I’m struggling to find good ways to respond to my boyfriend when he tells me what I should or need to be doing. I’m in therapy to recover and get to a place where I think that I’m good enough & love and trust myself again (after years growing up having that constantly undermined), and therapy has been going very well.
I believe that my boyfriend (of almost 2.5 years) wants to help me succeed, be better, and do what we both know I’m capable of. The way he goes about it though, is damaging my self-esteem and is a constant source of “you’re not good enough” for me.
He wants me to exercise more, eat healthier, help out more with the cleaning, and take better care of myself. All good things. But the way he goes about it is “you need to exercise today”. If I tell him I already did, he tells me that walking doesn’t count, that it needs to be more strenuous exercise. He’ll get mad if he thinks that I’m not exercising often enough, or if I stop doing as many “good things” like eating veggies and working out, while he’s out of town. He never lashes out with his anger, he just doesn’t talk much when he’s mad. He says that he still loves me even if I don’t do these things (but it doesn’t feel that way to me).
We’ve never reached a good resolution about this, and it keeps coming up. I’ve asked him to stop trying to get me to change, that you can’t change other people, but he refuses to accept that, to the point that he says it’s the stupidest thing he’s ever heard. We both are very logic- and reason-focused people, but he’s come to the conclusion that, “if she just does these things, I won’t have to deal with her being depressed.”
It makes me feel like nothing I do will ever be good enough, that he will always focus on what I’m not doing instead of what I am trying to do. He says I need to do more, try harder, and not let myself be comfortable. Everything I do in therapy has been trying to build confidence, motivation, and self-respect from within and stop relying exclusively on it externally, and then I go home and grapple with someone telling me that I need to do these things to be better.
Is there a chance he will realize that the moods are part of the package, and something I’m trying to work on gradually, not all at once? How can I respond when he gets mad at me for not being good enough?
Terrible at Advice Column Nicknames
What does your therapist say about the way your boyfriend tries to continually act as your self-appointed monitor/life coach? Does your therapist think that this is normal and helpful behavior? If you haven’t dug into relationship issues all that much in therapy, here is a script for bringing that up with your counseling pro: “I feel like we do a lot of work in my sessions on building confidence and motivation, but when I get home my boyfriend harps on me to do better and be better, for example (give examples). When he talks to me like that, it starts to cancel out all my confidence. Also, it annoys the crap out of me. Can you help me strategize ways to respond?” This is an ongoing issue, and you have an ongoing resource at your disposal to work on it.
My next question is maybe an obvious one, but what would happen if you didn’t have a self-appointed expert on you and what you should be doing jump down your throat about all of your life choices or give you the silent treatment in your life at all? Depression is a mix of the chemical/biological and the situational, while you’re working to treat the illness and silence the mean scripts from your Jerkbrain, you might find great improvements in your life if you freed yourself from a constant external source of criticism. It sounds like you live together, and that breaking up isn’t a logistically or financially simple matter as well as being emotionally scary and taxing. I’m also sure you have some great things in common and that you have fun together sometimes and that the relationship works some of the time, or you wouldn’t have stayed this long. But everything you say about this dude tells me that he’s more in love with Potential You than he is with Actual, Right Here You. Excessively monitoring and correcting a partner (with the silent treatment, no less!) is toxic and controlling, and this:
“I’ve asked him to stop trying to get me to change, that you can’t change other people, but he refuses to accept that, to the point that he says it’s the stupidest thing he’s ever heard.”
“It makes me feel like nothing I do will ever be good enough, that he will always focus on what I’m not doing instead of what I am trying to do. He says I need to do more, try harder, and not let myself be comfortable.“
–are more Red Flags. You are healing, why shouldn’t your home and your relationship be a place you can feel comfortable? Why can’t you choose your own challenges and adventures? You can’t change other people, and any coaching or motivating has to be accomplished with the full participation and consent of the coached. Coaches and therapists and teachers also operate with professional distance and ethics that don’t mix with romance. Even if he were good at this coaching thing (spoiler: he’s not), he shouldn’t be your coach. Maybe the simplest (and best, to be completely honest with you about how I’m feeling about this dude) answer is: You don’t make each other happy anymore, and you’d both be happier if you ended it and found someone more compatible. You’ll be happier and lighter without the constant criticism and monitoring, and he’ll be happier with someone who has the qualities he wants in his new, improved partner (or he’ll find a willing victim for Coach Body Police: Infinity Annoying Steps To the New You!)
While you sort out how you feel about continuing in the relationship, my suggested script for when your boyfriend starts telling you what to do or expressing his disappointment in you is “I don’t like it when you act like my Life Coach, please stop telling me what I should eat/do/how I should exercise,” and/or “From now on, I don’t want you to tell me how to change or ‘improve’ myself, at all.” Be blunt and say the things that are on the tip of your tongue: No. Stop. Don’t.
The first few times you resist his “help”, I think he is going to release the Logick Kraken, who will logically and patiently recount all of the ways that you could be better if you only tried harder. The Logick Kraken might make a lot of sense to you, at first. It sings a familiar refrain, and it so neatly echoes what your Jerkbrain sounds like or sounded like before you started getting treatment for your depression. I think your depression might be getting better, and I think one of the indicators is that you are not automatically agreeing with your boyfriend’s list of “shoulds” for your life. He says, “You should exercise.” A year ago, that would have maybe resulted in you shuffling your feet and cycling through guilt about how yes, you should probably exercise but you just can’t. But now, today, you have already exercised. You already did the self-caring thing that you needed to do for yourself, and your instinct isn’t to agree with your boyfriend about what you should do, it’s to stand up for yourself about what’s true. He is not the boss of you, and something in you has woken up to that. That looks like progress to me.
A complicating factor is that there was probably a time when it was comforting to you for your boyfriend to be in that caretaker role and to have him believe so strongly in your power to change, back there during the worst of it. I’ve been on both sides of the “Have you eaten a food today? Do you think you might try that?“-level of caretaking from and for a partner, and it sucks to be in either role when you don’t know if or when things will get better. For a relationship to survive a crisis like that, you have to like the person (not just love them) and respect the person (not just love them). When things are at their worst, do you still make each other laugh, do you still turn to each other and see each other as someone with much to offer, do you still treat each other with affection and find pleasure in each other’s company? Do you believe and trust that the struggling person is doing the best they can within their limitations, and treat them as the expert on their own life? Do you still respect each other’s autonomy and understand that help is there to be offered and accepted but can’t be forced? When things improve, can the caretaker let go and not calcify your roles into The Helper and The One Who Needs Help? Someone struggling is not an automatic invitation to step in and run their lives for them.
Changing roles is hard even for people with the best hearts and intentions and experiencing some friction around that isn’t really a surprise, so if you have trust and like and respect, you *might* look past and/or forgive the Logick Kraken the first time or two it comes out to play. Set the boundary with your boyfriend, let him say whatever he’s going to say, and try not to internalize any of it. If what he says pisses you off, take it as a good sign that your self-respect and self-preservation instincts are waking up and working. Then, repeat what you want him to do and make the boundary plain:
“I hear you, but I want to be clear: I don’t want you to do that anymore.”
“Please stop correcting me and advising me.”
“I appreciate all the help and support you’ve given me, but I actually need to navigate this on my own.”
“I don’t like it when you tell me what to do.”
“The Silent Treatment is really not cool.”
“You’re not the boss of how I eat or exercise, and I think it’s going to be healthier going forward if you stop monitoring that stuff and if I stop reporting it to you as if you are my nutritionist or trainer.”*
“I don’t need you to change me or to be right about this, I just need you to love me and trust me to do the right thing for myself.”
“I realize I was in bad shape for a while, but as I try to get better, I’d like it if you would stop monitoring all these things about me and just found a way to enjoy my company.”
“You may be right about that, but I’d still like to handle this on my own without your input.”
“I know you want to help, but I would like to set a boundary around advice-giving. Please don’t give me advice unless I ask you directly.”
And hey, when you want to use him as a sounding board for something, maybe this reminder will help:
“Asking advice or needing help with one thing isn’t an invitation for advice about everything. Let’s stay on topic.”
These are pretty direct statements. A person who fundamentally likes and respects you is going to hear them and back way off. That person is going to be psyched by evidence that you are capable and willing to chart your own course, and think, “Hey, my partner must be feeling better, since they have their shit under control. This is awesome!” They are going to find your assertiveness attractive and pleasing and be relieved that maybe they can stop worrying about you. They may backslide occasionally, especially when you have moments when you struggle, but when you say “Hey, I got this,” they are going to immediately apologize and back off.
A person who is invested in their role as the Helper and in your role as Lumpy Clay Who Must Be Sculpted is going to try to convince you that setting boundaries here is not in your best interest. You’re going to hear things like “that’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.” You’re going to hear back all the times you’ve expressed vulnerability or dissatisfaction with your life as “proof” that you can’t possibly make decisions about anything. That person is more invested in control and in being right than in respecting you.
You know your boyfriend and your own situation better than we do, so I trust you to figure out who and what you are dealing with and take steps to care for yourself.
I think there are some other strategies you can follow that will improve things for you. First, I starred (*) the script about diet and exercise above, because I think you should just stop reporting any of this to him and should in fact treat it as highly weird that he wants to know. This probably represents a big change in your ongoing habit of communication, so take it easy on yourself as you attempt it (but attempt it).
“Did you exercise today?”“Yep, it was great!” “What did you do?”“Why are you asking me? I thought we were going to back off on this thing where you are my trainer.”
“What did you eat when I was out of town?” “Don’t really have a list, but it was delicious. Did you eat at any cool restaurants on your trip?” “Hey, I just want to make sure you are eating your vegetables.” “I’m actually the boss of that, and I don’t want to run my food intake by you anymore, thanks.” “That means ‘no vegetables,’ I guess. I’m so disappointed in you.” “That means I don’t want to run my food intake by you any more.”
To be absolutely clear, you should not have to justify any of this, and you are not the one making it weird by setting boundaries here. However, if it helps you have the conversation, invoke your therapist. “My therapist suggested that I start taking more autonomy over my choices around this, and to stop looking to you for input about every little thing. I appreciate that you care about me, but I’m good, so let’s change the topic.”
Second, I think that anything you can do to reach out to people who are Not Your Boyfriend is going to help. If you haven’t seen your friends in a while, call them/message them and schedule a hangout. If you were kind of hiding from them because you were depressed and have shame about how long it’s been, let it go. “Friend, I miss you and I’d love to see your face. Want to have breakfast next Saturday/Catch up by Skype or phone soon?” Since it sounds like your family might not be supportive, avoid them for now, and avoid all people who tend to make you feel small or sap your energy or who have the same bossy/halping tendencies as your boyfriend. You need people who are delighted by you and people who see you as competent and great.
If your social group feels patch and thin, take steps to meet new people. Hell, take steps to meet some new people anyway. Try Meetup.com, a class, finding an exercise buddy who is at your level and who likes to do the same stuff you like, volunteering. Try to find something low key that has a predictable, repeatable structure so you see some of the same people every time and can form connections naturally over time. There are people out there who will see you for how bright and funny and reasonable and cool you are.
Third, I think some disaster preparedness is good self-care for you. If you broke up and had to move out of your shared place, where would you go? Can you sock some money away for a rainy day? Can you talk with your therapist about what options are there for you and work with them to make a plan? Wanting to stay in your relationship is one thing, needing to stay in a relationship that actively undermines your sense of self because of housing or economics or fear of the unknown is another. Even if you end up staying, you’ll be on much better footing if you know you’re not bound there by circumstance.
All the love and respect in the world, dear “Terrible.” I think you are going to be just fine and that you know what is best for you.
250 thoughts on “#687: My boyfriend won’t stop trying to fix me.”
Wow, boyfriend is definitely being the jerk here. I agree with the Captain’s scripts!
Either he doesn’t realize how much of a Ricardo Cabeza he’s being and will totally back off when you state your boundaries, or he’ll double down and you’ll know that he’d much rather be a Helper and Fixer than actually love you for you right now.
I’m quite a fan of your usage of “Ricardo Cabeza” here…
it took me a moment to get it but when i did i nearly fell out of my chair
This may, sadly, be a “dump him” situation. The Captain makes some good points about transitioning from one kind of relationship to another, but there are some really worrying bits, here.
I’ve asked him to stop trying to get me to change, that you can’t change other people, but he refuses to accept that, to the point that he says it’s the stupidest thing he’s ever heard.
Well. I suppose you could try announcing that you’re going to change him into someone who doesn’t do things he has specifically and repeatedly been told to stop doing, in his intimate relationships, even if you have to drag him kicking and screaming into The Land Of Getting Hip, but honestly, that comment above is an infinitely bigger red flag than any number of questions about your broccoli intake.
The only script I know of for remarks like that is “What did you just say to me? Apologise, and never say that to me again.“
” “What did you just say to me? Apologise, and never say that to me again.“”
Nightengale, I’m going to commit this one to memory! I love it!!
Am I the only one who says “nope the fuck out of there yesterday”? This is all controlling behavior, and maybe turning abusive. Or will. It would gross me out to have someone trying to act like a parent. Which is precisely what he sounds like.
You are not the only one. The situation seems chock full of red flags to me. But I really appreciate CA’s gentleness to LW about that.
Agreed. This right here: “to the point that he says it’s the stupidest thing he’s ever heard” is verbal abuse. If LW says
something her boyfriend disagrees with, he ought to say, “I really disagree with that” or “I really don’t think that’s a good idea.” Instead he’s cutting her down and belittling her. Not okay.
Seconded! Ugh, people who think their duty to hound you into ‘achieving your potential’ is more important than your need to be listened to when you say you don’t like that and they should stop! You know that cartoon with godzilla and the hornets and the ‘nope’-ing retreat back to the sea. That is how that behaviour makes me feel.
And not, like, a GOOD parent, either. This would be crappy behavior from a parent toward a child, even.
Yeah, my dad did things like that to me as a kid and it was bad. He would critique all of my eating habits (If I ate a piece of candy, he would yell about how “it is full of lard!” and I would sit in front of him and make lots of eye contact and say “Tasty tasty lard”. He finally stopped when I was a teenager and I said something along the lines of it was a good thing I wasn’t as sensitive about food as many teen girls, otherwise such comments could send me towards anorexia.
I’m a grown ass adult and he still tries to do things like that to me. This is why I only see him in person on a time limited basis and call him on the phone and have been known to hang up on him when he does this kind of policing.
What I’m getting at is it’s shitty when my father does this crap to me, it’s extra double wow shitty if your partner does that to you.
Oh god, my parents did that too–they made fun of my (snack) food choices all the time, which was severely hypocritical as they were the ones who taught me that that behavior was absolutely not okay (when directed towards an adult). So now I absolutely have all these weird shame issues around food, which is probably why I could barely eat around my various romantic partners for years…it’s just a crappy thing to do to anyone.
Why do I get the feeling sometimes that an LW to Captain Awkward is actually just asking for permission to dump their partner?
You are not alone in that feeling.
Seriously. “OK, clearly I’m not making you happy here, what with my not exercising right and not eating well enough and doing the dishes as frequently as you like. Why don’t we call it quits, then, and see if somebody else might not make you happier?”
A lot of writing (calling, whatever) to advice people seems to be this. I’ve seen it with Dan Savage, Dear Prudence, and lots of other people who offer advice in various forms of media. Sometimes I hope that these people (whose letters and calls make me very sad for them sometimes) read the message they just sent, or listen to the sound of their own voice, and realize before the response even comes that it’s time to DTMFA.
I think it’s easy for us to say DTMFA because we know none of the other person’s good qualities. We have no investment in that relationship, we don’t feel the love they share. They write because stuff is horrible and awful and they can’t work out how to fix it (without breaking up). They hope wise Internet people will have a magic solution to restore their relationship to what they hoped it would be in the beginning.
Before my last relationship ended I spent *a lot* of time online reading advice and trying to fix stuff. I did not in fact give up – he left me. Seriously. I should have left him at various points throughout the relationship but I just didn’t see how bad it was until I had the vantage of hindsight. I knew I was terribly unhappy, but I felt like maybe our problems were our fault and if maybe I could just find the *right* way to ask for respect… >.<
So yeah… I agree like 99% that this is a DTMFA situation. My jaded self is all "Flee! Flee! Now!"
But… It is indeed hard. I hope what the various letter writers get out of this sort of advice is perhaps support that what feels uncomfortable and off to them in a way that's hard to describe is actually terrible no good behaviour. Then perhaps from there they can move towards leaving…
I agree. It’s also a thing that gets easier once you’ve done it. When I left my abusive family? Terrified. Leaving an abusive partner later on didn’t scare me as much. I’d been through worse. Not that I recommend my way.
“Yo! Should I dump this asshole?” recently printed a letter that said “Anonymous asked: Things between us are going so poorly that I’m writing into a blog called ‘Yo Should I Dump this Asshole?'” with the response “You figured it out!”
A lot of the time, people feel like they need a Big Serious Reason (like “I caught him bonking my sister” or “he burned my entire book collection then peed on the ashes”) to dump someone. They feel like “I’m not happy” isn’t enough, especially if they suffer from low self esteem. Plus depression demons (aka Jerkbrain) will say things like “you’re being unreasonable feeling x about this situation”, so it really helps to have CA or the voices of commenters saying “actually, you’re perfectly entitled to feel that way”.
Yes. And all those cultural messages about Kids These Days Giving Up and In Our Day We Didn’t Divorce, and That’s What For Better And For Worse Means make it really, REALLY hard to believe that “this relationship is making me stressed and unhappy” is, in actual fact, a perfectly reasonable cause for exiting a relationship.
