82015Apr

‘Depression has ruined our relationship. Should I walk away?’

Survey suggests warring parents are ‘in denial’ about effects of divorce on children

Dr Petra Boynton advises a reader who’s dealing with a depressed partner Photo: ALAMY (POSED BY MODELS)

Last year I met the most wonderful woman through friends. I fancied her a lot and she said she felt the same about me. We had a few dates, before she revealed she has anxiety and depression. She said right now, as much as she likes me, she cannot have a relationship as she doesn’t feel well enough. She has said the best thing would be if we end things before it gets more serious. I want to help her get better. Maybe as a friend, if not a lover? My family say I should walk away. I want to stay with her.

Situations like the one you are in aren’t that unusual, but are understandably difficult and upsetting for all involved. It may not seem like a good thing, but it is positive she felt able to trust you enough to be honest about her mental health and what she felt would help her.

Listen to her

She said she isn’t well enough to have a relationship. Showing her that you’ve understood and respected this is the most helpful thing you can do for her right now.

You want to avoid situations where you ask her to keep explaining herself, or keep discussing the relationship in the hope she’ll change her mind. Or telling her things will be fine and she doesn’t need to worry – that you can start dating and see how it goes. Or constantly reminding her you are still there for her if she needs you.

If you have to part? Then part as friends. And avoid doing anything that might worsen her depression, or trigger her anxiety.

Learn more about mental health

Given how common mental illness is, it may be you have experienced it yourself – perhaps directly, or perhaps via friends, family or colleagues living with mental health issues. But if you aren’t familiar with mental distress it can be difficult to appreciate how tiring, stressful, boring, annoying, upsetting, disruptive and debilitating living with a mental health problems can be on a long term basis.

By learning more about mental health it may be that – if you do stay in touch – you can understand her better. But if you part now, it will be with a better awareness of what is going on for her. The NHS has a list of Mental Health charities all of which have websites full of useful information and helplines you could call if you need further advice.

Walking away

Within our culture we’re raised on a steady diet of movies, music and stories that tell us if we hang on in there, we’ll get the guy or girl. And that if someone likes us – and where there’s a barrier to being together – true love will turn that around.

We’re also raised to want to help, be kind and offer care to others. It may feel completely alien to us to consider leaving someone who has said they’re unwell.

Unless she has specified absolutely no further contact, it may be a good idea to acknowledge what she has told you in an email, letter, card or conversation. Where you can explain how you care about her, that you are sorry she is going through this and how you will respect what she has asked of you – although you are sad it wasn’t possible to have a relationship, as you like her very much.

Wish her well. Then listen to her, and your family, and let her go.

Next steps

It may be that, if you do give her space and respect her wishes, that if she feels differently in the future you could end up in a relationship.

Or it may be that, if she wants to get back together, you may no longer feel the same about her, may be happily single, or will have met someone else.

You might find the hope she may return to you will sustain you through the coming months – and also ensures you respect her space. But avoid the trap of waiting in the hope she’ll change her mind, or telling her you’re going to do this. Although you might mean it as a romantic gesture, for her it may feel like a lot of pressure.

You asked about being friends and that is something that might work. However, given how much you clearly care for her, can you downgrade to being friends when you want to be lovers?

If you want to offer friendship with no strings and no expectations that is one thing. But if ‘being friends’ is a byword for sticking around to convince her she is wrong, then this makes it more about you than about her.

And that isn’t fair on anyone.

I would approach this as you would any painful break-up. It is understandable if you are unhappy, angry or feel cheated out of something you really wanted. But it isn’t her fault she isn’t well. Both of you may feel rightfully upset about how this illness has stopped a relationship blossoming. If you feel the need to talk this over, you can also make use of the mental health charities listed above. You may prefer to talk to people you trust, or write about how you feel.

Not all relationships end because people fall out with each other, or out of love.

It doesn’t make it any less upsetting if a relationship finished before it had a chance to get started. It may help if you allow yourself the space to grieve what might have been, alongside reaching out to those around you – friends, family or colleagues – who can support you in the coming weeks or months.

Petra Boynton is a social psychologist and sex researcher working in International Health Care and studying sex and relationships. She is The Telegraph’s agony aunt. Follow her on Twitter @drpetra.

Email your sex and relationships queries in confidence to:agony.aunt@telegraph.co.uk

Petra cannot print answers to every single question submitted, but she does read all your emails. Please note that by submitting your question to Petra, you are giving your permission for her to use your question as the basis of her column, published online at Wonder Women.

All questions will be kept anonymous and key details, facts and figures may change to protect your identity. Petra can only answer based on the information you give her and her advice is not a substitute for medical, therapeutic or legal advice.