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“Should I Move On From My Mentally Ill Girlfriend?”

I’m 24, work a steady full-time job in a major city, am applying to the master’s program where I work, have paid off my student loans, and just bought a new car. It seems like I have my life in order and this has gotten me thinking about my future, specifically where my long-time girlfriend fits into it. We met in college and have been dating for over three years now. Our relationship has had its ups and down but I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world. The thing is, we live 70 miles apart now and issues of long-term compatibility have been coming up, making me wonder if we can make it work.

I love the girl to pieces and we have good times together, but I’m afraid logistically things just don’t fit. She suffers from an acute mental illness, which she takes medication for, that impairs her ability to do things, like hold a job or go to school. When we first started dating, she was upfront about this and I figured “I’m in college with no responsibilities, let’s have fun together and hopefully by the time we graduate she’ll have it together.” That hasn’t happened. If anything, she’s suffered further setbacks due to a recent suicide attempt and now has no time for work or school because of her outpatient therapy.

I feel so bad for her and have stood by her side since the beginning, but I don’t want to marry and have kids with someone who can’t be a co-provider and will require constant supervision/care. Not to mention that I’m not fond of her family (they’re nice people, but their values are very different from mine), nor is mine particularly fond of her. So, should I get out now, for both our sakes, even though it will hurt more than anything for both of us? Or should I keep faith that she’ll get better, establish a career, and we’ll have a wonderful family in the future? — Sad Boyfriend


Do me a favor and re-read your letter and see what you think. You’ve been dating your girlfriend over three years now and her mental health has not improved, right? In fact, one could argue it’s gotten worse. And while that doesn’t mean she can’t be a wonderful and supportive partner to someone, it seems she is not the right partner for you. If you’re at a point where you’re thinking in terms of life partner and you know you don’t want to marry someone who’s going to require constant medical supervision and care, then obviously, a woman who “suffers from an acute mental illness,” — an illness that impairs her ability to hold a job or finish school — isn’t your right match.

As sad as that may feel — and I’m sure if you care for her and love her, it must be heartbreaking realization to come to — it’s not as sad as if you were to stay with her out of pity, or with the hope that she’d eventually “get better.” That’s not fair to you, and that’s not fair to her. She can’t help how she is. I’m sure if she could, she would have waved her magic wand and made herself healthy by now. But she can’t. And as challenging as it must be for her to live inside herself, imagine how much harder it is knowing — or at least suspecting — that who she is isn’t enough for the person she loves and has committed herself to. For someone who already has shaky mental health, that must be quite a blow … on a daily basis, no less.

So, set her — and yourself — free. In feeling the burden of guilt you’re likely going to have by letting her go, take comfort in knowing you’ll be relieving her of some of the guilt she’s likely felt for the last few years. Even better than that, you’ll be giving her the opportunity to find someone who can and will love her for all that she is — not all that he wishes she’d be. Because while you may not be that guy, that doesn’t mean he isn’t out there somewhere. Give her the chance to find him. Give her the chance to be loved completely and unconditionally. And give yourself the chance to find someone who meets all your needs and doesn’t leave you feeling like your love isn’t quite enough to make things right. I bet she’s out there, but you’ve got to give yourself the freedom to look.

*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

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caitie_didnt caitie_didn't April 7, 2011, 3:07 pm

Oh man….this is such a heartbreaking scenario. Wendy’s advice is perfect and I’d like to add that the LW seems like a stand-up guy who’s handled this situation way better than a lot of dudes his age would.

avatar justpeachy April 7, 2011, 3:10 pm

Just make sure that, especially with her recent suicide attempt, she has the support system to take this kind of news. But you CANNOT be afraid to break things off with her because of this.

avatar mf April 7, 2011, 4:07 pm

Agreed. You might want to notify a trusted friend or family member soon after if/when you break it off. It’s probably a good idea to have someone looking out for her.

avatar cdj0815 April 7, 2011, 4:19 pm

I was thinking about that too. Well said mf.

avatar Amy April 7, 2011, 3:11 pm

I’m sorry – that’s so sad. But I agree – you need to let her go – it sounds like you know what you want in a woman and this woman isn’t a match. If you stay with her for the sake of your history together or your pity you’ll end up resenting her… Yo both deserve better. Be kind to her and to yourself – it will be hard, but you’ll both get through it.

avatar ReginaRey April 7, 2011, 3:14 pm

“I don’t want to marry and have kids with someone who can’t be a co-provider and will require constant supervision/care.” – In that sole sentence, you have your answer, LW. If you don’t want to marry her, then you can’t stay with her. You’ll be robbing yourself and her of the chance to find someone to share your lives with.

I wonder if part of your hesitance to end this relationship is because you’re afraid that she might do something to hurt herself, or even attempt suicide again. I don’t have any experience with this, but I understand that it must be a scary notion – “If I leave her, could I be the cause of her pain or even death?” But, and as insensitive as this may sound, you are not obligated to stay with someone because you’re afraid of what they might do when you leave. It’s extremely unhealthy, and will ultimately hurt you far more than making a clean break now. Does anyone else have experience that they could share?

Best of luck, LW. I hope to hear a good update soon!

avatar sarolabelle April 7, 2011, 3:14 pm

People like this make me mad…seriously, why date her and string her along for 3 years? Go into every relationship with the hope of forever. The minute you realize it won’t be forever then let the person go. Seems like you are 2 1/2 years behind. Shame you wasted her time and yours…..

caitie_didnt caitie_didn't April 7, 2011, 3:18 pm

I think the LW did hope it would be forever, though. I get the sense that the girlfriend’s mental health has recently taken a turn for the (much) worse and the LW has realized that she may never get to the place he thought or hoped she would.

avatar sarolabelle April 7, 2011, 3:20 pm

hence, Wendy’s advice from before in another letter….love the person for how they are now, not how you hope they will be.

avatar Amy April 7, 2011, 4:00 pm

Maybe he hoped so – but it’s not as though this girl changed from when he met her. The LW said:

” She suffers from an acute mental illness, which she takes medication for, that impairs her ability to do things, like hold a job or go to school. When we first started dating, she was upfront about this and I figured “I’m in college with no responsibilities, let’s have fun together and hopefully by the time we graduate she’ll have it together.”

