alexythmic/depressed boyfriend broke up with me b/c the way "he is now isn't good enough" and he isn't ready to "seek help"
I was with my beautiful boyfriend for 3 yrs. We had a really great relationship but it is evident that he has some mental health problems that need to be addressed. He grew up in a household where feelings, angry outbursts and depression were things that were never dealt with nor addressed with empathy + action. I'm sure you can imagine how this caused some issues in the relationship. His mum also has a massive stigma around seeking psychological help. While my boyfriend's communication + openness improved DRAMATICALLY, he still has a strong tendency to avoid difficult feelings. He also struggles to acknowledge their presence - it took him 3 wks to figure out that his unexplained fatigue was a result of feeling stressed because he wasn't reaching his billable hrs.
For 6 wks things would be awesome (living together, communicating well, laughing).
Then out of nowhere he would lash out at me. It was usually triggered b/c he would become tired, irritable + a crappy communicator. I would ask him gently if he was okay but he couldn't recognise he wasn't ok until he would snap at me out of nowhere and then retreat by going to his mums house for a wk at a time b/c he was so ashamed/depressed. Often the lashing out was spurred on by my frustration with his random mental checking out of the relationship. He used to do this to his mum too.
I would encourage him to talk to a psych but he was resistant to the idea. I became so stressed and exhausted that he came into my room one day, burst into tears and said that he wasn't ready to speak to someone. That he feels like a piece of poo and I deserve better and that this meant we should break up. I was devastated and so was he. We were sobbing - saying we love each other so much but he kept maintaining that if he is "pushed" to seek help, he will only lash out at me and I would 'hate him even more'. He said there is absolutely the possibility of rekindling things if/once he feels 'ready' to seek help for his mental health. The worst part is he is so articulate about the fact that he knows these are HIS ISSUES that have nothing to do with the relationship. We have stayed in touch. The times we have seen each other since, we are laughing, then crying b/c we still love each other. He said he has been withdrawn and depressed for a month.
I love this man. Why is it that he is so resistant to seek help? And how likely is it that he may decide to if his mental health is the very thing stopping him from seeking help!
Hi corn relish and pastrami (great name!),
Can I just start by saying a warm welcome to the forum. Loving someone with mental health concerns can be really challenging and is different for each person. It sounds like you have been a grounding and secure base for him to turn to for support. Your approach is very understanding in that you see how his past relationships and unbringing may be impacting him. You are sensitive in that you listen and support his decisions even when they go against what you might want, and it seems like you have an amazing sense of self in that you try not to take his unhelpful behaviours or "mental check outs" personally. I'm so sure all of these qualities are a testament to your relationships so far and the great success and loving relationship you have both created over the last 3 years.
It sounds like the major issue for you now has been your boyfriends inability to take action towards change. You mentioned him being able to articulate his issues and acknowledge that they are seperate from your relationship, but that he is unwilling to seek help. There are a number of reasons therapy, or gaining professional help is hard. You are right in saying his mental state could be one of them. Others could be seeing not mental health as a real illness, the stigma/self-stigma, not seeing how it would help, not knowing what to talk about, fear of crying and breaking down, and the fear that talking will make it worse or "real". There are many ways people begin seeking help but acknowledging the issue tends to be the first step and it sounds like your man has done this. This is really good news and likely means that his taking steps in the right direct.
As a provisional psychologist I have come to learn that the path towards gain professional help is rarely so direct. You could try encouraging some less scarier ways to seek help in the meantime. Some people find going to the GP and easy step. Some find over the phone counselling through beyond blue, mood apps like Smilingminds or Moodfit, or utilising support groups like this could be good ideas. Even just encouraging him to talk to a trusted friend or family member, does he speak with anyone else?
Thank you so much for your reply leesy lou!
I really appreciate your reassurance - it means a lot to hear all of that! I like what you said about the path not being so direct to seeking help.
I know there is a desire to change, but his follow through is shocking (I think this is his defence mechanism - he has so much shame inside). We have tried the less intimidating approaches like journaling, apps like reflectly and even couples counselling which he agreed to do a few times and was really helpful in the end. But. Nothing seems to stick. He has such a strong sense of avoidance. Not only does this happen with his mental health, but also difficult subjects.
His lack of reflection/introspection means I see him stuck in patterns over and over again and while no one is perfect, his patterns really affect some of my needs. E.g. He will make a mistake, recognise it is a mistake, I will forgive him, but I don't always see him committing to meaningful steps to improve the behaviour. He buries it because he is ashamed.
