Advice: My partner’s low mood is sapping my positivity

Our agony aunt, Mary Fenwick, offers a new perspective on whatever is troubling you


Advice: My partner's low mood is sapping my positivity

4 minute read

Q. My boyfriend lost his mother when he was 18 months old. He has opened up to me and talks about his difficulties, the main one being his lack of self-worth. He doesn’t have any hope and said he is unsure if he sees a future with me, due to him not having a maternal attachment at a young age.

I’m a positive person but have started feeling very low and my personality is beginning to change, causing me to withdraw from social groups. Should I be helping him, or myself? Name supplied

A. Yes, there are things that would help, but I’m not sure it’s your role. The images in my head are by artist and illustrator Florence Given who uses a swirly 1970s font for phrases like ‘stop raising him, he’s not your child’.

She explains how she poured time and energy into someone who had no intention of giving it back: ‘I was running on empty, and for what? I had been constantly trying to “fix” and “grow” someone when I could have been putting that energy into myself.’

I suspect this might sound harsh, and perhaps at odds with the way you want to see yourself, but I hope you can hear the positive intention behind this message. As a rule of thumb, in a healthy relationship you’ll be having some of your needs met most of the time, and most of your needs met some of the time. It doesn’t sound as if that is what’s happening here – this is more of a one-way deal, with no space for your needs. There is also the danger that he feels an unspoken bargain: you want him to feel better so he can commit to you.

Your letter got me thinking about how much we all want to give advice, but find it hard to take. Writer Anne Lamott says: ‘No one mentioned until I was in late middle age that – horribly! – my good, helpful ideas for other grown-ups were not helpful. That my help was in fact sometimes toxic.’

This is about learning the limits of responsibility, especially when your own mood is giving you warning signals that you’ve taken on too much. I think your partner is telling you, maybe not in ways you can hear, that this is something he needs to work out for himself. In parallel, perhaps you could identify something in your life that you’d like to work on, just for yourself. This will take some of the pressure off the relationship and act as a reminder that you each have choices and responsibilities of your own.

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Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.

Image: Getty