“My Boyfriend’s Anxiety Is Affecting Our Relationship”

I’ve been seeing a really kind, considerate, smart guy for the last six months. We’re nearly 30, have a lot of fun together, and we have great chemistry, but he has some personal issues, that I feel are getting in the way of our relationship. He suffers from social anxiety (most significantly at work – he avoids any interactions with more senior people, avoids taking on responsibility and just tries to get by). He also has what seem to be significant insecurities. For instance, he sleeps with his light on at night when he’s alone because he’s afraid of the dark. Another example: one night at dinner after a somewhat serious conversation he said he wanted to ask me something, and his question was: “Do you think my head is physically too big?” He also has a ‘victim’ outlook on life – he says things like, “I don’t deserve to have this happen to me,” or “Life has just been harder for me than it is for other people.”

His friends sometimes take advantage of him because he can’t really say no. He offers to do things for me that are clearly extremely inconvenient for him. I make a point of explaining to him why it would be unreasonable for me to ever ask something like that of him, and say “Thanks, but I can’t accept.” I refuse to ever take advantage of him, but I want HIM to realize what’s happening.

So the question is: do I stay or do I go? I genuinely care about him, and I had a serious bout of depression in my early 20s so I really understand what he’s going through. I’ve been encouraging him to see a therapist, and he’s agreed to but still hasn’t made an appointment after about a month. Part of me wants to at least wait until he gets into therapy and see how things go, and the other part of me wants to tell him to call me in a year after he’s figured himself out. What is best for him? I am fine either way — I really care about him and would miss him but I really just want him to be happy. — Not Afraid of the Dark

Well, you’ve already pretty much decided that you can’t be with him as he is now, right? So, that would mean you’d need him to change in order to have a happy relationship, and one thing I always say: be happy with your partner as he is NOW not as you wish he would be. If the success of your relationship is contingent on him getting himself together — going to therapy, figuring out his shit, getting better — and he has shown zero signs of doing that, then you need to break up with him and explain why you’re breaking up with him. If he chooses to then get help, great — but it has to be his choice and he has to do it for himself. You probably wouldn’t see evidence of that being the case for many, many months. And when you say you’d be “fine either way” — whether you break up or stay with him — it seems even more obvious what your decision should be, because clearly you aren’t fine with how things are now or you wouldn’t have written to me. So, MOA, darlin’. Then you’ll probably be fine.

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


  1. Addie Pray says:

    I agree with Wendy, MOA. Not because of LW’s boyfriend’s issues. She should move on simply because LW does not seem to be in love with her boyfriend at all. She obviously cares about him and wants him to get better. But if she were in love with him, I would think her letter would reflect more pain and and heartache over the thought of needing to break up with him. Instead, she writes, “I’m fine either way.” She has clearly already checked out.

    1. SpaceySteph says:

      Exactly what I was thinking as I read the letter. You may like him, but you are clearly not heart-wrenchingly, head-over-heels in love with this guy.
      If I were to write into an advice column to ask if I should break up with my boyfriend I’m sure I’d be sobbing by the end, rambling, obviously upset in my writing. I certainly wouldn’t end it with “I’d be find either way.” You don’t love him, and that’s ok. Find someone you wouldn’t be “fine” leaving, and hold on to him.

  2. I’d be high-tailing it at the “Victim Mentality” issue. Those types end up completely infuriating.

    But yeah, big-picture-wise – agree with Wendy and Addie Pray.

    1. Britannia says:

      I agree with you. People who always try to play the victim like to whine, blame others for everything, never accomplish anything for themselves, and if you’re in a relationship with one, all “hard times”, disagreements, or problems will be ALL YOUR FAULT. No one should be emotionally abused like that… so I think the LW should MOA!!

      Also, I know some people can live with being in a relationship with someone who has a very negative world-view, but I am not one of them. It’s extremely depressing, and they will never be happy. Do you want to spend the rest of your life with someone who can’t have fun or be happy, ever? MOA.

      1. bittergaymark says:

        I totally agree. And it’s not like people usually outgrow these moods either. If anything, they only get worse…

      2. Britannia says:

        When they have a shoulder to always cry on, and someone to always blame things on, they will always dive deeper into their victimhood. Trying to help them by coddling them and being for them is, in my experience, the best way to make sure they never change. Giving them only themselves to blame (by MOA’ing) is honestly the best way to help them.

      3. Britannia says:

        This reminds me of a quote from Fido…

        “Bill, just because your father tried to eat you, does that mean we all have to be unhappy… forever?”

