Ask Dr. V: Boyfriend Crisis

Venus Nicolino, Ph.D. of clinical psychology, answers your questions in this section. This week: boyfriend crisis
Dear Dr. V.,

After 4 years in a relationship, I have recently moved out of my apartment I shared with my boyfriend. I am 26 and he is 34. He is a wonderful guy.

However, I have become more of a mother and a babysitter to him. He was diagnosed with OCD and social anxiety disorder. Seven months ago he volunteered to get laid off from a job that he hated for 5 years. It was supposed to be a big break. This was going to be a turning point in his life or so he said.

Now, he barely ever leaves the house and has yet to look for a job. He is the most intelligent guy and has so much talent that he could probably do just about anything. I have been working full time and going to graduate school full time. I pay all of the bills and I have been doing all the housework, with no help from him.

Being around him depresses me and it sometimes affects my own self-esteem. If he is unwilling to help himself and get medication, there is nothing that I can do. I am not sure if I still love him or just feel sorry for him. Is there anything I can do for him? I feel more and more depressed and I can’t live with someone who can’t help himself. I have tried to get him to go to a doctor and to see a therapist. But he refuses to make the appointments/phone calls. If he is not willing to work on this why should I?

Caroline from Utah

Dear Caroline,

Before we get into what you can do for you boyfriend, a word of comfort for you: I think you made the right decision. When someone is drowning, it’s better to try helping them from shore than from inside the same turbid waters.
Getting out on your own will help you sort out what you need, what you want, and what you can do. It also gives you a neutral space to go to if things with him worsen. Better yet, stepping back may encourage him to do the things that he needs to do to get well. We are all interconnected and need care from others, but there are situations where the actual “caring” complicates the current crisis. Currently, you’re doing all the caring, creating a sense of learned helplessness in your boyfriend. Why should your boyfriend get a job when he has you to pay the bills? Why should he take care of himself, if he has you to do it for him?

It sounds like your boyfriend has clinical depression — a disease that effects the emotions, activity level and libido of the afflicted person. Sadly, it’s not just the person with depression who feels the effects. Caring for a depressed person can be stressful and even depressing. You know from firsthand experience this is true. You mentioned problems with your own self-image. Just imagine what other effects his thoughts, feelings and behaviors might be having. The dynamic being created is not healthy for either of you.

This being said, the transition you are both facing is not an easy one. You have lingering feelings for him, but aren’t sure if they’re enough to sustain a relationship. Whether or not you’re trying to reestablish your independence, I would encourage you to get in touch with his friends and family, and ask them to contact him frequently. This will ensure that he recognizes he has a support net; but will also allow you to fade as his primary means of support.

You will also need to make sure your boundaries are clear to him. Establish when and where you are willing to see him and stick to these limits — regardless of how much he may plead, threaten, or whine at you. Make good use of “I” phrases, such as, “I need my space right now.”

Whatever you do, please be kind to yourself as well.

Best of luck to you,

Dr. V

Note: All information in the Ask Dr. V column is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnosis and treatment, please feel free to call or email Dr. V, or consult your doctor.

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