As a preface, I apologize if this question seems off-topic; it is a twisted problem that I have tried to narrow down to a single, good question that addresses the lump sum of my concerns and issues with my current relationship.

I have been dating a woman for around a month and a half who suffers from and is medicated for extreme depression as well as several problems that cause chronic physical pain. She has an awful family life, lives with her mother (when she is home), and does not have steady employment. She "self-medicates" with marijuana, which I do believe to be genuinely helpful in some circumstances and simply an escape in others. Recently, she has been staying at my apartment anywhere from 5 days to a week or more at a time, something I fear could be leading to co-dependence.

There have been a myriad of emotional and financial issues I have raised in the past, only to evoke an honestly truthful but not satisfactory response that I cannot possibly understand the severity of her condition.

Namely, I do not want to be an enabler for negative life choices for her. I realize that with severe depression comes an extreme lack of motivation and self-loathing, often brought on by no reason at all. However, she will often seek my approval to do the following things:

  • Cancelling appointments she has for what little work she does have (she is a self-employed tutor who sets her own schedule)
  • Smoking marijuana in my apartment, often 2-3 times a day, which can be probable cause for my eviction if discovered as it is illegal in my state
  • Skipping therapy appointments
  • Using the money she does have, or asking for money from me, to buy more marijuana because it has a more noticeable and immediate affect than her prescription medicines.

On top of these things, for the duration of her stays at my apartment I am solely responsible for buying food and driving. Whenever I raise a negative voice to these things, which I do infrequently, her reaction is that of "I need it / it is good for my condition / you can't even begin to understand me".

We are capable of an honest, open dialogue between each other where we discuss these things. However, I feel like even when I am stern I gain no ground and she does not understand my viewpoint and my true intentions. I don't wish to "win" an argument with her. Even if we disagree, I want her to see why I am making the choices I am making. Though we are capable of being open and honest, I don't know if anything I say is really reaching her.

The bottom line is that I do not want to stigmatize her depression and I want to treat her fairly and kindly, because she is a great girl and I care about her quite a bit. The issue is that, while being kind and accepting, I do not want to be an enabler by allowing her to cancel things that are important or helpful especially looking at the long term. She has had previous jobs, good jobs, fall apart in the past because of her inability to be motivated. I feel like I can't sit by and give an affirmative every time she wants my approval to run from her responsibilities, no matter how much her depression may be inhibiting her.

I understand in the short term these things are important and depression can be overwhelming and terrifying for her, but she has used my precedent of saying "yes" to these things in the past to continue the listed behavior quite frequently. I am okay with her taking these "breaks" in moderation.

Understanding that to her I come from a place of privilege and little understanding, how do I gently but confidently say "no" to her behavior without her viewing it as an attack on her or her condition?

For those who would like to posit that I speak to her about seeking professional help, she already sees a therapist and a psychiatrist.

I do not have access to either of these individuals (remember, this is an early relationship), and likely asking for access to these individuals is something that would require a lot of explanation.

Edit: I appreciate the responses and the comments. For clarification, my girlfriend does not threaten self-harm or suicide in any way when I say no to her. Instead, she turns the issue on its head and insists that I am harming the relationship by not being what she needs. I can't exactly argue, definitively - I'm no professional and when every argument starts with "you don't understand how this feels and how serious this is" I can only agree that, well, I don't.

She has a long history of getting what she "needs" from other people, so certainly she expects this as accepted behavior from a partner. Anything less is a misunderstanding and "attack" on her condition as a depressed individual, and a signal to her that I am not committed to the relationship.

