My Depressed Girlfriend Makes Home Feel Like the Battlefield

I just found this website for the first time today in search of someone who might be able to help me make some important decisions in my life that, while they are my decisions to make, I really need some feedback. I've been with my girlfriend about four years, and for almost as long as I've known her, she's dealt with a very serious depression. The biggest problem with this is that, as much as I love her, I can't always be there for her. I'm in the military, and am often away from home, and she lives in a very low-income family that can barely afford their living conditions, so she can't afford therapy or medication. We've gone to "free clinics" that offer psychiatric help, but they always try referring her to a psychologist who charges a ridiculous amount of money and isn't covered by whatever insurance her family has. Our relationship is becoming more and more strained by the day to the point that I almost feel like she would be happier without me, but at the same time, I'm afraid leaving will push her over the edge. She has admitted to me (and the psychologist she tried seeing) that she wishes she could commit suicide, but she's too afraid. I'm at the point where the depression is starting to affect me. I've become much more irritable as of late, even snapping at her occasionally, which I'm completely aware doesn't help the situation at all, but I work in an extremely stressful environment, and then come back to relax at home and I feel like I'm going into combat. So far, it seems like everyone I ask thinks that marrying her so she can get my military benefits to take care of her issues is the best option, but considering how unhappy I am, I can't make that leap, even though I know she wants to. There's no guarantee we'll magically be happy once the depression is gone, if it even gets to a manageable point. I really just feel like I need someone to talk to that is knowledgeable in this field. —Unhappily Unmarried
Dear Unhappily Unmarried,

It sounds like you are a remarkably patient and loving person, and I salute the caring way you are relating to your girlfriend. Four years is a long time to remain in such a complicated relationship.

Some people find meaning in helping, even saving, others. I wonder if you are like this; you sound dedicated, but even the most generous caregivers have to take care of themselves first. I’m sure you know that on a gut level. If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t help anyone else.

And it does sound like you have done a great deal to help this young woman, which is admirable, but, as you say, even if she were not experiencing depression you might not find this the ideal relationship.

You write that you are often away from home, but even if you were together 24/7, your friend would most likely still be depressed. You can’t cure her. She needs professional treatment.

As you have found, “free clinics” don’t always work out, but there are some psychotherapeutic and psychoanalytic training institutes where your girlfriend might find help. I hope there is such a place locally available. At a training institute, your girlfriend would be seeing a therapist in training, but usually the supervision is excellent, and the fees are mostly affordable.

You write that her depression is deep. If it is, you should know that getting away from deep depressive states takes long, hard work. It’s a marathon, and often people need a combination of approaches to get the help they need, including both talk therapy and perhaps medication, too.

You wonder if you should marry her to rescue her and share your health benefits. It is true that, if you got married, your health benefits would extend to her, which would be opportune for her, but people generally get married for love, not to rescue someone.

Perhaps you feel obligated to get married because you’ve been in a relationship for four years, and she may seem needy. In my experience, neediness and longevity don’t make good marriages. Your girlfriend needs professional treatment—much more than even the most loving husband can give.

I wonder if you might consider going into therapy for yourself, to help you determine your real needs and desires, and to make sure that you are not codependent, which is a possibility given the history you have shared in your letter.

Couples therapy might also help both of you decide where your relationship is headed.

Thank you very much for writing and asking your difficult question. I hope that this answer is helpful, and I wish you both peace and satisfaction as you go forward with your lives.


Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT is a Manhattan-based, licensed psychotherapist with more than 30 years in private practice. She is also a yoga teacher and student of Ayuveda—the Indian science of wellness. Her main interest is in helping people find healthy ways of living, loving, and working in the particular combination that works best for them, connecting to their deepest energic source so their full range of abilities can be expressed. Lynn's specialty is understanding and alleviating anxiety and depression.
  • Leave a Comment
  • Andre

    December 20th, 2013 at 8:58 PM

    I found this information very helpful. I am kind of a third wheel as my lady friend is romantically involved with someone else. She is good at seeing that her needs are met and we are learning from each other. Our relationship is actually a two way street but it doesn’t always feel that way. Somebody is always giving more. These days when your paired off romantically a person has to be careful not to put all their eggs in one basket. I belong to a close-nit organization. Spouses can’t sponsor each other. Most of us are in a comfort zone. Adults have to grow up sometimes when somebody upset the apple cart. A parent dies or a child. Somebody loses a job or rekindles a flame. We have to weather the storms.

  • Katy

    December 21st, 2013 at 5:54 AM

    What a difficult situation for the both of you to have to deal with. You are in the military which is already stressful enough but then living with this too has to only compound the amount of stress and pressure that you feel. I know that you care about and love this person but this might also be the time to start loving yourself and looking at whether this is someone you can really be with for the rest of your life. Is she willing to do the hard work to get through this or is she simply so mired in it that she sees no way out? I guess if I saw that she was trying to remedy it then I would encourage you to stay and be that support for her. But you can’t do it by yourself so I would have to take a very hard look at just how invested she is in her own recovery efforts.

  • roger

    December 23rd, 2013 at 3:55 AM

    No I don’t think that marriage is the answer just so she can get your military benefits. Is that really why you want to marry someone just so they can get your insurance?

  • Andi

    December 24th, 2013 at 3:07 AM

    I know that she doesn’t mean to but it seriously sounds like this woman is sucking the life right out of you. You can’t continue to be with someone who has this kind of illness and doesn’t receive any help, and surely there must be other family members who could help out? I don’t think that having her this sick and untreated is a positive way to enter into a marriage together. I know that you love her but this is someone who needs help, more than just the avaerage person can give, and I am sure that if the two of you look at available resources together then you can find that there are things available to her that really don’t cost that much but that could help her out tremendously.

  • Robyn

    December 28th, 2013 at 9:08 AM

    Seems America could do with looking after it’s own citizens instead of going out there and killing others.

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