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My fiancé has a bit of a troubled history. I knew that when we got together. He has some mental issues, which I attributed to years of being bullied. Only recently I managed to figure out the main cause. He experienced something extremely traumatizing. I had completely underestimated the severity of the event. He is very apologetic. This seems to stem from feelings of guilt about the traumatic event. See also my previous question for context.

I believe he should go to therapy. I've tried initiating the conversation at a moment he is feeling okay, but as soon as I mention "therapy", he says he is fine and shuts me down. On the other hand, as soon as I even mention the type of event, he gets upset, irrational and unreasonable. At those times he doesn't want to hear about therapy either.

In the longest conversation we've managed to have about therapy, he mentioned that he tried it shortly after the event. He said it didn't help, so he stopped going. This was before we met, I think about 10 years ago.

I'd like to have a conversation about therapy with him, without being shut down immediately. I do not want to force him to go. Instead I'd like to help him take away the irrational reasons for not going, so he can make a more rational judgement about finding help.

A small note: My brother experienced something very similar recently and is currently in therapy. I could maybe use my brother in this, but I wish to be very careful with that, because his grief is very fresh.

I'm Dutch, he is English, we both live in Netherlands.

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    Have you tried having that conversation but without once using the word "therapy"? – Aaron F Feb 19 at 9:46
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    Another question to help clarify the OP: He said he went to therapy but it didn't help. Do you not believe this? If you do believe this, then why do you think that him going to therapy again will help this time, where it didn't before? – Aaron F Feb 19 at 9:49
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    @AaronF If you're sick, you go to the doctor, right? I think if you have a mental thing, you should also go to an appropriate doctor, especially when it's getting worse. Maybe he didn't have a match with his previous therapist, maybe he thought it was uncomfortable so soon after the events, maybe he expected results faster... who knows. – Belle Feb 19 at 10:03
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    Can you say a little bit about how your fiancé successfully could have conversations with you on subjects you don't want to talk about? That might clarify what you're looking for in this question. – Eric Lippert Feb 19 at 16:47
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I have depression and anxiety. I had it for years and it took me a very long time for me to finally be able to reach out and see a therapist for help.

First of all, you need to know that only one conversation probably won't make your SO willing to see a therapist. There is a lot of stigma around therapists and mental health and it won't go away overnight. If you want your SO to seriously consider the option of seeing a mental health professional, you need to normalize this subject for him. Make it clear that having mental health issues is nothing to be ashamed of, and that having anxiety issues is just like having a cough that won't go away.

If you are not doing it already, here are a few things that you should start doing:

  • Start talking about your mental health.

    Like me, my mother has depression. However, she never talks about it. She never talks about how bad she sometimes feels or how worried her cancer made her. As a child, this behavior lead me to believe that I should never, ever, talk about bad things to her. That not being okay was a sign of weakness and that it was a very shameful thing.

    Don't do that to your SO. Talk to him about the bad things. Be vulnerable with him. Ask for help when you need it. Talk to him about asking other people for help. This way, he might start realizing that it's okay to need help and that it's okay to ask for it.

  • Do not make jokes about people needing a therapist. Do not make jokes about people being "crazy". And if someone makes such a joke around you, make sure to tell them that such a joke is not okay.

    When I was little, I thought that psychologists were for "crazy people" and that being one of those people was very bad. As such, it was really clear to me that I should never go see one. Because, in my mind, it was better to be dead than crazy. And psychophobic jokes about "crazy people" was what led me to that conclusion.

    Don't let your SO believe that it's better to be dead than "crazy". It's not. Having bad mental health is okay. Being "crazy" is okay. Depressed people have value. Bipolar people have value. Schizophrenia people have value. Having mental health issues doesn't end your life. You can still have a job, a home, several loved ones and anything else you can dream of.


Now, here are some of the things I needed the most to hear before I was finally able to ask for help:

But please, note that this will not convince your SO the first time he hears it. He will need time to process it and, probably, to hear it again before being able to fully accept it.

Yes, you could keep going without seeing a therapist. But why suffer when seeing one might make you feel better?

.

There is nothing wrong with taking medication. People with bad sight wear glasses. So, why shouldn't people with depression take medication?

.

It's okay to not be okay. It's okay to need help. You are not weak from asking for help. Asking for help is one of the most difficult things I ever did. Recognizing that you need help and asking for it makes you brave, not weak. Please, ask for help when you need it.