And yes, those cultural messages are a large part of the reason I still often feel like I am a failure because my (emotionally abusive) ex dumped me and I now have to mark “Divorced” every damn year when I do my taxes.
I did not fail. I keep telling myself that. One day, I might even believe it.
(Why can’t the government just ask “married” or “not married”? If there’s child support or alimony involved, the presence of those forms should be able to take care of the financial requirements.)
When in reality there was an awful lot of family abandoning and not marrying your pregnant girlfriend going on in the past as well. There’s a bigamist in my family tree – he walked out on one family, changed his name and got married again. But I guess it’s cool because he never got DIVORCED *gasp*.
Yup. Also a lot of people staying in abusive marriages because leaving wasn’t an option.
I can go one better! My great-grandfather had families in the UK, Germany and Australia, none of whom were aware of each other until Facebook. He just got bored, moved country and started again without divorcing.
He also once painted a portrait of Hitler, which has got to be one of the world’s most dubious claims to fame!
there’s a bigamist in my family tree too- except he faked his own death. But then kept sending financial support to his (first) wife, who knew that he was alive and had another family. And at one point ran into one of his grown kids from the first family on a boardwalk. Or something like that, anyway. (I don’t think it’s as uncommon as people would have you think.)
Yeah, there were also lots of ‘couples’ who socialized together officially when there was an Official Occasion, while spending the rest of their time with their respective lovers (totally with each other’s knowledge and tacit consent).
Former generations have never been as straightlaced about sex and love as they, or their descendants, want us to believe.
Oh, gods, this.
I’ve seen this shaming from the peanut gallery even in dating relationships. WELL I WONDER WHAT YOU WOULD DO AFTER 20 YEARS MARRIED TO SOMEONE YOU’D PROBABLY JUST BLITHELY DUMP HIM THEN TOO. (Of course, they’re the first ones to ask “Well why didn’t she leave??” when someone is abused.)
Like, no. NO. If a relationship is making you unhappy, you do not have to bend yourself into a pretzel to try and make it work. It’s okay to leave. It’s okay to stay, BUT IT IS ALSO OKAY TO GO.
I agree! Part of why it’s so difficult to break up with someone without a Huge Serious Reason is that without one, there’s no defined point at which you MUST do it. It’s all a blur of low-level bad or just unsatisfying, without anything kicking you in the ass to say GET OUT OF THERE.
It’s more complicated when mental illness is involved, especially when you’re legitimately working on improving yourself — everything about yourself (and your relationships) feels like something you can work hard and improve, and if it doesn’t happen it feels like a personal failing. So much sympathy to the LW for trying to make this work on top of making themself happy. Maybe just focus on the “making yourself happy” part for now, and your partner can either help or GTFO.
I 100 million percent second this. My ex was low-level abusive, (gaslighting, fake apologising then doing the thing again, blowing up at me when I asked why the thing I has asked not to be done had been done agan). I felt like I had to fix it and if I just explained my feelings enough (cus he was a Nice Guy and would never do anything to hurt me and never cheated on me) he would stop “unintentionally” making me miserable – and there was no Proper Reason to do it. It took someone else to look horrified and reading the archives of CA or me to realise he would continue to hurt me because he didn’t care about Actual me and my Actual feelings but the Girlfriend who he had in his head that bore no relation to who I was at all. In hindsight a lot of stuff was terrible and controlling but because I was invested beilived what he said until there was no trust left at all and I had utterly tried everything to get him to listen. I wish I’d seen the light a good couple of yeard before I did – although I did find I had no guilt whatsoever or any “what ifs” as I had tried everything.
LW, if he is not listening to your stated boundaries, it’s not because you are not being clear/logical/reasonable enough so he can understand. Its that he doesn’t care about Actual you. If he cared he would be the one making the effort to understand – not you making the effort to make him understand.
True story: I knew I needed to break up with my exboyfriend when I started composing Captain Awkward letters in my head.
This boyfriend does not sound like good news to me. I know he’s great and all LW, but everything I read about him makes me twitch.
A big thing about this for me is the control he seems to want over your life. When you were sick, it was probably easy for him to get you to do what he wanted. Now you’re healing and getting better, and he doesn’t have the control he used to! So he’s trying to use your own recovery to manipulate you – you’re not just exercising because you want to, you’re exercising because HE wants you to in the way he wants. He’s demanding you account for the stuff you do when he’s not there, and is a condescending asshole about it. He is mad at you “for not being good enough” – he wants you to feel like you have to earn his affection.
The thing is, it doesn’t sound like he wants you to be better, despite what he says. He wants to spiral your self-esteem back down, and then play the “good boyfriend who knows what’s best for poor you” card.
Maybe I’m coming off as too harsh, and if I am I apologize. But really nothing in that letter sounds like a happy, healthy time. It sounds like he’s making you miserable and hurting your recovery.
“This boyfriend does not sound like good news to me. I know he’s great and all LW, but everything I read about him makes me twitch.”
THIS. LW, I’ve been in your shoes, and you’re ignoring how very NOT nice the boyfriend is being with all this. You need to sit down (maybe with your therapist) and make an objective list of all the nice things he is, versus all the things that are hurting you.
I think this list is a great idea! But I do also think the LW is getting quite enough “You should” from their boyfriend. LW, if you feel like this isn’t the most useful idea for you, that’s okay. You are the person who knows what’s best for you.
(But again, I do think it’s an excellent tool to help evaluate a relationship.)
Yes, seconded. As the Captain has pointed out, the LW is the expert on their own life and relationship, and probably has enough “You need to” in their life already without getting it here,
I get the feeling that even if LW does everything the boyfriend wants, and eats all her veggies and does a few triathlons and gets a job modeling for Vogue and is elected President of the Universe, there will always still be something else for him to criticize.
I suspect that if she did all those things, his critiques would ramp up x1,000,000 because she is successful and he wants to cut her back down and put her back under his control.
LW, if his “advice” and criticisms increase as you gain self esteem and do better, he may have real self esteem and control issues of his own. Some people need their partner to be “less than” them so they feel secure. Your boyfriend may have felt secure with you because, in his head, you had low self exsteem and would not look for someone better than him. If you can see your fine self, he might fear that you he has to keep you under his thumb to keep you by his side. His comfort may depend on your discomfort and misery.
I watched my parents relationship work this dynamic for years. My father was an abusive asshole and Mum leaving after 30 years was the best thing she could have done (other than leave earlier). When Dad was having a pity party, I flat out told him that he had driven her away with his constant controlling and put downs. He then said that he was “only trying to make her into a better person.” Do you want to be like my mum, self esteem completely destroyed, fleeing an abusive 30 year relationship from someone who always thought you were not good enough? Do you want to be with someone who never likes you for you? Please think about this carefully.
If your boyfriend doesn’t respect your new boundaries (hope he does!), how long would you live like this?
Oh, LW, my heart is breaking for you. I spent four years in a relationship like that, where nothing was ever good enough and taking steps to be a better Me was met with derision and controlling behaviours, and I know so much how hard it is. For me, life is better without him. You are strong and brave to decide that you need to draw boundaries.
Well, that’s it, isn’t it? Nothing is good enough. Even if improvement is made, it won’t be enough to him, and he can still be in charge.
It is possible that he can be moved out of the fixer mode, but, if he stays in fixer mode then nothing will ever be enough. There will always be something that can be improved, because people are people, and people are imperfect.
And it’s also vanishingly unlikely that he can be ‘moved out of the fixer mode’. He doesn’t feel there’s any sort of a problem with it, he feels entirely justified in acting the way he’s acting, and people who feel that way about how they’re behaving go on behaving in that way.
I spent 10 years in this same spot — eventually he broke up with me because I was not “trying hard enough to evolve as a person.” It’s only been 8 months since that happened, but I haven’t been this happy in years.
Soudns like he’d already evolved into a wanker.
As a friend once wisely told me, there’s a difference between helping each other grow and one person pointing out your flaws in detail after knowing you so intimately with the excuse that it’s supposed to “help”. This is emotional abuse designed to make you feel incompetent and bend your will to his. And it’s going to be almost impossible to dump him because you’re so invested in him – but you aren’t going to get better if he keeps breathing down your neck.
I’m sorry, but in my experience, the only good answer to this sort of situation is to dump the guy.
“you aren’t going to get better if he keeps breathing down your neck.”
Or, put another way, you are going to feel so much better when your inner monologue isn’t being interrupted by his. When your brain says “ok, I’m done exercising today, ” and instead of that being paired with anticipation of his disapproval, there is just sweet, sweet self-accepting silence. LW – you got this.
Husband encourages me to get exercise, by casually asking what I’ve been up to – and suggesting if the weather is nice and there is nothing to do, I could go for a walk.
If I turn back to him and say I dont feel like it, he’s completely down with that. And will often ask if I want icecream instead 🙂
He certainly doesn’t track what I’m eating / what exercise I am doing unless I ask him to make me accountable – which only happens when I know I need that boot in the bum and cant justify a personal trainer.
LW, I think the Captain has a very good point about how you should be proud of the progress you’ve made — the fact that you know that you are a person who can help themself and that you don’t need someone else to be your Life Mechanic is a pretty damn good place to be, and some people never make it there.
I also just wanted to emphasize that what your boyfriend is doing is SUPER NOT OKAY. He is like the fucking human incarnation of depression. “NOTHING YOU DO IS GOOD ENOUGH!” What the fuck?
Look, I’m sure there are people out there who respond to “tough love” or whatever bullshit he thinks he is doing, but frankly, I’ve never met someone struggling with depression and low self-esteem who did. You know what they do respond to? Kindness. Encouragement. Validation.
LW, whatever you chose to do today is enough. Whatever you could do today is enough. Whether it was a lot or a little, it will carry you to tomorrow. I recognize that it can be really frustrating to coexist with someone else’s depression, but the thing is, your boyfriend is not obligated to stay if he can’t deal with it. But if he does choose to be a relationship with you, he IS obligated not to be a condescending asshole about it.
You speak for me! The human incarnation of depression is just what I was thinking. That there is no end in sight, no real goal. Just continuous ‘improvement’ and waiting to be happy.
I have an ex my friend refers to as “The Physical Manifestation of MellifluousDissent’s (Formerly) Low Self-Esteem.” I suspect this b/f may belong to that club as well.
I think it was the good Captain herself who referred to an ex as “an interactive 3D display of how badly I was feeling about myself at the time”. I have two of those exes and there my collection ends!
Yeah, he sounds like the things my Jerkbrain says when I’ve drank too much and I feel so gross enough that I just want to get everything out of my stomach.
TW anxious behaviours
Yeah, he sounds like the things my Jerkbrain says when I am doing a really good job in my life and my asshole brain’s like “YEAH well, it’ll never be good enough, SO!” He also sounds like the physical (/verbal) manifestation of Compulsive Skin Picking which is *literally* a process by which I pick myself apart. (ALSO he sounds like the sneering voice of trying to stop CSP behaviours once you’re in the zone with them.) Yeah, he sounds like a lot of bad voices – like an A Capella Choir of Angst
TW- SELF INJURY
The internal CSP/hair-pulling/cutting voice is bad enough, but the absolute best thing ever (vomit) is when someone decides to be your saviour, and heal you of your ~habits~ Nothing on earth is more supportive and caring than demanding that you roll your sleeves up/remove your hat/prove you’re “behaving well”. Nothing is more guaranteed to ensure recovery than someone making you promise that you’ll never cut/pick/pull again, then berating you and doing the whole sadface “But you pwomised!” act, and acting like you’d just murdered a dozen puppies.
My mother used to literally scream at me if she saw my hand go anywhere near my head, my “friends” used to threaten to not speak to me if I cut myself, but no pressure! I mean, it’s not like the fucking JerkBrain wasn’t already screaming at me about what a pathetic, useless fuckup I was, so having a physical JerkBrain Enforcement Squad really helped me!!!! *cough* Nah, it just made me more sneaky and creative, what were they going to do, strip search me?
What really helped was finding a partner with previous SI issues who said “Do what you need to do to feel better. Don’t be ashamed of using a coping method that works for you, just try and do it safely, and know that I will never be upset with you for whatever you need to do”. Oddly enough, moving from a high-stress environment full of people trying to manipulate and ” fix” me, and having a constant build up of pressure from JerkBrain on a loop of “You promised you wouldn’t, you can’t let them down they’ll be angry” to a place where I was told “I’m aad that people bullied and shamed you, you have complete control of your own body and mind, and there is nothing to be ashamed of” pretty much stopped it overnight.
I still (as of right now) have hair pulling issues, and a few days ago i mangled a zit on my forehead, but it doesn’t come with that looped soundtrack of “badbadbadbadbad” means if I so it I don’t feel guilty and ashamed, which means I don’t do do it more, to punish myself for being a fuckup, because now I know I’m not.
“You know what, these are things that I have my therapist/doctor to advise me about. That’s their job, not yours.”
I once dated a guy who was really, really into strength training. I was somewhat interested, so it was great to have him show me proper form and give me pointerscon how to put together my workout plan. When he veered into bossing me around when we were in the gym at the same time, I told him, “You can be my trainer or my boyfriend, not both. Pick one.”
Which did he pick, if you don’t mind the question?
He picked being my boyfriend and shut the hell up when we were in the gym. Sadly, that didn’t stop his “fixing” behaviors in other areas of my life. We ended up breaking up about a year later.
That’s why I’ve always resisted the “exercising with a boyfriend” thing. My partner and I take walks, and that’s about as far as it goes at this point.
I…kind of feel like a great, positive life change that will help combat depression is getting this dude the hell away from where you are, OP. He sounds like a couple dudes I’ve known in that he likes to be a “fixer,” which is not inherently a horrible quality in a person. The difference between this dude and the dudes I know, though, is that when the dudes I know were told to stuff a sock in it because they were coming across all doomy and demanding, they did. Not immediately or perfectly, but noticeably and more over time. The fact that you said, complete with arm-flailing inflatable tube-men and blinky neon arrows, “Hey, your helpyness is actually making my depression worse/making it harder for me to make changes,” and HE DOUBLED DOWN makes me worried and also kind of like I want to smack him with a dead fish on your behalf (I’m a whitefish knight, har de har har). It kind of seems like he is very invested in being the one in control of your life and success, and that is at great odds with your wish to be the captain of your own ship, as it were.
There are the ones who will, when lovingly-but-firmly redirected, go and renovate the bathroom instead, and then there are the ones who … won’t. The ones who won’t should be encouraged to date one another whenever possible.
renovate the bathrooms, start an advice column…it doesn’t have to be terrible. 🙂
Become a copyeditor, buy a classic motorcycle that’s been garaged since Trudeau was PM …
Soup kitchens. Dude wants to deliver improved nutrition for the vulnerable? Soup kitchens.
Not many people at soup kitchens are gonna want to hear Dude mansplain to them how they can improve their lives. Without the receptive, captive audience, it isn’t nearly as much fun for him.
Fun schmun, he can chop thirty onions and keep his mouth shut.
Annnnnd, suddenly I understand why my husband is forever puttering about in the garden. 😛
A positive outlet!
I AM AFEARED. That is all.
It sounds like the bf has two other specific things he needs to work on for this to be a healthy relationship: 1. He seems to need to control LW to feel in control of himself, and 2. He’s developed some very strong and unrealistic expectations about ways LW will change.
Another script LW may want to try: “How does this affect you?” In the examples in the letter, the answer would probably be “not at all” which should make the boundary more clear. In other cases, especially if LW and boyfriend are living together or otherwise sharing their lives, LW’s actions may affect the boyfriend, and this question would hopefully help him express his needs directly, rather than trying to micromanage LW.
“Another script LW may want to try: ‘How does this affect you?'”
I think that’s a great suggestion. Some of the things the LW mentioned (such as helping with chores) certainly could affect the boyfriend, while there are other things (the LW’s exercise and food intake) that do NOT affect the boyfriend. Asking this question can highlight how very much NOT his business some of the issues are while also clarifying if there *are* legitimate areas of discontent (“Doing most of the housework is not working for me any more; can we talk about some chores you could take on?”).
“How does this affect you?” is a lot nicer than what I’d end up saying. “Whose f—ing body is it anyway, buddy? That’s right, mind your own business.”* Asking how it affects him could give him an opener for a feelingsdump, and I wouldn’t want LW put in the position of feeling like she has to manage his feelings about what she does with her own body. Certainly housework affects him, but what LW eats and how much she exercises doesn’t. “I need you to scrub the toilet” is reasonable “you need to do more vigorous exercise” isn’t. At all. And it shouldn’t sound like she’s opening the floor to discussion on that one.
*I do not recommend you use this tone, I’m just naturally combative and I hate being told what to do.
When I was in a very similar situation, my ex could talk for days about how my not meeting his standards affected him. And because he had explained all this, if I wasn’t working out enough, he didn’t “feel heard.”
I found it odd at first that my marriage broke up after I got to feeling better through therapy (by my measure – and my therapist’s.) Now I think to some extent I was partly in therapy to get ready to leave him.
I like this.
Because housework affects everyone in the house, but what LW puts in their body, and how LW exercises? That doesn’t.
Though I would be concerned that a person who says the things he says would also have a completely not-of-reality idea of how much housework is being done by whom and, if he’s anything like my ex who pulled similar stunts, possibly expecting LW to do most/all of it because he’s riding on privilege+entitlement.
You’re right about that!
“How does this affect you” will work on a reasonable person. The boyfriend may well not be reasonable. “How does this affect you?” “It makes me feel bad when you don’t eat your vegetables because I caaaaaaaaaaare about you.”
