DEAR CAROLYN: My husband has depression. I want to ask how he is doing, but how do I do that? It doesn't seem as simple as, "Hi, Honey — how are you feeling?" I know this is a huge deal and I don't want to underplay it, but I don't want to overplay it, either.
WONDERING: Or add to his already heavy emotional workload, yes. Or hover, or vanish. It's an excellent question.
So pick a good time and run it by him, generally: "Does it help when I ask how you're feeling? Is it annoying?" If annoying: "Is there a useful way for me to check in?" Try workshopping it together — but only if he's game. Make it clear he's not obligated to think for both of you.
Just walk the line firmly — vs. tiptoeing along it, which, among the incredibly diverse population of people who struggle with depression, seems to be the one thing that manages to annoy everybody.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness's helpline is an excellent resource: 800-950-NAMI.
DEAR CAROLYN: I have been in a relationship for a year. I'm a touchy-feely-kissy person, and she's not. Her need for physical intimacy wakes up once every two months, and mine is there every other day. There have been at least a dozen incidents where she has, last-minute, changed her mind during foreplay. The mind-changing itself doesn't bother me — her body, her decision. The frequency bothers me a little. She hasn't once come to me afterward and told me why. She hasn't cared enough to take care of me, even though I'm visibly upset to the point of wanting to leave. This bothers me a lot. I get that our needs for physical intimacy are different. But our desire to take care of the other person shouldn't be that far apart. We have talked about this a few times, with little change. It feels like she thinks she can do this with impunity. Resentment is building up, and my mind is screaming, "Walk away." Advice?
Stay or Go?
STAY OR GO?: On the "stay or go?" question, my advice is what you and everyone reading this already knows: The "walk away" point was when you realized the 58-day gap in your sex drives wasn't closing.
I put you in the column anyway, though, to address that little nugget of perpetual misery, the word "should." Though in your letter, it's shouldn't. Pesky details.
"But our desire to take care of the other person … shouldn't be that far apart."
What you're saying is, because your expectation seems so reasonable, it's also reasonable to expect her to meet it — and wait around, miserably, till she complies.
So my real advice is to treat every aspect of a relationship — from sex drive to listening ability to generosity of spirit to management of worst impulses to ability to recognize the difference between the hamper and the floor two feet away from the hamper — as intrinsic to a person's being. Stop deciding certain traits are bendable to your preference.
Talk out your differences, absolutely. Then watch for change. And when changes don't come, accept they aren't coming.
Then decide whether you fit.
NB: She may be a sexual-trauma survivor. That might not change the answer, necessarily, but could change your view. Consider a call to RAINN: 800-656-HOPE.