He is depressed, withdraws, pushes me away

-- Question for John --

The man I’ve been with for 2 years suffers from depression, and it makes him withdraw from me at times. I of course, want closeness, and while I think HE does, the opposite messages are sent to me. It feels like a knife in my heart, and it hurts me. He pulls me close to him, and pushes me away all the time, there is not much consistency with how I am treated.

Then he says, I make his depression even worse, because he feels bad that he can’t give me what I need. Ok, I thought, so now I am making him depressed. Hmmm.

I suggested couples counseling and he didn’t protest, but he didn’t say “ok” either. I am wondering if I should just schedule a session and tell him about it, or what. I am also finding that if I back off from him, such as do not contact him for a day or so, suddenly it is HIM contacting me, for a change. It is like, if I am willing to do it, he will let me carry the relationship entirely myself, but not get anything out of it himself… if you know what I mean.

Also, I am finding it very hard to think of sleeping with him since our talk, because I feel like, “why should I sleep with someone who has no feelings for me?” What a turnoff, someone who feels dead inside? I asked him if he was faking it when he held me and he got angry and said no, of course not. I am confused!

He will not seek medication for his depression, though he has sought counseling before and it helped some. Do you think, in a situation where someone is a depressive, couples counseling is a waste of time, or is there a way that together we can find ways to open up and have some intimacy and thereby alleviate some of the depression? Or, is that putting too much responsibility on the relationship itself? Or should I just leave and save myself more grief?

-- Answer from John --

Being with a person who is depressed can easily net you the lack of positive affect you are experiencing. One good sign is that by your backing off, he will come forward to initiate. At least he gets in touch with some internal positive drive, which translates into more juice, hopefully. I would consider that one positive strategy (backing off) to employ here. Regarding counseling, he needs to get some good help with depression, first and foremost.

I wouldn’t look to the relationship to be a source of shift out of depression. That’s his thing to work through. It has nothing to do with you. But it does affect the quality of emotional and intimate interchange. It’s your call as to whether you want to put up with it. If I were you, I would insist that he go get counseling from someone who specializes in depression (a psychologist, not a psychiatrist) AND take meds (maybe he needs to occasionally visit a psychiatrist, or maybe the psychologist can line him up with a physician).

I would make his going to that level of dealing with his depression a condition of continuing the relationship, frankly. If he does not get himself to move on this, then nothing is gonna change. It is not necessarily the soft form of empathetic compassion that he needs from you right now — I sense he could use more of a strong love that has guidelines, demands and consequences.

This is a serious problem — and he does need to own it and take care of it — he can manage and overcome it if he commits to the effort. I would demand a 1 year commitment to getting effective therapy, and that means finding the right therapist, even if that means shopping around until finding one that helps.