My life partner “Sally” and I have been together for 9 years. She has always had bouts of depression for which she took medication, but she stopped taking the meds a few years ago. Things were fine for a while, and then about a year ago Sally had to go out of town 5 days a week for work, just coming home on weekends. On Friday nights Sally was always tired and distant, but the rest of the weekend she perked up and everything seemed ok. But then I began to see other changes. Sally used to call me every night and that stopped. Then her daytime texts stopped, too. Sally said she was just busy, but then she admitted that she was feeling depressed. Knowing her well, I insisted that she see someone where she is, but she refused, saying she can handle things on her own. I know she can’t. The reason I am writing to you is that this week Sally emailed me (she didn’t even call) and told me that she couldn’t face coming home because she knows her depression is hurting me. I insisted she come home, or let me come to see her. She refused either option, saying if I push her in any way she will do something we will both regret. I’m not sure I know what she means, but it has to be bad. I’m miserable and lonely, and I am worried about her. We have a daughter and pets and I have a job and I need to keep things together at home, but I’m afraid Sally is finally going to go over the edge. Worse than that, I’m wondering if she might have another lover on the side and that’s why she doesn’t want to come home anymore. What do the two of you think?
Alison’s Take: This is complicated, and we don’t know enough about Sally or the situation to really know what’s going on in Sally’s head, or in her heart. My gut feeling is that Sally is having some sort of mental issues and your own gut tells you that as well. The behavior you have seen previously and within the last year, seems to bear this out. But it’s also possible that Sally has another lover. Depression plus infidelity is a bad combination not just for Sally but for everyone. That other person, if there is one, probably doesn’t know about Sally’s mental and emotional history. If there is a relationship going on between Sally and someone else, it may be of little significance to Sally but not perhaps, to the other woman she is involved with. Although I have seen other situations that might be similar to yours, every situation like this is unique, and my experience tells me that it is is unwise and irresponsible for me to advise you here. The best advice I can give you right now (and the reason we are posting this letter) is to suggest that you get help for yourself so that you can negotiate whatever issues you need to handle. As to Sally’s threats that she would “do something you would both regret” that is a vague, cowardly and mean thing for her to say and one that I wouldn’t take seriously unless it is repeated and comes with other information that worries you. Right now, it appears that it is just a way to keep you at a distance for her convenience. And remember: no one is responsible for someone else’s actions. That said, you care about our partner, and it appears that Sally may be having some issues that require attention. She is an adult, and you can’t force her to go into therapy, or come home. However, you say that you have a family together, and surely she must feel some responsibility to the daughter. As long time partners, she does not have the right to simply disappear from your lives and shirk all responsibilities at home. You can ignore Sally’s treats and go down to visit her, perhaps taking the daughter with you, or once more try to get Sally to come up and talk to you both, which seems only reasonable. If you or someone you know can assess her living situation and find out something about her social life during the week, it should be relatively easy to figure out whether or not there is another lover on the side. If so, it would be doing that person a kindness to let her know of Sally’s mental history. There is little you can do from far away to bring your family back together. Investigate every option and hopefully, Sally will return to her family and all will be well. At some point you will either get your partner back, or you will have to walk away.
Tony’s Take: Although these signs can be read as a deep depression, the fact that Sally is capable of continuing to work would call into question that as a primary diagnosis. Anyone who is that depressed could not face working a regular job. One complication of depression is in fact, destructive behavior. The responsibilities of Sally’s home life might have triggered such destructive behavior. If we were just looking at this situation without factoring in severe depression, then the conclusions are fairly obvious. Yes, she has found someone else. Yes, it is serious. The reason that it would blow up if you went there is that she would have to make a choice between you and the new woman —and you would lose. I believe that you are looking for a diagnosis of deep depression in order to save your relationship, and I am not sure that this is helping either yourself, your family, or your partner. There is nothing that you can do without her support in what you do and she had made it very clear that she wants separation right now, either because she has another woman or because she cannot deal with the pressures inherent in your current, long term relationship. You must give her time to decide what she needs in her life. As long as she remains employed and working steadily you know she has not succumbed to deep depression. We wish you luck and we hope the situation turns around for you and your partner.