In a way I agree with sarolabelle – He shouldn’t have dove in so deep with this girl knowing that he was hoping she’d get it together by the time they graduated. If he just wanted to have fun with her – that’s where he should have left it. Now that they’ve carried this out for years and love each other very much – it’s going to be a heartache for both of them. However – they are in college, they haven’t had much of a chance to experience heartache. He probably didn’t realize how this would play out – this is probably a lesson in love that was learned the hard way.

avatar PFG-SCR April 7, 2011, 3:26 pm

“Go into every relationship with the hope of forever. The minute you realize it won’t be forever then let the person go.”

Does dating necessarily need to only be with someone you want to be with forever? It’s one thing if he was telling her that he wanted to be with her forever but didn’t truly feel that way, but they started dating in college when most relationships are just for fun.

avatar ReginaRey April 7, 2011, 3:32 pm

I wouldn’t say that most relationships begun in college are just for fun. I’d say that while most of us are a less-mature version of our future selves, that doesn’t mean that our relationships are all “just for fun.” I’m still with (second) college boyfriend, and we’ve grown together as “real adults.” I don’t think every dating relationship has to be with the intention of forever, but I think if two people are serious about being together, there should at least be the acknowledgement that this could *possibly* end up being forever. The LW probably thought it could work in college, and he’s grown up and away from her since then.

avatar honeybeenicki April 7, 2011, 3:46 pm

I agree with you that the LW thought it would work and get better. I married the man I was dating while I was in college, so I agree that not all of those relationships are just for fun. I certainly don’t fault the LW for hoping things would get better with his girlfriend’s mental illness. Sometimes with proper medication and counseling, people can improve greatly. And maybe the mental illness was something he THOUGHT he could live with, but in reality he is unable to.

avatar PFG-SCR April 7, 2011, 4:31 pm

@ReginaRey: I’m married to my high school sweetheart, so I’m not judging young romances, but I don’t think a lot of college students approach every dating situation with the mentality of “Do I want to be with him/her forever?”

avatar spot April 8, 2011, 1:32 am

I totally agree. In college, typical question is not “could this person be forever?”–it’s generally “could this person be fun to date for a little while, and if things go well, possibly have a future with?”

avatar sarolabelle April 7, 2011, 3:38 pm

Does dating necessarily need to only be with someone you want to be with forever? My answer is yes, but that could be just me. I don’t lead anyone on thinking that there may be more ever.

caitie_didnt caitie_didn't April 7, 2011, 4:21 pm

Really? So you’ve never even gone on one or two dates with someone who you weren’t totally sure about, but thought “hey they seem nice enough, I’ll see if I feel a spark after a date or two”?

avatar sarolabelle April 7, 2011, 4:26 pm

of course I did. But 3 years?? Never.

caitie_didnt caitie_didn't April 7, 2011, 4:43 pm

College is a transitional period where you’re still becoming your adult self. You can’t really compare three years of college to three years of grown-up life.

avatar MissDre April 7, 2011, 4:43 pm

But he honestly loves her, that’s not stringing her along!

caitie_didnt caitie_didn't April 7, 2011, 5:01 pm

also true

avatar Amy April 7, 2011, 5:21 pm

Even if people love each other – if they don’t see it progressing to the next level – at SOME point it becomes stringing along. If he’s just coming to this conclusion that he doesn’t want her for a wife now – he will be stringing her along if he stays in the relationship.

One would hope that someone would come to that conclusion before 3 yeras – but the college years are such a transitional time that it’s understandable.

He should remember – it takes a LOT more than love to make a marriage/relationship work – loving someone is not enough of a reason in and of itself to stay with someone.

avatar RoyalEagle0408 April 7, 2011, 5:33 pm

I have to say I’ve never gotten into a relationship with someone I had ruled out the possibility of forever with. I’m a firm believer that you can’t know, since a lot of things change, but I don’t believe in wasting your time or the other person’s time.

avatar Amy April 7, 2011, 5:56 pm

There – that’s what I was trying to say – except I was using too many words! Perfect!

avatar Kat April 20, 2011, 9:35 pm

And he didn’t rule out the possibility at the beginning either. He’s only just now ruled it out, because once you’re out in the real world it’s a giant reality check. Her inability to hold down a job is a HUGE problem, not to mention the attempted suicide. For the record, I’m not 100% against suicide in every situation, but it does hurt those who love the victim, even if it’s just an attempt. There’s guilt and insecurity and grief that comes with that baggage and at the end of the day, maybe it’s in his best interest to walk away from that. I don’t think this situation is something people who don’t have personal experience with mental illness (either in themselves or a loved one) can really judge, because it’s a game changer. If you’ve never dealt with it, then you don’t know sh!t.

avatar Elle April 7, 2011, 3:35 pm

I got that too initially, but the LW said “let’s have fun together and hopefully by the time we graduate she’ll have it together.” And 3 years later, it doesn’t look like she’s getting better. Now, I think it’s so hard for LW to let go because he has feelings for her.

LW, I give you mad props for knowing what you want. And knowing what you don’t want. Now just make sure you can live with that decision and its consequences.

And when you do break up with her, do her a favor and don’t contact her ever again.

avatar Jessica April 7, 2011, 4:03 pm

that last line made me very sad. wow.

avatar Fairhaired Child April 8, 2011, 1:10 am

That is a sad thing but very true. I get mad at my one guy friend who continously contacts one of his ex-girlfriends. He says its because “she seems so sad and he wants to reach out to her” and while his intentions may be good, at first, it only hurts her more because then she goes into the “see he does care, if he didn’t love me then why does he listen to my problems, and why did we meet up with our old group of friends and all hang out at the bar together, didn’t he talk to me then? does that mean something?” and then she bothers me about what he wants.. and I honestly feel this girl just needs to be left alone, and so does the LW’s girlfriend when he breaks up with her.

