Finding it hard to be sympathic

Hi guys,

I’m new to the forum, but I feel now is the best time to go outside my comfort zone and come and seek help and advice.

My partner and I have been together for 7 years and since the first year off our relationship he has suffered with depression and anxiety due to the loss of his sister and also not getting along with his dad and other family members and always being put down. He’s done amazing and has had highs and lows and has but has always come out the other end, initially I didn’t know how to deal with this and was quite closed off to be honest and wasn’t supportive as much as should have been.

To try and cut a long story short I have worked on myself and learned to support and be there more and say and do the right things.
My boyfriend has now gone through another spiral of depression and anxiety and after having dealt with it for so long and me always being the one working and providing for our family and constantly strugggling to even cope with it all I’m having a really hard time caring anymore? Or being sympathetic? Or don’t even want to hear it? Is this normal? I feel like he enjoys being this and likes the attention as I ask him to do things with me or for me to build on his confidence and build on us and himself and he doesn’t want to says he feels uncomfortable or might get stressed out by it. But then if he wants to go out or do anything he can quite easily and isn’t depressed anymore but is when it comes to doing stuff for me?

I’m confused, I’m lost, I’m struggling emotionally to be there for him as I feel this is just going round and round in circles and nothing ever changes and your not helping yourself or helping me to help you?

Anyone know what I’m trying to say or what I’m going through? Some support or advice or comfort just much appreciated.


Hello Costa,it’s normal to feel this way,life for any one is a struggle (are you a people pleaser?or do you put others needs above your own?)start putting you own happiness first.hope this helps Ian

Hello, Ciara. I’d like to try to help but I don’t think I understand these two sentences. They seem to contradict each other.

You say he is not depressed if he goes out or does something by himself. You say he is depressed when he does things with you. What are these activities you do together?

Don’t beat yourself up for not feeling sympathetic. Sympathy is not what a person in this condition most needs. Are you sure the things you do together are what he wants to do? He may be suffering inner turmoil owing to feeling he needs to do things to please you when in fact he wants to do something different, but does not know how to express this. Maybe he feels dependent on you and wishes he could be more independent but cannot be.

Has he been to the doctor about his condition? If not, I’d recommend he do so. Depression is a form of illness, not necessarily brought on by circumstances but the way he conducts his life can help. Is he employed? What his is age roughly? Does he have any ambitions? If he doesn’t get on with his dad then he can avoid his dad and try to build his own life.


To me, it sounds like you’ve hit a natural point where you are frustrated due to providing support for a long period of time but not seeing any positive changes in his condition (and his economic status?). You have been under stress for 7 years. You should be congratulating yourself on your dedication so far.

You will find MIND a great source of support. It provides information on how to encourage other people to get support, get that person to take responsibility for their own self-care and how to look after yourself.

I am an informal social carer for an elderly friend with physical and mental health issues (anxiety and depression, perhaps some other undiagnosed issues). I hit a point recently where this responsibility (but other factors contributed) made me unwell and made me start to resent the demands on me. I got good advice here on how to step back and encourage the person to access other resources to help them and not ‘people please’ them and automatically do tasks for them.

What I noticed in my case is that my friend took no responsibility for their well-being, their physical or mental health, and was not willing (but perhaps also not able) to take action or decisions that would help them. Any kind of advice, support, suggestions and offers were refused.

I am currently studying a course in Understanding Mental Health which listed around 10 activities that a person with a mental health condition could do to improve their well-being, including exercise, maintaining social networks, etc. I identified that my friend only undertook one of these.

For my friend, this is completely entrenched and she cannot be influenced - her behaviour is unlikely to change. In order to get her own way (the way of doing nothing but drift along in her current status), she has become very tricky to deal with - making up excuses, paying lip service, lying, emotional blackmail.

I agree with the previous poster that your boyfriend may be in turmoil. I would add that they must take personal responsibility for managing their condition, seeking treatment, supporting their own well-being. I can understand how the condition can affect this motivation and how a person can end up stuck in a rut because any change is painful to them.

Are you saying that you feel he is switching on/off his condition to suit the things that he prefers to do? Is he resisting the suggestions that you make to try and improve his well-being and/or your relationship? Do you feel his primary identity is as a sick person rather than a partner? Do you feel that the relationship is still viable? What treatment and support is he getting professionally?

After years of being conditioned to be a people pleaser, I’ve come to realise that I’ve done most of the giving and they did most of the the taking. Not even a get well card when I was having major surgery!

Now I’ve changed by beliefs.
I believe we are all responsible for our own happiness.
If we don’t put ourselves first, no one else will!

Life is so much nicer now, but way too late.

Hi, thanks for your response this is some really great advice and have felt so comforted just reading this honestly!
Yes sometimes I feel he is switching the condition on and off and again could be wrong just how I feel, I try and make suggestions but he just says yes and nothing comes off.
Yes 100% it’s a sick person rather than a parter we have two children together and I want to be with him but I want him to get better and be a better person. He recently received some councilling and has done on and off for 7 years has helped for a short period and then back to square one again.