Yeah and also see direct quote/short version of him. He wants LW to do these things so he doesn’t have to deal with depressed LW (he thinks). I think he has a lot of ideas about how this is affecting him, directly.
“The boyfriend may well not be reasonable.” Exactly. Hopefully asking questions like this would help suss that out.
Or the dark side: “You will be fat and I will have to look at how fat you are and that would be terrible for me.”
My stepmother does this to my dad all the time. I just sit there with a BMI of 40 and a face like this 😐
The specific focus of the boyfriend on LW’s food intake and physical exercise is major red flag.
“I love you anyway” is, in practice, almost nothing like “I love you”.
I used to “joke” about a self-help book called “I’m OK, You’ll Be Okay When I Get Done With You”: I’ve never seen a copy, but clearly it exists and lots of people have read it. Alas, LW’s BF appears to be one of them.
I feel like this self-help book is the equivalent of the biggest Fight Club on earth. No one can acknowledge it exists.
This was my college boyfriend in a nutshell. In hindsight I’m so glad we broke up.
Hooo yes. I can think of several people in my life who must have read that book.
Yes. Maybe it is unfair, but my first reaction to the collection of things he wants LW to work on was “Boyfriend is trying to sculpt a thinner partner.”
Well, that just gave me a case of the Screaming Nopes. People who get controlling about appearance are the pits.
Ding! This was my first reaction, too. And I have to say, each and every guy who’s shown interest in me but has said things like “You’d be a lot prettier if you exercised” (I walked 3-5 miles a day because I didn’t have a car) and/or who has tried to get me to do something about my apparently embarrassingly large backside (it’s genetic, you fucking fucks!) even when I was underweight for what is healthy for me, every one of those guys has gotten a big ole plate of Nope Surprise.
LW, I don’t think your bf loves you for you. I think your bf is in love with the idea of the person he wants to make you into, the person he wants you to look and act like– in other words, he’s in love with himself as he sees himself manifest through you. I don’t know if that makes sense? Can’t think of a more clear way to phrase it.
“he’s in love with himself as he sees himself manifest through you”
Poetry of NOPE.
‘Poetry of Nope’ is my new favourite phrase! Thanks you!
Maybe not just the you he wants to make you into, but also the him who is Cool and Helpful and Makes Things Better – so he doesn’t want to accept that what he’s doing is hurting you, because that’d mean he’s not Cool or Helpful or Making Things Better and hasn’t been for a while.
My ex did this. Openly and blatantly. I’d say ‘that’s the opposite of helping’ and he would reply ‘but it makes me feel like I’m helping so I’m going to keep doing it’ (just imagine the whining tone he said it in).
Luckily, John Howell has already worded it beautifully 🙂
Me too. 😦
It’s possible. OTOH, “healthy eating and exercise” are also always promoted as the big pop-cultural panaceas for depression — and are indeed helpful tools for some people, sometimes, but unfortunately mesh far too well with the cultural meme that people are only sick (or fat) because they’re lazy, greedy or just Not Trying Hard Enough.
So people get made to feel that they’re failing if they have the kind of depression that can’t be fixed by green leafy vegetables and jogging (or that they must not want to get well if their depression prevents them from having the energy to cook, exercise, or whatever).
I don’t think it really matters whether LW’s boyfriend is doing this to try to make her non-depressed, thin or both; he’s behaving in a way that’s controlling and unhelpful, whatever his reasons.
Yeah, this may be coming from a place of already focusing a bit intensely on food and exercise (history of disordered eating and over-exercise here) but to me this sounds like a recipe for mental health disaster. It also reads a bit like he’s trying to control her looks as opposed to her happiness, though again, my vision may be a bit skewed here. The focus is making me incredibly uncomfortable, though.
“You’d be happy if you were skinny” is what I hear in that.
Totally. Also “*I* will be happy when you’re skinny.” Which… 😡
Well, I mean, as someone who prefers her boys on the skinny side, it is totally true that everyone gets to have preferences. For example, he seems to want a skinny girlfriend, and she wants a boyfriend who isn’t a nagging douchecanoe.
He seems to be framing it as “good diet and exercise will make you feel better” rather than “be thinner” but I wonder if the latter is his true goal here.
Similarly, with the “do more cleaning” thing — there’s plenty of plausible deniability, because living with someone who doesn’t pick up after themselves sucks. Or maybe, like so many men, he just expects the woman to do most of the housework.
OP: it may be illuminating to think very hard about the actual division of labor in your household. When he complains that you’re not cleaning, is it because you’ve actually made a mess? Is it because you’ve neglected a task you said you’d do? How much cleaning does HE do? If he’s not pulling his weight, then this is an attempt to manipulate you into doing all the work.
I have one word for you, LW. Run.
He is not interested in you. He’s interested in his version of you.
THIS THIS THIS THIS THIS THIS THIS.
It doesn’t matter what a partner is interested in controlling, your food intake, your hairstyle, how much work you do, how much sleep you get; when they’re trying to control you and cannot seem to be redirected, it is time to take the advice of the Doctor.
I have been with my husband for 23 years, and he is chronically clinically depressed. We’ve been through some really hard times and some very good and stable times. We’ve worked hard to become partners in his health and I’ve definitely made some missteps along the way.
My biggest mistakes have been to really harp on what I think he needs to do– get out and be social, mainly, which doesn’t help his depression and leads to resentment as well. I have learned to back way off, although he tends to not to interact much at his worst and I have a hard time dealing with that. Sometimes we’ve done well when he asks me what I think I’m doing. I went through a phase when I asked him if he was feeling depressed almost every day at a point when he was beginning to feel better. He asked why I was doing that and I said: “I’m afraid you’ll feel not depressed and I’ll miss it!” He startled me by laughing and assured me that when he wasn’t feeling depressed that I’d know it.
That said, I’ve gotten him to doctors, fed him, and made sure he took his meds at his worst; I’ve helped to monitor his moods and symptoms and brought changes up for his consideration when I notice changes. I expect him to monitor his health and to take as much action as he can when he’s feeling bad, just as LW is doing. But that partnership is one we’ve negotiated and practiced over the years. It’s something we’ve learned. If LW’s partner isn’t interested in learning and compromising, then it seems to me it will be hard to continue with a healthy relationship. If he can hear criticism and change his behavior accordingly, then maybe that’s a partnership that can be forged.
My partner of 3 1/2 years has depression and anxiety, and sometimes I act as her monitor/coach/support person in some ways. The important element? I only do that in ways that SHE has approved, and that we’ve mutually decided would be comfortable and appropriate for me to do. She will ask me to do things like remove sharp objects from her living space, check in to make sure she’s eating, wake her up in the morning when she’s unlikely to get up on her own, phone her psychiatrist to give info/updates about how she’s doing, and so on. Sometimes she gives me general approval to do something if she’s having a rough time (food check-ins) and other things only count as very specific situational approval that has to be renewed any time I do it (phoning her psych, removing sharp objects). The idea of setting up a “should” about something like food or exercise for her and expecting her to abide by it sounds abhorrent.
“I only do that in ways that SHE has approved, and that we’ve mutually decided would be comfortable and appropriate for me to do.” That is exactly the right way to help, I think.
When my sister who is also my best friend has something she’s trying to do, like not eat badly, or do X activity for two weeks, I ask her ahead of time before she starts what if anything she wants me to do. Do you want me to smack your hand when you reach for the chips? Hide the chips? Tell you at the end of the day that I noticed you ate the chips? Keep my mouth shut about the chips? Do you want my help with remembering to do X? If so, should I remind you in the morning? Remind you when I see it’s not done? What kind of wording do you want me to use? What kind of phrases should I NOT say? My sister is not depressed and does not need my help, I just want to provide it because I care about her. But for it to be helpful, she has to want to include me.
If someone has stated that they have a certain goal, I used to be overly “helpful.” Now I usually do not offer any help unless it’s someone I’m close enough to to reasonable believe they might want me to. And even in that case, I try to find out ahead of time what kind of helping is not so much helping as it is a reason for them to hate me. Because if I’m honestly doing it to help, I should do (and should want to do only) what is actually going to be helpful. All unsolicited helping has a certain degree of arrogance to it because it necessarily implies that the helpee could not get this done without you. In some cases, that’s true. But when you the helper decide on your own that (1) there’s a problem and/or (2) you have to be the one to fix it, you’re wading into dangerous waters.
Yes, exactly. I could write something very similar, except we’re only at 20 years. 😉
That said, he’s gotten very good about saying, “OK, I can take over X now, please stop” – when X can be things like “make sure I take my meds”, “make sure I eat”, “make sure I fill my pill pack”, etc. And I’ve gotten better about listening. I try my best, I’m not always great about it, but now when I feel a case of the “shoulds” coming on, directed at him, I redirect the energy. Sometimes I clean, sometimes I knit, sometimes I go for a walk, but I feel like the fastest way to undermine him is to “should” at him.
The point is, I actively try to be a better partner and to listen to what he wants, and not just do to him what I think he needs. It’s a hard thing to let go when you’re not sure if your loved one will sink or swim, but you have to let go and let them do for themselves, or you just end up smothering them and the relationship. That’s one form of love, I think: trusting the other person enough to let go and let them figure it out on their own.
Ugh, replying to myself. Re-reading I realized the last couple lines sounded really patronizing and I didn’t mean it that way. Basically, when my brain is yelling at me, “but what if he gets worse?!? what if what if what if?!?!?”, I have to step back and tell myself, “he’s an adult and it’s his path to choose, the choice I get to make is whether to help him in the way he wants to be helped, or try to control things. Controlling never helps this situation, taking care of me and then helping him as he asks to be helped is what helps this situation.” It’s just really hard to take that final step sometimes, and back off, but it’s exactly what I need to do.
I spent most of my life not being good enough for some reason or another and it’s a way for some one to exert control by keeping you off balance. I’ve been getting that in a current relationship myself, “hey I did X, yay me” is almost always responded to with “what about Y and Z? And what’s wrong with your alphabet, here, let me prioritize those letters for you”
Thing is, I’ve been dealing with depression, anxiety, and etc for a few years now and I’m JUST NOW to the point where doing even X is a major accomplishment. Giving me grief for not doing the other 25 letters is NOT HELPING. I didn’t do it for you. You are not the target demographic. This is not a democracy. You don’t get a vote and you don’t get to write my State of the Me address. I don’t even have to duly note your concern or take that under advisement.
craniest, let me take this opportunity to say “yay you for doing X!” I’ve had a major depressive disorder for most of my life, I *know* how damn hard it can be to just do X, and I’m so sorry that the person in your life is being an unhelpful, unsupportive jerkass. I hope that both you and the LW are able to get the unconditional love and actually helpful support you deserve, either in your current relationships or elsewhere. (and having dated somebody like LW’s partner in the past when I was severely depressive I really kind of just want to SHOOT HIM.)
Yeah, the LW’s boyfriend’s words sound like the very worst of my jerkbrain’s words. Having a jerkbrain say them is hard enough. To literally hear them from an external source – that would be really hard to take, and hard to stay healthy.
I had to work this out with my young man. “Hey, when I say, “I did X!’ and you say, ‘Great! What about Y and Z?’ it makes me feel bad that you aren’t acknowledging what I already did.” He was not doing it to be a dick; he was doing it because X reminded him of Y and Z, and so he was being helpful, in his eyes. It took a while, but he doesn’t do it much any more.
I hate to jump on the You Should Probably Dump This Guy dogpile, but something you wrote in your first paragraph really sticks out to me, LW.
You wrote: “I’m in therapy to recover and get to a place where I think that I’m good enough & love and trust myself again (after years growing up having that constantly undermined)… ”
You didn’t give details, but you did say that for much of your life, you’ve struggled with being constantly undermined. What your boyfriend is doing -whether he means to or not – is *exactly* the issue that you are going to therapy to deal with. He is actively undermining your success and your ability to feel safe, loved, and healthy. By your own admission, you’ve already made a lot of progress in therapy, and I would suggest that removing his constant nagging about all of your decisions would help you make a lot more.
Some aspects of this sound very similar to my ex. He wasn’t quite as patronizing, but he did have a tendency to give me the same advice over and over. Even after I told him I wasn’t interested in doing that, he’d bring it up ad naseum. After a couple of years of therapy a light bulb clicked on over my head that I – surprise! – didn’t care to be badgered about things and it needed to stop. And you know what? It didn’t!
You see, even though neither of us is a terrible person and we both had really good intentions and cared for each other, we had gotten into a deep pattern of “being good for” each other (even though we weren’t) and “supporting [Partner]” (even though we weren’t) and staying together because we needed that (even though we didn’t). A while later we split up, and it was unfun and shitty and also exhilarating and life changing and we’re both in a better place now.
I mention all of this because I remember thinking to myself a lot, during that time, “Eh, this is fine. We don’t need to split up” so I wanted to highlight that things don’t need to be The Worst for you to decide a particular behavior needs to stop. And they don’t need to be The Worst for you to decide you don’t want to be in this relationship anymore. “This is fine” isn’t good enough when it comes to relationships, IMO.
This was highlighted in the response, but what JUMPED out at me was the bf not wanting the LW to be comfortable, because fuuuuck that.
It can sometimes be really helpful to challenge yourself, whether that’s to exercise more or read more or keep things cleaner around the house. But in my mind, that state of challenge turns into a nightmare if that’s ALL you’re doing. It’s ok to challenge yourself sometimes and then hang out in your comfortable space! It’s ok to say “hey, just keeping my head above water is all I’m capable of at the moment, no challenges for me right now.”
Sometimes when I’m feeling bad I take on some momentary discomfort as an investment in my future happiness. But in my mind, that’s a world away from dismissing the idea of comfort altogether. And I bet if you looked at that guy’s life you’d find plenty of ways in which he prioritizes his own comfort over a nebulous idea of personal growth, because he sees himself as Just Fine already.
This is another clue that the boyfriend isn’t all that invested in the LW’s progress toward real, positive change. Being badgered about food choices and exercise choices isn’t going to help the LW build good habits. You can’t be shamed or cajoled into doing those things: it might work for a little while, but unless the changes are self-implemented in a healthy and manageable way, they’re not going to stick. It doesn’t sound like the boyfriend is helping the LW at all in this area; if anything, he’s making changing food and exercise habits into a huge source of stress.
Rest days are a vital part of an exercise routine. You can’t have every day be a rest day otherwise you’re not actually exercising, but they are needed or you burn out and get injured or sick.
Treats are a vital part of a healthy diet. You can’t have all your food be treats otherwise you’re not actually eating healthy food, but they are needed or you burn out and develop an eating disorder.
Comfort is a vital part of challenging yourself. You can’t have every moment be a comfortable one otherwise you’re never actually challenging yourself, but they are needed otherwise you burn out. We need a comfortable place to regroup after a challenge, to process the growth, to relax. Living in constant stress, even if it’s a stress you’ve chosen yourself in the name of self-improvement, isn’t good for you.
Living in constant stress, even if it’s a stress you’ve chosen yourself in the name of self-improvement, isn’t good for you.
Thank you so much. So few people seem to get this.
I have always had trouble wrapping my mind around the idea of ‘not wanting to be comfortable’. It’s like saying ‘well, be careful not to be happy’.
And if you have depression??? Surely ‘being comfortable’ would be one of the definitions of success???
Whoa, this is me a year/two years/three years ago. Hello, me from the past!
So many hugs to you. This resonates with me on so many levels, but I’m going to send on some advice from future-me that you can enjoy, or disregard as is entirely your desire, because I truly believe that you are the boss, expert and CEO of you.
The goalposts will keep moving. You will never be trying hard enough/doing enough, because it is not about you. It is about him. Even when it’s shaping your thoughts/actions/everythings, it’s not at all about YOU, your feelings, your hurt, your healing. If it was, he’d be asking you how he can help you heal, not telling you how to heal for him.
You are more than “good enough” — you are wonderful, no matter what you are doing, what choices you’ve made today. You are doing exactly what you need to do, and do not need to do more because someone else says so. No amount of broccoli is going to make you a better or worse person, and they are not giving out Perfect Most Understanding Trying Hardest Enough Girlfriend awards (and even if they were, it’d be a shitty reward, like a 10% off coupon to some restaurant you don’t want to go to anyhow, and not a spaceship like we were promised).
My therapist says (on a frequent basis, because I’m still working on some of this): “Should is a REALLY loaded word” and occasionally “Should is a really shitty word”.
When a relationship is 50/50 on decisions (yes, you have equal say!) it doesn’t extend to someone else’s body/diet/etc, and EVEN IF YOU WERE OKAY WITH THAT or had asked his advice (and you do not ever have to), you still get 50% weight, which is the ability to say “That’s nice that you think that, but I’ve decided nope”. No is not an argument or a conversation, and you’ve said no to him — his continuing to push, to decide for you how your body should be, how your life should be, is not okay.
You are worth loving for who you are, and you are worth loving the way you want to be loved. This does not sound like how you want to be loved, or being loved for who you are, but who someone thinks you “should” be.
I want to +10 this comment.
I have friends who spell it “shud” because they think it’s a four-letter word.
Applauding your friends and remembering this one for future use.
“You’re should-ing all over yourself.” — Stuart Smalley (aka Sen. Al Franken)
My therapist and I called this “Shoulding all over me”.
And should usually comes from a not so great place.
“We both are very logic- and reason-focused people” ….Not both of you.
I’m starting to have a shoulders-to-the-ears reaction any time a LW mentions how “logical” or “reasonable” their partner is. Because this literally never means “My partner likes to get all the information about a problem before trying to solve it”, or “S/he really likes to do her/his research about an issue”. No. All the “logical”, “reasonable”, “skeptical” partners that the LWs describe are always trying to use their “logic” to make other people feel like crap about what they feel. There’s nothing logical or reasonable about badgering your partner or dismissing their feelings. I hate that it’s still so acceptable — and so common — to cloak these actions under the ‘masculine’ traits of logic and reason.
I am an overly logical person. I like to have a logical reason for everything I do and feel, and I don’t have a lot of other problem-solving methods.
You know who I turn that on? ME. I don’t try to argue other people out of their feelings, because unless I develop telepathy (avert! avert!), other peoples’ feelings are not an argument I can have– they’re an axiom, or a postulate, or a piece of evidence I have inferred but they’re not a fucking argument.
People who genuinely are that logical will tie themselves in knots trying to analyze their own feelings. If he only does that with yours, that’s not being logical, that’s being a dick.
This! I have to consciously remind myself sometimes that “feelings are allowed” because I would like life better if I could reason them away, or at the very least put them in a box labeled “This feeling serves X purpose.” But this very desire means I know how nonsensical my own brain can be when it comes to why I feel what I feel, so I can’t fathom trying to turn that analysis onto someone else as if I know how to solve someone else’s feelingsbraincomplex. It seems unwise even if someone asked me to do it, let alone unsolicited.
LW, here be dragons.
Exactly. Also, being logical in emotions includes: “I feel sad, so logically I should do things that make me less sad,” “I’m feeling stressed, so I will eat food I enjoy as self-care,” and “I feel emotionally drained, so today I will make fewer demands on myself.” It is not logical to demand someone ignore their emotions.
OH HOLY FRACK YOU NAILED IT.
In leechspeak, “logical” and “reasonable” mean “Whatever I want is logical and reasonable because I want it.”
The thing here is that “logic” and “reason” are being juxtaposed against “emotion” as binary opposites. Which is, when you get down to it, rather like juxtaposing a floor mop and a ceiling duster as binary opposites – the opposition is purely circumstantial, there are more similarities between the two than differences, and quite honestly, if pushed, either of them can perform the same tasks as the other if they’re the only thing to hand.
When people get all up on how ‘logical’ and ‘not swayed by petty emotions’ they are, I always end up thinking about the narrator of Ancillary Justice – an AI who’s been programmed with emotions because they *allow her to make better decisions*.
Have you read about the accountant who had a brain tumor? After it was removed, it was discovered ability to experience emotions was also gone due to damage from the tumor and the surgery. He subsequently became paralyzed by any decision making because he could no longer prioritize between options without emotions. http://fathom.lib.uchicago.edu/1/77777760800/
Taking emotions out of decision making is actually a highly irrational approach.
I am a very logically-minded person who has come to the conclusion that acting as though human beings are robots is a profoundly illogical thing to do. Emotions *exist* and have a massive effect on our wellbeing, emotions don’t just disappear if you have assessed them and decided that logically you should not be feeling that way (at least mine sure don’t!), the only logical course of action is taking that into account when you’re dealing with people.
I sometimes wish I could timetravel and tattoo this onto my brother’s forehead a few years ago. (To be fair, he’s gotten *much* better.)
Logic and reason are critical thinking tools. They are debate tools. They are not feelings police tools. They are not partner micro-managing tools. One cannot Straw Vulcan of Superior Reasoning their way into one’s partner conforming exactly to one’s own standards both internally and externally.
man, you know, there is even an episode of star trek entirely about how when Spock tries to logic everything, the human crew gets really upset with him and McCoy is like “emotion exists you dick” and Spock’s like “the deuce you say” BUT THEN HE STARTS TO ACCOUNT FOR HUMAN EMOTIONS IN HIS DECISION MAKING AND STUFF WORKS BETTER.
And he does this because he realizes that accounting for the emotions of other sentient beings is logical!
Logic and reason aren’t really qualities that describe people. They are tools that we need to use precisely because we always have our biases clouding our judgment, and they help us cut through those to get to the essential facts. Nine times out of ten, a person who self-describes as “logical” or “rational” ironically does not understand this, and a much better self-description would be “someone so egotistical that I think my subjective preferences should be treated as laws of the universe… especially by my girlfriend.”
My husband is very *actually* logical and reasonable. Ways this manifests:
– BOY does he like to research before making a decision.
– He never mansplains, but he longsplains. I actually coined the term for him. He assumes you want to understand things as exhaustively as he wants to, so (if you have asked about a thing, like say directions or a computer how-to) he goes ON and ON into tiny details unless you stop him.
– Emotion or relationship conversations have to start with establishing a logical framework of the situation that makes sense to him; if he’s confused, he clams up in great distress. Once the facts are straight we can deal with the issue.
– He tends to expect people’s feelings to be comprehensible and based on clear, material realities. (Like money, work, how one treats others’ possessions, punctuality, use or misuse of power, objectively insulting words, etc.) This has gotten him in trouble a few times. People don’t always tell you frankly when they’re mad at you because, say, they’re projecting their issues on you.
– He has ridiculously good boundaries, because it’s always clear to him who owns what. No-one can pressure him into anything nor does he pressure anyone else. Neither of us ever has to do anything because the other is doing it and expects participation—only a prior agreement (or an obvious necessity like bills, housework or cooking) confers obligation.
– When someone we know cheated on a beloved partner, he had trouble wrapping his head around why someone would possibly do that. The inevitable consequences to him & many people he cared about just outweighed any potential satisfaction far too drastically. I said “You know, a lot of the time people do what they want in the moment & don’t think it through, especially when they’re having powerful emotional impulses.” He was like “ well that way of life doesn’t make sense.”
– He is really good with computers and accounting.
Way this does NOT manifest:
– Getting up in my business, ever, unless it is shared business (“Did you pay that bill?”) or I have specifically asked him to (and I quit doing this b/c he doesn’t really like it, it’s one more damn thing on his to-do list basically.)
– Belittling my feelings. He always wants to know the reasons behind them (which admittedly is sometimes frustrating), because he wants to know, not because he wants to prove Why I Am Wrong.
– Telling me how logical he is. He has literally never done this.
– Telling me I am not being logical. Can’t remember him ever doing this either. The closest he comes is “But that doesn’t make sense!” Which, you will notice, does not contain the word “you.” A person who is engaged in actual logicking is thinking about statements, not persons, nor how much better they are than you.
– Invoking logic by name in a discussion. Nope, can’t recall this either. This was more the province of all the callow youths back in college defending obviously indefensible positions “for the sake of argument.” He is not playing Logick Master, he is just trying to figure out if things make freakin’ sense.
And that’s the thing, I guess. Actual logic is about statements, facts, reasons, not about How Logical I Am. Maybe that makes a good benchmark if someone’s trying to sort out the real from the fake. Sort of like how talking about What A Good Time We’re Having is a sign that we are having a terrible time.
I like this comment!
A friend of mine called this sort of explanation, “First, the earth cooled…”
Beware of “I am very logical” as a cover for “I don’t think your feelings matter and I don’t care if I hurt you.”
short and sweet? anyone who doesn’t think you’re good enough does not deserve you.
I personally believe strongly that relationships work best when your partner loves you and likes you as you are now, while also supporting you growing and changing to become the version of yourself you aspire to be. At a minimum, he is not currently doing the first half. It really doesn’t feel like he likes you. As the Captain said, he likes potential you. He likes the you in his head that he wants to shape you into being. And while many of the attributes of that you do coincide with the you you aspire to be, it isn’t necessarily a great overlap. I don’t think relationships where somebody tries to mold you into their vision of you are a good thing. I don’t even support parents doing that with kids, where a certain degree of molding is part of the role.
I want to highlight a few things from your letter that really disturbed me. First, “he says it’s the stupidest thing he’s ever heard”. Respect is really important in relationships. That does not sound like respect. It also sounds like massive hyperbole. It’s a very belittling thing to say. He is allowed to disagree with you and to hold a different view, but to shut down your view like that is a red flag. There’s no discussion or debate or simply respect for holding different views; he simply insulted your view in a way that seems designed to shut you up. Personally, I don’t like relationships where I am treated like that. And you don’t need to accept this as appropriate treatment.
Second, this worries me, the idea that his view is likely “if she just does these things, I won’t have to deal with her being depressed.”. There’s a degree to which each partner does handle their own issues, but also an extent to which partners work together to help each other. There’s also the fact that you are depressed, at least for now (although congrats on making what sounds like a lot of progress toward improvement). Accepting you means accepting that. And a partner who wants to opt out of working through the bad times would worry me. Well, in my case, it’d make me feel unsafe and be a total incompatibility. I became severely physically disabled in my early twenties. My partner had to learn to adjust to a massive change in our relationship and in me. A lot of people who have disabilities end up with serious social problems, at least for a while, as they have to figure out which people will still treat them well and which will cause them problems in all sorts of new ways. A common problem is people trying to push people to ignore their new physical limitations and overexert themselves, and this is really dangerous. My partner trusted me about what was going on in my own body, even when it was weird and new and disturbing, and he didn’t push me. I’d probably be a lot less functional had he pushed me. I’ve read a ton of stories from people who were pushed, and their health was badly hurt. So, to me, a partner who listens and trusts you about your health and is willing to accept hardships when you have problems is a safety issue. I hope you don’t develop any new health problems, but I’d personally worry about a partner who doesn’t want to step up to helping you through the hard times. I don’t think all relationships that aren’t in it for better or for worse and in sickness or in health are bad, but I do think that makes it a more casual relationship and one you shouldn’t rely on.
Finally, I also worry a bit about something almost the opposite of not wanting to help you through hard times, which is not wanting you to get better. People do get used to roles, and if you’ve been in the role of the sick one who needs help and your partner got used to the role of the competent one who knows what should be done and should be listened to, then you are challenging those roles by getting healthier. And sometimes people respond to that by trying to keep a person from getting healthier. There can even be some of both this and the previous issue mixed together, because real people (even ones who use lots of reason) can have conflicting and complex emotions. Maybe he thinks he wants you better, so acts in ways that can be seen as toward that goal, but is afraid of you being better, because then he would have no grounds to act superior to you. He seems to have set up this power imbalance in the relationship where he is right and the one to be listened to and you are the one who needs to be told what to do… and that makes me very uncomfortable. It doesn’t sound like you two ever consensually negotiated a relationship with unequal roles and a power imbalance, nor does it sound like what you want.
I don’t know your boyfriend or all of the details. So, think about how much of this does or does not seem to fit. But this is what worried me most when I read your letter. But I really think you deserve somebody who loves, respects, and likes you as you are right now. Somebody who sees the good in you that already is there and currently exists. And who makes that clear to you.
That “stupidest thing I’ve ever heard bit” set off major alarm bells for me, too. Not because I’ve been on the receiving end–actually quite the opposite, as I was in a relationship with someone who was constantly miserable and did absolutely nothing to try and rectify it. But I didn’t realize just how miserable his misery was making me until it got to the point where I was rolling my eyes at him and dismissing comments (not always out loud, but sometimes) as being “stupid” or “idiotic.” It wasn’t until a few months of this that I realized just how acutely disrespectful my words and actions were, and it took another few weeks before I finally put together that continuing to live with someone for whom I’d lost all respect wasn’t doing either one of us any favors. I have no idea if my dumping him finally gave him the kick in the pants he needed to do…well, anything (we haven’t talked since he moved his stuff out), but I can say my life improved drastically!
LW, if you want the thoughts of a former terrible girlfriend, mine are: Your boyfriend isn’t concerned about you. Not really. He may, on some level, have convinced himself that all will be right with the world if you’d just conform to his standards, but if he really, truly cared, he’d look on the changes you’ve already made as big positives and cheer you on as you continue your journey towards better living. He wouldn’t criticize you and dismiss your choices as being inferior–he’d show a genuine interest in the improvements you are making for yourself and be supportive of them instead of tacking on a bunch of additional “repairs” that would suit his (personal, clearly individual) view of How His Life Would Be Better If You Would Just Upgrade Already. Count me in with the DTMFA crowd.
Just wanted to clarify that, unlike LW’s boyfriend, I never tried to “help” my ex. I generally figure that a person’s issues are their own, and what they choose to do (or not) about them is their own decision. I’ll offer help if asked, but otherwise, I try to stay out of it…unless an (in)action is directly affecting me, as it was in this case. But for LW, I think that goes back to another commenter’s suggested script of, “How does this [exercise/ food choice/ personal health issue] affect [Boyfriend]?” in that…it doesn’t affect the boyfriend. At all.
Following the “health was hurt because of being pushed to overlook boundaries” thought, what I’m most afraid of is: does LW’s depression come with any self-harming inclinations? Because if so, you need to skip all the subtler steps and skip straight to “Therapist, these things my boyfriend does and says are making it worse, help!” Right now. Do not wait until the stress of dealing with him makes your fingers itch for a sharp object (or whatever). Again, voice of experience, you do not want the realization of how stressful he really is to be when you’ve been thrown back to the bottom of the well.
Thanks for this post, Captain and LW. I’m going to read it again as soon I’m done with this comment.
I live on the other side of this equation. My wife suffers from depression and anxiety which results in her not exercising, not eating right (or sometimes at all), skipping self-care, not getting out, not maintaining friendships, and a few other self-destructive issues. Thankfully, I like to cook, and she’ll eat anything I put in front of her except fish, so getting a healthy meal into her is relatively easy. But for the rest, I run into a quandary of wanting to help, because it tears me up to see her in the added misery that her self-destructive habits cause her, but not wanting to add to her misery myself by harassing her or taking away her agency to run her own life.
While I didn’t see any helpful scripts for the well-meaning partner in this situation, this post did help me understand better how she might feel. Maybe I can step on fewer landmines by keeping it in mind.
You might find some helpful scripts for a well-meaning partner in this Captain Awkward post: https://captainawkward.com/2011/11/05/question-130-my-partner-is-depressed-and-i-am-drowning/.
Thank you for the link. Drowning’s letter feels very familiar.
Hmmm, actually, that wasn’t the post I was thinking of. It was this one: https://captainawkward.com/2013/01/05/429-430-when-depression-is-contagious/. Sorry for the mix-up!
Oops…I didn’t see your reply to my first post when I posted this one. I’m glad the accidentally-posted link might be of use to you, and I’m sorry that you’re dealing with stuff similar to “Drowning’s” letter. Jedi hugs, if you want them.
Thanks again. That one was also helpful. And I’m never one to turn down a good Jedi telehug, so thanks for that too.
Oh wow. That was published just a few weeks after I dumped my ex for basically being both of those LWs’ SOs. It took me FOREVER to figure out, on my own, that a partner who was contributing nothing to the relationship and refused to take steps that would get him on the path to feeling able to contribute, was not someone I needed in my life.
Dynamitochondria, I really have nothing useful to add to that link, except I have been there, and it sucks. Take care of yourself.
Being supportive is hard. Especially when someone you love isn’t ready or isn’t currently up to taking steps for their own well-being. Some things I’ve done to help encourage my partner with quitting smoking (which he successfully did years ago, yay) and exercising more are:
think of specific, loving things you can do that might help… this won’t always be something you can do, but, for example, when he was trying to quit last time, I had learned from previous attempts that part of the problem was wanting something to put in his mouth. So, I thought about it and suggested I could go buy him a bunch of veggies he likes and he could randomly munch on those when he had cravings. He agreed it might help, and I immediately went out and got them – and it did help. It didn’t make it easy, but it helped, and it showed support.
be positive about the steps your partner does take – every time I am aware of my partner taking a session on his exercise bike (which isn’t every time he uses it, but often we watch tv together while he exercises), I comment about how I am proud of him. Now, if he didn’t react well to that, I might change it, but he says it is good to hear. And I am proud of him for taking a step toward being healthier. And he gets a positive comment from me every time I am aware. It doesn’t matter whether he hasn’t ridden in a month or he did so a couple of days ago. I focus on how each time he does so, it’s a good thing he is doing, and I am proud of him for it. Encouragement works so much better than harping on all the ways you could be doing more.
See if there are ways you can make some of the self-care you want her to do easier. Hmm, this one is more what others have done for me. I’m severely disabled, so maintaining social links is tougher. I can’t leave my house very much. So, my friends often come over here. Even though I can’t even do hosting as much as I’d like and my home is a bit of a mess. If you like to cook, it might be really awesome if you two discuss the idea of having friends over for dinner a bit more often. It can be a nice, easy way to do social. And I know it takes me less effort to make myself presentable for people coming over to visit me, than it does to get out of the house. Also, if it’s pre-arranged (and do make sure she agrees, of course), it’s harder to back out than it is to decide not to go over to see somebody else. I have a friend who often makes himself go to social outings, because he’s noticed the pattern within himself that he usually feels like bailing and not going when an event is about to happen, but if he makes himself go, he usually has a good time and is glad that he did. If she is similar, then making it easier to have the social thing happen and harder to get out of once agreed to may be helpful.
Honestly… it’s tough. Sometimes you just have to watch somebody else hurting and not be able to do anything about it. But that’s the best I can think of that might be of some help. I hope others have advice too. Also, I think it’s wonderful you put food down in front of her. That can be so helpful. I use up a lot of my energy every day just trying to keep myself vaguely adequately fed, and having somebody help out like that can be such a good thing. You’ve clearly already worked out some helpful things.
Sometimes your SO wants you to help, and has ideas on how you can, but those ideas are often wrong.
Ideas which involve me policing my SOs behavior, rather than my SO doing it for themselves – those ideas both take agency from my SO, and attempt to make their behavior my responsibility.
So even if what LW does affected her bf a lot (and it doesn’t), the two of them putting themselves in the position of BF polices LW is bad for both of them.