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    How serious is this relationship? How important is it to you to maintain the relationship? Are you contemplating a permanent commitment (or have you already made one)?
    – 1006a
    Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 21:26
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    @1006a the relationship is what I would consider emotionally serious. It is important to me to maintain it healthily, else I wouldn't be asking and would have already broken it off. And I'd like to imagine I date with the potential of marriage, though no serious commitment has been made. However, that is something I consider when I am dating someone, and she raises serious concerns. For all of her issues she does have many, many positive qualities. The problem is the negatives as you can see are large, destructive, and difficult to address.
    – abavg
    Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 3:51
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it needs more professional help. Please ask the people that are helping your partner, that know infinitely more about her issues than random people on the internet, for guidance on how you can help your partner best in these situations.
    – Tinkeringbell
    Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 7:48
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    I don't want a "how to do I fix this answer/relationship" answer, and indicated as such in the question. I would like an answer that addresses preventing enabling negative behavior, if that behavior is indeed negative. @apaul has done a knockout job beginning to address saying "no" in a healthy way and I'm confident there are others with relationship experience that could provide similar options.
    – abavg
    Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 13:29
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    Okay, you've got my last vote to reopen this. But please keep in mind that the advice you may get here isn't in anyway comparable to that of a professional. She IS severely depressed, and that isn't something to take lightly. I think the question about saying-no to her can be answered, but please keep in mind that some answers might not work for a severely depressed person. We can't help you treat her depression!
    – Tinkeringbell
    Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 23:04

8 Answers 8


So… I'm not depressive, just bipolar (and ADHD… go genetics!), but I can get into a pretty nasty funk a couple of times a year (take seven pills a day to mostly feel normal, and that still fails…).

In one sense, she's right. You have no idea what it's like. Most people don't. Even thinking about depressive episodes is enough to make me deeply uncomfortable, bordering on afraid. The most frustrating parts:

  • I know that I can manage a fairly objective outlook on reality. I know that I have a wife and great kids. I know that I'm doing pretty well in a few different ways, but I feel like the walls are closing in on me and I will be crushed.
  • I live in a perpetual worry that some fundamental parts of my personality are some sort of symptom of the disease. (Not getting into examples here)

My read is that she's not just depressive, but acting destructively as well. Most of those, "it's good for my condition", "you can't begin to understand" are precisely the opposite of true.

From a personal perspective, I find that the best way to handle depression is having a clear idea what I want, and then try to act on that, even if I feel like the world is about to collapse on me. The worst thing you can do is break routine in those circumstances. Cancelling appointments actually makes things worse, not better. Smoking up is avoidance not trying to act for the best. The next day, she'll sober up and realize, "Hey, I have the same problems as yesterday, only today they're worse!"

Ask her what she wants or needs to be happy. Help her work towards that. If she claims that she's too depressed for something then ask her if there's something that she can do that will get her closer to . There are plenty of things which someone can do that fall into "hey, I simply can't face the world right now… but I can be productive doing X…"

For her sake, I also recommend a mood tracker. "How did I feel today, what was I doing?" can help both on a personal level, and it can help when she goes and talks to her psychologist (or psychiatrist).

Yesterday I had a particularly unmotivated day (not even depressed, just couldn't get motivated). I had an "I don't want to clean the attic, or mow the lawn, or bag the leaves, or do work, or…" but I was able to follow up with a, "I can at least…". Garbage went out! Put my generator back together! (don't ask)

If she's unwilling to do anything but smoke up… that's not an encouraging sign. At that point, you should ask, "Is there a way we can talk with your therapist together? I'd like to help you as much as possible and that means helping you with whatever treatment plan you have." It is common for people in a relationship with someone suffering from some form of emotional/psychological inconsistency to also talk with the therapist. It helps the partner gain understanding, perspective, and patience.

(Side note: I will warn you, if you go and start moaning to the guy about the relationship problems, that will destroy any trust she has in you.)