  3. Wendy’s 100% right- You’re not happy with who he is right now, and he doesn’t seem to be interested in getting help/changing. Don’t waste any more of his time and MOA.

  4. as someone who has a little bit of social anxiety disorder, can i suggest you ask your boyfriend see a therapist? if he refuses or he goes but doesn’t make progress, then move on. give yourself a deadline and if his mental health issues don’t show signs of improving by the deadline, then you’ll know you did everything you could for the relationship before you end it (that is to say if it is worth it to you). with so many jerks out there, it seems sad to give up on a good guy just because he is struggling with some mental health problems. please don’t think you need to stay because of this, i’m just saying if you think you would stay with him if his mental health improved, then give him the benefit of the doubt.

    1. honeybeenicki says:

      It does say she suggested he see a therapist and he agreed but he hasn’t made any move (making an appointment). I agree that if she does want to attempt to see the relationship work, then she should give herself a firm timeline. I also agree with Wendy though – you can’t bank on people changing nor should you. You should love your partner for who they are and not for what you want them to be.

      1. He could have anxiety about calling to make an appt which would explain why it is being put off.

  5. My best friend is married to a guy who I think has a social anxiety disorder. He can’t be in rooms or hallways full of people. He doesn’t have a lot of friends, he seems pretty insecure about a lot of things, he worries about everything and he always seems to think he’s dying from something, even if it’s just a common cold he thinks he has cancer or something and freaks out.

    I know she gets frustrated with him sometimes and it can be tiring. But she’s also learned how to deal with it, and I know that in spite of these issues her husband has, that they are truly happy and in completely love. They have 3 children together and he is a wonderful dad. They are each other’s best friend. They talk about everything. They laugh, they do things with the kids, they still go out on dates together, and they know when to give each other space as well. He cleans the house, he walks the kids to school, he does all the things that a husband should. I know that she is happy and wouldn’t have things any other way.

    I guess it all comes down to what YOU want and what you are/aren’t willing to deal with in order to be with somebody you care about. He may not get better, he may drive you insane farther down the road and you’ll find that you just can’t handle it. Or you may find that you CAN handle it and that he is truly a good partner for you, even with his flaws.

    I guess I would say, go with what @cdobbs above me said. Give yourself a time line and set personal limit as to how far you’re willing to go in order to help him. If he is a really good guy, he might be worth it.

    But like Wendy said, don’t stay with somebody if you are hoping they will change. If he gets help, he may learn better coping skills but he will still be the same person and he will likely need reassurance all of his life.

    1. bittergaymark says:

      Wow, those kids are sure growing up in a stress free environment. What with their own father claiming to be at death’s door with each and every cold. He also probably can’t go to ANY of their extra-curricular activities as what could possibly not involve pack hallways of rooms of other people? Oh, and I bet the kid’s birthday parties with hardly any other guests are just loads and loads of fun… Yeah, talk about father of the year.

      Newsflash! Maybe women should try a little bit harder NOT to reproduce with the mentally challenged? Hey, look, if your friend wants to saddle herself FOR LIFE with dealing with somebody else’s crazy issues — fine! But to bring kids into the mix and saddle them with a childhood of being frustrated and often tired from dealing with said issues? So not cool. So not cool.


      1. They are actually really happy kids who do very well in school, have lots of friends, and enjoy their birthday parties with all the kids in the neighbourhood. They are really lucky to have 2 parents that love each other, and that love them and protect them. They have a really great, fun, loving, wonderful dad!

        Just because a person has anxiety issues doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to cope with them, it doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of giving love, and it certainly does not mean that they aren’t worthy of being loved. You should learn to stop making assumptions like you know everything about somebody else’s life.

        Bottom line is, the couple is happy and the children are happy. Maybe, for once, you should try being happy for someone else instead living in your cloud of cynicism.

      2. bittergaymark says:

        Okay… It certainly didn’t sound like he was coping with them well in your original post… Somebody who claims to have cancer with each and every runny nose seems deeply disturbed to me… I mean if that’s your idea of coping with anxiety issues, I’d sure hate to see what crumbling under the weight of them is…

        All I am saying is that women should REALLY think about who they are having kids with…

        How long have they been married, I wonder. Call me when they get divorced in a few years and we’ll see just how happy everybody REALLY is. Seriously… My prediction is your friend will eventually grow weary of catering to his every need and insecurity. Or maybe she really is a saint, who knows… But hey — if so many of you think that it’s a woman’s role to dutifully suffer and endure the pathetic insecurities of her man —- then by all means rush right on out and continue to marry complete and utter messes… Somehow, forgive me, I thought most women and their children deserved better.

