A reader wonders if she did the right thing by cutting off her ex boyfriend who pulled away from the relationship.
My boyfriend said he needed to take a step back from the relationship because he needed some time to figure out what he wanted in life.
I’ve known him as a friend for 10 years, so I know it wasn’t in order to hook up with another girl etc etc. I thought he was going through some depression or stress but it’s unclear.
Anyways he said that he is getting help. Well, it have been two months and he hasn’t reached out to me in anyway. I’ve sent a text stating that I missed him and was there for him, and he said that he was still experiencing “Difficulties and Pressure” in his life and was still getting help.
Well, today I had to tell him (face to face) that I couldn’t do it anymore. Waking up each day with the hope that he would contact me and then ending each day in tears but I hadn’t heard from him.
Was I right to do this?
I didn’t say I didn’t love him or not want to be with him…just that I couldn’t wait for months and months on end without any communication even knowing if he was all right.
Now that I’ve made my decision to remain true to myself, I feel awful.
Did I ruin my chance to be with the man I love and hoped to spend the rest of my life with?
I still have a lot of his prized possessions at my house and even some of his money…I feel that he still has a door in with me if he wanted…
Did I do the right thing?
This is so incredibly hard. I hope to hear from you.
I’m really sorry to hear you’re going through this.
First, I’m not a healthcare professional. I’m not diagnosing or treating any illnesses here. Always consult the appropriate professionals for your individual situation.
That being said, I was personally struck by your story today since a few years ago I went through something almost IDENTICAL to what you describe.
My partner suddenly stepped back from our previously amazing relationship because of his own struggle with clinical depression.
He actually said the exact words, “I have to take a step back from things with us” which I’ll admit triggered the HECK out of me today when I saw your Q&A question.
It sucked, big time. If I could hug you through the internet right now, I would.
And, given that I work with people every day who are working to put their relationships back together through my private coaching, I’ve seen this pattern a lot.
Unfortunately, overcoming a depression-based breakup is different than a normal split.
To answer your question about whether you made a mistake by cutting off your depressed ex boyfriend, no.
No, you didn’t make a mistake by sharing your boundaries with him but I completely understand why it felt awful.
Here’s the thing.
You have to do what’s right for you.
ESPECIALLY when you have already been shown the door.
You can’t sacrifice yourself when your partner is doing the half-in, half-out dance that depressed people often do.
Waiting around— even emotionally— when he’s already told you he can’t do your relationship right now won’t do anything for you.
If your relationship is eventually going to work out, he’ll need a wake up call to go fix this serious problem right?
Clinical depression or even garden-variety male life problems aren’t something you can fix. This requires his work and personal attention to deal with.
If you were in his shoes, which condition sounds like a more powerful wake-up call?
Having someone you really care about announce they can’t take your half-in, half-out, lukewarm, rejecting behavior anymore and walk out in the interest of taking care of themselves?
Having someone you love wait around unhappily while their very presence represents pressure for you to change, even when you have already rejected them?
Hands down, the more motivating condition is leaving them to deal with their own problem.
The second lukewarm option just allows the other person to fantasize that their partner will wait around forever while they fart around, take their sweet time, lose respect and actually get worse while not being forced to change or do anything to prevent real loss.
Real loss truly motivates people and forces them to change.
By cutting him off after he rejected you, you did something that felt crappy (and I understand the struggle), but let me assure you, the half-in, half-out routine isn’t any better and is actually a lot LESS likely to get you a happy outcome with or without him in the end.
It’s SO EASY to beat yourself up in a catch-22 situation like this since there are exactly ZERO options that don’t feel like hell.
But… I guarantee that if you told your depressed ex boyfriend you would wait around forever and then actually tried to do it, that path would royally suck and actually be less likely to have a happy ending.
Having personally experienced, witnessed and coached enough people through depression-based breakups, taking his direction and getting the heck out of there was better for both of you for several reasons.
First, even if someone is mentally ill, when you’re in a romantic partnership with them you have to respect their wishes.
If they require psychiatric or health intervention, you can do your best to help them get that, but you can’t “make” them get better any more than you can cure someone else’s diabetes using only your mind.
As much as it feels terrible, you have to do what you can and then let go when you’ve been given the direction to go.
Trying to stick around once you’ve been solidly rejected will only pull you down with him and eventually make you sick. You have to look after you own well-being in the face of these nasty conditions.
Next, when you caretake ANY man over the age of 10, you risk losing the entire relationship’s sexual polarity and chemistry.
Should he wake up and notice you’re still there, waiting around— it’s more than likely you’ll pay a HIGH price in the attraction department.
In my experience, that cost isn’t worth it and the romantic part of the relationship doesn’t survive the mothering required to get through something like this.
So, if you were to stick around, wishing and hoping and providing assurance you are still “there for him”— it’s more likely he’ll disrespect and leave you in the end, anyway.
Finally, shame is a really big problem when it comes to treating depression and it’s even worse when it comes to men.
Men are already hyper-sensitive to shame like women are to fear.
Men naturally solve their own problems by focusing on that problem and attacking it themselves. They generally feel even more demoralized, unhappy and disrespected when they are given outside “help” they don’t ask for.
You can see why this creates a perfect storm when it comes to mental health issues.
Even though you might see his problem from a mile away, you can’t really do anything to “help” without it being incredibly shame-inducing for him.
Shame makes the depression worse and the depression increases the shame and pretty soon they will set fire to an otherwise good relationship in an effort to put out the flames.
See the paradox?
That’s why I’m a firm believer in letting a depressed or lost person go once they decide they want to go.
To do anything else keeps you in bondage and makes it easier for the other person to stay stuck exactly where they are.
I know that’s an awful picture I’ve just painted, but you truly did the best you could in a crappy, catch-22 situation.
You didn’t cruelly announce you don’t love him.
You didn’t tell him there is no hope.
Should your ex boyfriend make changes and return with resources to offer you and the relationship, you can cross that bridge when you come to it.
It’s encouraging and hopeful that he’s already getting help for himself.
As far as you’re concerned, you simply remained true to yourself— which is for the highest and best good of all involved.
When a woman sacrifices herself, she eventually sacrifices the relationship.
I’m proud of you for refusing to do that. Hugs.