  • Thank you for your answer. As for asking her what she needs to be happy, I try to do this frequently - unfortunately due to her mental and physical state, either it is "smoking" or some other escape from her mental state. Moving forward it seems cutting down on time together and finding new activities together could help avoid negative enabling situations and allow me more chance to be a positive force.
    – abavg
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 14:28
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    "Smoking up" is not a long-term plan :-P. Long-term plans are things like, "In 2019, I will be glad that I did X in 2018." Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 15:09
  • I will see if I can separate short term and long term responses and communicate well with her. Right now, I'd say getting on her feet with employment is a long-term plan, and I'll try to focus on that (not agreeing she should skip appointments as part of my question factors in) and other things.
    – abavg
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 15:25
  • @abavg And this comes from the perspective of a person that was in an almost 2 year relationship with a depressive girl. It Will Be Hard! YOu have to know to what you are committing with a serious relationship with a depressed person! I dont want to talk you out of it just make it clear. It is hard, and a lot of cheering up that wont work, day and day again. And it most likely wont be ANY use, day and day again. You will be frustrated. Get angry at her for being sad after some time. IT WILL BE HARD. But if you believe you can manage that go for it. Good Luck!
    – MansNotHot
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 13:59

It kinda sounds like you're already enabling her. Trust me, I've been there and done all of the things you're describing in, sadly, more than one relationship...

As for saying "no" and breaking the pattern, it's simple, but definitely not easy.

The key is to stick to your "no" and be consistent about it. The things you're saying "no" to, need to be things that you always say "no" to. If you're not ok with her smoking at your place, that needs to be a hard rule, if you already said "no" that's the answer, stick to it. Don't allow her to guilt you into changing your answer.

I've also struggled with some pretty hard bouts of depression, and I can understand self medicating, but self medicating usually isn't a good long term solution. One of the side effects of daily/heavily smoking marijuana is the apathy you're seeing. I'm not a doctor or anything, but there's a difference between medical use and being stoned all day every day. It may help with pain and a lot of other issues, but it takes a heavy toll on someone's desire to get out and do things.

Dealing with people who show codependent traits is hard, usually they've been operating that way for a long time, so they've had a lot of practice at getting around people's boundaries. Take a hard look at whether you're up to the task of constantly having to uphold your boundaries, it's a lot of work...

In my experience with these relationships it's gotten to the point of having to be prepared to leave the relationship to enforce my boundaries in nearly every case. Not trying to scare you, just saying that you probably want to be prepared for that because it often does, and probably will, come up. Either they'll threaten to leave you, or you'll have to threaten to leave them at some point because you had to tell them "no" one too many times.

My best advice would be to tell you to get out while you still can, but lots of people told me that when I was in these situations, and never listened either...

As much as it hurts and as much as you may want to, you can't "fix" people.

  • I have no doubt that some of the things I have been doing have been enabling, which is why I decided to seek advice here. Also, a comment on the self medication: I do believe she uses it to escape depression, but her chronic pain involves eating and reflux -- it manifests visibly, daily, and I have seen evidence that her smoking can keep it down. It is difficult to tell her not to smoke when I have to watch her eat less and be in visible pain as a consequence.
    – abavg
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 2:25
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    @abavg I don't doubt that she's suffering, and I'm well aware that marijuana can help with that, but like any prescription drug it can be abused. Often the goal in these situations isn't to eliminate pain, but to maximize function... I hope that makes sense?
    – apaul
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 3:22
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    @abavg also, my intent wasn't to judge you at all, my heart really goes out to you, I've been in enough of these situations to know what it feels like. It's absolutely gut wrenching to watch someone you care about suffer and not be able to do anything to help... I was just trying to offer a voice of experience.
    – apaul
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 3:27
  • Oh, no judgement here. I read your intent, I just didn't know if I was clear on how I feel about her drug use, and how that factors in to be trying to find the line between being helpful (minimizing her pain) and being enabling (encouraging apathy and destructive behavior). Part of what makes this complicated is my desire to not shoot an essay into this SA community and try to at least be a little concise. Thank you!!
    – abavg
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 13:51

Before I say anything else, I will say this one more time:

You should probably get some kind of advice from a professional. This is really early in your relationship and I'm glad you didn't wait too long to ask this question or to act.

So how you do it:

You say "no", when you think you should say "no". But when you do, you have to be ready to stick with it. You can't change your mind. Next time, for example, your girlfriend asks you for money in order to buy herself marijuana, you refuse (assuming this is one of your concerns).

