I have been in a relationship for almost two years now with an amazing man. There’s ups and downs of course but it’s when things go down we really struggle. I’ve tried so many different ways of communicating to him my feelings of loneliness and unimportance (especially using “I” statements being careful not to call out any of his flaws or wrong doings) and he has a very hard time being receptive and tends to get extremely defensive and make the whole problem about himself rather than acknowledging my needs. He often is disconnected from reality and likes to “escape” from it by isolating himself, watching videos all day or keeping headphones in his ears.
This is affecting our relationship because he isn’t normally present and he is constantly deep in his thoughts and there’s a lot of lag time between texts, sometimes a whole day. We do not live together but we see each other a couple times a week. I want to know if there are ways I can help him with this or how I can manage/express my feelings in a more productive way without making him upset or cause him to get defensive.
Dear Anonymous Female,
It is incredibly difficult to see someone we care about struggle. It’s also hard when we want to help and are concerned for them and their health, and are received negatively. The “I” statements and addressing what you need that you mentioned in your letter are excellent communication tools, and I definitely encourage you to continue to use them.
Remind yourself why you are bringing this up. When someone becomes defensive, it’s really easy to start to pick ourselves apart. You aren’t bringing it up to make him feel bad. You are concerned and you want to see him (and your relationship) succeed. There is nothing wrong with that. The behavior you are describing sounds like he is experiencing depression or anxiety, and possibly other mental health concerns.
Consider approaching your concerns when things are relatively good. In person is always best. If he tells you that it’s not a good time, schedule a time to talk. This can be intermittent and as needed, or you can have a standing appointment as often as you feel would be helpful.
Encourage him to seek help. What help specifically do you think would be helpful? Counseling? An appointment with a psychiatrist? A visit to a general practitioner for a checkup? Something else entirely? Being in a relationship with someone gives you more knowledge to recognize when they aren’t ok, and more latitude to address it than a regular platonic friend. Unfortunately, access to mental health services isn’t always incredibly accessible to people experiencing mental health concerns. In order to remove some of those barriers for him, offer to make the appointment, go with him, complete the paperwork, anything that could make it easier.
It’s important to note that when bringing up difficult topics, a negative response doesn’t mean that the message didn’t get across. While that is never what anyone wants in this context, sometimes it is the way it goes and the only way to communicate certain topics with certain individuals.
Your concern for your boyfriend, as well as your patience for him really shows how much you care about him. However, your needs and expectations for him and the relationship are important as well. Communicate these to him very specifically if you haven’t already. The level of engagement and communication that you need would be a great place to start.
Discomfort is unfortunately going to be part of the equation. It’s how we grow, meet our needs, and accomplish all kinds of awesome things. Essentially, we choose all time if our concerns will result in brief and intense discomfort, or long lasting, dull discomfort. In this situation, it would look like a direct conversation (even if you aren’t received well) versus leaving things as they are.
I wish you luck,