Here are some other things that you might need to know:

When I'm feeling bad, I always forget how I was happy before. It's like happiness never existed in my life. And when I'm feeling well, it's the opposite. I forget how bad I was and I always minimize it.

You said that you tried talking to your SO at a moment when he was feeling okay. Try the opposite. It took me years to finally ask for help because my "unwell me" was too unwell to make a phone call and my "well me" made me feel like I didn't really need the help.

When I finally reached for help, it was for two major reasons:

  • I was truly convinced that there was no shame in asking for help, even if I ended up not really needing some.

  • I had gathered concrete evidence that I, indeed, needed help and was not exaggerating how bad I felt. This "concrete evidence" took the form of a diary where I would write when I wasn't well. Then, by reading it when I was well, I was able to truly see how unwell I was. I was able to trust myself again and knew that, indeed, this part of me needed help.


More reading:


As a side note, please know that you often need to try several different therapists before finding one that suits you. It's hard, draining and frankly discouraging, but it's always worth it in the end.

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I have a significant other who was bullied at school, was beat at least once by his father, had abusive previous partners, and lost his mother. In general, a life that you could euphemistically call tough.

Over time, he developed defense mechanisms that weren't necessary and a bit awkward, like talking about difficult, intimate subject in public in order to avoid the risk of anger there is in privacy.

Personally, I've been raised by a mother who went to therapy, and I made a few trips to a psychiatric hospital (he knows that), so I naturally suggested the idea of therapy. I feel like I did my best to suggest it in a non-stigmatizing and positive way. Despite that, he always firmly rejected the idea.

The main reasons for his refusal, as far as I understand:

  1. He found many ways to work around his traumas in the course of time and now has a life that he finds satisfying, so there is a bit of "don't fix what ain't broke".
  2. I also suspect that because can be very emotional, as he used to sometimes cry relating souvenirs, he might also be reluctant to dig and relate difficult memories.

To a lesser extent, this could also play in other situations (e.g. my situation, not his):

  1. Some of us know people that went through a very long course of psychiatric care and went for years before seeing any improvement.
  2. Spending your or your healthcare's money might make one feel guilty.
  3. One's health might feel like his personal responsibility and the suggestion to go to therapy might feel like overstepping boundaries.

Given that some of these factors could very well apply to your situation, I'm not sure that you would encounter any more success than I did by mentioning therapy to talk about a trauma. Anyway, a therapy can't be successful if it's not, at least to some extent, desired.

If a behavior is problematic then focus on getting him stop the problematic behavior. You can always mention that therapy can help for this particular behavior. This will generally be shorter therapy and will avoid a few bullets on the list.

In my case, we worked together on the problematic behaviors, and we didn't need him to see a therapist. It might have helped him, but that may be just my personal opinion.

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Your fiancé sounds a lot like I was. I was engaged and my partner thought I should have therapy. I resisted because there was nothing wrong with me, right? What does a woman want to do when she finds the perfect man? She wants to improve him, right? So I discounted her views.

I'd had therapy before and it had ranged from a waste of time to doing me more harm. She assured me "this one is great!" I was very sceptical but I agreed to go to just one session, if only to shut her up! In that session I was very surprised to find a sympathetic, intelligent, caring professional who didn't try to blame my problems on me. After hearing my story he said, "Of course you have problems with a history like that!"

However, if you'd told me what the outcome would be before I could experience it for myself I wouldn't have believed you. The potential reasons for that are many:

  • Prior bad experiences (all therapists are bad)
  • There's nothing wrong (I don't need fixing)
  • The problems are minor (I'm coping on my own)
  • I can fix myself (willpower can overcome anything)
  • Male pride (it's weakness to see a therapist)

And probably many others. Your fiancé has a very strong emotional reason (maybe several reasons) for not wanting therapy. You need to recognise that no amount of logic will overcome his negative (and valid) emotions. (Note: Emotions are always valid, they're truly what you're feeling. Reasons are not always valid.) Don't try to invalidate his emotions with logic.

If it's possible for the two of you to have a conversation about this at all you need to be very patient and listen like you've never listened before. Don't interrupt him but let him finish completely before asking questions. Validate his feelings. He needs to feel safe, and a caring partner can unintentionally make the other partner feel very unsafe by probing too fast and demanding answers. You need to take your cues from him and not push him.