      3. bittergaymark says:

        PS — I also have some really good friends who grew up under VERY similar circumstances and not a one of them would ever describe their childhood as happy and to this day avoid going home as much as possible…

      4. Laura Perreault says:

        I can tell you that I’m actually very happy with my husband…regardless of his anxieties. We’ve been together for 7 years and there’s no end in sight. I don’t consider myself a saint for loving my husband. EVERYONE has issues, some are more apparent than others. The point MissDre was trying to make is that when you truly love someone you love them flaws and all. I consider myself very lucky to have married my soul mate. I wonder…have you met someone who loves you flaws and all?

      5. OMG drama llama!! An anxiety disorder is not the same as being mentally challenged. Miss Dre’s friend may have issues, but he sounds high functioning and also sounds like a good father. And as I recall from my own childhood, parents don’t always share every thought, feeling, and nuance of their adult life with their kids, if only to not scare the pants off of them. He may have some issues that the rest of us think are odd, but that doesn’t mean he’s lording them over his kids and wife turning them all into the Strange Family.

      6. Kids don’t have to have perfect parents to be happy. My mom is bipolar and has had severe PTSD since before I was born. Sometimes our home environment was stressful as a result, but whose family doesn’t have issues? I still had a very happy childhood. I’m still very close with my mom. My parents have been married for 28 years and they are more in love than any married couple I have ever seen. Lots of parents have personal issues. Because they’re people, and lots of people have issues. But as long as they are able to treat their family with love and respect and care, the kids will be fine. True, they will be bummed when their loving, caring father can’t come to their basketball game. But I can guarantee that they’ll be better off with an involved father with some limitations than with the endless amount of parents who don’t have any announced mental health disorders, but are just shitty people in general.

      7. Now you see, I usually agree with your very blunt comments, but this is over the line. Mentally challenged, really, REALLY??? Maybe you should google “anxiety disorder” & then google “mentally challenged” & see what you pull up. OR maybe go speak with a dr!
        Maybe you meant mental illness??? Regardless, in case you’re not too clear, MENTAL ILLNESS & MENTALLY CHALLENGED are too VERY different things & before you go on a ti raid throwing around phrases like that, do your research so you don’t sound so ignorant please. THANKS!!

      8. two***

    2. Skyblossom says:

      I have an acquaintance with social anxiety disorder. She is happily married and manages to do okay, participating in organizations and interacting in the community. They have three adult children. Their daughter has done excellent in life. The sons both also have social anxiety to the point that neither of them has ever dated and one is so severe that he has no friends and his parents feared he would never be able to hold a job. He does have a job in a small office but he lives a lonely life.

      We all have some issues in our life, whether they are social, mental or medical. You have to decide which quirks or conditions you can live with and which you can’t. I’d personally be afraid to marry someone with a mental condition but my husband’s family has Crohn’s disease and I can live with that.

      In this situation I don’t think you love him and have already moved on emotionally so I don’t think you have to make a choice about accepting this or not. You’re done and just need to be officially done. At the very least, don’t stay out of obligation or until you think he has had enough treatment to improve. That would be emotionally unhealthy for you and he might never get treatment if he felt that you would leave when he began to get better.

      1. My father has Crohn’s, and it runs in his entire side of the family. I am so thankful that his case is manageable, but he did lose his brother (my uncle) when i was very young. I think you would be hard pressed to find a perfect mate (genetically or otherwise) People are imperfect, and while Miss Dre’s friends situation would certainly not work for me I can see how it could work for others. Different strokes for different folks!

  6. Turtledove says:

    So I say this coming from the viewpoint of a person who has social anxiety and a suite of weird phobias herself. MOA darlin, your support and encouragement isn’t going to help him right now. You can’t save him and he’s not going to go to therapy until his life is in such a shambles that he has to. And with the victim mentality, it may take him even longer than that (first he’s got to realize that the problem lies with him, not with everyone else) Therapy is scary, especially when you know something is wrong– and laying your heart bare for a stranger, it’s hard to imagine anything worse for a person who is frightened of strangers. I didn’t get help until I’d wrecked just about every relationship I’d ever managed to form and it took years before I was able to have anything even remotely resembling a normal life. Today, you wouldn’t know it to look at me– I’m even pretty good at public speaking. My husband and I usually manage to get a good laugh out of the phobias (because you know they rear their head at the least convenient of times). But the thing is, LW, this isn’t a quick or easy fix. Unless you’re head over heels, can’t imagine my life without him, in Love with a capital L with this guy, it may be better to have your leaving be one of the reasons he seeks help than to be the one sitting through it with him.