It seems to be all we talk about all that’s on discussion and all that’s on his mind. I don’t know who he is anymore or what to do anyone and am equally suffering feeling useless, feeling like I don’t do enough and I am miss judging the whole thing? But how can I be sympathetic to someone who doesn’t help them self?

Hi, thanks for your response. Glad you found the strength to do so.

I know there’s love there and that it’s worth saving but I’m struggling with knowing what’s real and what’s not anymore and trying to be positive and change the mindset and change the way we function is hard.

He needs me I can see that, but don’t know if I can give much more.

Hi, thanks for your response.
For example I asked him to help me do the food shopping, and he said no because that could potentially be quite stressful for him with his anxiety. But then will walk down the road and meet up with a friend for a few hours?

Or if I plan trips away, things like this we have lost out because he doesn’t want to go and will find it to stressful or is to depressed. But when it comes to doing something that suits him, seeing his friends, or travelling to see his family he’s fine? It confuses me? I think he feels dependant on me sometimes as he doesn’t have a job due to this condition but he is also dependant on his mother and anyone that will help him out?

He has been to the doctors and was diagnosed with this several years ago, it creeps it’s head of every so often on and off for 7 years since we first got together. He is 25 we have two children.

His now ended that toxic relationship but it’s still dwelling on the past with him and many other things that have damaged him mentally. He cannot let go cannot move on cannot here positive and this is why he will forever struggle if he doesn’t learn to re wire his brain and get real help to heal old wounds. Am I right or wrong?
I’m confused I know his depressed but he needs to help himself. I’m at my wits end.

If I understand you correctly, since his late teens, your partner has not worked and has had occasional counselling for his mental health condition which gives him short term benefit. He is a poor partner, seemingly reluctant to address his mental health problem in the way you’d like and not contributing to the relationship, in your opinion.

How is he around the house and as a father while you are working to support the household? Are you worried that as little has changed over the last 7 years, little may change going forward so you will be in the same position as he hits his thirties where he wobbles in and out of kilter? Has he ever worked?

You’ve identified that he’s not consistent about when he will go out, rejecting a lot of your requests while he initiates activities that you think he just prefers to do. My understanding of his mental health condition is that individuals may feel comfortable in certain circumstances, such as spaces/people they know well, and less confident in other areas. Could that be the case? Or do you feel he is suiting himself to get his way?

Sometimes its hard to distinguish between the person and the illness. For example, my friend rejects every piece of advice, suggestions and guidance to make her more comfortable which is extremely frustrating. I think this is because the ideas that are presented remind her that she is less capable - she isn’t rejecting me, she’s in denial about the extent of her loss of mobility and strength. But also, I do wonder whether she takes the path of least resistance - doing nothing is the simplest option and she certainly avoids taking responsibility, action and decisions at every level. Her anxiety is such, that even if her current worry is completely addressed and every reassurance given, she merely cycles through to the next worry and plucks another thing out of the air to wind herself up with. This is because she’s not well, her thinking is compromised.

Do you think he would sit with you while you discuss your expectation that he better manages his well-being and go through the elements here that you think he could benefit by trying?

Do you feel comfortable telling him that in order to manage the frustrations of your current situation, you are going to look after your own well-being more closely, and tell him the types of things you will be doing going forward that will help you regain your balance and what he needs to do to facilitate this for you? This could be anything from taking up education or fitness classes, nights out with the girls, undertaking a hobby, spending more time with your family or whatever it is you need to switch off and enjoy yourself.

Do you have any inclination to go to counselling together to discuss your relationship? Or for you to do this independently to help you cope better? Here’s a link to Relate on relationships and mental health.

You will find a couple of the scenarios there will chime with you. For example,

Maybe he is so self focussed he just doesn’t see the stress you are under.
Do any of us really want to do the shopping, the cooking, the cleaning etc. etc.
Personally I’d rather sit sewing all day.

Here is my view of your situation, feel free to contradict whatever I’ve written, it’s meant to challenge you a bit, and perhaps come to a decision about how to break what is going on.
If YOU don’t do anything, you are going to be stuck with this situation until one of you dies.

Life isn’t a pick and mix.
You are the head of this family, running every aspect of it.
He has responsibilities that he won’t acknowledge, so you have to do all his bit too.
Not only do you have to do his share, because he can’t, or more likely just doesn’t feel like it, AND you have him to deal with too.
That’s three jobs for one person!
He is making no effort whatsoever.
If he can chat to friends he is choosing not to engage in the less fun things in life.
You role is not that of partner, but his slave.
You cannot change anyone else, but you can change yourself, either by changing the way you think, or how you live.
It’s up to you.

