Woe Is Me! “My Boyfriend Says He Will Hurt Himself If I Leave Him”
Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.
My boyfriend has anxiety and low self-esteem. He said that he wants to seek help and I fully support him. The anxiety has started to affect our relationship. I told him this is emotionally exhausting and that I would like to spend some time alone but he just couldn’t stop texting me — saying not talking to me is making him anxious. I tried to break up with him but he said I make him feel better and he doesn’t have anyone other than me so breaking up will make him miserable. He hurt himself and I am scared that if I leave him he’ll do something worse. I am lost here.
— Between a Rock and a Hard Place
RN: This is really, really unsafe for you. Your boyfriend needs a professional to help him. It is unreasonable and toxic for him to use you as his emotional crutch without any regard for your own life and well-being. What you can do is, perhaps, help him find someone who can help him, and then leave. You are not responsible for anything beyond that — you aren’t even responsible for helping him find help but this is only so that you can have the peace of mind that you’ve done your best. Anxiety can be debilitating, but this is no reason for him to take you down with him. I can understand someone crossing boundaries while seeking support for their mental illness — I might have even been there myself — but to not make any changes or keep oneself in check after the other person has expressed how it’s harming them is inexcusable.
I will also go out on a limb here to say that I don’t think you should worry about him hurting himself if you leave him. In all probability, that is his way of getting you to stay. Whether he knows it or not, he is preying on your good faith and empathy and being selfish here. If he really cared about you, he would give you your space or let you go when you say you want to leave. This is sounding like a hostage situation and it can’t end well for anyone if it continues. To reiterate once again: you are NOT responsible for anything he does. I am so sorry you’re in this situation. He needs to know that your life cannot revolve around his. Maybe inform his family or friends that you’re worried about him, so they can keep an eye on him. Beyond that, you have nothing more to do here.
DR: This does appear to be a difficult situation for both of you, and I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. I think your course of action here depends on whether you truly want to be with him or not. If you don’t, that doesn’t make you a bad person because you’re not obligated to take care of his mental health, or prioritize it above your own. But before breaking up with him, I suggest you try to speak to his parents (depending on the kind of equation he shares with them, of course), or a close friend of his, alerting them of your fears.
If you do, however, want to give this a shot, then you can, maybe, tell him to start going to therapy soon if he’d like to continue this relationship — but that if things don’t improve despite that, then there’s no point continuing anyway. And if the two of you do break up while he’s a month or so into therapy, hopefully, he’ll have a mental health professional guide him through the break-up.
On the other hand, if you want to take a short-term break and then assess how you feel about the relationship, you could try to explain to him the toll it’s taking on your mental health as well, and to preserve your own sanity, you need to log out of the relationship for a bit.
PR: First thing would be to inform the Suicide Hotline, and take help from your friends and his friends so you’re not alone in dealing with a sensitive situation. I can understand how pressuring it can feel to take on such a problem all by yourself. After involving more people to be around and reach out to him, some of the space that you need and the load that you want removed from you can be achieved. After you’ve calmed down a bit, and if possible consulted a psychologist for yourself, take a decision over time? I really hope the situation gets better for you. Take care.
OG: I’m so sorry you’re in this position. Mental health issues can be difficult to deal with whether they are your own or that of your loved ones and while we try to stand by those we love in tough times, we often do it at the cost of something else. I think what you need to figure out is if trying to support him through this is bringing both of you down, is it really worth staying in this relationship? Negotiating with these situations often need you to make your own rules. There aren’t a lot of rights and wrongs here, but the thing that I can say is this: It is not your duty to support him if you find yourself breaking in the process. Having self-esteem issues is one thing but hurting himself or trying to blackmail you emotionally into staying, is not a sign of a healthy relationship. He has to understand that you need your own space and while your decisions can be based on your love for him, they cannot be based on the power he holds over you. A lot of couples get through difficult times and build successful relationships by supporting each other positively. However, people hardly ever form fruitful connections staring down the barrel of a gun. I do hope you get through this. Wish you well.
AS: I’m so sorry you’re in such a tough spot. I can imagine how taxing it must be to feel so responsible for someone else’s happiness and mental health. Looks like you’ve already tried to communicate that you’d like some space, and it hasn’t gone down that well. Do you think there’s a point in trying that again? Maybe you could lay even more emphasis on how his dependence on you is taking a toll on your mental health, because you do deserve to put yourself first now, to take care of yourself. Perhaps, there is a way to make him realize that a relationship that’s built on the foundation of such dependence isn’t going to be healthy or long-lasting anyway. If he can afford it, I’d recommend that you encourage him to see a therapist, who can help him process your decision to leave the relationship. If he has any friends or family that you can rope into the picture, maybe you could reach out to them so they can step in to support him when you do go through with the break-up. It might make you feel guilty and miserable for a short period, but in the long run, it might be best to just muster your strength and end things with him, once and for all.