Not that I care much about LW’s BF, but she does. She cares a lot.
And with your wife, there may be things you can do that help, but they are probably concrete gestures. Things like making tea or coffee and bringing it to her with her meds and water.
Not things that are purely verbal.
I don’t know though. Sometimes someone else’s misery is beyond what you (you in general, not you in particular) can affect.
And really, your joy is important. So even when your partner needs you all the time, you get to take time and space for yourself.
Many sympathies. One thing I’ve found helpful is the reflection that self-destructive actions are often also strategies for immediate survival – for getting through particular moments. And doing more productive self care is often incredibly hard. Doesn’t mean partners have to stay, or even should stay. But it can be useful to remember that the other person may be engaged in a positive struggle to live their life, even if looks maddeningly like the opposite from outside.
My partner and I love the ideas of self improvement, but as with most folks, we often talk more about it than do it. One way we help one another is literally asking “How can I help support you on this? What would you like me to do or say?” We will come times ask specifics “if I see you doing X or Y would you like me to say or do anything?”
We will also talk about our fears: “I don’t want to come across as a nagging partner or like I’m your mom, so I’m comfortable saying this, but only once.”
Basically, we are asking each other for the kind of support they want, not necessarily what we ourselves naturally would do.
Honestly the best thing for me was talking with a therapist on my own and learning boundaries (see my comments above). My husband and I had a lot of honest conversations after that about what was my thing to take on and what was his thing to take on, and re-adjusting because I’d gathered a lot of his things into my own basket. Ironically, when I stopped trying to control things and he took ownership of his things, he felt a lot better. He still has episodes but they are further apart and not as bad when they happen, because a big chunk of the emotional part of his depression was seated in a feeling of helplessness, and owning his own stuff made him feel competent. Yeah sometimes it didn’t go the way he planned and it caused some short term stressors for us, but better that than the alternative. It’s still really hard to not jump in, but I think those sessions with the therapist made me a much better partner.
Incidentally, I also learned a lot about my own self-care for times when he’s having an episode, so I don’t get so easily sucked in. I can love him, help him in the ways he asks to be helped, but not drown alongside him.
okay you have got a lot of “permission to dump” comments here and I don’t want to dismiss what other people read in your letter but offer another perspective.
I am going to assume that dude loves you and just wants to help you get better because he knows you want to get better.
Eating is a big thing for me and something I skip doing when my brain gets jerky. I told my dude that when I don’t eat I get crankier and that I need to eat and i specifically told him that if I try to get out of eating he should provide me with food. Not bully me or harangue me into preparing something for myself but actually sit me down and put a plate in front of me. I don’t need bullying at that point -my brain does that for me- I need sustenance and caring.
This helps us because it is a concrete thing he can do (yay I am helping someone I love) and actually helps me.
I think you can tell dude that the things he is doing are not helping and that your therapist agrees with you (assuming therapist does and I think therapist is your number one go to about this) and also give him things he *can* do to help you when you are feeling down.
“I don’t need you to be my therapist, dude, I need you to be my lover and my supporter and my friend”
Maybe this will be a huge relief and weight of your boyfriend’s shoulders once he knows he doesn’t have to be responsible for your wellbeing. He is a member of your team and not your coach.
All the best!
Piggybacking on this, just in case LW’s partner is well-meaning-but-clumsy-at-expressing-his-desire-to-help and not maliciously-undermining-LW: I wonder if it would be possible, and if he were open to it, to do a few joint sessions with LW’s therapist so the therapist can be a neutral party for them to air their viewpoints to and help them strategize better ways of interacting over these issues.
This helped my husband and I when I was diagnosed with Anxiety Disorder. He was trying to “help” in similarly pushy ways. Discussing how the medications and counseling actually work in the context of the disease helped him understand that I was doing what I needed to do and gave him some appropriate ways to offer assistance.
‘I am going to assume that dude loves you and just wants to help you get better because he knows you want to get better.’
From the information we have from the letter, I’d say there’s an incorrect assumption hiding in there. It may well be correct that he loves her, and it may well be correct that *part* of his motivation is to help her do what he knows she wants to do. But, if that was all there was to it, he wouldn’t be getting angry when she isn’t doing those things, or dismissing and belittling her words. So, his motives don’t come *just* from the knowledge that she wants to get better. There’s also a significant element of what he wants/feels entitled to in there.
How can I respond when he gets mad at me for not being good enough?
There are many negative reactions a person can have when interacting with a depressed partner. Getting angry at the depressed partner is not good, even among bad choices.
If you are depressed, and your partner likes and loves you, there’s a real risk they too will experience some sadness that could develop into depression. Feeling bad when you are in a stressful situation doesn’t make you bad, it makes you normal. So if your partner was showing signs of depression themselves, (you know the signs) that would be a reasonable reaction. But that doesn’t sound like what’s happening here.
If you are depressed, and your partner likes and loves you, and observes you engaging in self-harming behaviors, and is unable to support you or help you cease those behaviors, there’s a real risk they will end the relationship. If you cannot help someone, and being with that person is hurting you as well, putting some distance may be the healthiest choice. So if your partner was discussing ending the relationship because you were depressed and not in therapy/not taking medication/not engaging in self-care, that would be a reasonable reaction. But you are in therapy and making efforts to recover, and it doesn’t sound like your condition and treatment plan isn’t putting their well-being at risk, so that doesn’t seem to be happening here.
If you are depressed, and your partner likes and loves you, and wants to help you with care and recovery, there’s a real risk they’ll become frustrated and upset when presented with evidence that progress isn’t happening. For example, they might mad that you didn’t fold the laundry when you said you would, or frustrated at coming home to find you in bed asleep with your clean, untouched gym clothes on the bed, when you said you were going to work out. So if your partner was reacting in line with frustration and reacting to objective, observable behaviors that contradicted therapeutic actions you had agreed to, then that could be a reasonable reaction.
LW, you describe your partner as “angry”, and the type of anger is such that you qualify it as “he never lashes out”. This doesn’t sound like they’re frustrated, and it doesn’t sound like they’re experiencing personal distress.
Your partner becomes angry not in response to specific things that they observe, but by broad elements that they infer. “Your workout didn’t count according to my standards” is a vague inference. “You said you would put away the dishes, and you didn’t” is a specific observation. Responding to specific, objective elements is reasonable, and a good way to keep score if things are getting better or worse. “OK, so you took a walk instead of doing the cardio class; that’s not great, but it’s a whole lot better than nothing” is a way to keep score. “I’ve been gone for a week, and I’m not going to believe you if you tell me you ate healthy” isn’t about keeping score at all.
Reactions based on internal, undisclosed standards isn’t about keeping score, but it does have an effect, LW, and you’ve been feeling it: uncertainty, insecurity, and anxiety around their approval. I suspect a lot of commenters are going to scream “angry bees, run away”, and they’re not wrong; your partner’s behavior is a bit like tiger stripes in tall grass: it looks like one thing (concern for you) but might be something far less pleasant. (wanting to control you in not good ways)
“Getting angry at the depressed partner is not good.” I want to challenge this. Anger is a perfectly valid thing to feel when a partner is depressed, what really matters is what you do about it. If you hold the partner responsible for that anger and try to change them, it’s not going to help anyone. Probably better to stop and say “why am I angry about this?”
Let me restate, with emphasis: “Getting angry at the depressed partner is not good”.
Feeling upset with the situation that your partner is not healthy? Reasonable.
Feeling frustrated with behaviors that contribute to a bad situation? Reasonable.
Expressing that anger towards the situation? Reasonable.
Expressing frustration towards behaviors? Reasonable.
Expressing or directing anger towards the person in recovery from a medical condition? Not good.
Replace “depression” with “cancer”, and see what I’m talking about.
“I’m so angry that you have cancer; it’s unfair and I hate to see you suffering.” Reasonable. They’re angry with the situation, but love & respect their partner.
“I’m so frustrated that you’re hurting, and that I can’t do more to help your recovery.” Reasonable. They’re frustrated with an inability to help, but love & respect their partner.
“I am so mad at you for having cancer!” See the problem?
LW, as someone who struggles with depression with a spouse who struggles with depression, here’s what concerns me about your letter:
Your boyfriend is expecting you to be accountable to a list of tasks he’s set, rather than treating you with compassion and helping you help yourself.
Is exercise great for depression? Absolutely! And when Spouse or I are depressed, the other one will say “Hey, let’s go for a walk!” And sometimes we go, and the Depressed One says “I feel better. Thank you for getting me out of the house!”
And sometimes the answer is “I can’t. I cannot get out of bed.” And that’s okay, too.
Is your boyfriend offering to engage in these wonderful, healthy activities with you? Is he making home-cooked, healthy meals? Or bringing you vegetable soup when you’re too depressed to cook?
Or is he expecting you to just bootstrap your way to optimal nutrition and well being?
Forgive me, but I get the feeling from your letter that it’s the latter.
Your jerkbrain beats you up enough when you have depression. It makes taking care of ourselves seem hard, even impossible on some days. Your boyfriend should be treating you with love and compassion, not telling you your efforts are Not Good Enough (seriously, WTF?!)
Be good to yourself, LW, and if Boyfriend can’t be good to you too, well, then I think the Captain is right about this guy being more invested in himself than you.
All of the Captain’s response has me leaping up saying “Yes!” because I so agree.
This bit though:
“I don’t need you to change me or to be right about this, I just need you to love me and trust me to do the right thing for myself.”
– this bit has me almost crying. It epitomizes an important, or even THE important element of a relationship.
If he doesn’t like and love the you he lives with now, he’s not worthy of the brave person who is you
When I was in my early 20’s I was a mess. I don’t know if I would have reached the threshold for clinical depression since I never did the therapy thing, but my self care was pretty pathetic and I wasn’t working or studying enough. Part of the reason my boyfriend and I managed to get through it (and got through it with a stronger relationship than I have with my mother) is the lack of picking and nagging. He was always enthusiastic if i learned a new skill, or developed an improved routine, or got a new job, but didn’t hassle me when I wasn’t improving.
One notable occasion was when I got interested in a new industry and there was a 3 day workshop I wanted to attend. He thought (for a couple of reasons) that it was a scam (as did my Dad who lent me the money to go to the course). He (and my Dad!) said nothing about it – just supported me about going, and listened to me talking about it and was totally “go you! you can do it!” the whole time. Neither he or my Dad told me about their doubts until I was well established and was making money, by which time their initial suspicions were funny stories, not immensely damaging and potentially hindering my progress. (From knowing my mother I now if she’d had any reservations she would have allowed herself to tell me about them as many times as she could. In detail. This is part of why we don’t have a good relationship)
Knowing that fucking up around him was something forgivable (or something which didn’t need forgiving) meant I felt braver about trying new things because failing wasn’t so terrible an outcome. I’d still be loved (and unhassled!!) either way. It also meant i felt comfortable telling him things as they came up, instead of hiding them or lying because I knew I could trust his reaction. (not so much my mother. This, again, is part of why we don’t have a good relationship).
TL;DR: I hope you have good progress with your healing, and that either your boyfriend learns to be less of a jerk stat, or that you’re in a position to be able to move on/out without him, because you deserve so much more support and respect.
Hi LW – I haven’t read through the comments yet, so maybe this has been covered (probably it has, the Awkwardeers are brilliant), but I couldn’t not weigh in on this because I have been where you are and it sucks, and now I am somewhere else where it sucks a whole lot less, so if you don’t mind, perhaps a view from the other side would be helpful?
And you know what? During that time, I had a b/f who sounds a lot like your b/f – he knew that if only I would do X, Y, Z and Q things that he specifically told me to do in the way and with the frequency that he specifically dictated, I’d feel so much better! Do you know what actually made me feel so much better? Dumping him when it became clear he’d rather boss me around than support me! (Side note, I knew I’d keep my current partner when, about 3 hours after telling him about how I wanted to be healthier and asking him to help me, he walked in on me stress-eating a peanut-butter and chocolate chip sandwich after a particularly stressful phone call, and his only comment was “You know, that’d taste better if you gave it 15 seconds in the microwave.” That’s love, folks.)
Seriously though, people who want to help you may not always manage to do so in the right ways when they first start trying, but you have clearly told your b/f what you need, and he is ignoring your stated needs. Not only is that (a) SO VERY NOT COOL, it’s also (b) likely reminiscent of the very types of behaviors that led to you developing those “not good enough” feelings in the first place. Your b/f – much to his dismay, perhaps – is not the boss of you. You are the boss of you. And from the sound of you, you are taking care of you LIKE A BOSS. Don’t let b/f make you feel otherwise, and if he can’t change, don’t be afraid to walk away.
Your current partner sounds amazing based on that one tiny story you shared. To be honest, I almost wonder if he said that because he felt he needed to say something (because maybe peanut-butter and chocolate chip sandwiches aren’t the most common meal and sometimes it’s hard not to comment on that?) but wanted to make sure you knew he wasn’t judging/minding/caring about your choice of snack. And I think that’s a super sweet thing to do, because sometimes we need explicit cues from others that they care about us and aren’t secretly frowning at us.
Thank you – your reading of his intent is, I think, spot-on!
Speaking of unconventional food pairings – The Peanut-Butter and Bacon sandwich is a surprisingly delicious comfort-food combo (I like to toast the bread and add a dash of worcestershire sauce). 😉
I like it on toasted cinnamon-raisin bread. Mmmm.
“You know, that’d taste better if you gave it 15 seconds in the microwave.”
“I’ve asked him to stop trying to get me to change, that you can’t change other people, but he refuses to accept that, to the point that he says it’s the stupidest thing he’s ever heard. We both are very logic- and reason-focused people…”
That bit in particular sounds so much like my ex-husband. He really thought he was helping by being logic- and reason-focused to the point that he would ignore and/or belittle anything I said about how I wanted to be treated unless I could back it up with logic. He felt justified in hurting my feelings as long as it was based in “reason.”
My ironclad rule now is to keep distance from people who respond to “this thing you do hurts me” with anything but, “I’m so sorry, are you okay? And how can we fix it?” No “give me your logical reasons why this is a thing that is hurtful”, no “I don’t think you’re actually hurt about this, I think it’s this other thing”. I’m so much happier now and I experience so much less strain in my inner life with striving to justify every little feeling and decision.
Maybe your boyfriend can learn different ways of responding to you and learn how to respect your stated wishes without requiring to justify them. I hope so. But in my experience, the kind of mindset that prides itself on being reasonable and feels comfortable saying “that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard” to ANYTHING their loved one says.
Aargh, accidentally hit reply before done editing. In my experience, that kind of mindset is tough to crack.
Also regarding this section:
“I’ve asked him to stop trying to get me to change, that you can’t change other people, but he refuses to accept that, to the point that he says it’s the stupidest thing he’s ever heard. We both are very logic- and reason-focused people…”
Just looking at those two sentences beside each other without anything else made me realize how ridiculous they sound. Like, does he have any evidence on which to base this idea that you actually can change people? Or is his logic/reason for believing this just that it makes sense in his head and should therefore make sense in the real world?
Like others have mentioned, it’s super uncool and scary when people use logic and reason as an excuse to ignore other people’s feelings, but when they do that, they also ignore the fact that feelings are real factors that need to be taken into consideration. I love math and logic puzzles, but I recognize that many math problems exist in a world with clearly defined rules and variables. The world outside of math isn’t like that. There are way to many variables and we don’t have all the information and the rules aren’t always consistent so we can’t treat every situation like a puzzle with a clear solution. Life might be simpler for some of us if it were like that, but it isn’t.
I agree with all of the above regarding logic.
Regarding being able to change people: LW’s boyfriend is *technically* correct – if he continues with his controlling behaviour, it will almost certainly change the LW – just not into the the happy, healthy LW he is trying to sell them.
Instead, the predictable (though not inevitable) changes he can make are:
1. The LW’s hard-won self esteem and motivation are ground down to their previous, pre-therapy levels
2. The LW stops loving him
3. Both of the above
Sadly, I would not be surprised if he saw outcome 1 as being necessary for the LW to be happy and healthy – or at least how he self justifies wanting the LW to return to the passive role that they played in the relationship while they grappled with their depression and lack of confidence.
LW, your bf sounds like my ex bf with the bone – deep conviction that you should always be allowed to comment on your so’s appearance and choices and exercise and work ethic. I think a lot of it springs from an idea that partners make decisions together and tackle projects together, and they’ve made the mistake of mis categorizing you as a project. And I think that’s something a lot of people have trouble with, especially when they have an idea of how the “right” way to be is (I’ve noticed that people who tend to be ‘rational’ often have trouble with this – that other people make decisions that they would not make and other people have reasons for those decisions that are just as real as their reasons for doing something different).
In any case what was most helpful to me when I was trying to decide what to do about my then – bf monitoring my exercise and how I acted and what I wore, was look at those things and all the other things we did together (which by that point was not much) and ask if this person seemed to like me. And when everything was totalled up the answer was no. He didn’t like how I looked, how I liked to dress, how I acted or thought or analyzed media. He didn’t like my opinions. He didn’t like it when I asked him to not share ‘diet advice’. He didn’t like the way I went to the gym when we went together. And when I broke up with him that was what I told him. And I have never regretted that decision even once. Even when I was rebuilding my social life from zero, I was happier and more confident presenting myself as a person than as an untrustworthy and possibly unsightly appendage to another person.
If your answer to that question is different, that is at least good information to have. You still get to decide whether you like him. But you shouldn’t have to put up with constant questioning from anyone, especially when they’ve been told to back off.
