Ask Erin: Do I Stay With Someone Who's Emotionally Distant?

I am so confused!!

She’s made all the mistakes, so you don’t have to…Ask Erin is a weekly advice column in which Erin answers your burning questions, about anything at all.

Q.

Dear Erin,

I am at a crossroads in a 3-year relationship. My partner is a terrific person — honest, brilliant, down-to-earth, a great lover, a fun friend. I adore him.

Last year got rough. My partner stopped seeing friends, drank heavily, and showed other signs of depression/stress. Our awesome and abundant sex life? Gone.

Most disturbing my partner's interest in spending time with me disappeared. (Seriously, video games have supplanted all other interests.)

He blamed his job. But when he left it a few months ago, I expected to reconnect. He is happy, stable. The situation between us, however, remains static.

I have made several mindful attempts to discuss my needs and to cooperate on implementing solutions.

The feedback: He's “satisfied.” He asserts that if I ever want sex and so on, it's MY prerogative to initiate and carry on all of these activities myself — he won't.

Believing him utterly apathetic, I gave him a Just dump me already! talk a couple weeks ago. Astonishingly, he cried, pledging his love.

I am so confused!! If he does love me, why does he maintain this distance and refuse to compromise?

I want to be with him, but this dynamic is killing me.

A.

As you accurately assessed, you are at a crossroads in your relationship.

I think there are two components to this: his depression and the state of your relationship. Throughout my relationships, I've been both the depressed partner and the supporting partner, so I can understand it from both sides.

The first aspect to address is his mental health: When someone is depressed or dealing with another mental health issue, all the love in the world won't do anything to bridge that distance.

It sounds like he has had some improvement with the job change. But I'm wondering — is he still drinking heavily? Also, what (if any) medications does he take? Both alcohol and medication (or the lack thereof) can have a profound affect on one’s sex drive and general intimacy with their partner. It’s great that you have started these discussions with him about your needs and wanting to find a solution, because that addresses the way the two of you are relating to one another in present time.

When my husband and I had been dating about a year, he confronted me on my sabotaging behavior. He told me he loved me, wanted to make our relationship work, but that it would not if I didn’t address my depression and behavior.

I am so grateful for that conversation, because it woke me up.

I was able to get back into therapy and back on medication. Now, we're married, and I believe that everything good in my life is a direct result of the actions I took following that discussion.

It really seems to me that his depression is the elephant in the room. It wouldn’t hurt for you to speak with a therapist alone first, to be really clear about what you want and how you envision the future of your relationship.

Then, have another talk with him — I think it’s OK to lay down an ultimatum — you can be clear that you love him and want to make it work (otherwise you would not still be here), but that the depression and relationship need attention. Couples therapy might be beneficial as well.

However, the change is dependent on his actions in dealing with his depression. The role of alcohol in all of this remains to be seen for me, but that may also need to be confronted.

Should he be open to this, it may not be a straight path to getting your relationship back on track, but I do think it’s possible. It’s up to you to discern what amount of effort and time you feel you can give this.

And if it doesn’t work, and things are not changing — don’t feel guilty about your needs, if they simply are not getting met.

Just as he needs to take care of his mental health, you need to take care of yourself.

If you have a question for me about dating, relationships, breakups, friendship, my favorite British television series, kids, Los Angeles, small white dogs, indifferent cats, or anything at all, email me at rarelywrongerin@gmail.com. As always, your anonymity is golden. xoxo

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