If he needs to cry (hopefully he doesn't think that's unmanly) hug him silently if he'll let you. Physical contact is a huge comfort. Don't shush him, let him get it all out. Don't say "it's alright" because it isn't. He still has the trauma to deal with. Let him know you love him both with hugs and by telling him you love him (we men can be a bit dense when it comes to love, and if you've brought all these negative emotions out of him he mightn't be thinking that you love him).

Something that might help get the conversation started is writing letters and letting him read them in private. That way you have time to think about the right wording without being interrupted. It also lets him deal with any emotions he might not be comfortable sharing with you at the moment. If it's too painful to talk about, he can reply by letter instead of talking.

Let him know that seeing a therapist will be his choice, on his timetable. I really hope you are able to find a therapist like mine that your fiancé will like and connect with. I haven't seen mine for almost five years because I don't need to anymore (he agreed with me).

Good luck! I hope your fiancé gets the professional help he needs to overcome his traumas. It is truly liberating when you realise how much you were being held back and how much you can now grow as a human being. I never knew was happiness was until my last therapist helped me.

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Disclaimer: I use stronger words and controversial simplifications not to offend anyone but to emphasize nuances in details that softer words may cover under one word. I kindly ask careful reader to downscale the strength of the words while maintaing the difference.


Background: I am from Czech Republic and I live here. The society here seems a bit behind so called West Europe, for both better and worse. As a consequence men are expected to be "the strong ones", "the responsible ones", "the reliable ones" while women as "the caring ones", "the sensitive ones", "the emotional ones".

For 40 years all the people who differed from the normal society, including those with opposite political opinions, were imprisoned in dedicated assylums hidden in dense parks. One could'n meet a man on a wheelchair on a street; depression was a taboo etc. Handicapped ones were treated like invalid ones. This shit, and many more others, does not vanish overnight, even 30 years is too short to heal this.

I do have my demons, I know of (some of) them and I neither can fight them off myself neither can ask for help fighting them off. I have problems accepting help as well. I'm trying to identify with him and suggest what would help me, but I cannot ask for it.


Your SO is a Man, right? He must be strong and brave and invulnereable. If he would admit he is not brave, not strong, or vulnereable, he would fail. He would be a lesser man, nothing. Useless piece of crap that is not good enough to even walk in the sunlight. Trauma is supposed to slip off him as a water slips off a duck. Arm torn away is supposed to be a just a bloody nuissance...

This mindset what he thinks he is supposed to be and what he thinks he actually is, this clash of expectation and reality is tearing him appart.

Anytime anyone suggests he needs a help, which is same as suggesting a help might be beneficial, they undermine his masculinity and question his right to live, they increase the stress he is facing in his mind. As a result, it does not help him at all, he block himself in his comfortable zone because expelling this out his head reduces the pain to level he is used to.

On the other hand, in your eyes, he is a human being not a John Stonewall. But he cannot see through your eyes. Even imperfect (they who are, be my guest and thow a stone!) he is above any other for you, otherwise he won't be your fiancé. I humbly think he is not significant to you despite these imperfections; he is significant to you with these imperfections. His state of mind is not imperfection for you, but for him it is, but a sort of injury. Actually it is simillar to someone being hit by a javelin in their chest; it is serious, everyone see the javelin must go out but whoever touches it, it hurts like hell.


Time is both your friend and enemy.
The trauma happened 10 years ago, you know each other for a few years and you've found the trauma out months ago. You need to build trust in him; a lot of trust. He must trust you very much to tell you about it, he needs to trust you more to talk to you about it. He needs to trust you even more to accept your help. Only then you can actually help, otherwise your help may cause more harm. Do not push hard. Not doing anything will do harm for sure.
The alegorical javelin stuck to him will kill him. The javelin must go out, but immediate removal will kill him sooner.

Build trust
Trust him. Share your trauma unrelated feelings with him. Share you concerns with him. Share your memories. Ask him for help. If you have your 13th chamber, let him slowly go in. Do this all casually, naturally. Ensure he is comfortable with it; start with easy ones and slowly go to things more and more sensitive to you. Let him know he has access to areas noone else have or ever had. Do not force him to make promises, let him know you trust him you don't need any promises at all.
He must trust they who try to remove the javelin do not want to and won't kill him.

Learn how to read him
Be empathetic. Learn how much he is comfortable or uncomfortable when asked or told something. Be able to find out how much you are pushing him out of his comfortable zone. You need to know when you are pushing, when you are pushing much and when you are about to push too much. Try not to push him that he will (ask to) end it. If you push him increasingly it is very beneficial to unload the stress smoothly as well. If he terminates it, he will terminate much faster.
It is needed, among other things, to know kow to distinguish small blead from serious ones and how to stop them promptly and effectively.

