42

As for the topic, if possible I'd be grateful for general answer and more specific one regarding following situation:

My girlfriend has a clinically diagnosed depression (she attends visits with psychiatrist and is taking medications). Because of that she often has very bad mood (nowadays it's less common thankfully). I am always trying to figure out some ways to help her, generally when we are spending time together she feels alright. But except for her free time with me she is studying hard to get her college degree and has a part-time job which are both very stressful for her.

Sometimes when she is in a bad mood she tells me she wishes I were next to her (we live in different cities and usually see each other on the weekends only), and that she feels terrible when she is alone - when I hear it over and over again makes me feel as if I were entirely responsible for her happiness. Obviously I know that her depression has a huge impact here and I care about her a lot and want her to be happy, but I want her to be happy not only when I am with her but also when she is alone, so once when we were hanging out I suggested her to find some hobby. I thought if she had some passion like art or whatever else, maybe she could forget about her bad mood for a while. I told her something between the lines:

Me: You are only attending classes, working, and when you're back home you're studying. Have you thought about finding some hobby?

Because of my poor word choice she took it as if I were telling her that she is boring. I immediately corrected myself and explained what I meant and she said it's ok and that she understands what I meant.

Fast forward few weeks, she was in a very bad mood again and said:

Her: I know you think I am boring and that I don't have any hobby

Obviously despite her telling me it was fine she took it to herself and I felt very bad about that because that was totally not what I wanted her to think.

Is there something I could do to fix that? I don't think that talking would work, but maybe I'm wrong. From time to time I'm trying to do some new stuff with her hoping she will like it (programming, learning foreign language), but even if she enjoys it in a moment it's nothing she would like to do regularly. Can I somehow encourage her to try out new things on her own / look for some activity she enjoys doing regularly? (I'm aware that in case of depression that's not an ultimate solution if any at all)

And in more general case, how could I tell that to anybody (to find a hobby), without implying that they are boring?

  • 1
    Welcome to Interpersonal Skills! Please don’t write answers in comments. It bypasses our quality measures by not having voting (both up and down) available on comments, as well as having other problems detailed on meta. Comments are for clarifying and improving the question; please don’t use them for other purposes. This includes discussing whether or not you think this is a bad/great idea. – Tinkeringbell Jun 13 '18 at 16:52
  • I don't think talking would work. - Have you tried? – lukuss Jun 18 '18 at 6:35
43

Two friends of mine - a couple - are currently living in different countries most of the week due to work obligations. Initially, the one that stayed behind complained of having nothing to do besides socialise during the week. Below are some of the things they tried. This approach addresses the hobby-finding less than it does the depression, but it might help:

Instead of asking her just to find a hobby, find something you can both do together. My friends would play online multiplayer games such as Minecraft or World of Warcraft together, play tabletop RPGs over Skype or discuss books they were both reading; something that they can both do regardless of distance. In this case of video games or books, it is a hobby that may become something she tries on her own when you are not available (and hopefully still enjoy). These are just some examples. This approach has the potential bonus of also lessening the strain of you two being so remote so often.

However unintended, there is a risk here that her lack of a hobby is being interpreted as a problem you have about her. It is possible she does not see it as a problem in the first place. If you would like to encourage your partner to broaden her horizons, suggest something you can both do. That way, if she is not keen on it, it is less likely to come across as a letdown for you.

17

Depression

I think half of the problem here is your initial framing and her depression.

Anything said to her in that way with her current state of mind will (in all likelihood) be taken as an insult and affirm the complex negative beliefs she has about herself.

Anecdote

When I had depression, anything anyone said to me came across as a personal attack (no matter how well-meaning it was). What worked for me was suggestions of things to do, offers to help and people expressing genuine concern over my situation (without following it up with something I'd take as a personal attack).

Unfortunately, hard-hitting truths about my actions that I REALLY needed to take in fell under "personal attacks" at the time. Depression is a wonderful thing.

Solution

In order to solve your current situation, I'd suggest you talk to her about your concerns (depression etc.), ask if you can help and then how she would like you to help (but don't try to do anything just yet, let the dust settle first). This might help to ease her negative thoughts she thinks you have about her whilst showing that you care and want to work through her depression as a team.

After a while, act on what you discussed but make sure you make her aware of your actions and remind her that you both discussed this together.

Framing

Like a lot of mental problems, the person has to be willing to see it as a problem before it can be resolved. When speaking about things it should be framed in more of a positive way (personal experience helps) and with a plan of action, you have to come across like you're not trying to blame her at all.

i.e

"I had a friend that had depression, what he said helped him get through the loneliness was doing more things to occupy his time"

vs

"You complain about being lonely a lot, you really need to do more things to occupy your time"

One sounds like a helpful way out, the other a personal attack.

Resource

Not completely related but this video recently released by Charisma on Command goes over how to approach toxic people about behavior.

The approaches discussed can be applied to your situation with a bit of modification.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agEqp7_BCCA


Hobbies in general

As for how to suggest people take up hobbies in general.

I don't really bother suggesting it this directly. If I think someone would benefit from taking something up I suggest they do it, offer to do it with them (until they are ready to go on their own) or get them a Birthday/Christmas gift related to it to start them off.