One example is he saw how much his 'lashing out episodes' affected me along with his withdrawing and going home. Understandably, I asked him to please reflect on WHY he thought that happened so he/we could deal with it better the next time. Every time I brought that up, he shut down. Buried his face. It took him three weeks to tell me that he didn't mean any of the hurtful things he said and that he just cracked under pressure. 3 weeks!!! (As a provisional psychologist you would know, each episode comes back worse!) He ignored the underlying issue and did it again two months later. This happens with other difficult issues too.
I can't imagine raising children with someone who is so reluctant to deal with strong/difficult emotions in a healthy way. I just know that if he has the tools to better deal with difficult things (less shame, more self love, better self-talk etc) that things would improve.
There's nothing I can do now, is there? 😞
So glad to see you back on the forums and thanks for explain a little bit more about whats been happening for you - helps to paint a clearer picture.
Its so heartwarming to hear you say you have have tried all of the things mentioned and even couples counselling. Doing that would have helped breaked down that stigma a little for him through modelling - you sounds like an amazing partner. Was it nerve-racking?
I find it hard sometimes to think like others would but its times like this it's important to remember that we are all so different. Through our biology and upbringing we develop different levels of self-esteem, confidence, senses of control, tolerances and beliefs about life and the way it should be. Two people can view one experience entirely different based of these things. That could be why its so hard for him to see things like you do and vice-versa. You are right to a degree in saying there is nothing you can do right now, but it also sounds like you ARE and have been doing lots of things to support him. He needs to make changes for himself; when that times is we just wont know. But he is an adult I'm assuming? I've seen some people make change for others and fail over and over again, but when they decide to make changes for themselves its instant. Miraculous change can occur when they decide to do so. Trust in the timing ❤️
You haven't spoken too much about how all of this effects you? I understand the romantic relationship has ended but you still communicate. I can imagine this would be very frustrating and sad and at times, we all have individual needs, and I excuse me if this is to forward but having to wait 3 weeks for an apology with no longstanding change is disappointing and would trust. At the end of the day you can only do so much and as humans we get tired.
Do you think these 'differences' are more 'issues' regarding his mental health? I see what you mean about how we can see the same thing so differently... I know it is typical of male depression to want to withdraw, and not be a 'burden' and to 'figure things out on your own'.
You said "I've seen some people make change for others and fail over and over again, but when they decide to make changes for themselves its instant. Miraculous change can occur when they decide to do so. Trust in the timing <3"
I completely agree he has to want to do it for himself, but that's hard to do when he feels "worthless" and "defective" .. his words, not mine. I feel sad that our relationship couldn't/didn't make him want to do it for himself, although - I know that this isn't personal.
I am honestly okay. I am looking after myself just fine. But I miss my best friend, I miss our relationship and the possibility of a future. I love and respect him. I reach out to him, and he is consistently there for me. It's good because it's not like he's said "let's break up" but then he's still happy to act like boyfriend and girlfriend"... we are really respecting each other's boundaries and he doesn't reach out to me out of respect.
Thank you so much again for your reply. I really appreciate it.
P.s. Lessy Lou
It didn't take him three weeks to apologise! He apologised as soon as he came out of his hole, but it took him 3 weeks to be able to speak about it the root issues for more than 10 minutes and to articulate that he didn't mean what he said... frustrating! But not as torturous and what you may have thought haha.
I must admit that your post hit a bit of a nerve for me. I am divorced from a man whom I believe has Alexithymia. He was a wonderful man in many ways, and was reliable and loyal and all of that good stuff ...... but he could NOT communicate his feelings at all, even if you paid him to! In fact, when it came to his vocabulary on emotions, it seemed to be that of a young child, like an 8 year old.
I had never heard of Alexithymia before I met him, and only became aware of it when our marriage was already in full melt-down and had been for several years. He too did not want to get help or try to better understand himself, or even try to learn how he and I could better relate to each other, and so we just began to deteriorate more and more. We were together for a total of 14 years, married for 12 years. We did try couples counseling a few times, but he was just so disconnected emotionally, that the sessions would often turn into 'small talk' about the weather, our two dogs, his cars (that was always a popular topic for him to fall back on), work, or the news. There was never any discussion about emotions of any kind. It was like he didn't even know that emotions existed or held any importance. And yet he could be so kind and patient and 'compliant' ..... but always without any emotion.
And to be honest, my Dad actually seems a bit the same! My dad is a wonderful man too, but doesn't really 'do' emotions so well, or openly. Growing up with a truly wonderful, but emotionally 'closed' father, I just thought it was the 'norm' .....
I have since had two relationships with other men (not at the same time, of course!!) and they have shown me different; that emotions ARE something that men have, and can even express! ...... mind you, it's taken me almost 50 years to learn that.
What I am saying is that it's like the slogan "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink" .... but what you CAN do, is show the horse that the water in the next paddock is great, and that all the other horses drinking all the great water are having so much fun being around each other, with all that great healthy water!