Do not contact her. Don’t ask other people about her, if they offer up information then fine, listen, but dont purposefully ask people “so how is ___ doing?” becuase then they will tell her you asked about her and start process of over analyzing “does he love me does he not” stuff all over again.

avatar Bricka April 8, 2011, 11:55 am

I agree, he shouldnt contact her again. I went through this myself and I knew that if I had kept talking to him, it would have been worse. It suck and it hurts like nothing I ever felt before, but at some point you have to take care of yourself before you decide to take care of somebody else. She is supposed to be his partner, not his daughter.

avatar Amber April 7, 2011, 3:45 pm

I really don’t think most people go in to the majority of relationships thinking, this is forever. I think it takes a few months to decide if you even want a relationship with someone. And from what the LW says in his letter I don’t think he was trying to string her along. He said he truly loves her and I’m sure he does. That doesn’t mean that they haven’t drifted apart over time. Now that he’s realizing marriage between them probably won’t work he is letting her go. I also think you have to look at when people start dating (age wise) as to how serious the relationship is. While I agree many relationships started in college can last I think they also take longer to develop and it is easier to grow apart from that person as you change and grow into an adult.

avatar ReginaRey April 7, 2011, 3:49 pm

Really agree with your last sentence, Amber. There’s this weird phenomenon I’ve witnessed since graduating college: A few months after graduation, a TON of couples who seemingly had no issues whatsoever break up. I think it’s the realization that “hey, this is the real world, and it’s not easy,” and “we’re growing apart now that we’re transitioning to adult life.” Some can survive the difficult transition and growth, others can’t.

avatar SpaceySteph April 7, 2011, 4:23 pm

“I really don’t think most people go in to the majority of relationships thinking, this is forever. I think it takes a few months to decide if you even want a relationship with someone.”
Majorly agree. My last few serious relationships started with me thinking “hey, this could be fun,” not “hey, this could be my future husband.” It took months for me to progress from that to “maybe this is something that could last awhile,” and even more months before I started thinking of them as people I saw a real future with.
My ex and I were together for 6 months before we discussed marriage, my current boyfriend and I together for 8. I think its often true that you enter a relationship before realizing that it could be forever and then try to wrap your head around forever for awhile before you realize its not what you want. I don’t think he strung her along.

avatar HmC April 7, 2011, 4:05 pm

Not everyone is looking for forever. But even of those who are, dating is about reaching the conclusion that you want forever with that person. It takes time to figure that out, some couples more than others, and that’s what dating is for. Then you can go into marriage with a commitment to forever.

avatar sarolabelle April 7, 2011, 4:10 pm

dating is about reaching the conclusion that you want forever with that person

Right – that is what I mean…but you said it better. I just think he knew long ago that she wasn’t forever and I think it is unfair.

avatar Amy April 7, 2011, 4:41 pm

I feel like people are misunderstanding Sarolabelle. What I’m gathering is that she doesn’t date people exclusively just for fun. If she’s going to be in a relationship with someone – she wants to see if it will end up in a permanent committment – when she realizes the person is wrong for her or they are each wrong for each other – she breaks it off rather than killing time in a relationship that isn’t going to go anywhere. Not to say that she has to have this attitude before a first date – or first 5 or 6 dates.

And it would suck to be in a relationship with a man that I felt seriously about to discover that he wasn’t feeling the same way – when he decided that – I’d want him to break it off with me so I could move on – I think this is why she said she was mad about the LW.

It seems like she has the same take on relationships that are so regularly shared by Dear Wendy contributors – perhaps she didn’t say it so eloquently at first – but I think she’s on the same page.

avatar MissDre April 7, 2011, 4:46 pm

Yes, I see what sarolabelle is saying and I do agree with her, but she’s accusing the LW of spending the last 3 years with this girl knowing full well that he doesn’t want to marry her. And I don’t this that’s true. I think he has loved her very much and is only now realizing that they are not right for her.

avatar sarolabelle April 7, 2011, 6:50 pm

I am surprised more people are steaming mad. Obviously his intentions were to look out for his best interests and to “have fun.” Since when are we okay with this? It seems like this guy is jerk who lead on a girl with mental illness (for sex, money, who knows). If this is his idea of “love” then I really feel sorry for the next woman.

Dear Wendy Wendy April 7, 2011, 7:13 pm

Woah, that’s unfair. Of course, when he first started dating his gf three years ago, his intention was to have fun and see where things would go. He was in college! Most college kids aren’t thinking “Could this be my future spouse?” the first month or two they’re dating someone. They’re dating to have fun … and to see where things might go. That doesn’t mean they’re callously using people for their own best interests; it simply means they’re getting to know each other without the pressure of “OMG, I HAVE TO FIND MY SPOUSE RIGHT NOW” that a lot of adults put on themselves. In the three years that the LW has dated his gf, his intentions have changed. That’s normal for anyone, but especially so for someone his age. I see nothing wrong at all in someone re-evaluating his current relationship once realizing he might actually be ready for a life partner now.

avatar SpyGlassez April 8, 2011, 4:33 pm

Also, if it makes a difference, he is a guy. Most of the guys I knew in college weren’t thinking a year ahead, much less forever. When the relationship started, he was just thinking fun because that’s where he was. He’s in a different place now. Also, I got the feeling that his girlfriend’s suicide attempt was fairly recent, and that may have been what caused him to reevaluate her condition.

I was a cutter before I met my boyfriend. I’m not proud of it; but I’ve also never tried to hide it or be ashamed. I also told him this before we started dating. He was honest with me; he’d had a previous girlfriend or who cut, and he could not be in a relationship like that again. I have known that if I resort to cutting in the future, it is over between us, and I respect him for understanding that about himself.

Maybe the boyfriend didn’t really realize what kind of a place his girlfriend was still in mentally until she attempted suicide.

caitie_didnt caitie_didn't April 7, 2011, 8:08 pm

Where exactly are you getting this from? Most guys my age (23) would run away screaming at the first signs of mental illness, even if it was a “just for fun” relationship. The LW has stuck by his girlfriend through three years of challenges in the hopes that she would eventually get better. Maybe that was naive of him because mental illness is a life-long challenge, but I think it speaks very highly of his character that he was willing to support her. And as for her being “taken advantage of”? She had a loving, caring boyfriend to support her through three difficult years and that is more than many people with varying illnesses are lucky to have.

avatar Elle April 7, 2011, 4:30 pm

“The minute you realize it won’t be forever then let the person go.” I think the LW recently realized that it won’t be forever, and he’s thinking about letting her go.

sarolabelle, you remind me of something i read a while ago – the first time they have sex, the woman goes into it hoping it will last a lifetime, and the guy hopes it will last through the night.

and some advice to the LW – have you met any other women? Not in the sense of cheating on your girlfriend, but maybe see what else is out there? You know what you’re giving up, but do you have any idea what you’ll get? (I may sound cynical, but I’m, you know, practical – you should make an informed decision.)

avatar HmC April 7, 2011, 5:17 pm

Say what? Maybe I’m misunderstanding you but this seems like a hurtful, unnecessary way to go, both for the LW and his girlfriend. If he doesn’t want her, he should get out now. I’m sure LW has already met women besides his girlfriend in his lifetime… and if you’re implying LW should get some sort of connection going with another girl first, I totally disagree.

avatar Elle April 7, 2011, 9:44 pm

HmC, you are misunderstanding me. Right now, the LW is emotionally unavailable, because he is in love with his gf. He can’t start anything with anyone else right now.