Past doing that though, it gets a bit rude.

  • What if she replies "I don't need help, but I wanted you to be here with me more often"? – CPHPython Jun 14 '18 at 8:36
  • @CPHPython I'd say that's out of the scope of the question but at that points it's OP's decision if he wants to see her more – Connor Jun 14 '18 at 23:16
  • "she tells me she wishes I were next to her (we live in different cities and usually see each other on the weekends only)" (this is the main important thing that she asked from him, written on the question...) – CPHPython Jun 15 '18 at 8:44
8

Answer

So, to list all the actual technical questions you are asking...

How to suggest someone to find a hobby without offending them?

she took it to herself and I felt very bad about that because that was totally not what I wanted her to think. Is there something I could do to fix that?

Can I somehow encourage her to try out new things on her own / look for some activity she enjoys doing regularly?

I'm afraid the answer might very well be "no" or "you can't" on all accounts.

Source: I have been living with a chronically depressed person for the last 20 years; and I had (temporary, non-chronical) bouts of that affliction as well.

Addendum

Since stopping there would make this an awfully short and depressing answer, let me add a few tangential items...

My "case" also is very strongly dependent on me, and I had, like you, a "helper complex" back then, trying to fix everything. And while I cannot answer your actual question, I feel the need to warn you very strongly about the danger. First of all, to yourself, obviously. Right now you're in love (the biological kind, driven by hormones and such, presumably).

But 5, 10 or 15 years down the road (should you, for example, get married and should children join the picture), that feeling might well change, if you are constantly bombarded with her depression. Especially when children come along, you will find that your bond to your children will very likely be stronger than to her; what if you have to protect your children from her depression? The situation between you two will certainly change. So I encourage to look real deep, often, to see if you see yourself changing in ways that you maybe do not wish yourself.

Secondly, you are not doing her a favour either by always being at her side and solving her problem - I believe you already understand that. So, looking for ways to help her that do not immediately require your own presence is very wise indeed.

I also had a phase where I thought about finding a hobby (actually, even one-day or one-hour activities) for her in the early days. I once sat down and wrote close to 100 different small activities she could do ("pick any one of them") on a large piece of paper, each if which she was physically and logistically able to do. Bad idea on my part. She went through every one of them and explained in detail why she was not able.

What helped me (and, so I hope, her also), was to actually distance myself, at least emotionally, but also physically. Unfortunately, I started to do that rather late into our relationship (a few years ago), after we already had been living together for many years, and when she was utterly dependent on me at that point. Since then, I have myself been gradually getting out of her "dark cloud", and she has by force had to be a bit more autonomous. We're working on the little things, like being able to take a train, or being able to make phone calls to strangers...

So, the answer:

  • Don't take this so light. Talking about getting hobbies is awful for a depressed.
  • Take this lighter. Just because she's unhappy does not mean you have to be too. You are not writing that you are, yet - just sayin'.
  • Protect yourself. You are not her custodian (or better not be...).
  • Support her with everything that makes sense, obviously. Making her feel better by sitting next to her on the sofa might make short-term sense (sure, keep doing it) but is not the end solution.
  • Maybe get psychological support yourself. Find someone who knows about this stuff, explain what you want to achieve, talk through strategies with them.
  • Be sure you know how and when to say "no", constantly being the "nice guy" does not necessarily help a depressed either...
6

While depression is a major factor here, I cannot shake off the feeling that your girlfriend is forcing you to think and spend more time with her in this passive-aggressive way. Even with your best intentions, she will interpret your words her way.

Depression or not, she needs to be able to rely on herself first and foremost. What would happen if you decided to break up? She sounds as if her life would just spiral out of control. Does she have any friends or family around?

You can initiate the simple activities she can do on her own and see if they yield any result: 1) Suggest a book that you read at the same time 2) Sign her up for a gym and discuss the progress, even if you are not exercising yourself 3) Give her some small chores that she can do during the day somewhat for you that would make her feel more important (bake a cake or bread before the weekend together, shop for some specific brand of coffee - be very specific about the instructions, not just general) 4) If possible attend a session with her therapist to discuss how you can help.

But in the end, you cannot fix everything in her life.

  • Yes, first and foremost she needs to be willing to dig herself out of her own hole. Passive-aggressiveness to others is normally a way to keep one giving excuses about one's current lifestyle and avoid changes. If those suggestions do not yield in results, distancing emotionally and physically as AnoE did might have some... – CPHPython Jun 14 '18 at 8:49
4

The solution

I see that you have taken the approach of introducing new activities to her during your weekend meetups (or at least that's what I imply from your statement "From time to time I'm trying to do some new stuff with her hoping she will like it (programming, learning foreign language), but even if she enjoys it in a moment it's nothing she would like to do regularly."). Keep it up, it is the approach that I use with my girlfriend as well, as you can see in the short anecdote in the next section.

