Question: I’m depressed about the direction my professional life has taken. I feel like I could cry at any moment. I need a warm word or a hug.
I get this kind of support from my sister and parents but not from my wife. She has been supportive during this time, but she never comes around to giving me any kind of show of support through either an encouraging word or a hug or anything. Her support is mostly silent (and sometimes it seems to be waning or even critical).
I think she cares about what I’m going through, but she doesn’t show it. How can I convey how upset I am to her?
Answer: You sound so oddly detached from each other. I think she needs to hear specifically how you feel — not in the form of blame, or a “hug me” plea that could come off as more needy than honest, but instead as a plain statement of how close to the edge you really are. As in, “The job thing has me on the verge of tears now all the time.”
Even between people who are close, a need you see as obvious can be the last thing on the other person’s mind. In this case, she could easily believe she’s helping you by just listening, or deliberately not dwelling on it.
Closing that gap isn’t only about your talking more or more clearly; it’s arguably even more important that you hear the way she feels.
It may be no coincidence that your sister and parents are the ones with the warm words and hugs. They presumably see you less, hear you complain less, have less riding on your career, breathe in less of your gloom, side with you reflexively.
This is not to give your wife permission to be frosty or critical. It’s just that proximity means her waters are choppy now, too, from your storm. You’re getting the worst of it, yes — but she’s not only getting tossed about, but also being asked to be strong and steady for both of you. That can exhaust someone emotionally, and fast.
So talk to your wife, but also recognize when your need exceeds any one person’s capacity to meet it. When that happens, it’s best to note ways your wife is good at helping — and outsource the rest.
The natural place to start is with professional help for your depression, which can’t be hugged away. Even if your blues fall short of a clinical threshold — your nearness to tears says otherwise — your distress warrants at least some reputable career coaching. Not only would you get fresh eyes on your crisis, but also fresh ears. Even the most loving spouses burn out.
Q: According to advice you’ve given others, my boyfriend should have left me long ago. I’m very prone to seeing the negative side of things, except when I give advice to others. I’m deeply uncomfortable with him going out and drinking because a small voice in the back of my head insists he will cheat. I’m an insomniac; I grew up in an abusive home, and I have depression issues. I work very hard to control these issues and quell my instinctive responses. I have gotten better, but still have very far to go. Result being he doesn’t always get treated as he deserves. Should I leave him, so he can find someone better? I know he won’t leave me; he’s even told me he figured out how he wants to propose.
A: According to advice I’ve given others — which reflects my core beliefs — people should leave relationships they recognize aren’t healthy for them. When there are children involved, that calculus changes as needed to make the kids the top priority, but otherwise that sentence is a fair statement of one plank in my platform.
This is also according to advice I’ve given others: We’re flawed, all of us, and hoping to find an ideal person is not only pointless, it’s also dehumanizing to people to expect them to meet your ideals. All you can realistically hope for are people who are self-aware enough and responsible enough to try to keep their frailties in check.
As long as what you say is true — that your boyfriend is happy with you, and that you’re working hard to do right by yourself and others — then there’s no column waiting to be written on the wisdom of his screaming run for the hills.
That is, unless what you’re really saying is that you find me judgmental and you’re angry at positions I’ve taken that suggest I’m intolerant of human frailty. In that case, my answer changes to a suggestion, that you both feel safe owning and telling your truth — at least with each other — before you go swapping those vows.
E-mail Carolyn Hax at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.