yourself in handling all of this?
19. Did you write to me because you hoped I’d have some strategies for persuading your partner to seek help, because you just had to finally tell someone how bad it really was, or because you were looking for permission to leave?
As you complete this exam, use all available resources and take all the time you need.