Q: My boyfriend lives far away. We never see each other, but we video chat a lot. He has been feeling very depressed. He sleeps all day, won’t answer my invites, and is always mad at people. He said he didn’t want to get me in to his problems because he doesn’t want to hurt me. What should I do?

This isn’t an easy question to answer! The fact that you’re hurting for him and want to help him shows that you really care about him, so the advice I’m about to give might be hard to hear. I absolutely care about your boyfriend and the problems he is facing right now in his life. But his actions and attitudes are sending up big red flags to me.

From my perspective, the whole purpose of dating is to see if someone could potentially be “the one” for you-like, marriage. So during the time you spend dating, you’ve got to keep your eyes wide open for things that don’t sit right with you. You should be watching for attitudes, actions, and character qualities that might be “deal breakers” (meaning, you wouldn’t want to marry someone with those habits). So you have to ask yourself, sis–do you really want to spend your life with someone who sees the world this way? Who struggles with depression and anger, but doesn’t want to talk about it? Again, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t care, but you don’t have to be someone’s girlfriend in order to care for and pray for that person.

Now this part is really important: You are not responsible to see him through this tough spot in his life. It’s not your fault that he’s struggling, and it’s not your job to fix it. In fact, I’ve watched more than one girl stay in a frustrating and even detrimental relationship because she was afraid to break up with her boyfriend; she was afraid that he might “lose it,” or even end his life. If you’re in that situation, sis, let me encourage you to let go, and let God work in your boyfriend’s life. God is big enough to handle whatever problems he has. The bottom line is that I don’t think it would be wise to stay with your boyfriend only because you’re afraid of breaking up with him.

That said… if you do decide that you’re going to stick this relationship out, or at least stay together for a while, here are some things to try:

  1. Try to not go down with the ship. In other words, when you start to see your boyfriend’s mood sink, try not to let your mood follow his. This is way easier said than done! Keep the conversation light, tell him about something funny that happened today, or ask him specific questions that don’t have anything to do with his problems (like about a hobby or dream).
  2. Don’t try to force him to “talk out” his feelings. You’re not his counselor, and acting like one might frustrate him. If he’s not bringing up his feelings, then you don’t need to either.
  3. If he is talking about his feelings, listen… within reason. We all need a listening ear! But if he’s always talking about his frustrations and problems, you’re going to burn out quickly. If you find yourself getting tired of the negativity, gently steer the conversation elsewhere.

You know, there will always be struggles in any relationship. But–especially at this point in your life–whoever you date should be more fun than a burden. Keep that in mind as you think through things this week.

I’ve said some pretty straightforward things in this email, sis. Even if it doesn’t make complete sense, or if you disagree entirely, please trust that I’m looking out for you and for him. I promise to pray for your heart and for wisdom in your situation this week.

Love,