  7. Sometimes a person is unwilling to change until their world is rocked by a significant event brought about by something, or someone. Although it is magnanimous of you to want to do what’s best for him, please don’t forget to think about doing what’s best for you. It sounds like you’re not as invested in this relationship as you used to be due to things your boyfriend refused to address even though you’ve encouraged him to discuss them. His inaction regarding therapy is bordering disrespect, so please MOA. By not having you there, it may motivate him to do something for himself perhaps and go for therapy.

    1. Britannia says:

      I agree with your suggestion that breaking up with him might be the best thing for him! I was in a relationship for a year with a guy who slowly fell down the mental rabbit hole, became depressed and lazy, and I tried absolutely everything to help him feel better and get a grip on his life — to no avail. Eventually, I realized that I simply couldn’t help him and that he was taxing me way too much emotionally. Once I dumped him, he didn’t have someone to take care of him as he played the victim — the only person he could rely on was himself, and he got his act together! Got a job, went to school, and sent me an email a year later saying that though he wasn’t going to give me credit for what he did after the breakup, that he’s glad we broke up because now his life is much better. Which isn’t really the greatest thank-you letter because it’s still quite passive-aggressive, but I’m still happy that he’s living a productive life now.

      1. Rachelgrace53 says:

        That’s one of the worst thank-you letters ever… I was in the same situation with the same kind of ending, but thankfully have yet to receive any passive-aggressive communication.

  8. bittergaymark says:

    The guy has issues, sure. But they don’t sound that big to me. Everybody is a little insecure. How many times on here have you ladies felt some part of your body is too big or too small? Seriously… That said, yeah. She should break up with him as she just doesn’t sound THAT into him. And that’s fine. They just aren’t a match… She should MOA gracefully.

    EDIT: Yikes…somehow, I glossed over or missed all the work issues… Okay, yeah. Those are SERIOUS issues. You know what? It’s not your responsibility to try to FIX people. Especially your boyfriend. Read a bunch of advice columns for how well that usually works out… Be nice. But move on. Simply tell him you aren’t a match. If he presses, then tell him that he should sort out some of his own issues. People who aren’t ready to be good partners AREN’T ready to date seriously… This describes your boyfriend perfectly, does it not?

  9. sobriquet says:

    I can’t believe he hasn’t gone to therapy yet! Not only will talking to a professional help him tremendously, the pills will help, too! Ain’t nothing wrong with a daily dose of klonapin when you have major anxiety.

    My high school boyfriend started having anxiety attacks about a year into our relationship. He apparently would focus on his breathing a lot, which often made him short of breath. If he was driving down a long road and couldn’t see over a hill, he would have a small anxiety attack. The worst was that we couldn’t go to the movies, or to a basketball game without him needing to leave. I think his doctor prescribed him zoloft.

    I would urge him to see someone immediately. Even if you end up breaking up with him, that is the best thing you can do for him. His anxiety is hurting his career, friendships, and relationship. Even if he is uncomfortable talking to a psychiatrist, simply telling his family practitioner about his anxiety would get him some meds and start the process of getting better.

  10. caffeinatrix says:

    Tell him that either he goes to therapy- as in, this week- or you’ll have to break up with him. Hanging around and hoping he changes will not help him, and will only make your life harder. My brother has similar issues and behavior patterns, but coupled with a whole mess of other issues that leave him barely able to function. He also has a crazy victim complex and body issues (your note about how he asked you about the proportions of his head stuck out to me). He’s anxious and paranoid, but also extremely manipulative and abusive, especially toward our mother. He’s struggled with depression since he was a teenager, but his mental state got steadily worse by his mid-twenties, to the point where he couldn’t hold down a job, stopped seeing his friends, and had to move back home, where he spent his energy trying to manipulate everyone in our family into giving him money until my mom finally kicked him out. He’s also been on suicide watch a few times. He’s basically refused to see therapists, take medicine, or accept any professional help at all, so we don’t know exactly what’s wrong.

    While I don’t necessarily think your boyfriend is heading down that road, he’s not too far off from where my brother was 3-4 years ago. If he’s always been like this- ask his family if you can- then it may just partly be his nature to be anxious. If he only recently developed this behavior over the past year or couple of years, these may be signs of a progressive mental disorder. Either way, he needs therapy because it’s interfering with his life. Whether you stay or go? Well, getting an idea of the consequences of not going to therapy may be the kick he needs to actually take it seriously. If it were me, I’d probably break up with him, but tell him that you’ll be available as a friend if he wants to talk (maybe give yourself a few weeks of breathing room so you can distance yourself enough to better handle having him as a friend). In the meantime, MOA.

