Ask Wendy

Love, Actually, Does Not Conquer All

Friday, December 25, 2020
Hey Wendy,

My boyfriend has a habit of pushing me away when he is in a dark place. And it seems like his mental health is the worst it’s ever been. Some days he wants to do better and make our relationship work. Other days he’s angry, rude and I’m left feeling like he doesn’t care about me.

It feels like I’m the only one trying nowadays, but five years is a long time to throw away. And I love him so damn much. He says he wants to get a handle on the anxiety and depression, but these are the very things that prevent him from taking necessary steps (like seeing a therapist/cutting out self-prescribing).

I want to be strong enough to wait for him, but I don’t know that I could go through all of this pain and sadness just to end up more heartbroken down the road if he doesn’t ever make the effort. Do you give up on someone you still love unconditionally?

Julia D.
___

Hey Julia,

Movies taught us that, “If I just love him enough for the both of us, it’ll all will work out. My love will conquer all.” We tend to conflate unconditional love with being virtuous. This two-punch combo is messing us all up.

You asked the question, “Do you give up on someone you still love unconditionally?”

My answer is no. I don’t give up on someone I still love unconditionally. However, I also don’t have to continue to live with them or be in a relationship with them. I can still love them unconditionally, but with new and healthy boundaries in place.

Unconditional Love is Debatable

Honestly, I think we can just drop “unconditionally” from this conversation. Might sound blunt, but the word “unconditional” isn’t as romantic as people make it out to be. Everybody—even dogs—sets conditions for their love. Let’s say you’ve got a dog. You yell at the dog, beat the dog, stop feeding the dog, and then you leave your front door open. Do you think he’ll keep snuggling up by your side? No way. Fido’s outta there. Treat someone poorly for long enough, and you can’t expect them to stick around.

Love Doesn’t Equal Staying Power

So, there’s loving someone, and then there’s choosing a healthy partnership that has staying power. By your account, he has real and legitimate issues that cause him to act out. They need to be addressed, probably through therapy and possibly medication, but that’s for him to decide. Even though these issues he’s struggling with are reasons for his behavior, they don’t excuse the ongoing anger, rudeness, and a seeming lack of care toward you.

You having to manage both his and your feelings means that you’re stuck doing all the emotional labor in your partnership. He has to do his part, so you only have to do yours. That’s fair.

I’m not saying this has to be fixed overnight, but he does have to take his first step soon-ish. And you two need to make a plan for the (new) reactions he may or may not have to new medications and/or difficult topics broached in therapy.

“Five years is a long time to throw away”

Have you ever heard the term “fallacy of sunk costs”? It’s a human phenomenon. People have a tendency to continue on, once there’s been an investment. This could be money, time, love, effort—you name it. Refusing to cut one’s losses is the fallacy of sunk costs. We don’t want our sacrifice to have been in vein. Just watch that eighties movie The Money Pit. It’s a prime example of what I’m talking about. Sticking with someone because you don’t want to lose time already spent on them usually never pays off.

So, looking at your relationship solely as an investment of your time, is a trap. But if you reframe your five years, you may be able to see things more clearly. Instead of, “I’ve invested my five years of life with him,” think, “I’ve grown so much in the last five years! My boyfriend has taught me so much about life. I’m a different person than when we met. I have new capabilities. New insights. I’m going to be such a better partner in my next relationship because in the past five years, I’ve grown a lot and learned all this stuff!”

We learn more and more as we get older. Life isn’t supposed to be a perfect, straight path. There are tons of twists and turns, and some of them are unexpected and not that great. But they all add up to who we are today, and we learn what our soul needs to learn from these experiences. As an added bonus, our life’s lessons and experiences give us our own unique capacities and gifts to turn around and give to those we love.

So, no matter what you choose, you still get to love him. You still had a great run. And you’ve had serious growth in your life in the last five years. You’re a new person—it’s up to you whether you two want to continue growing together as a partnership, or apart as individuals.

Good luck!

Disclaimer: While I’m thankful that you value my opinion, I’m solely a relationship expert and an opinion-giver, not a trained psychologist. This is just a layperson’s opinion here, so please, I encourage you to also consult with a licensed professional who has experience with clinical depression.


Wendy Newman is the author of 121 First Dates. She’s a dating, sex, and relationship expert who’s led hundreds of workshops and revolutionized the lives of over 70,000+ women internationally.

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