There are certain challenges with trying to get back someone struggling with anxiety, depression, and/or alcohol use that many other relationships do not have, or are not as big an issue. One of those challenges is dealing with their fear that the relationship will not work.
Unlike other situations where the person is afraid to try things again because they thinks or believes that YOU have not changed, some exes especially those suffering from high anxiety and/or a depression fear that the relationship will not work because of THEM.
Some exes struggling with anxiety or depression will be honest with you and tell you they are not capable of a relationship, but most will just pull away and leave you wondering what you did wrong. Trying to get them to talk about what is happening is almost impossible.
Does this mean your relationship does not have a chance?
Not in my book. Even people struggling with anxiety, depression, and/or alcohol use problems are capable of love, and can have “happy” and fulfilling relationships. It’s not easy to love or be in a relationship with them, but these kinds of relationships do work:
1) Don’t try and fix the problem yourself
Most people with anxiety, depression but mostly alcohol use problems are pretty good at hiding it from people they love because they don’t want others to see them as fragile or vulnerable. If you suspect that your ex has anxiety, depression, and/or alcohol use problems, Do not jump in and try to take charge of their “problem”. That will make them even pull further away. Instead encourage them to seek help. Bring it up in a gentle and friendly way. Something like: “You don’t seem to have energy. Do you feel OK? Why don’t you get checked out?”.
2) Make sure you truly understand what you are dealing with
As hard as it is, if you love your ex, you have to learn as much if not more about your their struggles anxiety, depression, and/or alcohol use problems. You should do all you can to understand what you are up against, and to be involved in their struggle so that you can understand what is happening. This will make it easier to handle problems in your relationship.
3) Don’t put pressure on them to act normal
The nature of the chemical imbalances that result in alcohol dependency, anxiety and depression is that often the person gets overwhelmed when they feel that they are expected to be “normal” and act “normal”. They feel that they are better off on their own because they don’t feel the pressures to be a certain way or do certain things required of someone in a relationship. Times like this, it’s easy to think the person is just being selfish but they are really not.
Try as much as you can to not only understand what they are going through, but to let them be, and not pressure them to meet your relationship needs, because they are just not capable of it at the time.
4) Don’t take things too personally
Most people struggling with anxiety, depression, and/or alcohol use have had a number of failed relationships in their lifetime, and are more likely to be obsessed with their past failures. Their obsession with past failures often leads them to be in constant search for some type of flaw or weakness in the relationship. Doubt and discontentment are consequence of this over vigilance.
Understand and accept that your ex is prone to perceptual distortions and will have a tendency of over analyze the relationship and find reasons why the two of you shouldn’t be together.
5) Allow them distance/space when they ask for it
Most people struggling with anxiety, depression, and/or alcohol use are scared of someone loving or caring for them. They are afraid that you will not be able to handle their problem, and often feel (and even say) that they do not deserve you and that you are better of with someone else, and genuinely mean it.
When they are thinking like this, they will try to push you away or distance from you. As much as it hurts, if you can’t find a way to get them to allow you into their world/struggles, allow them to distance without adding more pressure or further overwhelming them with your own emotions and/or issues.
6) Teach yourself to read your ex’s “mood fluctuations”.
Get into the rhythm of the illness itself instead of getting caught up in the day to day emotions. In the beginning this can be hard because you have to kind of learn how to tell their moods by the way they talk and their body language, the hours and some times days when the moods start to get intense. For example when they begin to lash out, pull away, get angry, feel tired and when they in a good mood, have high energy and working to finish projects whey had put off or neglected.
7) If they get unreasonably angry, don’t let it get to you
When you find yourselves getting into arguments often over things that don’t even matter, it is important to remember the love you have for each other and not take their moods or things they say seriously.
Balancing how much you can take and when to stand up for yourself can be hard to do. The general guide is to always keep in mind that you are not responsible for their anxiety, depression or problem with alcohol. If it looks like you are being “blamed” for their struggles, speak up.
8) Let go of trying to change them
Unless you are a well trained professional, or have gone through what they are going through, you can’t truly understand what the person is going through.
While your attempts to get the to open up to you about what they are going through may be well-intentioned, it may not always be well-received. So don’t try to be their therapist.
- Direct questions may be misconstrued as confrontation, questioning their every move or not understanding their struggles. This will often be met with “I don’t know” or dead silence.
- Giving advice can come across as “judging” or “pitying”, which is the last thing they want.
- Trying to “cheer them up” is a waste of time, let alone annoying.
The approach I use with my clients who are finding it hard to date and have relationships because of their struggle with anxiety and depression is what I call the “Help me understand you” approach. Let them open up on their own, in their own way and own timing.
9) Take good care of yourself
If you find yourself at the edge of your own rope, find some way to break free for awhile and re-energize. You can only give what you have. If you feel emotionally, mentally and physically depleted, which is likely to happen, you are no good as a partner. It is also important to know when to give yourself space and time to take care of yourself. Make sure however to let your ex know that they have the security of your love to come to when they need it.
10) Don’t let them push/drive you away
Now that you know about what their going through, your love, patience, persistence and hope can provide the inspiration or momentum for your ex to want to seek help and do their own self-work.
Yes, it is a long and hard road but it can also be a useful experience for learning to love unconditionally. If the two of you can work together, you’ll come to appreciate the creativity that dealing with their illness involves.
Caution: Look out for early warning signs that staying in the relationship is not safe for you.
- You are afraid of their temper and anger
- You’ve become isolated and have few friends
- You are always walking on eggshells because you are afraid of “upsetting” them
- They are threatening you with suicide or other violence if you leave