On a very small and lighter note, and maybe as perspective, I think that eating whatever the heck one wants when partner is out of town is The Very Best Thing You Could Ever Do. Like, it is AWESOME if you ate a bunch of vegetables that you wanted to eat because you thought they sounded delicious and healthy, and it is also and equally AWESOME if you.. ahem… did not. (Ice cream, breakfast for dinner, weird thing you like that he doesn’t like. etc.)
Hell yeah! When I have the house to myself for a few days, I like to use some of the time for cooking experiments. On one such occasion, I decided I needed a big vat of coconut sticky rice. Best weekend alone ever!
Whenever my boyfriend goes out of town, I deal with missing him by cooking all the things he doesn’t like, such as spicy food.
Hell yes! its one of the downsides of having a toddler – he still needs decent meals to function at anything like a survivable level. So I dont get to do this as well as I used to when husband is away. If I have to cook a decent meal for the toddler, may as well cook for two at once, right?
But I have vivid memories of having take-out chinese one night, then reheated leftovers the next, with soup from the freezer a third night, back in the day. Bliss.
Absolutely. My husband is at his parents’ place this weekend, and the first thing I did was make two meals’ worth of GF pasta with homemade red sauce –my husband is diabetic, and the GF pasta does a number on his blood sugar, so we very rarely eat it. Whenever he’s away, I tend to either eat that or GF pizza (pizza is another of those things…) –in fact, I might go out and get myself GF pizza for dinner tonight.
I might add that my husband wholeheartedly approves of this, and I’m sure he does the same thing when I’m not around. Probably fish 🙂
+1 absolutely, always. I make weird concoctions of things that are in the house, and if they’re tasty they make it into the regular rotation! Or maybe I just eat all the crackers, Or the broccoli. Any way you do it, it’s all good.
also: breakfast for dinner is awesome and should be a part of every week 🙂 Unless you don’t want it to be, in which case it shouldn’t!
I wholeheartedly agree. Some of our friends came up with a concotion called a “Mahi Mahi” pizza, which is basically a Hawaiian pizza with anchovies. I love it, but it doesn’t agree with my boyfriend. When he was in a show that had evening rehearsals nearly every night of the week, I ordered personal Mahi Mahis like every single night. The delivery guy must have thought I was pregnant.
I have to agree with this. My husband is in a club that meets once a month – when he has that meeting I have Chipotle for dinner. I love it, he doesn’t.
I find that when one person is overly invested in “helping” someone else, it’s often an indicator that they have their own issues which they’re trying to feel better about. Being The One Who Helps gives you a bit of power and a (falsely) elevated self-esteem.
One way to equalize a relationship like this while still showing care for your partner’s mental health is to maybe suggest fun things to do TOGETHER. For example, the LW’s partner can say, “Hey, want to play tag with me later?”, “want to go kite-flying?”, “Let’s make smoothies!”, “Shall we tape sponges to our feet today and pretend we’re in a roller derby?” or insert other fun thing here that gets the job done. I like this script because it avoids the teacher/student roles and makes exercise and cleaning and “healthy” eating something for EVERYONE. It also ties into one of the Captain’s ideas of spending time with your partner who has depression in the spirit of liking and wanting to spend time with them as a person, not a project.
My husband has a hard time with my anxiety and sometimes asks if I’ve eaten or what I’ve eaten or mentions exercise to help me. Usually in the interest of my mental and physical health, but also a little bit because living with someone who has panic attacks can be exhausting – especially when they don’t always take the best care of themselves (guilty). It doesn’t bother me because of how he asks gently, not sternly, the tone he uses, and because the rest of the time he demonstrates how damnably attractive I am to him.
Listen to Leah Robins and the Captain – if he loves you, he will work with you, and you will be able to laugh together even during the darkest moments of your lives.
LW, I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this. It sounds terrible.
I just want to say something about this part of the Captain’s advice:
However, if it helps you have the conversation, invoke your therapist. “My therapist suggested that I start taking more autonomy over my choices around this, and to stop looking to you for input about every little thing. I appreciate that you care about me, but I’m good, so let’s change the topic.”
I think doing the opposite of that can also be helpful. There’s a lot of power in taking full ownership of the decision to take more autonomy over your choices. I don’t know what your boyfriend’s views on your therapist or on therapy in general are, but he might use a comment like this as evidence that your therapist clearly has no clue what’s going on in your life so you should just listen to him and do everything he says. If you own the decision yourself, he can’t position himself as one of two potential bosses of you (the other being your therapist), because you’re making it clear that YOU are the boss of you.
On the other hand, if your boyfriend puts a lot of stock into what your therapist says, this line might work really well. You know way better than any of us how useful this phrase will be. Like the Captain said, if it helps you have the conversation, totally go for it.
Your current boyfriend sounds a bit like my first one. Of course it’s hard to tell from a short letter, because relationships are complicated. But let me tell you a little of my story.
In high school, I was shy, introverted, and had low self confidence and poor social skills due to a history of being bullied in junior high and middle grade. Despite that, I managed to meet a kindred spirit. We both loved science fiction. My BF was genuinely not a bad guy. But he was self-centered, and he wanted contradictory things. He both wanted me to look up to him, admire him, and follow his lead, and for me to be a more confident, assertive person who dressed sexier, partied heartier, and loved to dance. He never seemed to understand that these personality traits conflicted–or at least, they conflicted in me, for us. Don’t get me wrong, a self-confident woman can look up to and admire her boyfriend, but not in the specific ways he was after. He wanted to call the shots. Controlling me became an end in its own right, because it flattered his ego.
Let me give an example. He had money and I didn’t. He had a car and I didn’t, and I didn’t live near public transportation. As a result, I let him pick most of our destinations for dates, because I wasn’t going to invite him someplace and then push him to pay for me. So far so good. But… as things progressed, he developed this habit of picking me up and driving me someplace without telling me where we were going, because it was a “surprise.” 19 times out of 20, it would be one of the handful of places we always went, but that 1 time in 20, it would be something “special.” The only trouble is, he was far more of a night owl than me, so these “special” events weren’t always to my taste and would keep me up hours later than I was comfortable with. So every time he drove me to a “surprise,” which slowly morphed into _every fucking date_, I had all this tension and stress. Then, at the end of any date, I got this huge guilt trip if I didn’t show gratitude. Which in turn meant that every time he took me to “a surprise,” he could justify it by saying that I always had fun so I just needed to trust him. He would say, “We really need to work on your sense of adventure and getting you to be more open to new experiences.” He always said “we,” as though this was a joint project. I would say, “How does blindly doing everything you say make me more adventurous?” We would go round and round, but I never got through to him, because I wasn’t willing to back my words with actions. When I look back, I wonder, why did I ever even get in his car without making him tell me a destination? Hindsight, sigh.
At first, these negative aspects of our relationship were very minor. You know when they got worse? When I started to develop some self-confidence! When I started college, and made other friends, and had a job of my own. That was threatening to him. By the time our relationship came to an end, we fought about the stupidest things, because we were both really fighting over who got to decide how I behaved. You know the fight that led to the end of our relationship? He wanted me to try a sip of his tea. I had already tried eight bazillion types of tea. At first eagerly, because I was curious. Then willingly, because I knew tea came in a lot of flavors. Then reluctantly, because I was learning my own tastes, and I’m not fond of tea in any of its many flavors. Finally I flat out refused. He took this as a personality defect that he had to badger me into fixing. I wasn’t being “adventurous” enough–by knowing for myself what I wanted to drink. I wish I could say I dumped him, but in fact what happened is we got through the sucky date, and he later told me our relationship had gotten stale, citing that fight as an example. I said I agreed, and we broke things off by mutual agreement.
Then he was a royal PITA trying to get me back, because I turned out to be harder to “upgrade” than he expected… again, hindsight! I thought I had some obligation to stay friends.
Despite all this… he was in many ways not a bad guy. He could be funny, kind, generous, and decent. I have many fond memories of him. I genuinely loved him, and in his way, I think he loved me too. People aren’t all good or all bad, but it’s okay to leave a good person if they’re treating you badly. I hope your boyfriend comes around, but I offer you my best wishes and confidence in your judgment no matter whether he does or not.
Wow, what a trainwreck/mindfuck. That is some high-level head games.
I was in a relationship like this! Only I was the fixer, always trying to give my boyfriend “helpful” advice about how he’s doing everything wrong and he’d be so much healthier and happier if only he’d go to bed earlier, eat more veggies, and agree with me about more stuff. And he tried to change me, too (although I was worse): he was always trying to get me to relax more, to spend less time working and instead build my schedule around him. It was exhausting for both of us.
The Captain’s comment, “For a relationship to survive a crisis like that, you have to like the person (not just love them) and respect the person (not just love them)” especially rings true for me. There were plenty of other things wrong with our relationship, but I was super-duper in love with him… except that now I realize the person I ACTUALLY liked, loved, and respected was the imaginary version of him that lived in my head.
We’ve broken up now and I think it’s safe to say we’re both much, much happier. I cringe whenever I think about how unfair and how disrespectful I was to him, and how much time we wasted together when we each could have been in other situations (partnered or not) that would have been more fulfilling. But I’m definitely not saying you need to DTMF right away. It sounds like you two have a chance. As usual, the Captain gives excellent, clear scripts. Your boyfriend’s reaction to those scripts will tell you whether this relationship is worth keeping, or whether it’s time to move on.
Also, for what it’s worth, I hate the “I’m so logical, therefore I know everything and I’m right all the time” thing. Emotions are *who we are* and there’s no such thing as a feeling or desire that is incorrect or illegitimate. But I only understood that in theory, I guess, because in practice, I was still trying to second-guess his desires left, right, and center. Those ultra-logical people can sure be jerks, but they’re not the only ones.
I feel you. Sometimes we are in love with the idea of the person and it makes you so angry that they are not that person. Like they’d be SO PERFECT IF THEY DID A B AND C. Unfortunately, the reality is that they are not there. They are raw cookie dough and you can see the cookie and you want the cookie, but the cookie dough is just not done enough, but you really want that cookie so much and you know how much better it would be if it were finished baking….and so you are mad that they aren’t doing what it takes to be a cookie.
Ok it’s possible I need a fix of both Buffy and chocolate chip cookies.
They are what they are, and you can’t force someone to evolve. You have to like them for what they are (plus a +/- 2(?) for forward and backward evolution. Heh).
It sounds like BF is unhappy with the relationship, but feels like LW has it in her control to make the relationship better, so he is taking it out on her for not being the idealized version of herself. Similarly, she may love him and think he is perfect, if he only didn’t do XYZ. Unfortunately, who he is now does XYZ, and is unlikely to stop, so they’re both unhappy.
Back in the dim times, when I was young and dewy and dinosaurs still roamed the planet, and I was married to my starter husband, I was unhappy with our relationship. When he would not go to counseling with me, I went by myself. He graciously said that he’d wait for me to get better, which somehow included losing weight, even though I never said anything about that, but continued to be, well, him, which was a self centered twit who wanted a “wife”, and not actually *me*.
Less than three years, that mess lasted.
Sorry, it posted before I was done. Anyhow, LW, this guy is probably a whole wagon load of NOPE for you. Think hard and make plans.
May I just say that I love the analogy of a “starter husband” – the one that makes you learn what to look out for next time.
Something that I tried with my own “Helper” from several years ago – I took him with me to a therapist appointment. We sat side by side on the couch, and he told my therapist how much he loved me, how much he wanted to help me, and how much it hurt him to see me suffering. We spent an hour together crafting a long list of things he could do for me, with me. I was overwhelmed with adoration and new hope.
And then we left my therapist’s office, and he spent the entire car ride home and the next 8 hours telling me why my therapist was completely useless and how we were going to do things his way or we weren’t going to do them at all.
I hope I’m wrong, but LW, I think your boyfriend would do the exact same thing.
One of the reasons my partner has my trust when it comes to medicine things and my parents do not is because when I say to them “I am trying this new thing for X, because my doctor thinks it will do Y without causing Z side effect” my partner replies with “Cool, hope it kicks in and helps you feel better, let me know if you need me to do anything” and my parents reply with a long list of reasons Doctor Oz thinks that it’s the most evil drug in the world and “how can your doctor be competent if they’re prescribing this drug that mom’s degree from Google University taught her to think is bad?”
Your boyfriend’s suggestions don’t sound like the ones I would give to someone struggling with depression.
They do sound like exactly what I’d say, though, if I were the type to try and manipulate my partner into getting thinner and doing all the housework.
I don’t know, maybe your boyfriend got out of a bad slump by getting really into exercise and tidying up his home, and he’s being obnoxious about it because he’s become the Helper. I don’t know. But “my partner punishes me emotionally when I eat unhealthy food and don’t exercise” just sounds really bad out of context.
LW, here’s the thing about our Jerkbrains: they’re jerks. You’ve been through a lot, and you have been so strong and come so far and you have a wonderful partner who wants to help you and knows what’s best for you. Except they’re not actually asking YOU what’s best for you. And they’re not omnipotent (well, actually, maybe they are?! If so, disregard my next piece of advice because OMNIPOTENT BOYFRIEND THE ENDLESS POSSIBILITIES) SO they clearly can’t actually know what’s best for you. Your Jerkbrain is telling you that you’re never going to find someone else who will put up with you. That you are so incredibly lucky and your boyfriend is a saint for dating you and you’re an idiot it you let him go. If it were me five years ago, when my self esteem was non-existent, and I were reading this comment thread, my heart would be sinking to my shoes at the very notion of a breakup, because I don’t want to be alone for life and who could ever love me again if I screw this up? I’d run away and never read Captain Awkward again, probably, with my Jerkbrain cackling in the background gleefully.
YOUR JERKBRAIN IS WRONG!!!
LW, you don’t need someone who will put up with you, you need and DESERVE someone who you’re willing to put up with. Dating you is a privilege you get to grant people, not a burden someone is doing you the favour of shouldering. Comfort from a relationship is something you are allowed to want.
So LW: dump your boyfriend, or don’t dump your boyfriend. As someone wisely said much upthread, this choice doesn’t directly effect me, so it is not my business. But LW, my heart hurts for you so hard right now and I want you to know you don’t have to be afraid that you won’t have love if you leave this person who doesn’t listen to you and constantly makes you doubt your self worth.
Loving yourself is the most important love of all.
Dating you is a privilege you get to grant people, not a burden someone is doing you the favour of shouldering.
This should be stitched on a pillow. Very well said.
LW, your story really, really made the back hairs of my neck stand up.
I also just wanted to reiterate, in case you’re having difficulty with the argument ‘but what if what he’s doing helps me?’
1) It really doesn’t appear to be helping you (being berated and controlled is bad for humans)
2) Even if being prompted to do things like eat better food, exercise to work off stress etc was beneficial to you..it’s still wrong and bad to do it without an agreement, ESPECIALLY when the promptee has explicitly asked the other person to not do it.
Like, there are healthy relationships where both people agree to certain situations where person A asks to be prompted to do X and person B does so. This is not one of them.
Your boyfriend is NOT being supportive, kind, or reasonable. It is better to be on your own than to have the weight of someone else’s expectations on you.
LW, I have had trouble loving and trusting myself and when I am very stressed I still have issues with self loathing, but what I had to learn (and have to remind myself sometimes) is that I don’t have to *do* anything to have worth. And you don’t either, no matter what your boyfriend says. Sure, it’s better if you are exercising and eating vegetables I guess, but if you don’t that’s fine – you’re great anyway. Like the Cap’n says, you are healing, so getting to a comfortable place is exactly where you should be. If you have the energy and inclination to push yourself, get on with your bad self, but that’s extra credit. Going from being in a rough place to feeling better is a huge accomplishment, but it can be a tender one too. Now is *not* the time for someone to run a ledger of all your supposed daily transgressions and fuck the idea of the ledger in the first place.
Maybe I’m projecting too much from my own experiences because your boyfriend sounds like my jerkbrain incarnate (btw, my jerkbrain is interested in my eating and exercise mostly because it thinks I should lose weight, hmmm), but this letter bummed me out because it sounds like you are making some great personal progress and your boyfriend is sandbagging you instead of giving you high fives and wtf is that about? Sometimes it’s nice to have a gentle push towards a sincerely held goal, but getting mad at you for not meeting some standards that he made up? Ew, gross.
Listen to your gut here – you got this.
I usually agree with our captain, but this time I see all those scripts as an exercise in trying to change him into a reasonable boyfriend even as he’s trying to change you into someone who eats her vegetables. Neither one is going to work. As I was reading the original letter, I was thinking that the question ought to be how to break up with him. Right now it feels like you’re breaking up because you’re not good enough for him, but in a very short while, it will become evident that you’re breaking up because he’s not good enough for you. This is a guy who hasn’t figured out how to be kind and supportive in even the most basic ways. This is a guy who hasn’t figured out that nagging doesn’t work despite all kinds of evidence to the contrary. This is a guy who hasn’t figured out that the people you love aren’t improvement projects. This is a guy who shuts down when he’s mad. He may have been okay when you were at your most down, but now that you’re working with a therapist and coming out of the dark hole you were in, now that you’re building your own confidence, motivation and self-respect, he’s starting to sound like the sort of asshole who pulls himself up by putting you down. I’d put one more thing on that disaster preparedness list: a good friend who will hang out with you should you start to feel lonely.
I’m not sure if it’s changing who he is so much as finding out whether he’s “oblivious and well-meaning” or “a giant tool.” The way to find out is to give him the information that would stop him being oblivious as clearly as possible – if he changes his actions he may have been decent all along, if he doesn’t then he’s conclusively demonstrated jerkitude.
