She was miserable, and through my failings at helping her cope with her depression, I allowed myself to be consumed by it.
I am a glutton for punishment— at least, that’s how my friends describe it; my seemingly endless cycle of broken relationships that all crashed and burned. Each one of them was a relationship between people who had been through traumatic experiences, and neither one of them knew how to handle it. They couldn’t handle themselves, and in turn, they couldn’t handle each other.
Whenever I was hurt, all I ever wanted to do was point out the flaws in the other person, to help them understand, make them realize what they had done and the pain they were putting me through; but at the end of the day, the truth is that we were both to blame. We never took the time to help each other overcome our issues. So they all fell apart, one after another.
Years later, I found myself in another relationship. I failed for months and months trying to help my girlfriend deal with her issues. Her anger and resentment towards so many others & their actions; towards herself and the things she has and has not done; towards her father for his shortcomings; her exes for their abuse; all of it exploded out towards me at unusual times.
Her depression made her impossible to console. I could never know if the anger that was flooding over me was directed at me or if I was just in the way, so I was constantly back and forth from being supportive to being defensive. Her mood swings from her bipolar and endometriosis made it impossible to ensure any five minute window where she could be happy.
She was miserable, and through my failings at helping her cope with her depression, I allowed myself to be consumed by it. I was lost in a spiral of depression, the likes of which I had not known in many years.
I wrestled with my relationship for over a year. Wondering how I could make it better or what I could do to change myself. “Maybe the problem is with me?” I wondered.
I spent endless hours reading and searching through articles and books. I looked for new jobs. A new place to live. I started writing more. I started a blog. I started running— until finally, something happened.
Our two best friends, together for ten years, a beautiful five years old daughter, split apart. I watched as a women who could not get over her insecurities and past traumas ripped a relationship to shreds. I watched a man who didn’t know how to help the woman he loved to heal, fall out of love, because he did not know what to do and had long since abandoned hope.
This was a wake up call for me.
It somehow renewed faith in me, and I began to battle my own inner demons. Over coming those, slowly, I was able to lend more of my strength, strength I thought I was already giving but didn’t realize was being used, to her.
This is some advice that I have found helpful over the years in being that guy your partners knows and needs you to be:
Take care of yourself:
Hands down the most important step in being able to help another person. This is in no way telling you to ONLY help yourself. You need to be sound in mind before you can allow another to bust in and cause chaos. You must have the strength and mental capacity to shut down all else and focus only on the person at hand, that means no financial worry pulling you this way, or job stress pulling you that way, or anger at yourself for smoking when you said you were going to quit— you need to be able to focus on the person you are trying to help, and that means, getting a hold on yourself first. Sometimes you don’t have this option. Sometimes you have to do both, and from experience as someone who has been there, it’s possible. You have to do what you need to for yourself, and use the strength of your accomplishments to help you stand up and help her.
I know it feels like it goes without saying, but always be there for the people you love. You have to support them. It means caring about them and making them sure you are there. It also means backing them up in situations where they need you to help them more than they need you to teach them a lesson.
Go the extra mile:
Do a lot for them. Little cute things. Chores. Help them in any way you can. Sometimes, when we are struggling through dealing with traumatic experiences, or when we are trying to let go of the past, we forget that we are loved here and now, and we become swallowed by our pasts and the negative emotions that come with them. Be understanding and go the extra mile.
What they say:
Here is some of the best advice I can give: Don’t take what they say to heart. As with what I was just saying, that darkness can sometimes consume the person. We’ve all been there— let our anger get the best of us and snapped, saying something we wish we hadn’t. Try and remember that it’s a battlefield; even when it seems calm and quiet, another rain of fire is looming just over head. Be objective & compassionate in your assessment and resolution. Don’t assume the worst, try and see the best. Their anger will often times not be at you, just misdirected at you. Find the source. They will love you more for it.
These last two pieces of advice are difficult to swallow. None of us want this to be true, but often times victims of abuse become abusers themselves. It’s not always intentional, and that’s part of what makes it difficult. Victims often know no other way, so their pain and anger comes out to others in similar ways that they were abused. Don’t forget; emotional, mental, and verbal abuse are all still forms of abuse. Be aware of what’s happening and don’t let the person you are with become an abuser. If they are being abusive, really begin to think about your place in the relationship. You can’t change another person, remember that, you can only be yourself and take care of yourself.
Sometimes how we are a man, is by admitting that there is nothing we can do, and rather than tough it out and take the abuse and let it consume us as it did them, we should step back and help to get them the help they need. Once it’s escalated to this point, it’s safe to assume that a therapist, or at least some form of therapeutic activity is needed to help your partner stay calm and release some of the abusive behavior. Deep down, we are not all cruel, but peaceful creatures— sometimes we just need a reminder.
Don’t be an enabler:
Or taken advantage of. Life is a tricky game. We try to do the best with the best intentions and somehow, sometimes, our good intentions have less than stellar results.
It’s easy to give in a relationship. Especially if you are trying to do what we just talked about and go the extra mile. The problem is that often times our partners will become too dependent upon us, and too expectant of our continuous generosity. They will stop appreciating what we do, and begin to expect it, turning us into monsters when we don’t fulfill their expectations.
We must be careful to care without caring too much, give without giving too much, and always be prepared to bring our partners down to earth if they get too expecting of us.
Be honest with your partner. That is the most important thing in any relationship. Be open and vulnerable and free with your thoughts. To build a deep and everlasting love, you must be able to be entirely yourself with the person you love— that is the true essence of healing.
Photo: Flickr/Sam Caplat