Intimate Inquiry

Hi K&E,

I met my boyfriend in high school and we’ve been together for almost four years. I fell in love with him because of his fun personality and sense of humor. I enjoy his presence because I am the type of person who doesn’t take stress very well and needs to be more relaxed, so he helps me loosen up nicely.

Periodically, we’ve talked about college and he always feels uncomfortable talking about it because he feels like I am “smarter” and more diligent. He is ashamed of his struggle to get decent grades. Recently, he told me that he thinks he will “fail at everything in life.” I tried to comfort him and give him advice, but it’s as if he was pushing me away. I think he is just fixated on the idea that he will fail. It’s very frustrating for me because I don’t want to see him experience a self-fulfilling prophecy. His complete lack of confidence in his future is also a turn-off, and yet I still love him and want to help him be able to do something about his fear of failure.

What should I do?

-Deeply Troubled

Dear DT,

It sounds like your boyfriend is going through some personal issues with self-esteem and self-worth. Most likely, this has nothing to do with you and your relationship. These expectations and self-fulfilling prophecies may be rooted in parental expectations or childhood issues. It seems as though you are being understanding and hearing him out. He may just need to vent his frustrations to someone.

If he is pushing you away, though, you may have to just give him some space. Let him vent without saying anything in response. If he isn’t asking for your advice or comfort, he may feel as though this unsolicited advice is condescending, even if you don’t mean for it to be.

It is a delicate situation, and sometimes getting comfort or advice from people you compare yourself to just makes you feel worse. You are clearly trying to be a supportive and loving girlfriend, and that should be commended. However, try to think about how you come across to your boyfriend — he may take it out of context or see a different meaning in your words.

His fear of failure may be part of a deeper-rooted issue, such as depression or anxiety. According to the Mayo Clinic, some symptoms of depression include fatigue, reduced sex drive, agitation, restlessness, decreased concentration, and changes in appetite. If he experiences any of these symptoms, he may be clinically depressed. This is something you will have to discuss with him. You can approach it delicately, by saying that you’ve noticed some changes in his personality and behavior that worry you. You probably shouldn’t ask him if he’s depressed — he may get defensive, but you can ask him how he is feeling, both physically and mentally. Depression carries a lot of social stigma, and it is difficult to talk to a loved one who is experiencing these feelings.

According to an article in Psychology Today, there are ways that you can help. You can be there to listen to his thoughts and feelings, as well as encourage him to take positive action and not wallow in sadness or self-pity. You can also ask him what he needs, and let him know that you are willing to help. You should also expect him to reciprocate these supportive and encouraging actions. People experiencing depression may be caught up in their struggle and seem a bit self-centered. The article states that expecting reciprocity ensures that the relationship is remains equal and between two peers.

Finally, you should know that there is only so much you can do to help. You are his girlfriend, not his therapist. If he expresses disturbing thoughts or thoughts of suicide, then you should ask him to seek professional help. Even if he is not depressed, and simply overwhelmed and discouraged, asking him to seek professional counseling may help ease the strain on your relationship.

You can also try to boost his confidence by doing activities that play up his strengths — if he’s good at sports you can suggest joining a basketball or softball team at the ARC. You can even offer to join a team with him. If he is a skilled artist or painter, you can take a class together. You can also encourage him to try new things in order to discover new skills and talents. Enroll in a fun new class — cooking, sailing, scuba diving — anything to get him out there. Even engaging in volunteer work together might boost his confidence and make him feel better about himself by engaging in activities that help other people and touch their lives.

Ultimately, you cannot change your boyfriend’s mentality. If you feel that his lack of confidence is unbearable, it is your prerogative to break it off. For more tips on how to help friends who are feeling down, you can check out the article at the following link: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/embracing-the-dark-side/200906/how-help-depressed-friend-and-when-stop-trying-part-2.

Love,
K&E

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