LW, has your boyfriend ever really articulated – as in, clearly stated and put down in a measurable fashion – what his goals for you are? Do you know whether his goals match up with your goals? Do either of you even know whether those goals are achievable?
Also, are his goals for you actually about you – or are they all about him? Does he want you to be happy and comfortable in your own body; or is he looking for A Girlfriend Who Matches The Public Beauty Ideal? Does he want you not to be depressed because it would be a good thing for your mental health and stability – or does he want A Girlfriend Who Doesn’t Act Depressed All The Time because that would be more comfortable for him? What would be his next project if you suddenly started following all his rules precisely? Would he be badgering you to give up therapy because “you don’t need it”?
The impression I’m getting from your letter is your boyfriend’s goals are mostly about him, and making him feel good and making him look good. This does not augur well for a long-term relationship. It says he’s putting himself and his comfort ahead of your joint comfort together, and also your personal comfort and enjoyment of your own life. This isn’t sustainable.
And another thing– It’s generally accepted that self-care is good for self-esteem. Many, possibly even most, of us find that a bit of exercise can be a mood brightener when we’re feeling especially low. If I’m down in the dumps, a few minutes skipping rope can make me feel better as can a cup of ginger tea instead of reaching for a soda … BUT these are temporary fixes and no substitute for dealing with the real issues. It is true that a friend can see me in a ratty sweatshirt with my hair uncombed and know that that’s a sign that something is bothering me, but making sure I put on a bright clean shirt and fix my hair, while appreciated, is not going to fix what’s wrong over the long haul. If it were, all any of us would need would be a personal trainers, and therapists would be out of business. It’s not that simple, and boyfriend ought to stop acting like it is.
Flags! Flags everywhere! And holy crap, the Silent Treatment? Even from a 5-year-old that’s pretty immature. This guy is manipulative. Granted, I know manipulative people who are in total denial that they are so, and are sure everything they are doing is for other people’s good (again, back to the 5-year-old “I’m helping!”). It’s still manipulation.
Has the boyfriend pulled out stories of other people who have “similar” problems and yet manage to be super-awesome-amazing-overachievers? ‘Cause this happens to me a lot, both with migraines and depression. What it shows is that, really, the storytellers have no idea what your problem works or feels like. Sure, for some people hearing about the severely-depressed woman who climbed Everest without oxygen, ran a multi-billion-dollar corporation, had a movie-star husband and five kids, and still managed to look fabulous straight out of bed, all without medication or therapy of any kind, is inspiring. Really, I’m sure it is for someone.
For the rest of us, it reinforces the jerkbrain’s message. “She did all that and I struggle even getting out of bed in the morning? Have trouble concentrating to work? Can’t get to the I want? God, I’m such a pathetic LOSER!” And cue the tears and stress eating and whatever other bad depression habits you thought you’d gotten under control.
Unfortunately, these storytellers don’t get it. So pointing out that their “inspirations” and “coaching” actually make it worse probably won’t make it through either. You SHOULD tell this to your therapist, and any other allies you have. Prioritize on how to deal with your boyfriend and setting boundaries, because I know from experience, it can tear down your progress in a flash.
And if he won’t respect boundaries, keeps behaving like this? Seriously, FUCK HIM (and not in a fun way). You are more important than he is.
Cosigned. I hate those “inspirational” stories. Also the related ones of “oh, everyone feels like that [i.e. depression, chronic pain, fatigue, whatever is hindering you], you just keep going on and work through it.” *grinds teeth* Not. Helpful.
The Silent Treatment is a HUGE red flag for me. If you love someone, why are you punishing them? They are not your child who needs to be emotionally spanked.
(Autocorrect desperately wanted that to read “emotionally swankier”)
And even if they *were* your child it wouldn’t be cool to be emotionally spanking them (love that term. And the autocorrect version.)
I was your boyfriend (not literally but, you know, in the way he acts) with my ex-wife. A big factor in that was that I saw her problems as ‘easy to fix by doing X’ where my own were much more complicated (in my mind). When I was unhappy with the way her behaviour impacted me, our living space, or our relationship I saw the fact she wouldn’t do the easy, obvious things I told her she ought to as indications that she wasn’t actually committed to her claims or our life together. In retrospect I think that I was correct about her commitment level BUT I still put all the focus on her rather than dealing with my own portion of those concerns and my personal issues.
I don’t think that his intent upset or control you but a desire for you to do better born from a internal selfishness that it would make his life better or easier. However, intent isn’t magic and the effect of his actions do cause you harm. The best thing I can suggest telling him is that you need him to be your cheerleader for success not an accountant tallying up your failures – the only thing that does is create resentment in both of you and blind him to your actual accomplishments and kill your internal motivation to continue. I wish you the best of luck and hope that you bear in mind that love alone is not enough to sustain a relationship – you can still love someone deeply and make the choice that the relationship isn’t healthy for either of you.
LW, I’m sorry you’re struggling with depression, and I’d like to offer you a fist-bump of commiseration for the emotional work you’re already doing, if you’d like that.
I’ve been dealing with depression for a while, too. Beloved Human is very into self-improvement, and that has sometimes inflected the way he talks to me about it. When I said, “I would find recognition for the progress I am making much more helpful than notes on what I could do better,” he initially balked. Because that kind of encouragement would have felt patronizing to him, were he receiving it.
But, as I pointed out, we’re different people. I grew up with people who were allergic to being encouraging. My Jerkbrain doesn’t do encouraging, whereas it is full of advice for how I can do better, much of it pretty rude. Beloved Human gets it now, and if I send a text saying, “X happened, and I’m flailing. Can I have a word of encouragement when you have a moment?,” he’ll send me a “You can do this” or “I believe in you” when he gets the chance, which is all I really need.
It sounds to me as if you have some clarity on what would be helpful to you. A person who wants the best for you will listen to you when you share that with them, and will change their behavior accordingly. Someone who doesn’t follow your clear requests on how to help you might not be good at helping you, or motivated to help you. And it is reasonable to want people who are important in your life to be supportive and helpful.
I think this is great advice. I’d make it simpler still:
“Boyfriend, I have my therapist for coaching & helping me develop. When I am at home, I just need to chill out. Please support me in that by having relaxing with me, not coaching.”
Repeat every time his “advice” occurs.
Responding to your partner asking you to stop trying to control them by telling them that their opinion is stupid is pretty emotionally abusive. It’s scary breaking up with someone when yr already in a vulnerable headspace, but it is very possible that you will actually feel waaaay better without this dude in the picture.
Another pertinent question: How does BF react to advice given by LW? If he reacts poorly, or if LW feels unable to give advice because he claims that means they’re unsupportive (an only-to-real double standard), then that is key information and likely points to the impending doom of the relationship
Ugh, logick-y dudes who want to tell you how to run your life. Sounds like my Dad.
LW, you are already doing so much good stuff for yourself, and at your own pace. You’re seeing a therapist, and making strides, you’re clearly doing exercise and stuff.
It can help to be accountable, and say to someone else “hey, I’m having trouble doing this Thing, so can you help me by setting a time to do Thing together?”, but only if this is a need *you* have identified, and it’s *your* solution that you’re asking to put in place. When Dude just tells you that he knows best for you, that is patronising as fuck.
Maybe BF wants to push you because he thinks your mental health just requires external pushing. But even if it comes from good intentions to “fix” you, it’s ableist and hurtful and the opposite of helpful.
And when you’ve told him that he’s being unhelpful, and he’s told you it’s “the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard” that you might have your own thoughts on your health and what you need… That is him being a jerk to you.
It sounds as though it’s not simply a case of “dump him”, because that can be hard, especially when you’re trying to sustain a healing process. But it’s still a good idea to evaluate your relationship and whether your Dude is amenable to changing his behaviour when you’ve expressed a desire for him to Quit Doing That Thing, and what that might mean about how much he respects you.
To be honest, I’m in a long-term relationship with a dude who is otherwise pretty damn great, but occasionally he comments on my wellbeing in a way that gets my back up (like telling me the severity of my issues is getting worse when I’m acutely aware that it’s because I’m under stress, or making it out that I’m imposing Difficult Family Members on myself when it’s either manage a difficult visit or not see my family, ever). This is sporadic enough that it hasn’t become a sticking-point in our relationship (yet!), and he usually shuts up when I tell him I don’t find his comments helpful… if it was all the time, every day, over every basic thing like eating dinner….. that would be more emotionally exhausting than I could deal with, and I’d like to think I’d be weighing up leaving as an option, although it’s never easy. Your Mileage May Vary.
Good luck on your journey, LW! And remember you are AWESOME for taking care of yourself and making such good progress. 🙂 It’s tough, but so are you, and you deserve to be happy and comfortable in your skin.
Oh LW – that dude is not being nice to you. For those of us with less than optimal upbringings there’s this stinger waiting for us as adults. It’s really easy to end up with similarly dodgy partners. There are a few reasons I’ve heared suggested – that sort of personality can seem really familiar and thus a comfortable and easy thing to be around (because it’s what you’re used to). Also there are lots of little red flag actions that fly beneath the radar because they are for us a normal and acceptable part of life – other people are perhaps more likely to spot them and run a mile. And also we tend to be very keen for love and approval and so when we seem to get it in the form of someone else picking us to be their lover it’s a really heady thing. And of course if they’re dodgy they tend to do it in a way that seems sufficiently different from our terrible family situation to be very “well at least they don’t do X thing”. I feel like I’ve learnt to spot the signs now, but I really didn’t see them when I was less experienced.
The awful thing is that our families groom us to be victims of whatever BS is their flavour of abuse, and then there we are, pre-groomed for whatever arseholes show up to take advantage.
LW that may sound really harsh about your boyfriend, but from where I’m sitting it sounds like a very toxic place for you to be. You deserve to be with someone who shows you respect – who likes you the way you are, who isn’t always trying to fix you and who listens when you ask him to stop certain behaviours rather than telling you your request is ridiculous.
The BF sounds like he is familiar territory to you, treating you w/ the disregard & disrespect that as a child you were taught was your due. I am so glad you realize that they are NOT your due. I liked the suggestion made upthread to use the BF for practicing your new boundary-setting skills on. If he really has your best interests at heart, both of you will benefit; if not, you at least will have the benefit of setting those boundaries. Setting limits is an excellent skill to acquire.
Harville Hendrix has some good insights as to why we pick partners who embody what we needed but didn’t get as children from our parents, and how to move toward resolving those issues. He often works in the context of a committed marriage, where the couple really do want to stay together, but the skills can be used in any romantic relationship, even w/ if the goal were very clear communication rather than trying to save a marriage.
Here’s my own take-away from my therapist: “Your thoughts and your feelings are valid — and welcome!” Took about two years for me to believe that sentence.
may I say something? You are doing FINE.
Getting a sense of your boundaries, and reclaiming them is indeed a sign that you are getting better. It’s a bit like regaining your sense of smell after a bad cold: not the sign that you’re fully healed, but you are going to be ok.
Independently from what you decide, be aware of that. And celebrate a little.
I think Captain’s advice makes sense because, while getting rid of LW’s boyfriend would be (according to many, I read) the logical consequence to his behavior, it is also true that you owe it to yourself to state your boundaries within this relationship, should it only last for one more day. See what happens when you do, how you feel, how he reacts.
I don’t want to read too far into this, but how is LW’s boyfriend? Is he happy? Or is he blaming his own ambivalence about the relationship on you and your past depression? Or maybe his own shortcomings as a helper?
Stating your boundaries might just bring his own discomfort into the open. One more reason for doing so, as soon as it’s possible.
“He’ll get mad if he thinks that I’m not exercising often enough […]”
This was where I got very concerned. Before that I was open to a lot of possible scenarios, but anger is a red flag in this situation. I know plenty of people who want to be helpful but don’t really know how. I had a boyfriend like that once. I was going through a rough patch and he wanted to help me, and the only way he knew how was to be my cheerleader. In hindsight there was nothing he could have done. I needed therapy, not just support, and his well-meaning attempts to get me active were grating and undermining to me. I told him that, he asked me what he should do instead, and I couldn’t answer him. We broke up, but we’re still friends today, and he honestly tried his best.
So I get what it feels like to see your partner unhappy and struggling. It’s hard to figure out what to do and how to do it in a way that supports them and helps them. There doesn’t have to be any malice or entitlement in it. But when there’s anger, that flips the whole dynamic on its head.
“I’m sad because the person I love is sad, and I want them to be happy. What can I do for them?”
“I’m sad because the person I love is being sad at me, and it would be so much easier if they were happy. Why would they do that to me?”
Anger flips the narrative. Anger is about taking, not giving. I’m sure your partner wants you to be happy and healthy and active, but why? Because he loves you and wants to see you shine for your own sake? Or because his life would be easier if you were happy? There’s a difference.
One of my partners was doing something like this for a spell there. Much, MUCH kinder and gentler – he always phrased things as suggestions, and he would never say that something I said was “the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard” … because that’s mean and also I would dump him. But it still got on my last nerve, and undermined my motivation to develop healthy habits.
I think part of his deal was that he was trying to make some positive changes in his own life. What he meant to communicate was like “Let’s try this thing together!” or “I’m trying this thing and I’m loving it!” but it came out as “How about you do this thing?” He was reluctant to agree to stop giving advice, because it was painful and frustrating for him to watch me go through depressive periods and be unable to help.
So I gave him a list of things he can do to help. Things that actually help, like making me food, or cuddling me and telling me how great I am, or watching funny videos with me, or playing “Who Let the Dogs Out” (I don’t care if it’s the Worst Song of All Time, it ALWAYS improves my mood). We also set aside a weekly time for Partnership Serious Talks and during that time we create a space for advice and suggestions – that we then do not revisit at any other point during the week. I also expressed my fear that he was trying to “fix” my depression, because I suspect that depression is just part of my makeup, and however well I manage it, there are always going to be some low points. He got that. Things are a lot better, although sometimes I (or my other partner) have to remind him.
LW, I’m not sure if what worked for me would work for you – it requires a baseline of respect that your boyfriend seems to lack. But I know we never get the whole story with these letters. I hope you find your way to a nagging-free home, one way or another.
“He means well” is one of those phrases that is just full of NOPE. It seems to be the get-out-of-jail-free card for everyone’s tactless remarks and dumbass behaviour. OK, so let us assume for a moment that your boyfriend is not actually a Raging Arsehole who’s trying to create his own Stepford Girlfriend, and that he genuinely is trying to help you. If this IS the case, he does mean well, but he’s going about things all wrong. And I think the reason for that might be that he doesn’t understand depression AT ALL. It can be really hard from the outside. Boyfriend wants to help, and he’s looking at the logical things – yes, eating right and exercising make you feel better IN THEORY but he doesn’t comprehend those days when just brushing your damn hair is a massive effort. And it’s difficult for you to explain this to him, because the Depression Demons are whispering that he’s right, so you feel guilty and emotional about it all; so then it’s Emotional You v Logical Him and things get horrible very quickly. So boyfriend needs to read up on stuff about mental health issues PRONTO. (I’ve blogged about this a bit and will give you links if you want.) He might also benefit from seeing a therapist or counsellor himself to get some help supporting you.
And if he’s not interested in investigating ways to help you… we’re back to Case A: Raging Arsehole.
“managed to pollute both the minds and the bodies of the American people, but he meant well. Or at least he meant something.” (Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson, Illuminatus!, [possibly mis]quoted from memory.”
So, here’s the thing about exercise and depression: everyone’s mileage will vary on that. I feel like the most charitable view of your boyfriend is maybe someone who doesn’t understand depression very well (though who knows, he may even have had first hand experience but it’s a mental illness that everyone experiences vastly differently) and has absorbed all the messages of ‘exercise releases serotonin and Good Hormones so it is the Natural Cure!!’ I don’t want to invalidate anyone who found exercise very helpful in getting better, but the reason depressed people find people constantly mentioning exercise so wearing is it honestly doesn’t work for everyone. For example, depression is very tiring in itself. Exercise will make you physically exhausted as well as mentally, and can make your moods tank even harder. I find that the occasional session of length swimming makes me feel mentally great for a while afterwards, but I will also be exhausted for the rest of the day and not be able to get anything done, and usually experience a mood crash too. Therefore it can never be a ‘cure’ or anything more than an occasional thing. Walking is much better for me, sure it isn’t ‘strenuous’ (seriously, WTF????) but it gets me out of my room and gives me things to look at and think about other than hating myself. And if it’s sunny then that’s even better because I may have seasonal affective disorder (working on finding out with doctor) and the bright sunlight is just wonderful for my mood. Sometimes it feels like I’m absorbing the sun like a reptile or a solar panel. (sadly I live in the UK and our sun is not plentiful enough!)
Anyway, enough about me. Your walking wasn’t exercise enough for him??! That makes me so angry on your behalf. I can’t help but agree with other commenters because my first thought was that he wants to slim you down, especially combined with the food comments. Or maybe it’s because walking isn’t competitive in any way? Or because he has decided you aren’t feeling magically better enough yet? It’s inexcusable in any of those forms!!! And OMG the stuff about veggies, sure veggies are great but the last thing you need is food policing from your SO, and again, veggies will not cure your depression. It Does. Not. Work. Like. That!!
Oh LW, you are so strong to have come so far and I know the Captain and Awkward Army are all rooting for you whatever you decide. I don’t know if your boyfriend will ever accept that your ‘moods are part of the package’ but there will be someone who will. I wish our society did not have such a negative view of women who have low moods. We are high maintenance and needy, it’s all caused by our hormones (and that somehow makes it funny/unimportant), we are dismal and pathetic. I feel like you are in some way owning your low moods and that makes me glad. It’s part of who you are but that doesn’t make it a bad thing. I have been in a relationship for 2 years with a wonderful person who has low moods too. He will always be someone who has a history of serious self harm, who has anxiety and gets very low mood crashes. I will always be a survivor of sexual assault and emotional abuse who has depression and obsessive compulsive tendencies. Those things are part of who we are, and we accept that in each other. We love each other and we’re helping each other feel better. You don’t need fixing, LW. Best of luck and all my thoughts.