However, besides just introducing the activity to her, take it a step further and make it such that she has to continue doing it in her own time. Take for example you're teaching her a programming language (or learning it with her). If she has found out, "hey I'm actually interested in learning Python", you can turn it into a casual Python lesson with her, and each time you meet her, be sure to prepare a topic to teach her (functions, data structures, classes, etc) and give her a little "assignment" to do at the end of each meetup. Say something like

Hmm why not you try this over the week and you can present your solution to me next week when we meet?

This way she is "forced" to occupy herself with your mini Python assignment during her free time, which coincidentally is what people would do when they have a hobby! On a side note though, as she may be stressed out with her work and/or studies, try not to over-engineer the assignment. Keep it simple, make it meaningful, but at the same time add just a tad of difficulty to keep her interested.

This works for other things that you may want to do together with her as well (learning a foreign language, arts and crafts, other IT shenanigans, etc)


Anecdote

Since my girlfriend and I graduated from college, I have found a part-time job (I'm waiting for enlistment into the army) but my girlfriend has not (she's waiting for her further studies to start), due to her needing to accompany her relatives to the doctor and other family matters. So during the time that she is bored and wants my attention, I find myself in a similar situation as you are. So I went ahead and did up some Python lessons for her (she's going to work as a software engineer in the future so an extra language learnt is going to benefit her anyway!) At the end of every lesson, I give her an assignment to do during her free time, so nowadays I mostly check in on her (by text) once in a while to see how she's progressing. It helps her to keep herself distracted and she gets to learn as well!

  • 3
    "give her a little "assignment" to do at the end of each meetup" - use extreme caution with this strategy. If a boyfriend I didn't even live with presumed he had the right to give me assignments as if he was my teacher, not my peer, I would never speak to him again. LW, your girlfriend is not a problem for you to fix, either you like her the way she is or you should break up with her. – Mel Reams Jun 13 '18 at 4:55
  • 1
    @MelReams yea... OP gotta make sure their girlfriend is okay with it, every couple is different and we can't cater to everyone with just 1 solution! – enlighten_me Jun 13 '18 at 5:03
  • 1
    Actually I really like this idea, she usually doesn't mind me teaching her things / acting a bit like a teacher to her – aMJay Jun 13 '18 at 8:52
1

This is just a thought, but do you know that there are things which take energy, and things which give energy?

You girlfriend is studying (which takes energy) and is working (which is also taking energy), but what is giving her energy?
I might hope that you are giving her energy, and that you are glad having this effect on her, but you can't impossibly give enough energy for all her energy-takers.

So just ask her: what would give her extra energy, in order for her to feel even better than just waiting for you to arrive?

1

First thing is this, she being being depressed is one mountain that compromises a lot, mental health problems such as depression is self-detrimental for sufferers but I bet you already know that however what baffles me is how the psychiatrist/psychologist she visits hasn't already suggested getting a hobby like you did, I find that odd. Mental health is still a complex matter in terms of its validity and all so I'd rather not dive too much into that

Furthermore I believe you did your part well by actually advising she get a hobby, now mind you, she affiliating your suggestion with she being "boring" hints at another thing, anxiety. Now from my distant observation with reference to the many observations I've had around, her depression might be what keeps her down but her anxiety(be it diagnosed or not) is what is keeping you trapped as an individual in this relationship because you not only care but are supposed to care, it only traps you more when you have a "helper complex". There are many questions such as the root of her depression(is it to do with trauma, weight, etc), how long she's been suffering it and if you two were well aware of her depression prior to you getting involved with her(if it was known prior then you're clearly getting what you bargained for)

Moving on it is rather wrong that she had to shut down the idea of getting a hobby knowing that you're only around for such short periods because you see what is really happening is you're getting tangled in something subtly aggressive from her, you have your life, your family, friends, history, responsibilities, bills and so on. What I'm saying is this eventually you either lose sight of your life before you or realize it. We're all different people but I suggest you take the hard steps and hold your grounds firm if you truly care, you're gonna have to sit down and have A TALK about the situation else hey you'll just end up as a nurse for her and mind you for a every second you'll be every reason why she isn't self-dependent and isn't getting better if this is rectified.

You say she has work and school actively so I don't see how you appear to be the only human of major relevance, I mean I get it you're in a relationship but this isn't healthy for any of you with this routine you have. She has no excuse to not have a pastime with other people because she has school to meet others at if not work.

What you need to do is assess yourself and reassess your girlfriend so you both can finally come to terms with the situation you're tied into, you're worried about she getting offended but hey ultimately you're not doing each other a favour, you're not married you're dating regardless whatever history you two may have. You have have to take a serious stance on this or find a way to extricate yourself for your sake.

You can sign her up for gym session with a personal trainer, sign her up for cooking class or art class(all of which you should pay for as a major incentive for her to show up and participate), introduce her to someone or even people who can jog out with her in the parks. Heck suggest dinner with her colleagues from work and/or school in order to know which people to surround her with. Be crafty and subtle because goodness knows how often she ill hit you with the "boring" card as means to threaten your relationship and mental state about it all. Don't hold back.

Bottomline, when it's all said and done you'll when it's time to give tough love, succumb to her atmosphere, or leave. Goodluck. If you have further questions feel free to drop them.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.