Dear Queer Abby,
How do I encourage my partner to start therapy? They have expressed interest and I don’t know what to do to help them take the final steps to make an appointment, besides giving them information about some local therapists I think they would like — which I’ve done.
I’m at a point in our relationship where I can’t keep holding space for all their emotions all the time. They need more than just me and I’m worn out.
Worn Out in Wichita
Dear Worn Out,
You can lead a queer to water, but you cannot make them drink.
You get to have joy in your relationship — it’s not a volunteer therapist job. Being a troubled person’s sole support system is different than engaging in emotional healing and growth through mutual intimacy.
When you act as someone’s pretend-therapist, not only does it put you in a more parental (and less sexy) position, but it also doesn’t leave a lot of room for you (the pretend therapist) to have your own needs, feelings, problems, and the emotional space to express them.
I think the best thing you can do is take care of yourself in this situation.
Do you have your own therapist? What do you need from a partner in order to feel balanced and happy? How can you get these things? Are they available in your current relationship?
In any situation, you need to give from your abundance, not your essence.
If your own tank isn’t full, I fear you will be pulling resources for your partner from a place that exists to nourish your own vitality.
I truly believe that doing so, and over-extending yourself in this way, sows the seeds of resentment, which can be poison at best, fatal at worst.
Resentments breed contempt, and once you’ve crossed that line in a romantic relationship, is it hard to come back.
Let’s see if it is possible to correct course.
If I were you, I would take some unhurried, thoughtful time out for self-reflection, care, and journaling. Decide what you are and are not up for. Approach your partner once you have some clear bottom-lines in place: “I am more than happy to do _______, because I love you and I want to support you, but I cannot do ________.”
If being the sole support for another person’s every hardship and emotion is not sustainable for you, please tell them so. You’ve already given them the resources available to you. If you cannot stay in this relationship unless they have outside help, you need to say that out loud and stick to it.
Ideally, your partner would have a close circle of friends or family plus their own, separate outside help to sort through their issues. If they don’t, perhaps this conversation will shed light on the fact that one human can’t be their sole support person, and they need to access the community or services available in order to maintain their own mental well-being and health.
I want you to have room for your feelings, I want your partner to feel supported and confident, and I want the very best for your relationship.