But if he sees what his dating prospects are, maybe he will rethink the decision? After dating a few girl with, I don’t know, problems like cheating, or drugs, or God knows what else, he might realize that actually his gf is a great person, and she deserves him by her side.

I don’t remember where I heard this, but he needs to take a trip through ‘loser-ville’… He knows what he’s giving up. He doesn’t know what else is out there. Maybe it’s not worth it. That was my point.

avatar CJ April 8, 2011, 8:39 am

But at the same time, should he stay with her simply because “that’s the best I can get right now.” What if he does that and in 6 months says “Yea, she’s the best I’ll get, I guess I’ll settle.” Then in a year, he meets the person that he does see himself staying with forever?

That is such a cruel thing to do. Especially to someone who is suffering from a mental illness.

avatar Elle April 8, 2011, 10:51 am

I was just trying to play devil’s advocate. It may very well take him 7 years to fall in love with someone else. And all that time, he might regret his girlfriend.

But after reading everyone else’s comments, I realize that it’s not fair for someone so young to enter into a lifelong struggle. Her next suicide attempt might be successful (I hope with all my heart that it won’t happen). I don’t know how the LW can be in a relationship with someone they can lose at any moment. I know I couldn’t handle it.

avatar PFG-SCR April 7, 2011, 3:17 pm

Once again, great advice Wendy. I know the LW is struggling with this, and he feels a sense of obligation, but that’s no reason to stay with someone given the circumstances of their relationship. As hard as it is now to break up, it will only be more difficult as time goes on to end the relationship. For both of their sakes, he should do it now.

avatar callmehobo April 7, 2011, 3:18 pm

Great advice, Wendy. I can tell the LW has a genuinely good heart and just wants what’s best for everyone. I’m gonna let you in on a little secret…

It’s not selfish to take care of yourself or to make sure that your needs are met!

I know that you want to make sure that your girlfriend is gonna be ok, and that you are concerned that a break-up would affect her negatively. However, that doesn’t make it right to stay with her. You are denying YOUR needs in an effort to protect her.

While that is a noble act, don’t you think that you would grow to resent your relationship if you were to have to give up your dreams of a career and family to be with her? Or if you were forced to give her twenty-four-hour care due to her medical needs? Are you willing to give up the possibility of having a committed partner who can take care of you as much as you can take care of her?

LW- You sound like a sweet guy, and both you and your girlfriend deserve to be in a relationship where both of your needs can be met. I wish you all the luck in the world-<3

avatar hana April 7, 2011, 3:42 pm

One of my best friends has a mental illness like this. From the description I’m pretty sure it is the same illness. She went through this scenario a few years back. She was completely crazy about this guy and after about 3 years he broke up with her. Now, mý friends boyfriend was extremely unsupportive and my friend was not diagnosed at the time. She spiraled for about 2 years after the relationship. Drinking t have courage to start the day, sleeping with random men who treated her poorly. Eventually she realized she couldn’t be in the same state as her ex and moved across the country. During this time she started improving. When she returned home (where we all live) she started seeking help. Got diagnosed, began taking medicine, quit drinking and went to AA. Now she has a great job and a boyfriend who is a good match. It took her first boyfriend breaking up with her to get her where she is now. LW if you have doubts and are miserable she can sense that, whether she mentions it to you or not. And I guarantee it isn’t helping her mental health.

avatar sweetleaf April 7, 2011, 3:59 pm

That exact thing happened to me. I was spiraling out of control and causing my bf so much strife. He broke up with me and I wanted to DIE! I got even worse, starting cutting and burning myself, but it took him breaking up with me to realize something was wrong. I finally got help, was diagnosed with BPD, and got on medication. He’s long gone now and I still truly love him, but I’m thankful to experience that heart ache because it made me get my life together.

avatar MissDre April 7, 2011, 4:50 pm

same here sweetleaf, my ex broke up with me because he couldn’t handle my severe depression. and i hated him for breaking my heart, i was so angry and spiraled into an even worse depression. i wanted to die! but my parents finally dragged me to the emergency room after finding me in a pile on the floor, shaking and dry heaving. that’s what it took for me to get the help i needed.

and thankfully 2 years later i’m doing so much better, my life has turned around and i’ve discovered that i really can be happy :) if he had stayed with me, nothing would likely have changed.

avatar SGMcG April 7, 2011, 3:45 pm

I’m sorry LW. It sounds like you had dreams of her getting better or at least managable. You need to realistically move forward out of this relationship if you recognize it is something you do not want anymore. When you initiate the breakup that needs to be done, please do yourself (and herself) a favor and try not to immediately become her friend. As you phase your relationship from a romatic to a non-existent one, she needs to re-establish and re-organize her support network, not only for her mental illness but in general. Having you there as a “friend” will only confuse the situation, for you and her, so be cruel and don’t. be. there.

If in the midst of the breakup talk she mentions suicide again, call her parents before you cut off all contact. Her comments need to be noted for her therapist or doctor. If you’re going to leave your GF, you might as well leave her better than when you found her.

Go with no regrets LW – just with hopes for you and her.

avatar jena April 7, 2011, 4:04 pm

I think it was said right here: “I DONT WANT TO MARRY AND HAVE KIDS with someone who can’t be a co-provider and will require constant supervision/care”

You say she hasn’t changed since you met, and that things have gotten worse. You can’t change who a person is, whether that means they cry at sad movies, hate your cat, or have a mental illness. Bow out.

avatar slamy April 7, 2011, 4:09 pm

This sounds like me 3 years ago, sort of. I do not regret leaving my mentally ill boyfriend, but it broke my heart to have to do so.

