My boyfriend of three years and I are both going through a really tough time. My parents are divorcing, he’s applying to schools, and plus our relationship has been long distance for the past two years. We’re both depressed, and I’ve been asking him to go to therapy lately.
What advice would you give to a couple who’s going through a tough time, and how to weather the storm together? I’ve been terribly hurt in the past, so my instinct is to run away, but I know that’s not the right thing to do here.
How can I assure myself that everything will be okay, and make things as best as they can be in these hard times? Are there things I should be doing to help our relationship, and if so what?
I’m sorry if this is a really heavy question to ask you, but if you have any advice at all, I’d really appreciate it. Your column always gives such sound advice to seemingly hopeless situations like mine.
Depressed from a Distance
We all have our own things that we do to find anchors when our seas are choppy AF. Some of these things are healthier than others, and some of them are more productive to our relationships than others.
There a few types of storm-weathering strategies: one type might be directly beneficial to you and indirectly beneficial to your partnership (exercising more, meditating, journaling). Another type might be mutually beneficial to you and your partner (for example, making space and time to connect amidst the hectic-ness. This could be sexual, or it could be casual like FaceTiming at least twice a week or playing Words with Friends together in your free moments).
Another type of strategy might be partner-focused: sending them a care-package, getting them a gift card for a massage in their city, or taking care of some stressful logistical thing on their behalf.
A final type of weathering the storm strategy might be directly beneficial to you that your partner isn’t too pleased with. Or, in the reverse, might be something that’s really helpful for your partner but doesn’t leave you all too gleeful. This type of coping strategy might look like taking space, taking a break while you each work on your piece of the choppy waters puzzle, or taking up a hobby that reduces their available time to spend with you or vice versa.
It can be incredibly painful and difficult to watch your partner suffer. And even more painful to feel powerless in helping them through the storm that’s caught you both, which might not even be the same storm at all. Chances are it looks like the same storm but is actually two very individual, unique, and catered-to-you storms. But like the airplane safety cards tell us all, we’ve got to put on our own oxygen masks first if we have any chance of helping the others around us.
The chaos of divorcing parents, the heartache of a long-distance partner, the gnawing weight of depression, and the madness-making of watching loved ones suffer are all painful human experiences that myself and others can certainly directly relate to. It’s not easy. Chances are no one (not even you!) will handle these events perfectly. But, putting in your imperfect effort is better than no effort at all.
If you only have limited resources to spare right now, spend them on taking care of your side of the street. Attend your own therapy. Draw on your not-partner support network. Set your intentions and commitments to your relationship regardless of what’s happening with your partner and stick to them. Know your limits and don’t overextend them. It may sound “selfish” on paper, but if you run out of oxygen, there will be no relationship to help once the storm passes.
Yana Tallon-Hicks is a relationship therapist, sex educator, and writer living in the Pioneer Valley. You can find her work and her professional contact information on her website, yanatallonhicks.com