I would say something like this:

I have decided that I will not give you money for the marijuana anymore. I do not think self-medicating is helping you deal with what is causing you depression. Rather it seems to be an escape. I'm sorry for having done this in the past, but I want you to know that I will not be doing this from now on.

This doesn't mean that I am not here for you. I will still be supportive and encouraging towards you as far as continuing with your therapy is concerned and I'm also considering seeking advice so I know how to properly help you. Because I don't want to pretend I understand exactly what you have gone through or are going through, I need to talk to a professional so I can understand all of this better.

  • Has she opened up to you at all about what has happened to her in the past? About her family?
  • And if she has, does talking about things help her at all? Does she feel better or worse?
  • Have you asked her if her therapist seems to be helping her? Perhaps she hasn't found the right therapist match for her yet (I don't know how long she's been seeing the therapist for).
  • Does her therapist allow joint sessions?

These are all things you should probably find out.

Keep in mind that if she isn't ready/willing to help herself (open up in therapy and/or you), there isn't much you can do. You can be patient until your patience runs out. It is too early in the relationship to know what the outcome might be.

In the meantime, motivate her by finding activities that you either could do together or that she would enjoy doing by herself which will allow her to be creative and that will distract her from the not so healthy behaviors. Find out more about that. There could be some inexpensive classes she could take about a subject of interest. Good luck.

  • Thank you Tycho. To clarify, when you say to get advice from a professional, do you mean for me to seek relationship counseling, therapy, or something similar? Is there a specific type of professional help outside of, say, joint therapy sessions that could help build me up as an individual for this situation?
    – abavg
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 2:27
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    Yes, counseling. Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 4:56

My wife is bi-polar and was in the middle of a sub-manic phase when I started dating her. As much sympathy as I had for her when she told me her story on our first date, we were careful to be very slow in developing our relationship.

The biggest warning sign to me is that you are already seriously emotionally involved. She is already living with you 5 or more days at a time after only a month and a half of dating.

You've barely gotten a chance to know her and let your relationship develop with healthy boundaries. You should still just be a friendly observer in her life.

You are trying to take on too much responsibility for her. You need to strictly limit the amount of time you spend with her at this early stage.

If you want to develop a healthy relationship, I would recommend not allowing her to spend any time at your place and only spending a few hours together per week in some activity away from your homes.

She needs to be able to go outside on her own to meet with you. If you aren't insisting that she do that, you are enabling her in self-destructive habits.

  • Thank you for your voice of experience - you're echoing things that I am also thinking and trying to monitor moving forward. As for spending time at my apartment, we both have interest in hobbies that involve TV (movies, video games) so even on a date night it makes for a good, cheap alternative. However I do think that having fun with a separate activity away from my home is a great idea.
    – abavg
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 14:24

This may not be the answer you are looking for, but get out of that relationship.

I speak from experience and the primary regret I have is to not leave sooner. A person with a serious mental illness needs professional help and a stable environment. She rejects the first and doesn't have the second and as much as you want to, you cannot give it because it takes more than one person.

At 6 weeks or so, you are probably still a victim of your hormones. Watch some videos of Helen Fisher to understand how that will change (and how soon).

Before you think about helping your GF, understand that if you stay you are going to be in a world of pain for a very, very long time, and it will never be completely over even if it gets better. Are you ready to accept that for a person that is relatively new in your life?

Your first and primary principle needs to be self-protection. You cannot help if you are damaged yourself, and mentally ill people have a tendency to damage those around them (not intentionally, in most cases).

You need to define boundaries and stick to them no matter what. This will not work out with your conflict-aversion tag, but unless you, for example, draw a line and defend it till blood about not smoking in your appartment, the damage could be substantial and take away your ability to be a helper.

Only from a position of strength do you have any chance at all to help. This needs to be done in coordination with a trained medical expert, who can advise you and see the whole picture of the interplay between mental issues, medication and living context. This will require that your GF signs a statement releasing the doctor from his patient confidentiality in relation to you. If you cannot cooperate with the doctor, your chances of success just became equal to winning the lottery.