Thank-you for this comment. The dissonance between “everyone says exercising will help!!” and “but I’ve been running for 40 minutes 3-5 times a week for months and I don’t feel *any* better (in fact, in many ways I feel *worse*), what is WRONG with me?!” certainly did not help with my mood issues.
Yeah. . . I would say the effect of increased exercise on my mental health is . . . nuanced (especially when exercise is not the only project I’m undertaking at the moment.) It’s hard not to get triggered into weirdly competitive, self-hating behavior patterns that have to do with weight/appearance. A big part of the reason I gave up running for four years is how much it keyed up my anxiety about being good enough, being fast enough, and my shame about how much strength and speed I’ve lost since high school. Walking or biking don’t have those painful associations for me and are thus easier on me mentally.
Exercise doesn’t always improve my mood — sometimes it just provides a distraction/occupation for me so I spend less time ruminating. And sometimes, just for fun, exercise causes my body to mimic the feeling of a panic attack, and so I get inexplicably upset and frantic about normal life events! I noticed that when I bicycle up hills, a lot of times whatever upset me that day/week/month will start to replay at fever pitch inside my head. (Weirdly, by giving my anger a physical expression, I think it sticks around LONGER than if I had not “worked it out.”)
One of the most aggravating things for me is that I don’t naturally have positive regard for my body outside of what it can do — I think I so completely absorbed the idea that I was physically unattractive as a young person that some kind of athleticism seemed like the only remaining possibility for my body to have any kind of worth. But that makes deliberately exercising seem like I’m bowing down to that warped idea of my self-worth. That’s a complicated and unpleasant thing to wrestle with every time you step onto an elliptical.
And exercise does help me — it does! — but it’s not like, oh man, now that I exercise I never feel sad! It’s more like, this day is shit, I’m tired, but at least I will go do something in the gym later and that will be *different* than what I am doing right now. It’s more like, I am too physically exhausted to self-sabotage by not getting enough sleep. It’s like, I am going to have a short break from the environment that is making me so unhappy. It’s not a cure; it’s a coping skill.
I have found a form of exercise that it tremendously good for me: I have an exercise bike that you can hook up to a tablet and plan a route on Google Streetview. This a) allows me to see places that I normally wouldn’t be able to get to (much of Europe and North America, selected bits of South America, Asia, Australia…), b) floods the brain weasels with new impressions without having to get out of the house (and the more impressions I stuff my brain with, the less it falls into the same old ruts), and c) it completely turns the ‘I have to sit on a stationary bike and stare at a wall for twenty minutes’ around on its head: it’s now a case of ‘I can explore [cool place] for twenty minutes at my own pace without much effort’ and I’m quite often annoyed when I have to stop.
And because each route is different, it’s harder to get into the ‘but yesterday I cycled faster/further/whatever’ competition with yourself or others.
You can get this functionality for treadmills and ellipticals, too; if anyone is looking for home exercise equipment and if you can swing it, I wholeheartedly recommend it.
Another vote that you are not strange! I do find that if I’m in a good place, exercise will help jump-start my mood if I’m in danger of falling into a depression and it helps maintain my positive mood and energy. But it will definitely *not* help if I’m already in a funk, other than possibly giving me an excuse to go outside and do something vaguely useful-feeling.
LW, I agree with a lot of the commentators that this may be an irredeemable situation, but it may help to tell your boyfriend what he can do to help. He may feel like criticizing you is the only way to help. I had a sudden and first time episode of pretty bad depression after being with my husband for 5+ years. It was hard on both of us. He was scared, I was exhausted and largely unresponsive, and neither of us knew what was going on or what to do. Initially, he nagged, but eventually he worked out that didn’t help (because I told him so and he listened), and he stopped.
What he could and did do that helped me was: 1) shop for food and cook the healthy meals for us himself, and not guilt me when I planned to cook and then. Just. Couldn’t. 2) said, “I’m going to [the gym, for a run, to walk the dog, to a coffee shop to get out of the apartment for a bit], want to come?” And the accepted my yes or no WITHOUT JUDGEMENT. 3) when I said, I walked for twenty minutes today! he said, that’s great! And when he realized that I wasn’t counting walking as exercising but really enjoyed it, he encouraged me to think of walking as exercise, brainstormed ways WITH ME to fit it into my day more, offered to walk with me, and asked me if I wanted a pedometer (note: he did not just buy me one), 4) when I felt like I couldn’t do anything but lay on the couch and rewatch TV shows I’d already seen, he sat next to me and read, or watched his own shows with headphones in and just quietly let me know he was there WITHOUT JUDGEMENT. Essentially, he supported me equally on good days and bad days.
Maybe, if in addition to saying “What you’re doing isn’t helping me”, you say, “this is what you can do to help”, he’ll be more responsive. Because I’m sure you’ve got enough “I shoulds” running through your head without him adding to the list.
It’s always so much easier to see things from an objective perspective when one is looking ‘in’ from the ‘outside’. The Captain makes some excellent points and the writer would do well to consider them seriously. It’s also almost impossible to judge a situation from one account – one letter, in this instance. Only the writer can ascertain the true lay of the land, and I’m very pleased she’s seeing a good therapist; she seems to be on the road to recovery. Bravo!
There are certainly some grave warning signs here – the passive aggression being one of them; it’s so easy to let someone know how little you mean to them by ignoring them in the day to day, withdrawing affection and communication. That’s such an underhand control technique, as is the not-so-subtle ‘belittling’ that happens in the guise of ‘help.’
It seems like his ‘help’ is nothing more than poorly disguised undermining of you. From what you are saying, I sense that no matter what happens with you, he will likely always want to maintain that edge and actually doesn’t have the goal of you two being on the same level. It’s a power and control thing and points to major issues that he needs to work on himself. Worst case scenario, it can lead to more blatant abuse (sounds like he already has manifested abusive tendencies with the name calling and the silent treatment).
I was in a controlling relationship (where I had recurrent depression) and it took being away from my partner for 3 months (he left the country to visit family) to feel the intense relief and lift of stress and realize that the main problem was actually him. Once we finally separated, my depression has not returned. I feel so much better and so much stronger.
You might think about trying an extended period of being away from each other, if such a thing is remotely possible. After a week or so of adjusting, you can figure out how you feel on your own.
LW: I feel you so much in this. My ex-husband was horrible about trying to fix me and getting really mad when I didn’t want his help. And he could never admit that it was all about him. For example, we’d be driving home from a fun night out with friends and he would tell me all of the things I had said that *could have* been offensive to someone there. To the point where I didn’t want to go out because I couldn’t take another lecture on how horrible I was. Nevermind the fact that none of my friends were actually offended at all, he just couldn’t admit that he had a problem with something I had said. And when he lost a bunch of weight as a side effect of a new medication, suddenly all of his insecurities about it were transferred to passive-aggressively fatshaming me. Our whole relationship was based on me being the messy, emotional one that he had to take care of and he had no idea how to relate to me outside of that context.
People who base their identity around fixing you have a major investment in keeping you broken. It took me over 12 years to learn that. I hope you get out much faster than I was able to. It’s amazing the first time you realize the difference between actual happiness and just being not-completely-miserable. Good luck LW, and I hope you get to see how much better life can be when someone isn’t actively holding back your awesomeness.
Even if he genuinely wants you to be well and capable and happy, instead of just better conformed to the you he wants, he’s being hlepy. “Hlepy” is a word I learned over at Making Light. Hlep is that thing that looks like help and is presented in a context that would normally surround help–until you blink and look again and realize that it isn’t help at all. Hlepy people may accept correction–or they may not.
This boyfriend sounds a little like my mother, and finances have forced me to live with the rents for a bit, so I appreciate the tips and scripts I’ve read here. I’m also in a place where I need to learn to feel good about myself and yet am in a home environment where I hear waaaay more criticism, scrutiny, and “you should/shouldn’ts” instead of support.
I had the same thing with the hubs about soup (soup!) and exercise a few years ago. I’ve also gone through some tough times with depression and needed a bit more care than I would otherwise.
He ate it for lunch (everyday!) and it helped him maintain his desired weight/made him feel good and he thought it was delish so it meant that I should. As I recovered from the depression we had a couple of myob talks about lunch time menus, weight and health (soup was a bit of a red herring here). It was tough (and frankly weird) for a bit, but he stopped and we’re fine. I used similar, but not as good actually, scripts to CA’s, and they worked (eventually). As the Captain and some of the Army have said, sometimes people need a bit of time to reset themselves mentally from caretaker, and weird things can stand in for anxiety about another person. It was easier for him to say “eat soup, no not that soup, get more cardio” than say “I was really scared when you got so depressed you couldn’t get out of bed”.
It can be hard to wait through the change. I saw progress though, and it made it easier to wade though until it was resolved. Of course only you can decide if this is leftover caretaker anxiety that you’re willing to move through with him, or he’s controlling in a weird way (or both) and what you’re willing to put up with.
Good luck LW, positive thoughts your way!
Just a thought here – any time I’ve been in a relationship with someone who used terminology like “you shouldn’t let yourself be comfortable” or “relationships take work!” or related, those ended up being, in hindsight, big red flaggy flags.
The way I look at it, there is a big difference between someone who has decided they need to push you to be your Best Self (which is often their idea of your Best Self), whether or not you want/need/that kind of “help” is healthy for you, and someone whose support and encouragement lets you push yourself towards being what your own idea of your Best Self is. My relationships are my safe space, my place of comfort, a foundation from which to push myself off of and to come back to when the world has worn me down. If I wanted to feel uncomfortable in a relationship, I would cover everything with thumbtacks with the sharp points out.
One person I dated who trampled all over my boundaries and was generally terrible would tell me that he was “challenging me” and that it was good to be a relationship with someone who….trampled all over your boundaries? Because Reasons? After that I dated someone briefly who dismissed everything thing I pointed to as evidence of our vast incompatibility with the shibboleth that “relationships take work!” Yes, they do take tending and attention, but ‘working on our relationship’ isn’t going to fix things like your habit of borrowing money from me and never paying it back or getting angry when I need time alone.
Obviously YMMV, but I’ve added that to my ever expanding list of red flags, right after people who proudly announce that they have no filter!! like being unable to control yourself is something to be proud of.
(snort) Sounds like Mr/Ms ‘Relationships Take Work!’ had filtered that phrase through the English-to-Jerklanguage translator and was interpreting it along the lines of ‘Relationships take work, so I can totally expect Commander Banana to work on not minding about the money zie owes me never being paid back, and am hence absolved of having to do any of the work of becoming the sort of person who actually pays loans back.’
I wrote in to CA a little under a year ago (letter #568) and was floored when I read your letter this morning, because there was a lot of the same “The Helper and the One Who Needs Help” dynamic in me and my fiancé’s relationship at the time when it came to dealing with my anxiety and driving-related PTSD (FWIW, things are a LOT better now, although it took a few tough conversations to get him to see how messed up some of the stuff he was doing was.)
I’m rooting for you, LW, because this was one of the toughest ongoing issues in our relationship for a while, and I had to show him that what “works” as treatment for some people can’t be applied to everyone broadly and without that person’s permission. Your boyfriend’s “Exercise more! Eat veggies!” offered as a panacea for your depression sounded so much like when my fiancé would tell me “just drive more” even on days when I was really struggling with memories of past car accidents.
Because my fiancé and I worked things out and are in a good place now, I am hesitant to just say ~DTMF~, but your boyfriend needs to realize that monitoring someone else’s habits (even your eating habits!) and telling you “this what you need to do to feel better, and if my suggestion doesn’t ‘fix’ you, there’s something wrong with you” is not something he is entitled to do, and the same goes for playing therapist without your consent.
I don’t know your boyfriend, but in my case, I had to say to my fiancé outright that I already have a therapist who is doing her job just fine, and this was even harder for him, because part of his job involves providing therapy to students on the autism spectrum. Once, he actually went to therapy with me, and when he spoke with my therapist and saw that she was competent and that I was genuinely seeking help in a way that was working for me, he eased off. Again, I don’t know your boyfriend/relationship, but if he (and if you + your therapist are okay with this) is willing to come to therapy with you, it could be an option.
My thoughts are with you, LW! I hope that your boyfriend is willing to listen, and that he can eventually be supportive in the way that *you need him to be.* If you don’t see him getting anywere on that front, please don’t think you have to keep pushing to “make it work” – even at this point, nobody could fault you for leaving if that’s the route you end up taking.
I’d say all this really depends on the details. I can tilt my head to one side and see a boyfriend that this LW needs to dump *yesterday* because all he’s doing is trying to build his ideal partner out of what he believes is some kind of nascent state that can go in any direction, like a bunch of stem cells. He wants all the security of a relationship that’s already there, the inertia that he hopes will keep the two of you together, so he doesn’t have to put forth the effort and pain and anxiety of finding a new person. He can just take you and chisel at you until he gets the enthusiastic, bubbly, thin dream-partner he wants out of what he sees to be a depressive heap. Dump him and flee, because you are not a heap, and you are not an embryo. You’re a real person.
If I lean my head the other way, I can see a guy who is panicking about his partner being depressed and going about it all wrong. He’s drained; dealing with this depression has sucked his soul out, but he can’t tell you that because as I found out pretty clearly in my depressive episodes, someone telling you they’re out of energy to deal with your chronic conditions just feels like your Jerkbrain saying nobody likes you…so nobody will admit they’re weary. So this guy is trying everything he can to fix the LW…but since depression makes people act against their best interests, the boyfriend doesn’t trust said LW to deal with this on their own. Except now the LW is in therapy, things are getting better, the LW has a handle on it all…but Boyfriend still hasn’t internalized this. Boyfriend is still back in the pre-treatment “you have no idea what you’re doing because depression has fucked up your brain” thing and is still in triage mode. This is poor form, and Boyfriend really needs to wake up and smell the coffee that THINGS ARE MORE OKAY NOW, BACK THE FUCK OFF, YOU’RE NOT NEEDED.
In the former case, dump him and run. In the latter case…try the scripts here for some firmer words of “quit that already,” mention that you *have* a therapist and this is their *job* and his job now is to be a listening ear and a source of happiness and relaxation, and if he still refuses to comply, dump him.
Oh, this reminds me so much of one or two friends I’ve had. (Female ones — personally, I haven’t found this phenomenon to be in any way gendered. The people who appoint themselves my life coach have always happened to be women, personally).
This is particularly irritating to me as walking is such good exercise! Walking is brilliant (assuming you have the spoons and physical ability to do it) – it’s gentler on your joints than a lot of other cardio, you don’t need special clothing, and it’s free. I certainly noticed the drop in my fitness when I moved cities to a place where I could no longer walk to work every day. Exercise doesn’t have to hurt to be effective.
Also, as an ex-smoker, I agreed with you on the “you can’t change other people” front. My family hated that I smoked and were anxious about what it was doing to my health, my boyfriend hated it, my friends hated it – but trying to quit for other people never worked. When I eventually gave up, it was because I was totally sick of being a smoker and I wanted to be a non-smoker more than I wanted that next cigarette. Up until that point, I was always going to fail because a part of me didn’t really want to quit.
LW, I just wanted to applaud and celebrate a part of the Captain’s advice: ” I think your depression might be getting better…You already did the self-caring thing that you needed to do for yourself, and your instinct isn’t to agree with your boyfriend about what you should do, it’s to stand up for yourself about what’s true. He is not the boss of you, and something in you has woken up to that. That looks like progress to me.”
Congratulations on all the work you have done and everything you have accomplished. I hope you can use some of these scripts to talk to your boyfriend, and that he can truly listen to what you are saying. When I struggle with depression, I am fighting back against the ‘numbness’ that settles over my body and mind – standing up for yourself and your own care is such a wonderful and inspiring thing, wishing you all the best!
If you need something short and sweet to say to your BF to stop the mansplaining, and to allow a moment for your brain to get into gear, try this:
NOT YOUR CALL.
Him: “You haven’t been to the gym today! You’ll never get toned if you slacken off like that!” You: “NOT YOUR CALL.”
Him: “I’m disappointed that you aren’t trying to improve your diet the way I said.” You: “NOT YOUR CALL.”
He’ll either stop talking, or he’ll go into a bluster-storm of “What did you just say? I can’t believe you just did that to me” etc etc. Either way, his Train of Logic will crash into the buffers.
LW, Jedi Hugs.
What your boyfriend is doing is totally not how it has to be. In my relationship I’m on both sides of the caring/cared for spectrum: I have depression and my partner is physically disabled. We help each other a ton: I carry the groceries and he holds me and listens when I need it. We don’t try and manage the others health and healing, though.
Something stuck out to me in your letter, you said your boyfriend thinks that if you do your healthy self improvement things then he won’t have to deal with you having depression. That is some toxic logic there! A. Self improvement (vs self-care, self-discovery, living life with acceptance) involves believing something is wrong with you B. Yeah, dealing with a partner’s illness isn’t FUN, but as you say yourself it’s part of the package.
It sounds like your boyfriend has a dysfunctional relationship with your illness. He doesn’t want you to be as well as possible (AWAP), he wants your illness to be gone. He then believes that if you simply were to do the right things then he would get what he wants. That creates tremendous pressure on you and just makes you feel shitty about yourself.
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