“My Boyfriend Is Too Depressed For Sex”

My boyfriend and I (both in our 30s) have been together for about two years. He is a kind, generous, patient, and generally lovely human being who struggles with depression. We’ve talked about his depression, and I know he’s been to a therapist in the past and is planning to go back to therapy soon. (His insurance is through a managed care organization which seems to make it difficult to get an appointment and even more difficult to “shop around” for a therapist.)

What I’m struggling with is how to talk about things that I think are a result of his depression but are affecting him, or us, and need to be dealt with. On the ‘mostly affecting him’ side are things like not going to the dentist or eye doctor. On the ‘affecting us’ side are things like a very low sex drive and fatigue that affects our plans or his responding to texts/calls.

How do you have conversations with someone about things they aren’t doing/need to do without making them feel like crap…when the reason they aren’t doing them is because they already feel like crap? — Apprehensive Girlfriend

First of all, what does “planning to back to therapy soon” really mean? I get that out-of-pocket therapy is cost-prohibitive for a lot of people and that insurance is often a whole mess of red tape, but what steps is your boyfriend actively taking to deal with these roadblocks? When you say that even “shopping around” for a therapist is difficult, it sounds like the hunt for a therapist hasn’t even really begun, never mind making an appointment. And when your boyfriend hasn’t made appointments for other medical needs he has – dental and vision care – there seems to be a theme here, right? And, yes, this theme of self-neglect could be a symptom of his depression, as could his fatigue and his very low sex drive, which are affecting your relationship, which is all the more reason for him to address the underlying issue – his depression – as soon as possible.

So, how do you address these issues with your boyfriend without making him feel like crap? Maybe you don’t prioritize avoidance. Instead of avoiding “making him feel like crap,” accept that he already feels like crap and you aren’t the one making him feel that way. His mental health is making him feel that way, and you want the mental health addressed and treated so that he feels better and your relationship improves. So, while his dental health is important and your sex life matters, neither will really improve much until the mental health issue is addressed, and that should be your focus.

Your boyfriend needs therapy now; he would likely benefit from a consultation with a psychiatrist to discuss treatment options – like medication, for example – as well. These things cannot be put off. If “shopping around” for a therapist is difficult, help him. If costs are a barrier, research all the options within your boyfriend’s insurance, but also sliding scale therapy, low-cost online therapy, community resources, and local universities that may offer low-cost therapy sessions with graduate students studying psychology.

Let your boyfriend know that the symptoms of his depression are affecting you and your relationship and need to be addressed pronto. Will this make him feel likeo crap? Maybe. But doesn’t not addressing all of this feel pretty crappy, too (for you and for him)? Eventually, if you both let these issues continue, you’re going to feel resentful and want to leave. That would feel pretty crappy, too (for both of you). If you need a script to get the conversation started, try something like this:

“I love you and am very happy that you’re my boyfriend, but I’m concerned that your untreated depression is a threat not just to your mental health but also to our happiness together, and I want to help you find the treatment that you need. This need feels urgent to me and something we should prioritize above everything else because it affects so much in your life and in our relationship.”

Once he actually has a therapist, you can share some concerns you have – like his sex drive and his medical needs – that he might bring to his therapist. I think bringing these issues to his attention now, when he has nowhere to go/no one to help him address the underlying cause, would backfire, which I suspect is your fear when you say you’re afraid of making him feel like crap. Because, yeah, it’s a super crappy feeling when you know there’s a problem but you don’t have the tools to address or fix the problem. And when someone you love points out more problems that need fixing – which you probably already know about anyway but are too depressed to deal with – without offering any solutions or tools, it feels even worse. So focus on helping your boyfriend find solutions and tools right now, in the way of professional mental health attention. Once those supports are in place, it will be much easier to bring up issues he can address with a therapist, like how he needs a dental cleaning and you need to get laid more often.

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


  1. LW1, as someone who has suffered from depression, I’ll echo Wendy’s comments. No other problems will be solved until you get him into therapy and address the depression.

    LW2, use your words. If you want a relationship with Mike you have to speak to him about it. Tell him how you feel and what you want. Maybe he says no but then you’ll know where you stand . You will not fall into a relationship through osmosis. Also, we don’t know if Mike’s ex is a problem. In the absence of an actual relationship with you he can do what he wants with his ex.

  2. I’m not seeing any mixed signals in L2. He agreed to a no-strings-attached sexual setup, and that’s what you have. He mentioned trying to become a better person FOR SOMEONE ELSE, and that’s supposed to be a mixed signal — how? I genuinely don’t get it.

    1. She want to be in a relationship with him and rather than talk about it she wants him to spontaneously start acting like they’re a couple.

    2. LisforLeslie says:

      It’s not a mixed signal, it’s the wish that it were a mixed signal.

      Signal 1: I’m going to be a better person … for someone who is not you.
      Signal 2: I still enjoy sleeping with you so clearly we have a connection.

      LW2 – for this guy, you are fun. You make no demands. There are no strings and no expectations. You’re in a transactional relationship – it’s not money that’s exchanged, let’s call it brief companionship. It’s similar to riding on the bus. You get on. You ride a bit. You get off. You don’t spend time thinking about the bus, the depot, the drivers, the riders. I don’t mean to be crass and I’m not comparing you to a bus directly – but this guy doesn’t see you as a relationship person.

