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How to help my ex while helping myself too

Community Member

A month ago now my boyfriend told me that we had to break up so that he could seek help for his depression. He maintained that he wanted to protect me from how bad things really were, and I would like to believe he was telling me the truth. He said that although he knew how much I cared about him, he didn't believe I should have cared about someone like him.

days after the breakup I had major surgery and as a result of being stuck at home for weeks I started to overthink the whole situation, and compounded with the stress of my injury and the breakup I was an absolute mess. He came to visit me a few times and cooked me some of my favourite meals, and whilst it was really kind of him it just confused me more and made me more upset. My head was in a really bad place, and I started seeing a psych myself as a result.

2 weeks ago now I told him that I needed to distance myself for a little while. we can't completely ignore each other because we work together, but I stopped contacting him. However we caught up for coffee two days ago now and things were really nice, it felt like how things were before we were dating. He is getting help now and I'm so happy that he is doing that.

As we were leaving coffee I asked whether how we should continue with the whole communication thing. He said it was my decision, but I just dont don't know whether to maintain low contact or not. Having past experience from family members who suffered from depression I know that leaving him to deal with all of this on his own may not be the smartest choice, especially since I'm on of the people he trusts the most. But in terms of a typical breakup I know distance might be beneficial for me.

this isn't a typical breakup however which is why I'm unsure of where to go next. I want to be there to support him, but I also know it might be at my detriment. Ultimately I still see him being part of my future in some way, I don't mind if we are just friends or more, that doesn't matter to me right now.

15 Replies 15

Community Member

Hi LivLucy

It is a bit of a tough decision you appear to have to make. From the sounds of it, it appears you feel this slight sense of obligation to be there for him given he has opened up to you. I am aware of how that feels because I am in this current situation where my partner is sufferring from depression and it appears only his psych & I know about it. Difference is that he mentioned that he needs space but didn't say we need break up. Something I am currently trying to get us face to face to have a discussion. The one thing I have learnt as I confided in the lovely people on this forums are that your needs and mental wellbeing is important. It is hard to be selfish - I know from current experience - but you have to care for your own mental needs.

There is no right answer in this case as every case is different and every persons involved are different. If you decide to care for him, do make sure you think about how you are able to do that and at the same time care for your own needs and your own healing. It could be:

  • Take up a hobby/sport;
  • Do exercise;
  • Determining appropriate level of contact, ie you may speak to him on a lower scale than now. And if that is case explain to him. Hopefully he will be understanding of your situation as you are of his.

Hope it helps. Am here if you do need talk further.


Community Member

Hi Livlucy. From what you say, it would appear you want to remain friends but also want to keep him at bay. Perhaps write down the key points about maintaining contact (friend to friend), rather than a full-on relationship which could be a bit beyond your capabilities now. I would also suggest, via letter, if you feel uncomfortable about face to face discussion, that maybe phone once a week to 'touch base'. I would definitely advise against any suggestion of a future together as this may not pan out. Perhaps also mention how you feel about the possibility of him seeing someone else, What I mean is would you rather not know if he is seeing someone else, or would you rather know. That last one needs to be clarified as he could meet someone and feel obligated to either tell you or not, depending on you. Even though he is suffering depression, there is a possibility that he could meet someone else and you need to decide how you feel about this.


Community Member

I'm more unsure about whether to start talking and hanging out as friends again (we share a lot of the same friends- so I want to see them too) as all of the advice I'm receiving from so many different people is conflicting.

when we had coffee it was the first time in over a month that I could talk to him and not feel sad, and I really miss the friendship aspect which is why I was considering reinstating contact again soon.

also for the moment I am not too stressed about either of us meeting someone else. He maintained that this wasn't about moving on to other people, and that if he could have his way he would still be with me. And right now I don't believe his head is even in a place to consider relationships with anybody.

right now I accept that we can't be together as a couple, it sucks but I accept it. What I want now is to see if we can maintain the friendship we had for over a year before we began dating. He told me recently that he wants to keep talking to me, but I was the one who decided against communication for myself for a bit.

now I am just not sure though. my entire life I have held the stance that if people break up, they won't get back together or even be friends again. But this is the first time where I genuinely believe we could be friends at some point.

Community Member

Hi L.l. It would appear you are both on the same page where you could maintain a friendship. Many couples who marry, start as close friends. I had a cousin many years ago who met his wife during their last year at school. He and his wife were 'best' friends for about 3 years before my cousin eventually proposed. Their close friendship remained throughout their 30 year marriage. I actually believe that firm friendship can lead to a deeper truer love than the immediate sort of 'can't live without you' love. When you are best friends with your chosen spouse, you understand them and they totally understand you. If you marry on the basis of the immediate 'can't live without you', the marriage often stumbles with lack of communication. Best friends accept each other unconditionally. For now I suggest you maintain the 'keep in touch' method. If you and your ex can accept each other totally, completely, unconditionally, you have the basis of a lasting friendship, which marriage is based on. I suggest you build on your friendship first, let nature take it's course. If you are meant to be together, it will happen.


Dear Livlucy

Hello and welcome to Beyond Blue. This is a good place to talk about your situation and how to manage. The people who write in here have all been through some trauma in their lives and understand how it feels, even though their particular event is very different to yours. We understand hurt and living with it in our lives.

You say you have been talking to a psychologist. How is that going? I think it's a great idea to have support from a mental health expert, someone who can see things more objectively because they are removed from the situation. I presume you have discussed how the friendship between you and your ex is going.

It is difficult to live with someone who is depressed. I am awestruck with anyone who does this. Making a life with someone has it's difficulties as you both work on your relationship. Having depression in the mix complicates matters intensely.

Asking for advice from many people is bound to be confusing. Usually people will tell you what they think they would do in that situation and give you lots of 'ought to do' advice. In reality they are not you and even if their situation was similar what one person does is not necessarily good for someone else. Sadly this is a decision you must make yourself. If you are particularly close to anyone you could ask them to be a sounding board for you. This means you get to talk about your confusion and they get to listen. It's not all one-sided though. Your friend should be able to ask why you think a particular action is the best or perhaps ask you to clarify something with them. This helps you to sort out your confusion without being told what to do.

This is also something to discuss with your psych who will also carry out the listener role. You can always write a pros and cons list. I have found this helpful when trying to make a difficult decision. I don't always come up with an answer but it does show me what I find important. Talking about it will gradually help you to make a decision as I have found. Gradually you find yourself moving in one direction and knowing this is right for you. The downside of this is it often takes a while.

I will offer one suggestion and that is not to be pressured into doing what someone else thinks is right. Take your time and listen to yourself and your feelings and instinct. Whatever the outcome you will be more comfortable about what you do.

Continue to write in here. We are always around.


Hi Mary

i have seen my psychologist three times since the breakup and my surgery. There were times where I just felt worse after going, but i have always seen the benefit of talking about my problems.

what I really want is to try my luck at friendship for a while, and disregard what everyone else is saying. However, i am just weary that I could lull myself into a false sense of what our relationship really is and hurt myself more in the future. but there is just something about him that makes me want to have him in my life, and I have always thought that. I want to believe that if he is meant to be in my life too he will gravitate back when he is ready.

Community Member

hi Livlucy

i had the same situation as you now, I maintained a short period of friendship with my ex, but it was so painful to me. At the end I had to stop it to make sure myself could servive. hope you can get better.

all the best

Hello Livlucy

Sometimes it does seem worse when you end a session with your psych. I think it is because when you are in a room with him/her you feel safe, feel that nothing can harm you there. Of course this is true, but eventually you need to return to the real world. That can be difficult. I used to feel almost abandoned and quite upset at returning to real life. It can be hard.

I would like to make a suggestion. I mentioned in my post above and I think it could help you. Write a pros and cons list about whether you should leave the BF or stay. Try and make these comparisons as though you are looking into the situation rather than being in the situation. Try to make it factual rather than feelings. I know this is a big part but try to be more objective.

For example, I don't want to leave because it would hurt. Instead write what you believe would happen to you. I don't want to leave because he is unwell and I can help. Then look at how you can help. Not simply providing support but what do you do that helps move along. It will take you quite a few days to do this, but keep it up. I think it will lead you to a conclusion and knowing why you taking that particular road will help you move along.

Keep writing.


It has been 7 weeks since our breakup now. being that we work together I have had to see him week in week out and it's been so hard.

one day he will be very distant and then the next he wants to have a full blown conversation with me and I don't know what to do. I refrained from asking his friends at work about him but I asked one on last week how he was doing and he said my ex was doing very well lately and was in the process of starting to get help.

i felt happy knowing that he was serious about seeing a psych, but it hurt to hear he was so happy without me. Flashforward to last night and I went to a work birthday. He was not invited but appeared anyway and it really shocked me.

We ended up talking for quite a while about random topics and he even said he would drop something over to my house at some point soon. He spoke to my brother at the party too and told him that he wasn't really doing ok. Even though he would know my brother tells me everything, he still opens up slightly to my brother and he rarely opens up to anyone.

i just don't know what to do. I know if he came back tomorrow and wanted me back I couldn't do it because it's not fair on me right now and I need to heal some more. But I love him so much still and it doesn't fade with each day. I still picture myself having a future with him and it's tearing me apart.

I don't know why he is so ok with talking to me. If our relationship meant anything to him then id like to think it's as painful for him as it is for me. I just need to be ok with a future without him but I can't get the slim chance out of my head and I have no idea what to do.