I know that I am much better off now, and I hope he is too.

avatar CJ April 8, 2011, 8:43 am

I have to agree completely. I don’t know how my ex is doing now. But I know that if I were still with him now, he’d be far worse than he was at his lowest points during our relationship because I’d be resentful and tired. Once I realized that was how I was starting to feel and I realized he was starting to see it too, I knew I had to end it. It hurt like hell, but it was time to move on.

avatar Painted_lady April 7, 2011, 4:14 pm

My future BIL is you in 10 years, LW, and it isn’t nice or pretty or fun. His wife is mentally ill, and they have a child for whom all signs point to mental illness as well. She passed it on, and her instability contributes to this poor kid’s misery every day. She doesn’t mean to do it, but some days she simply cannot get out of bed. Aside from the obvious self-esteem issues of having a mother who doesn’t appear to give a shit, he’s also gotten into her meds and could have died. She can’t work, but she can’t stay at home alone with their kid. She takes off for days at a time without telling anyone where she is or where their money has gone in her absence. She’s a mess, and he is not one of those people who can take care of a sick person. It doesn’t sound like you are either. His only defense is that they got married too quickly – she was pregnant – and had no idea how badly off she really was. You can’t claim this. Get out now before you incur this sadness on children as well.

She may never get better. Then again, I have a good friend who finally saw after a breakup how far down she’d gone, and she used it to get back on her meds and put her life back together. You have no control over what might happen, and it is not your responsibility. Absolve yourself. Once you tell her, talk to a few trusted friends of hers and let them know she will need extra support. But you should not punish yourself or her forever for falling in love with a woman who is wrong for you.

Kristina Kristina April 7, 2011, 7:54 pm

What you said really got to me. My mom has Borderline Personality Disorder (though never officially diagnosed because she refuses to get any help, but my dad is a psychologist). It was hard enough growing up with a mom who barely works, is always a mess, and not there to take care of anyone else but herself. I couldn’t imagine being in the LW’s position and actually dating someone who isn’t getting better with a mental condition.

I also feel that the LW is quite mature for someone young when it comes to mental illnesses. I still fear telling a guy I’m dating about my mom’s mental illness because a lot of people will think that I may eventually become sick like her. Her mother was schizophrenic, so it seems there is something hereditary in my family, but I’m proactive about keeping myself in check because of that.

avatar Painted_lady April 7, 2011, 10:32 pm

My friend that pulled herself out of mental illness (with the help of drugs and counseling – but *she* chose to take the help and I’m so proud of her for it) has a family history of it as well. Her awareness of it has made all the difference in the world – she’s kept on top of it as well, and she’s such an amazing, funny, strong woman as a result. If only all of us could be so self-aware.

I don’t know what you do/plan to do for a living, but she teaches, and her awareness of all the signs and symptoms of mental illness saved a student’s life last semester. While the heredity of her condition used to make her question whether or not she should have kids, her compassion in dealing with that one student convinced her that the way she deals with it gives her an advantage as a parent rather than a handicap. I admire her so much – and you as well – for being able to embrace the not-so-pretty potential you have and let it shape you into a better person rather than letting it cripple you forever.

Kristina Kristina April 8, 2011, 8:47 pm

Your friend sounds like a great person and I’m glad that she was able to help someone else.

Although I’m studying to work in the fashion industry, my goal for being a parent in the future is to make sure that my future children grow up to be self-aware, not only in terms of mental illness, but everything else as well.

avatar BoomChakaLaka April 7, 2011, 4:33 pm

LW, you have to leave her. It will definitely do more harm if you stay.

avatar nawilla April 7, 2011, 5:06 pm

LW, you are not a bad guy. You had hopes, and three years ago, during college, those hopes were justified. College wasn’t just a time of transition for you, but for your girlfriend as well. I’m sorry it didn’t work out for the better.

There are many reasons people don’t stay together, and mental illness is only one of them. It is sad that she isn’t the person who can live your dreams with you, but denying that or trying to ‘make it work’ because it’s not her fault will only lead to greater heartache.

Finally, speaking as someone who was the child of an unstable parent (never diagnosed, probably should have been) and a parent who made bad choices, as much as you love your current girlfriend, love your future children enough to give them a mother who not only you love, but can love and nurture them. There is still hope for your girlfriend to find someone she can share her dreams with. But if that person isn’t you, don’t sacrifice yourself and your children because you feel bad about breaking up with her.

avatar slamy April 7, 2011, 5:58 pm

“s much as you love your current girlfriend, love your future children enough to give them a mother who not only you love, but can love and nurture them.”

this. yes.

avatar AKchic April 7, 2011, 5:14 pm

LW, I feel for you. Your problem isn’t an easy one. It seems like everyone is well aware of the fact that she has a severe mental illness. Wishful thinking isn’t going to cure her of it. Her medications obviously didn’t help control her symptoms. She got worse.
There will be those that will get mad at you and blame you for leaving. The “you left her in her time of need”. Honey, this girl seems like she is in a constant state of need. She needs more help than you can give her. And that is exactly what you need to tell her. She need not know that you were worried about her capabilities as a co-parent to potential future children, or that you were scared she would never have a career.
You are breaking off your relationship because you feel that a long distance relationship is not conducive to any positive progression of her mental state. That it isn’t fair to HER that she cannot have a boyfriend who is local and is able to be THERE at her side to help see her through these rough times. You are giving her the opportunity to find someone who CAN be there for her in ways that you have been unable to.

You are a sweet guy. I hope you find someone closer to your locale to date and find a meaningful relationship with.

avatar marxsparty April 7, 2011, 5:18 pm

“If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?” – RuPaul.

As heartbreaking as this is, it is definitely time to let go and let her heal (as much as she possibly can).

avatar themintyness April 7, 2011, 5:23 pm

“you’ll be giving her the opportunity to find someone who can and will love her for all that she is — not all that he wishes she’d be”

I love this quote. I’m going to remember this one.

avatar cmarie April 7, 2011, 6:19 pm

I’m of the mind that if you stay in a relationship hoping for things to change, they never will. I also have the knee-jerk reaction of “what a selfish jerk” when reading this letter. I really do get where he’s coming from and I agree that she is obviously not what he wants in life and therefore he needs to leave before he causes any more pain for both of them. However, he spent 3 years with her, knowing about her mental illness, seeing her only get worse, yet he still kept hoping she would change. Mental illness isn’t like taking your shoes off at the door, it’s not a learned behavior. Someday she’ll hopefully find a balance but she’ll always have that illness. I think it’s unfair to say I’ll stay with you as long as you change but if you don’t change fast enough then I think I’m gonna have to break it up. I feel that when you get into a relationship with someone who is ill you had better make sure you can handle it for the long haul because even though it might not work, a long-term, as in 3 year, can only last if you’re willing to take her as she is, not how she could be. I don’t have a problem with needing to get out of a relationship you can’t see yourself in forever, I just take issue with the fact that it took 3 years to figure that out. 3 years is a long time for her to grow to love you and depend on your support ony to have it taken away. The kindest thing you can do for her is to break it off. I’ll go out on a limb and say don’t bring up her mental illness directly. It’s not your responsibility to keep her safe from herself but you should still make every effort to protect her from hurt and if you say it’s because you can’t deal with her mental illness it might just reinforce that she’s unlovable. you can still be honest and tell her you can’t picture a future with her, tell her you want her to find a man who can, but you don’t have to tell her it’s because she’s mentally ill.

avatar rainbow April 7, 2011, 8:55 pm

I guess you’ve never been in a situation like LW’s. It’s much more complicated than that, and I think you’re being unnecessarily harsh.
It takes time to find out how deeply disturbed a person is. Sometimes years. Plus, he mentioned she’s getting more ill, so even if he had realized the state she was in on the very first day he met her, she’s not in that state anymore, she’s doing much worse now.
And yes, he had faith in her, and now he doesn’t have it anymore. So what. Having faith in someone is a gift to that person. Some people can be inspired by it and get better, and some people are not so lucky. It doesn’t mean that you’re supposed to keep the gift coming forever no matter what or you’re a bad person.

Also I think if her mental illness is the issue then he should let her know that. It wouldn’t do any good to lie, and maybe it’s the kick in the butt she needs to try harder.
Because if he lies and she tries to harm herself or whatever, people around her are going to come looking for him saying “oh she’s so ill since you left, please come back” and he has to be able to say “It’s not that she’s ill because i left, it”s that i left because she’s ill and i can’t take it anymore”.
People caring for a troubled loved one sometimes lose perspective and end up pointing to small recent problems as the root of all the mess instead of looking at big underlying issues, maybe because short term problems give you more hope that they’ll be resolved soon. but it’s important that they see the truth about the breakup so they can deal with it better.

(This is all from personal experience)

avatar cmarie April 7, 2011, 9:50 pm

I take real offense to the statement that all it takes to recover from a mental illness is a “kick in the butt”. That’s so demeaning to those people who suffer from a real mental illness. Many are lifelong illness and no matter how hard she works or how often she gets dumped she’s never going to be “cured”. Would you tell a person suffering from schizophrenia he’s just not trying hard enough to get better? Seriously, that’s so messed up. The symptoms can be alleviated but she will obviously never be cured. He got into a relationship with a girl he knew was mentally ill, with an illness he knew she would never recover and instead of accepting her as she is now and how she’ll probably be in future he counted on her getting better after college, as if after college is some sort of magical time where everything get better. He needs to break up with her because it’s what’s best for both of them but he also needs to remember that she’s obviously fragile and he should be as kind as possible when doing it. Besides, if he simply tells her that he can’t see future with her, he’s still being honest without bringing up her mental illness. I’m also sure that she, and everyone else, are going to know on some level that her illness is a contributing factor but he doesn’t need to remind her of it. The fact remains that he got into a relationship with a girl who has a lifelong mental illness and while it’s understandable that he might decide that he can’t deal with it for any longer he can still be kind about it. He might not have set out to be cruel but he was naive and in that he was unkind to her.

avatar nawilla April 7, 2011, 10:17 pm

Rainbow said “and maybe it’s the kick in the butt she needs to try harder.”

This is different from cmarie’s implication: “I take real offense to the statement that all it takes to recover from a mental illness is a “kick in the butt”. ”

No one said anything about a cure.

Living with someone who is mentally ill can be very, very hard, but it is so much harder when that person is actually not trying to help themselves in any way, is resisting treatment, is courting enablers, is being uncooperative, is apathetic, is actively trying to stay ill, or expects others to put up with anything and everything because the are ill, even the aspects that are within their capacity to better. (Yes, this happens).

For a lot of people, there is no motivation to work on themselves if others will continue to bend to accomodate the unreasonable. So yes, a break up, a disengagement, and refusal to further enable can be a ‘kick in the pants’ that might force a patient to admit problems and make an effort on them.

Not always, not for everyone, but it does happen. And it’s not a cure but it can be a step to better management and compliance.

avatar Painted_lady April 7, 2011, 10:52 pm

I don’t think anyone on here thinks that all mental illnesses can be cured with a kick in the butt. However, it is so easy – especially if you’re in the throes of a really dark time – to assume it’s all out of your control.

My best friend – I mentioned her in my first post – suffers from bipolar disorder. She was diagnosed in her early teens after a suicide attempt. She went to a doctor who prescribed meds and sent her on her way. She was on the same stuff for years – dosage adjustments but the same medication – and a couple of years ago after a massive breakdown, she finally realized that doctor wasn’t doing any good. She went to a new one, who prescribed new meds, which didn’t work, so he prescribed new ones, which didn’t work…and so on. Finally, last year they found a combo that worked. She credits the doctor, but it took a kick in the butt to realize that she didn’t want to live her life in the misery she was in. She made the decision to switch doctors, and she allowed him to experiment with the mess until it worked. Sure, there are absolutely things she cannot control. Her illness will never be “cured,” but she finally realized she is not at its mercy. She told me last fall that this has been the first time she has felt true emotions since she was first diagnosed.