Build his self-esteem
He must see that he is worth better life than he is expiriencing so far. He must see that when he admits some wakness - failure in his eyes - at worst nothing changes in your attitude towards him. He must feel that he is of higher value for you as a human with feelings than a Joe Stonewall. Assure him noone cares he made a mistake. Assure him a mistake is not a failure, it is a lesson. He may think of himself as expendable; convince him he is scarce. He must se himself strong and worthwile and comfortabel enough to overcome the discomfort he is about to face.
He must know the pain will raise a lot but then disappear after the javelin is out.

Divide and conquer
Slowly undermine his blocks by asking about his concerns, his feelings, his memories. Start with trauma unrelated topics. Be respectful when he doesn't want to talk deeper. Be appropriately supportive when he starts on his own. Don't push hard, don't be oversupportive. Be sure, that you are few levels ahead, that you disclose more serious things than you ask for, that you trust him more than you demand from him.
Cut the javelin in parts and remove one after other. Leave the most critical parts for the end so you can remove them fast and stop bleading immediately.

Be strong, solid and respectful
Do not give up. Don't push hard, push little but steadily. Do not fade; do not give up the ground you already conquered. Whenever he stops telling you, stop asking. Whenever he seems uncomfortable, stop telling. Change the topic to something casual, like grocery shopping, work, any other usual small talk. Wait for a while. Let him process both what has been told and the emotions it caused. Let him relax. Then try to talk about it from other point of view, in other words or talk about something else, but keep the intimity same or little higher.
When a part is removed from the body there is no reason to return it back, isnt it?

Don't make it a mission
Yes, it is a mission, the really long one and exhausting one. Be sure you leave your mission accomplished celebration deep in your head. There mustn't be any fireworks, fanfares at all. Even if was your Biggest Succes Of All Times(tm), you must take it casually. He must see you did it all because of him, because youcare for him. Not because you wanted to prove something to yourself. Do not ask him whether it (all) was worth it - he must be the one who say it. Spontaneously. Do not expect rewards, do not expect anything. Accept any result.
Be sure you never celebrate major improvement in your quest. He mustn't feel like he is played with. If you say something like "(See,) was it that hard to tell me that/go to the doc?" he will lock himself and you'll waste all your effort and lose any other chance to help him. It is highly probable you will lose him and block a chance anyone can help him. Except for Death himself.
After succesful step, doctors don't celebrate, they just continue with another step; after succesful operation doctors usualy don't celebrate, they just go prepare for another patient.


I know the javelin analogy is not perfect, but I liked the idea and realized it's not that good when I wrote too much text. It may seem as Mission Impossibe, but hey, they made six films of that franchise!

I wish all the best and that I might help you a bit. Good luck.

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Disclaimer: I'm not going to try and say do this or do that and it'll work; unfortunately it's not that simple.

I myself have personal issues to say it in kinder terms. I am familiar with personally saying that I'm this or that and I don't need therapy.

Critical point to understand

The first thing you have to understand is this: if someone does not want therapy then no matter what you say to them they're not going to manage it and even if they manage it they won't make use of it. What I mean is that even if they go to therapy if they're not interested, if they're not seeing it as a value then they will change the subject, they will avoid giving it their all, they will undermine it in ways they might not even realise they are doing. You must understand that. They might do it consciously; I did this in my youth actually. I masterfully changed the subject etc.

The thing is here: we don't know your fiancé and we don't know his situation either so it's difficult to say do this or that. At best one can give general thoughts and maybe advice on what works for some people or what might be going on in his head.

If the word 'therapy' does indeed make him shut it down you don't want to go that route; it'll sorely backfire. What you need to do instead is try and help him understand that you're there for him, you will not abandon him, you want to help him but you also will not push him or tell him to do this or that.

There are a lot of things that I could say but to keep this somewhat simplistic - and with just general things to consider - I'll remind you that if you try using logic to something - and I am not saying he's being illogical necessarily (logic probably doesn't even come into the picture!) - that isn't involving logic then you will have a difficult time understanding it. It can be done but it's difficult; you need to bypass that mode.

You need to be supportive, you need to help him understand you're not going to judge, you want to be with him, you're devoted to him, you're his partner, happy to met him, etc.