One more thing; my ex-husband was forever trying to get me to 'calm down' and NOT show 'so much' emotion and that just annoyed and frustrated me even more. Trying to change someone who doesn't want to change will only ever end in heartache.
Just be yourself, and let him be him. Maybe letting go for now is okay?
Hi Soberlicious96! Thank you so much for your response. I'm sorry you had to endure what seemed like a difficult marriage (and divorce) at times :(.
It's so interesting to hear how Alexythmic people 'relate' or.. perhaps 'don't relate' and as I'm sure you would know - that feeling of disconnect can be very very lonely. I can COMPLETELY relate to the emotional vocabulary being that of an 8 year old... my goodness. I think it comprised of "overwhelmed", "angry" or "i don't know".
When reading your post, I couldn't help but feel that I was lucky in the sense that my BF never ever said I was "too much" or "too emotional". He would always recognise, without fail, that he struggled with emotions and that what I was asking was not unreasonable, or too much. He would never let me feel bad for this. Also - for approx 6 weeks at a time (while it took A LOT of concentration and energy from him) he managed to push through his 'alexythmia' and would be available and open and emotional. I could tell it was exhausting for him as he needed to concentrate on how to describe how he felt etc and it was not something he was used to. But, he would then burst every so often because I think being properly 'intimate' and emotionally available was so taxing for him.
He also had quite a few breakdowns/breakthroughs in couples counselling - he had even cried a few times. I believe my ex bf wants to change - he is so insistent on this point. BUT, he doesn't know how and is is so afraid of asking for help or opening up.
What about your ex husband? Did he "try" to change and fail? Or he didn't think he needed to?
Thank you so much for your advice. I am hoping that in this time he recognises the importance of asking for help.
Dear Corn Relish,
No, my ex husband never tried to change or adapt, and never really seemed to think that he needed to. He just accepted that he "is how he is" and that the 'real' problem was that it was ME that was 'too emotional' and always being overly dramatic.
Sad, but unfortunately that is how it was. When I finally moved out, after years of a slow, but very steady deterioration of our 12 year marriage, it took him just 3 or 4 short weeks to find himself another partner. And I think she also moved in to the house within a few months too. I was devastated and felt like I was nothing to him but a 'trophy' or a 'representation' of what a 'normal' man would have; a wife. I have often thought that he thinks of a partner as a 'thing to have in your life' but not really something (or someone) that he particularly wanted to interact with at any kind of intimate level over the long term. Our relationship was great at first - as most relationships are - but yeah, I did quickly notice the absence of emotion from quite early on ...... I was just completely unable to put my finger on it, because I didn't really know what 'it' was. Now that I do know something of Alexythimia, it all makes sense. Funny how hindsight gives you 20/20 vision.
And yeah, his emotional vocabulary consisted of the words "frustrating" or "sad" or "good" or "I don't know" and that was it. No more. Four words only to describe all feelings. He never even used the word 'overwhelmed' at any time, but I certainly think he felt it, and when he did, he just retreated to the shed and didn't speak at all for days on end. It was a very difficult relationship to be in, that's for sure. And to be honest, if I had've stayed, I think I would have had a complete breakdown myself. I know that sounds awful, because I know he didn't mean to be so emotionally 'absent' but I just couldn't cope with such a great hole, in such a significant relationship. It's just not healthy.
Anyway, I am certainly much happier now, and really don't have any feeling of malice toward him ..... although I do find myself thinking of his new wife, from time to time, wondering how she is going with it?
Anyway, I do really hope that you can sort things out with your boyfriend, in a way that you are both happy and contented with.
Take care. I'll be thinking of you. xo
Thats a tricky question about the differences between the two of you being due to him as a person or his current mental health - I don't know. Maybe this is the big question at the moment? It really seems like his emotional immaturity is the the exception to the rule in your relationship, that there are so many great qualities in him you see, you are best friends as well as lovers, and that he has put so much effort in trying to overcome his emotional issues.
I personally do not know alot about Alexithymia so cannot comment on this.
Thank you Soberlicious96 for your insight, its so interesting and helpful to better understand how their minds might work! I agree with the "horse analogy" is that you have done all you can in helping, and that the decesion to actually seek help is up to him, but that showing him the pros of help-seeking or just that he is not alone could be helpful, which you have done by creating this post so well done .
I found this thread about Alexythmia which began not long ago, could be a helpful to read or connect with: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support/online-forums/depression/lack-of-understanding-emotion
PS. glad to hear you are doing okay. The notion of you having to loose your best-friend is heartbreaking, but if it means anything I think the relationship you have created thus far will be something you look back at with a smile ❤️