So no, the girlfriend will probably never be cured. She may not even improve. But she’s definitely not improving now, and if she’s so young, she cannot just quit. And yet she may never make an attempt to be better – not cured, but better – if she has no motivation to do so.

avatar cmarie April 8, 2011, 1:47 am

I’m glad that you’re friend has found what she needed. It took me years to find the right combination to manage manage my moods. From what the LW says it doesn’t sound like she’s quitting, it sounds like she’s having difficulty finding that balance that others have found. During my worst depressive episode I was so emotionally, physically depressed and exhausted I didn’t even have the energy or the will to get out of bed to use the bathroom. Do you have any idea how humiliating it is to wet the bed because moving takes too much effort. And yes, I was trying to manage but nothing was working at that time. I’ve found a balance but I also know it can change without warning which is why I and my loved ones are always on the lookout for symptoms. I didn’t need anyone to tell me I needed help, I knew I needed help and I was trying but when my moods are out of control like that I don’t have the mental capacity put forth the effort. When I’m manic I may be out of control but I’m not aware of it, not that I don’t want to, but by the nature of the illness I simply can’t see. That doesn’t mean I’m not present when it happens, it just mean that I don’t have the mental capacity to change it because it’s my mental condition that’s messed up. When I was aware of myself I was always trying to manage my illness but when you devolve into that state of uncontrollable emotional turmoil there’s nothing you can do. You can tell someone who is severely depressed that they’re being unreasonable but sometimes they’re so ill they can’t see it. That’s way people end up in inpatient care. Some mental illnesses are so devastating because they make it impossible to see when something is wrong. Ask your friend is she knew she was out of control during a manic episode or if that awareness came later when she got the credit card bill.

Skyblossom Skyblossom April 8, 2011, 12:41 pm

He probably didn’t know a whole lot about mental illness when he met her and so couldn’t know how it would progress. If he didn’t personally know someone who was mentally ill he just wouldn’t know. Now he’s seen it up close and personal and he knows and he realizes that he can’t spend his life this way. He needs an equal partner and because of her illness she can’t be that partner. It’s sad and it’s tragic and he’s powerless to change it. He just has to live with the facts the way they are and make the best decision he can.

avatar nawilla April 7, 2011, 9:10 pm

He spent three years with her, not twenty. I don’t think being in a relationship for three years at that age is ‘stringing someone along’ unless there are actual engagements and wedding plans being made.

Considering many mental illnesses manifest and change drastically during the college years, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ‘see where this is going’. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to stick around and see if he’s really going to be able to handle this long term.

Was he waiting for her to change or seeing if she would grow? Not ‘grow out of it’ but ‘grow into it,’ learning to handle her disease, learning to take responsibility for her self care? No, mental illness is not a learned behavior, but in many illnesses there are many bad coping mechanisms, self-medicating, and manipulative behaviors that the patient has influence over. No one is going to magically get better because they decide to, but very often the disease is composed of what is out of the patient’s control and what is.

I know some people who have mental illnesses that do try to do what they can to live the best, healthiest life they can, who keep vigilant on their treatments, who learn to recognize unhealthy aspects of their lives. I also know people with mental illnesses who sabotage themselves at every turn, including stopping their medication because they miss the manic high, self-medication and substance abuse or simply prefer to abuse their loved ones because that requires less effort than counseling. (My parent actually told me that last one to my face. I was expected to put up with emotional and verbal abuse because counseling was ‘too hard’ and rage was easier).

We don’t know which type of person the LW’s girlfriend is, and frankly it doesn’t matter. But with the fluid nature of mental illness (particularly in young adulthood), I don’t find it unreasonable to wait and see. He waited and he gave them a chance to see if it could work, and he REALLY got to know her mental illness. And in the end, he has made a very well-informed decision that no, it’s not going to work.

avatar cmarie April 7, 2011, 10:09 pm

You forgot the the type of person who struggles with her mental illness and despite her best efforts have difficulty managing it. How about the type that suffer from a mental illness with no cure that progressively gets worse. There are many people who struggle to manage their illness, and no they’re not sabotaging it. I also disagree with the wait and see approach. If you want to give a relationship a few months to see if you really have connection is one thing but to wait 3 years and see if a mental illness will suddenly take a turn for the better, it’s possible but it’s an irresponsible assumption. Supporting her means understanding that it takes a lot of work to manage a mental illness and there will always be ups and downs. It’s one thing to say that’s too much for him to handle, it’s another to say she’s just not trying.

avatar nawilla April 7, 2011, 10:30 pm

I didn’t ‘forget’ about these other circumstances, I simply brought up examples of some types and put forth one theory of what the admittedly young, inexperienced and not-a-mental-health-professional LW might have been thinking when he stuck by this girl for three years.

I have no idea what she has or has not been doing, and frankly, neither do you.

And yes, many mentally ill people don’t sabotage their illnesses, but far more of them do engage in self-destructive behaviors to cope. It’s the nature of the beast. And to expect a person to decide at three months whether the relationship is worth it with a person with a dynamic mental illness is hopelessly naive. If he met her during her ‘good three months’ why should he tie himself to her forever when she hasn’t revealed the whole picture?

As for the examples you brought up, where there is no positive progress, no effect of any efforts and no hope for cure, should he stay for that too? Should he have decided at three months while she was still a functional college student to stick around if she develops permanant psychosis at six months? Will it make him a bad person if she leaves her instead of taking care of her for the rest of her life when he isn’t married to her, isn’t engaged to her and only dated her in college? Are three months of dating ANYONE enough time to decide on forever? That’s absurd under any circumstances.

avatar cmarie April 8, 2011, 1:10 am

Self-destructive behaviors are often a symptom of mental illness. It’s not something people do on purpose. Someone with bipolar disorder may sleep around during a manic episode, cheating on her boyfriend and maybe even getting an STD, but she’s not doing it on purpose, she’s not directly sabotaging herself, it’s a symptom of an underlying problem, not a reaction to it. You assume that all self-destructive behavior is something they can control, something they’re doing intentionally to “cope” while ignoring that a lot of that behavior is a symptom of the mental illness and therefor not something they have any sway over.