  11. Oh dear Goddess. You must be a saint to be dealing with him. You’ve asked him to see a therapist. There isn’t anything else you can do unless you want to Mommy him and force him to go. You have two options on the therapy thing:
    1) Make a “couples” appointment and the both of you go.
    2) Leave

    Honestly, this is your call. My 1st husband had a victim’s complex, but his was a part of a narcissistic/socio/psychopathic problem, which isn’t something you’re dealing with. My 2nd boy (the 1st husband’s son) has a victim’s complex, and does sound an awful lot like the guy you’re dealing with, for now. Part of his is manipulation to make himself appear the victim for sympathy though, but he does volunteer for a lot of stuff and can’t say no to anything either, for attention, and he has my social anxiety disorder on top of all of that.
    The only thing we can do with him is bio-feedback/talk therapy and basically “toughen” him up (he’s almost 9). It means that every time he tries to play the victim, we have to call him out on it. Even if he’s in public. We have to question his stories (and multiple versions) until we get the truth and get him to see the truth of it, and debate how he could have handled it differently. When he tries to volunteer for things, or give people things that he can’t (or we can’t) afford, we have to reign him in.
    Are you really willing to do all of this? If not, I think telling him so would be a good idea. Let him know that when he’s gotten his life sorted out he can call you, but until then, you’d like to give him space to sort himself out.

    Good luck.

  12. spaceboy761 says:

    The fact that he’s stalling with the therapy is a really bad sign since none of this will change until he wants it to. By the time this guy is functional, you could conceivably move on, date, and get married. It seems like an awful lot to saddle yourself with to salvage a six-month relationship.

  13. If your boyfriend is like this now, there’s a very good chance he’s always going to be this way… Especially if he knows this is taking a toll on your relationship, but hasn’t been so interested in doing something about it.
    I suffer from pretty bad anxiety & panic disorder. I constantly think negatively & my boyfriend always points it out to me. We’ve had arguments bc of it. I realized that I can’t live this way anymore, that this is ruining my quality of life, & without anyone pushing me, I called an anxiety treatment clinic at a local university & am now undergoing treatment. But that’s the point, **I** did it myself. The person has to want to do it.
    It doesn’t seem like your boyfriend is interested in getting help, maybe he doesn’t think he needs any, or maybe he thinks, no matter what, you’ll always be there dealing with him. I agree with Wendy, talk to him & tell him your patience is wearing thin. You love him, but you’re starting to not like the way he is carrying himself. You want to be there for him, but you can’t hold his hand all the way, **HE** needs to take that step. Maybe the thought of losing you, or actually losing you, will light that spark under his ass so he can do something.
    But seriously, if someone doesn’t want help, you can’t force them…

    1. spaceboy761 says:

      This is actually a very good litmus test. If he agrees to therapy, then the relationship has a chance of surviving. If he resists, you can MOA secure in the knowledge that he isn’t going to change any time soon. I typically hate partners giving ultimatums, but I think it’s the way to go here.

  14. My ex-boyfriend suffered from some anxiety and depression, and it really took a toll on our relationship. He was very insecure and at times self-destructive, and always thought everything in his life was sooo horrible. He could never roll with the punches and just get over something; he took everything bad that happened in his life to heart and really let it all affect him. He started seeing a therapist and taking meds when we were together, and it helped. He really did try to change his thought patterns and be more proactive in his mental health. But even though he improved, the issues were still there. Even with help, that’s still who he was–an anxious, negative person. He was a great guy, and it was great to see him actively try to think positively and change for the better. But it never came naturally to him. That stuff was just a part of him, whether I liked it or not.

  15. ArtsyGirl says:

    One reason he doesn’t wait to schedule the appointment with the therapist is he knows that he will have to take personal responsibility. The therapist will make him do things that will make him uncomfortable such as speak with his superiors and sleep with the lights off. He will have to admit that reasons why his ‘life is harder’ than others is possibly because he makes it that way. LW move on because you are babysitting him.

  16. justpeachy says:

    As someone who has dated the “victim” type of guy in the past, trust me when I say get out of this relationship sooner than later. Even if he goes to therapy and works on his anxiety issues, you will always be either “The Girl Who Fixed Him” or “The Girl Who Broke Him”. If he gets his life back on track, odds are that a significant amount of his happiness will be dependent on you. He’ll most likely think it’s your job to make him happy and it’s your fault if he’s sad. It’s MUCH harder to get out once you’ve reached this point.

    This guy needs to learn how to make himself happy and realize that he is, in fact, not a victim, and he won’t be able to do it in a healthy manner if you stick around.

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