Ask Ellie: Depressed partner should help share relationship burden

Dear Ellie: We’re a gay couple, both 25, and living together for 2 1/2 years.

My partner struggled with coming out and was suicidal when he was young.

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He left school and later had to attend adult school to finish. Now he’s at university, but still struggles with depression and has difficulty focusing at school.

This adds to not believing in himself and thinking that he’s not good at anything.

He can only work in the summer, so I must support him financially, which also makes him feel that he’s not helping out enough.

I suggested that he go to therapy, but he won’t listen to me.

I work full time and go to adult school as well. I try not to get stressed easily, but there’s always so much to worry about due to my taking care of both of us.

Finances are always tight. But my main problem is that he’s depressed all the time and doesn’t do anything about it.

His depression affects my mental health, too. Some days I’ll be in a great mood, but seeing him unhappy makes me sad.

He’s the best human being I’ve ever met. I want to help him but I don’t know what more I can do.

Overwhelmed Partner

For both your sakes, recognize that partners are still two separate individuals.

Giving emotional and financial support is important, but if they override the ability to enjoy each other’s company, share some tasks, have some laughs and relaxation, the commitments become a burden.

That’s what’s happening here. You both could benefit from counselling, but this, too, could become stressful due to the time and costs involved.

Back off feeling responsible for getting him to seek therapy until he’s ready for it.

Then, he might find he can get it through student services at university at no or minimal cost, or through an LGBTQ2S community organization.

As for the stresses in this relationship, they’re not uncommon.

When he works in the summer, and does contribute financially, he should also share the tasks you handle when he’s preoccupied with school.

For your part, accept that he has bad moods, without adopting them. It’s not helping either of you.

You’re a caring partner. That’s all that’s needed.

Readers’ Feedback

Regarding the woman considering her chance for new love while her husband is in long-term care due to Alzheimer’s, a reader writes:

“I met a lady whose husband is in a similar health situation. She visits regularly, looks after his medical and other needs, and ensures he gets proper care. He’ll never be better.

“My minister agrees that there’s nothing wrong with our relationship. Our children support us and her broad family are especially happy that she has someone (me!) in her life.

“I fully support all the time it takes her to tend to her husband, but there’s no reason why she should otherwise be isolated or give up on love.

“Many people locally know both my lady (we’ve been dating for two years) and her husband.

“One of the men has known him since school days and visits him periodically. The acceptance by all has been very affirming.”

I agree with your minister, though some readers read my response as negative because I said she needed to be sure she could handle the decision despite any social disapproval, reaction from children, and any legal issues (depending on where she lives, e.g. in some U.S. states, if they cohabit while her husband is alive).

Another reader wrote: “There’s an alternative to marriage or cohabitation. The couple could date, travel, dine, attend theatre, and have sleepovers without getting married or cohabiting full-time.

“Each would maintain their own living space and other activities, but they could be together as suits their needs and proclivity. Admittedly, this necessitates that each have sufficient income, but is an alternative that should not be dismissed.”

Another wrote: “My spouse of over 50 years has dementia, and lives in a long-term facility. She remembers nothing of the past and cannot converse during my visits.

“My current companion is younger and still working (while I’m retired), so our lives are on different timescales.

“She needs time alone for her work and gets that. We spend most weekends together, at one or the other’s home. I live in a high-rise downtown and she lives in a country house, so we get different experiences from each other’s life.”

Ellie’s tip of the day

When one partner is emotionally stronger, the other still must share some couple-minded responsibilities.

Send relationship questions to ellie@thestar.ca.

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