I don’t think he should stay with her if he doesn’t think he can handle her illness long-term. I don’t think he’s a bad person, I don’t even think he’s a selfish person (even if that was my knee-jerk reaction) but it doesn’t take 3 years of being with a mentally ill girlfriend to decide that you don’t have a future. And yes, 3 months with someone who has a mental illness is plenty of time to figure out if you want to be with them. Even if they were a good 3 months I’m assuming he would have done research on her disease. Most people wouldn’t get into a relationship with someone unless the understood the nature of what they were dealing with. 3 months is a lot of time; you become monogamous, say the L word, talk about what you want for your future, etc. If he didn’t do his research, if he went into this relationship with rose-colored glasses than he did a great disservice to her as well as himself. If he didn’t think he needed to listen to her, to learn about her illness than yes, he was hopelessly naive.

And maybe I’m nitpicking but the line about how she didn’t “reveal the whole picture” is simply ludicrous. Mental illness isn’t something you can control, you can’t say, hey let’s have a bad day and give this guy a taste of his future. It implies that she purposely hid her illness when even though the LW said she was always honest and upfront about it.

avatar cmarie April 8, 2011, 1:34 am

And, it’s the fluid nature of mental illness that makes the case to not enter into relationships lightly. Maybe she’s having a good month, maybe she’s finally found a good combination of meds to keep her stable but all that can change. He waited to see if after college she would get better, that’s stupid. So what if she did improve during that time, there’s not guarantee she won’t relapse a couple years down the road. He knew her mental illness was lifelong and that was what he should have focused on, LIFELONG ILLNESS. If he didn’t think he could be with her forever than he shouldn’t have tried to wait her illness out.

avatar Fairhaired Child April 8, 2011, 1:54 am

I agree that he should have researched the issue and talked to her in the beginning of it about how much she knew about herself and how she was able to handle the issue so far in her life, and that he should have kept that communication line open to how she was doing and to listen to her more because of the fact that she had an illness. However, how many 20 year olds (specifically male) do you know that research things right away about an illness if things seem “peachy keen” and he knows that the medication she was taking was working for her. Yes he was naive in the beginning, but maybe he really did think that they could both work past the illness and that he thought they had a future (even if he didnt think it would be as long as 3 years or more) , but only now did it get a lot worse for her (and thus him) and now he doesn’t know if he can do it for the long run, esp. if their families don’t share the same values etc.

I don’t think he tried to “wait it out” but just that he believed that while it was life long that she had already delt with it for X amount of years and seemed to cope well with it and understand what worked for her and what didn’t – and thus they could have a relatively stable future even though he knew it could be rough at times. I think his current issues are that he wants to move forward with his life, but may feel that she isn’t able to move forward in the same path with him, if she can move forward at all at this moment due to her current mental state.

Anyway, I just hope for her sake and for his that she is able to cope with the breakup (when it does happen) and that he lets others know so that she is well looked after. This is just such a sad case.

avatar cmarie April 8, 2011, 11:09 am

I have no problem with him needing to move one, I take issue with treating the mental illness like it’s a bad habit you can just move on from. My point is that he was naive and in that he was unintentionally hurtful. I just don’t think it should have taken 3 years for him to come to this point, especially is she was steadily getting worse. I agree that it’s better for both of them that they break up, and I hope in the future he would be more responsible regarding mental illness. Having worked in the the field I see too many partners going into a relationship thinking that their love will be enough to make it better, and it’s not for many of them. Mental illness can’t be treated like an inconvenience because it’s a huge part of that individuals life and even when they’re managing perfectly it’s always in the background. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t live their lives, it just means that they need a strong support system to be aware of warning signs. That’s not him and that’s not a problem, I just wish people would stop treating it like the only reason you’re still sick is because you need to try harder. You have to work to manage it but sometimes it’s just not enough. Sometimes the illness takes away the control and awareness it takes to manage it. He shouldn’t stay if he can’t handle it, but next time I hope he’s smarter about it.

meadowphoenix AB April 7, 2011, 9:49 pm

I disagree with this somewhat. We don’t know the girlfriends take on the beginning of this relationship. For all we know she was just as casual about it and it grew into something more for the both of them. He could have known that she also just wanted to see where this is going. She’s mentally ill, but that doesn’t mean she’s helpless, especially since we don’t know what kind of mental illness. If she indicated that she was serious about it a year into it and he still hadn’t made up his mind until now, I could see where your admonishment had a point. But if they were both still in the “let’s see where this goes” vibe until recently, then he wasn’t leading her on.

avatar SpyGlassez April 8, 2011, 4:47 pm

Also, what were her symptoms like when they were younger? Did she keep him from seeing that side of herself? How long was she functional? I still think a lot of this questioning stems from the recent suicide attempt. Maybe it seemed she was getting better, and then she had a breakdown or however else her illness has manifested. At that time he actually had to face the gulf between the dream and reality.

avatar convexed April 7, 2011, 7:08 pm

We can never know what will happen to our loved ones in the future—we can marry someone and they can become ill or injured and need constant care taking, and if we take the step of marriage, to an extent, we’re signing up for that possibility. That said, LW, you have not yet made this commitment, nor should you leave the door open to such a sad, weary future for both of you.

You’re young, and you need to be a lover first, not a caretaker. Your girlfriend is young, and needs a lover who is first a lover, not a caretaker. When middle-aged adults find themselves taking care of their aging parents, they often need professional support to deal with their own stress and yes, resentment about the situation—despite their deep love for their parents and their best intentions! It’s overwhelming.

Managing mental illness is a life-long project, and your girlfriend has a long road ahead of her. It may take years of trial-and-error with various therapies before she is able to hold a job or be stable enough to raise a family. Or, unfortunately, for many people, that level of function never becomes available—there is no cure for some illnesses, and treatments do not work for everyone, or bring intolerable side effects with limited success. If you’re hoping to have marriage and kids in your future, the stakes–for all parties involved– are too high to make the wager that the magic wand will wave and everything will be ok. I’m so sorry that you face the loss of this relationship, but hopefully with even the hardest decisions comes strength and learning and growing–for you and your girlfriend.

fast eddie fast eddie April 7, 2011, 7:57 pm

The suicide attempt and ongoing therapy would be enough to send me running and screaming, but that’s just me. Many years ago I terminated a years long relationship because she wanted kids and marriage and I didn’t. She was willing go give them up just to have me but I couldn’t let her forfeit her values. It would have been too large a burden to bear and we both moved on. Perhaps this was selfish and I sometimes wonder if it was the right thing to do, overall I guess it was. I have no idea what became of her but I hope she’s doing well.