There's a lot more to this, but the doctor can help with most. So only one more thing from me: Definitely absolutely get yourself a regular hobby if you don't already have, that is a) a friendly activity with other people and b) gets you out of the house and away from her for a few hours. You will need to recharge your batteries sometimes, and you need a "safe space" that is well established and will not be questioned. Never, ever, cancel this event for any reason short of someone's death.


I have been on both sides of a relationship like this; in hospitals, with police, in 12-step programs and in therapy. I came out the other side- so I will be blunt.

The problems with this relationship are coming from Your actions, Abavg. People aren't projects and they aren't fixer-uppers. Healthy people want partners, not projects.

You will waste decades while you try to fix her, as she resents you and retreats further- and it will all be for nothing.

You sound fascinated and enmeshed with her many, many problems. The person you can talk freely about the dynamics of this relationship with, is your own therapist. You can safely learn about expressions like your part in the Karpman Drama Triangle, and find out why you are so attracted to a relationship with someone who cannot be present.

She should not be living with you after a month and a half. Maybe after a year and a half. "Too soon" ruins relationships and is a huge red flag for a dangerous relationship. She needs to be focused on her wellness and therapies. I question her ability to be in this relationship, because she's telling you she can't.

I urge you to consider your actions not as martyred, rescuing angel, but as coercion. You offered her a rescue and a home in exchange for intimacy. I'm concerned for her safety and her ability to consistently administer birth control. You should assume you have to be responsible for and use barrier methods to, prevent pregnancy.

Before the the legal, financial, and human rights consequences come knocking at your door (and they will) consider taking actions of genuine compassion that allow her to be responsible for her own life. Let her prioritize her recovery, privately, by ending this entrapment and her stay in your home. The best model for her may be you modeling these actions in your own life. Make yourself your fixer-upper project.

  • To clarify a few things: We do not, and do not plan to, live together any time soon, and have discussed this. Additionally, birth control is a huge part of her life and something she takes very seriously. We both monitor this closely.
    – abavg
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 1:38

I'd like to add the perspective of someone who has managed severe depression for many years.

Here's the thing. I don't know how long you've known her, but you've only been dating a month and a half. As much as you may care for her right now-- You're not qualified to help her.

More to the point, she's not your responsibility. You need to back way off.

I don't mean you should break up with her, or that you should stop caring for her. I just mean that you're not treating her like an equal right now. You can't because you don't see her as an equal. You see her as someone who needs help.

Whatever is going on between you is more damaging than healthy. She knows it because she's told you that you're not helpful. You know it because you're asking our advice.

If you want to salvage a real, equitable relationship, you need to back off and let her take care of herself in whatever way that manifests (or doesn't manifest) itself. If you can't let her do that, you don't really want to be her companion you want to be her caretaker, or her controller. You really need to be honest with yourself about what you want your role to be. Hero? Father figure? Best friend? Companion? What?

If you can't be with someone who is going to make mistakes with their own self care, chances are being with a severely depressed person is going to take a tremendous toll on you emotionally.

It's hard for a depressed person to keep people around them long term. I hope that you are able to hang in there for her for a while. But be wise about it.

Take care of both of you.


It sounds like you are dealing with this well. You can use the Internet to find free crisis counseling for yourself and ask some questions of a professional without being the one who is in need of direct help. Try to scout out one that doesn't seem busy.

"Instead, she turns the issue on its head and insists that I am harming the relationship by not being what she needs.".

We hope she means well and has simply poorly explained that you have not explained your position well. Be a leader and a leaning post not a stepping stone and a follower - you don't want to have increased difficulties due to her troubles (poorer and possibly evicted) but instead to be supportive without being a support.

It sounds like you are dealing with this well, be confident that your caring and fair decisions are correct; are you transferring lack of confidence or doubt, assure her you mean the best for her - don't be guilted into doing things that you think will make things worse.

Find something happy and distracting you can do together, see a movie she wants to see, a walk in the park or on the beach, go to dinner ...

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