  3. allathian says:

    LW1, I really agree with Wendy here. You should make it a priority to help your boyfriend get some therapy. When he gets his depression under control, that will help him deal with all the other issues that affect your relationship. It’s just that the first steps of getting therapy can seem insurmountable when you’re depressed, and that’s where you can help.

    LW2, when I was in my 20s and single, I had a couple FWB relationships. One of them ended because I developed a crush on him and wanted more than he was willing to give, the other ended because he developed a crush on me and I wasn’t interested in a romantic relationship with him. With the exes and all, it doesn’t sound very promising, but you’ll never know unless you talk to him about your feelings.

  4. Bittergaymark says:

    I dunno. Why women always need to be the ones doing all the work. He needs to fix himself. MOA. You’re just wasting your time here, LW.

  5. LW1, I’ve been in this situation many times. Depressed guys are my type! But often, they’re actually too depressed to be in a relationship. You say he isn’t even following through on your plans, or replying to text/calls. Those are the activities that constitute dating someone.

    Unless he’s showing a consistent interest in getting better, you may need to accept that he doesn’t necessarily want to. Or, that he needs more help than someone in your role can give. Don’t turn yourself into a caregiver and build up resentment at how little you’re getting out of it. (Any chance he’s also a drinker?)

  6. From LW2:

    “We did have a conversation, but a drunk conversation. He asked me directly if I had feelings for him and I confessed. He also asked me what do you expect from me, relationship to which I replied no I don’t expect anything from you. About his ex he said that there is nothing going on and she is not his type. He asked me if I went away for a new job then and some similar questiones. I asked what’s in your heart to which he replied that he does not know and needs time to figure it out. It has been four days since and we have not talked about it. We talked about just random normal conversation. But he is still talking to his ex. I’am really confused if he has feelings for me or not and what should I do.”

    1. This isn’t actually confusing. He isn’t sending mixed signals. You just don’t want to pick up on the signals that he IS sending. Sure, he’s not saying he doesn’t want a relationship with you, but saying he “doesn’t know and needs time to figure it out” is not the potential yes you think it is. He’s just stalling because no one likes rejecting someone; it doesn’t feel good, especially if you’re getting sex from that person. And there’s a big difference between wanting sex from you and wanting a relationship with you. You shouldn’t be confused about these two things. If he had any interest at all in having a relationship with you – a real relationship, beyond friendship with some sex – he would pursue that with you. He knows you have feelings for him. But, you know, it turns out the guy who wanted no-strings-attached sex still doesn’t want strings attached. This is not confusing.

    2. If he had feelings for you , a person he was dating, he would have told you that he did when you confessed your feelings. I agree that he just wants to keep you on the hook while still enjoying his freedom. He may not be thinking of it that explicitly, but he knows you’ll cut bait if he says he doesn’t want a relationship.

      Even if he is legitimately ambivalent and doesn’t know “what’s in his heart.” I think that you need to cut bait. Maybe in a month he’ll decide he loves you. Probably he won’t. In any event, it’s something outside your control that you can’t control or predict and you shouldn’t hold up your life waiting for it to probably not happen. There are other people out there who will think you’re awesome and want a relationship and every day you’re anchored to this guy is a day you’re wasting in finding that.

  7. “He also asked me what do you expect from me, relationship to which I replied no I don’t expect anything from you.”

    You could’ve told him the truth right there — “I want a relationship.” Because you OBVIOUSLY do. Stop pretending otherwise; it’s not healthy for you. When he phrased it that way — “What do you expect from me?” — he was basically implying that you were demanding something. It’s a slight neg, and it worked on you. You backed off, so that you could be the “cool girl,” who doesn’t pressure.

    Well, asking for something you want is not the same thing as demanding or pressuring. You could’ve said, “Yes, I want a relationship,” or “I want you to be my boyfriend” or whatever.
    Say. what. you. want.
    He’s free to do whatever with that information, but if he doesn’t want that, then you need to move ON. Being no-strings-attached, while you pretend you don’t care, is not healthy for you. The ex has nothing to do with any of this.

    1. I definitely agree that YOU are sending mixed signals.

      More important I think that this situation is simply unhealthy for both of you. Both of you are pretending like this is some easy casual thing but neither of you is in the right place for this.

      He’s holding on to his ex while not admitting it. Being alone would help him actually deal with his feelings. This merry go round he has with you is giving him excuses to not deal with his feelings.

      You are putting your emotions in a box and not telling the person you really like what you actually need or want. Keep up with that nonsense and you will ALWAYS be disappointed. Don’t be so desperate for his company and any scrap of time that you ignore your own wants. It won’t work out. He’s not going to magically realize that it was you all along, not his ex. He has told you flat out, that any effort he makes in his life is directed towards his ex. I’m sorry, but you are a distraction for him. You are not the reason he gets up in the morning and does stuff.

      You need to put some distance, especially physical between you for your own health.

  8. Having no needs or wants is not a good look.

  9. He’s lying about his ex. She is his type. Apparently, you are not. He wants to get back with her, but can’t. He hasn’t given up on that. You need to move on. You are being used.

  10. LW1 – I’d echo WWS and also throw in a cautionary note: Do not become his appointment maker. You can encourage him to search and be a sounding board if he’s having trouble settling on a particular therapist. Absolutely be supportive. But don’t take on the huge boatload of logistical and emotional labor that it takes to address Depression. He needs to do that for himself. Unfortunately, I speak from experience on this :/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *