01/24/2007 07:07 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

ILL-EQUIPPED? (Who isn't?)

Dear Jennifer,

Ever since I read your book I've been dying to pick your brain so I can get some insight into my flailing relationship. So, here goes.

I have met a wonderful man. We've been together for a year and a half. He is so much more than what I expected him to be when I met him and he has been with me through some very very hard times. See, I suffer from depression and for a long while (most of our relationship) it was kicking my butt instead of the other way around. During this time we fought, constantly. Mostly about me being sad about something, and typically whatever I was really sad about would manifest itself into being a problem with our relationship - whether there was one or not. We tried some therapy which helped a little but we didn't stick with it. I lost my job and was out of work for a month. He took care of me financially as well as he could, but emotionally he didn't know how to be there for me (his last girlfriend was bi-polar, my guess is I freaked him out).

Things finally bottomed out when his grandmother, the woman who raised him, passed away. I was not there for him because, though I was better, I had not yet gotten my depression in check. Emotionally, I failed him. We had a fight the night grandmother died and he didn't even tell me about it, he was so mad.

I slowly got back on my feet, got a new job, new car, some independence that I had been lacking. We miraculously got better. It was like night and day, suddenly he was giving me all the things I had been missing.

And then with the better came the lackluster and suddenly he seems distant and bored. He's not very interested in having sex, we don't go on dates, he rarely comes to my house (I go to his, if I want to sleep [in the traditional sense] with him) and we see each other pretty much only on the weekends. The worst part is this: I can't tell him how much all this bothers me because every time the subject of contention (sex, romance, the future of our relationship, etc) comes up it turns into a knock down drag out fight. He gets defensive the moment I mention something I need and then I get defensive because I want to know why the hell he's getting so defensive.

Overall our relationship is great, excepting these things that I need a bit more of that I can't seem to ask for without getting my head cut off. So, this is really long. There is much more to the story, but those are the basic facts. I apologize for being so verbose.


Very Sincerely,


Hi Julie,

No need to apologize for being long-winded. These things are complicated because with relationships there is always a cocktail of issues to be dealt with. As you know, I wrote a 350-page book about my troubled relationship so your six paragraphs doesn't seem like so much to me.

I want to congratulate you on successfully dealing with your depression and gaining a strong measure of independence. I think you can build on those accomplishments.

It seems to me that you and your boyfriend, like most people in the world, suffer from a fear of intimacy. When you first started dating, your depression kept you two from getting closer to each other. Then when you started to take better care of yourself, you were able to get closer. But getting closer can be scary, so I'm not surprised that your boyfriend has since retreated. You said you're afraid to tell him how you feel re: lack of romance, sex, future of your relationship. Well you know what? You don't have to. I guarantee you that he already knows. And it scares him. I have two recommendations for you.

Recommendation #1:


I recommend that you choose a period of time for the following experiment. Maybe make it a month, or only two weeks if a month seems scary. During this time, do not have any expectations about your relationship. Don't hope he wants to have sex with you. Don't wonder if he'll want you to sleep over. Don't ask him to the movies. At the same time don't withhold affection when you see him or in anyway try to punish him. In short, do your best to act as if he's a good friend, but not a boyfriend with whom you want to have a future.

Believe me, the world will not end if you don't have sex for a month. Or if you don't feel romantically attended to for a month. Or if you don't have any sense of certainty about your relationship for a month. It's only a month! Give that "does he love me?" soundtrack in your mind a break. My friend calls it having the radio station of your mind tuned to KFUCK. You need to find a new station. Give your mind some other more interesting things to think about. Read three good books. See six good movies. Hang out with four friends. Organize your desk. Clean out your closet. Buy some cool, cheap things on ebay for your apartment. Call your Grandparents if they are alive. Respond to some Huffington Post bloggers. Tell them what you think! And exercise, exercise, exercise.

(And whatever you do, don't tell your boyfriend what you're up to or it will defeat the purpose.)

Recommendation #2

It's great that you both were open to going to couples therapy. I'm just sorry you didn't stick with it. What happened?

Did you not like the therapist? If not, find a new one.

Too expensive? Find one who uses a sliding scale. They are out there!

Too painful? I'm sorry to say but it gets worse before it gets better.

As you know from my book, John and I went to couples therapy for three years, for double sessions twice a month. People hate to hear that because it sounds like such a long time--like there is no immediate relief in site. But it's not true! Whenever we were fighting over something or not talking about something else, it was always a relief to know we'd be going to see Neutral Patti again soon. I knew it was a safe and productive place to bring up whatever problem we were having. Just knowing we had an appointment helped me to keep the fight from spiraling out of control.

I know I've said it here before and it's virtually the theme of my book, but couples therapy was THE BEST THING I EVER DID IN MY ENTIRE LIFE. Please give it another try.