Hi, thanks for this message it’s so greatly appreciated you seem to have gotten it in a nutshell this is exactly how I feel and I’m so worried for my own mental state if this continues.
He has been in and out of work for 7 years, never fully been able to hold a job down. Your friend sounds like my partner there is always something.

I don’t know if it’s certain situation he feels more comfortable in, just seems like he picks and chooses what suits him, Today I asked if would come and help me with the food shopping he said no he just doesn’t want to do that, but a friend asked if he would help with with his garden shed and he said yes and is going to do that. So for me I’m completely lost at whether it’s me or him I don’t know what to do to help him anymore or to get through to him and as you said I don’t want this to continue into our 30s.

He is great around the house cooks and cleans and is a amazing dad but has a short fuse. It’s constantly about him however and simply anything I do isn’t good enough because he’s at home with the children doing all the housework etc. Which makes me pull away and almost resent him as he doesn’t see what I do for our family and what I do for him and how hard it is on me. It’s all about him the whole time.

I would like to go to counselling for myself or as a couple however I don’t think he would be open to it. You have made really great points and I’m going to really take it in and try have a very hard conversation and hope it doesn’t end in a argument.

Hi, thanks for your reply. No I pretty much agree with his 100%. Iv tried to express this in a nice way and communicate properly. But because he stays at home with the children doing school run and house work and things to him I feel like I’m less than and I’m always constantly not doing enough. Some days I am mentally and physically exhausted with working and the kids and just don’t do anything and to him I’m lazy.

I’m picking up the pieces for the both of us most defiantly but I don’t know how to change the cycle without ripping my family apart and upsetting anyone? I feel nothing will change, enless I do. I have to make a stand and make some tough decisions and maybe a bit of tough love I just don’t know. I see no effort of his part and I don’t want this for my life and I don’t want this for his life either he is the only one who can change but I feel like he won’t. He won’t go back to work he won’t try new things he won’t take medication he won’t do anything so how am I suppose to support this? Am I being selfish? Do I not understand? Granted I don’t I am not depressed or suffer with anxiety but I am trying but I feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders.

If I were to play devil’s advocate, I would say his shunning of social and public activities like shopping, in favour of activities with his friends, may result from his mental health condition that makes him want to stay in a comfort zone of the familiar. Every time he peeks over the parapet, he finds it painful so he would prefer to have a smaller world. He gets his pride and self-esteem from his role in the house.

It could be said that the child-care role prevents him from any responsibility to adopt another role. It could perhaps also hinder his recovery if he’s comfortable with the house-keeping role because it reduces the likelihood of having symptoms and getting treatment for them by him avoiding anything that makes him uncomfortable. A

You are frustrated that he’s showing no inclination to take active steps to address his mental health problems and return to work. Again, could it be that he genuinely feels he can’t recover from his illness, he’s scarred from his negative experiences of not being able to hold down a job and he’s now found his groove as a stay at home dad which reduces his exposure to stress?

Whatever his motivations are, if he is determined to be a stay at home dad, then you may have to tolerate at least another 10-15 years of this before your youngest leaves home? By then, he will be 35-40 with limited employment experience and skills, plus perhaps a long term little treated mental health condition of over 20 years in duration which will be entrenched and long-established. This could make it harder for him to become economically active and harder to recover from his illness.

Are his national insurance contributions being paid because he’s in receipt of child benefits or sickness benefits? He is required to have 35 years of NI contributions to get a full state pension.

You said “because he stays at home with the children doing school run and house work… I feel like I’m less than and I’m always constantly not doing enough. Some days I am mentally and physically exhausted with working and the kids and just don’t do anything and to him I’m lazy.”… You also said “simply anything I do isn’t good enough …he doesn’t see what I do for our family and what I do for him and how hard it is on me.” Is this guilt about not doing enough domestically something you naturally feel yourself or is it a result of being criticised by your partner?

You say he has a short-fuse. What causes him to lose his temper and how does it show? Was this present in the early days of your relationship? Depression and anxiety can cause people to be irritable and moody.

Also, you have mentioned 'It’s constantly about him … It’s all about him the whole time". Can you say a little more about this? Is this to do with your feeling that he gets to control what he does and doesn’t do and he follows his own personal interests and wishes and at the expense of the relationship?

What’s in this relationship for you?
You’ve found us because you have lost sympathy, and I’m not surprised.
When did you last have a holiday?
You are worn out, mentally and physically.

I’m going to be a pedant - you say that you’ve lost sympathy with him. Sympathy is feeling pity and sorrow for him which is sentimental and unproductive.

What you mean is that you’ve lost empathy for him which is about understanding his feelings, sharing them, being supportive of them and seeing things from his point of view. I’ve heard this described as compassion fatigue which is common in carers.

Do you think he’s noticed the change in you, perhaps by showing a lack of patience and being critical? If so, how has he reacted? I

What is your housing tenure - ownership, private or social housing and is it in joint names?