The unfortunate thing is that when it comes to personal problems it's very complicated. Please consider this one thing too: if you don't really know the full story then you will have a difficult time knowing how to proceed with that itself. You have to instead learn how he thinks, how he behaves (for it's probably just as much as emotion if not more so than thinking) and what works for him.

A question for you to consider yourself

When do the problems actually happen? What are you two doing (or if you hear about it later what is it about)? Did you say anything? Did someone else say or do anything earlier that day? By asking these types of questions you might be able to learn more about the situation and therefore come up with ways to proceed - to help him and your relationship too (for communication and comfort talking with each other is obviously vital for a health relationship). I think you know this but one would never want to say if you don't go to therapy then ...

A few other notes

Finally: be patient. It's a difficult thing I know. When I first had to be something of a caretaker (not like you would have of people as they age but as a partner of someone who has their own problems as well) I started to have even more respect and sympathy for those who take care of other people. Believe in yourself, him and know that you want to be - as the saying goes - 'happily ever after' with him, whatever it takes. Patience is vital!

You might also consider using different words. As another person pointed out therapy is a strong word; it suggests to many people's imagination that they have something to be ashamed of and unfortunately people do look down on others with problems. They say they're weak or incapable of dealing with the world's problems. In fact those who can accept they have their own issues are the strongest! Being okay with your vulnerability is a sign of strength. Accepting is important to actually proceed.

Maybe counselling is an easier word. Offer to go with him if that helps. But you have to get to that point first and it seems you might not be there yet.

Good luck on it either way!

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as soon as I mention "therapy", he says he is fine and shuts me down

That is to be expected. "Therapy" is a very strong word, with bad connotations - hospitalisation, medications, etc. Few people would freely and easily admit that they need therapy. Especially when the therapy is mental.


From my point of view, therapy is one of the last steps. Until there, there are some other steps.

  1. Provide him with a supportive environment at home. You know the details of your family better, you can decide what is best.

  2. Involve him in free-time activities where he can interact with people. Socialization can have therapeutic effects.

  3. Get him to learn dancing, preferably you would be there as a partner. Folks dances, latino (energetic, fast, funny), tango (slower, "aristocratic"), others. Music and dance are known to be "healers" of the soul and mind, often of the body too. * (Learning and practicing argentine tango helped me tremendously through the mental discomfort caused by some longer term physical afflictions I have.)* Hard-rock-head-shaking might not have the expected/desired therapeutic effects, though.

  4. Try to get him into some "improvement programs". Acquaint him to specialists in self-improvement, transactional analysis, coaching on diverse life problems. * (I underwent such training, and I was very satisfied with the results. There was only free chat, guided by the trainer.)*


You need to be aware that you have to deal with two problems.

  1. The big problem (obvious): the effects of his big trauma on his health.

  2. The "smaller" problem (possibly not obvious): his reluctance to get better help for the big problem.

I expect that you will have very little success in fixing the big problem before dealing with a small problem.

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    Just so you know, therapy isn't really like that at all. You usually need to be seeing a therapist to get medicine and that kind of thing, but just because you go to a therapist doesn't mean your treatment will involve medicine, etc. Like you can't have surgery without a doctor, but not every doctor's visit involves surgery. It just depends on what the patient needs. – user3067860 Feb 19 at 17:03
  • @user3067860: I am fully aware that therapy does not necessarily mean special very-long-sleeved shirts and rooms with foam-coated walls. It is just that most people associate therapy with that kind of stuff. Maybe that image was formed as urban legends, maybe movies gave a helping hand. The truth remains, that people are afraid to benefit of therapy, for those (incorrect) reasons. – virolino Feb 20 at 5:38
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    @virolino You present therapy as a "last stage". It's not. Posts like this that say to do everything you can to avoid it are why there is a stigma against it and why people are afraid of it. Most therapy is simply talking to a professional that offers a calm, outside perspective. There's no medicine or hospitilization unless that's something you consent to or you are actively a danger to yourself or others. – Carl Kevinson Feb 20 at 22:36
  • @CarlKevinson: I think omitting the medication and hospitalisation won't change the answer meaning and remove the "friction". We may understand "last stage" as the last option to try, like a last stone in the sack, or as a last task of longer campaign, like last item on ordered to-do list. The text under line suggests the later to be more probable. – Crowley Feb 21 at 2:51
  • If OP's fiancé suffers from anxiety dance is not good idea. It is very public and very intimate at the same time. Sometimes it is more like sexual foreplay than part of social event. – Crowley Feb 21 at 2:55

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