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When You Love a Man With Low Self-Esteem – 9 Things to Keep in Mind (by Paul Graves)

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When You Love a Man With Low Self-Esteem

So you love a guy with low self-esteem. Sucks to be you. I’m saying that as a dude who used to hate himself. Who still kind of does. I know the crap you deal with. He must drive you nuts.

I was in a relationship with an angel, let’s call her Mary. Mary was such a pure, beautiful soul. We connected. Looking into her eyes filled me with comfort and calmed my fears. Mary loved me so much, and I loved her too. But I hated myself even more. Long story short – I ran away from her love. The love I felt unworthy of. I sought validation and distraction in women, alcohol and career moves. And in many other dark ways I won’t mention.

Low self-esteem is easy to explain yet hard to understand for some. It’s feeling shameful about who you are. Feeling guilty or embarrassed about who you are, deep in your core. You feel ‘different’. Damaged or flawed in fundamental, irreversible ways. You don’t love yourself. Your man may never admit it outright – but he wishes he were someone else.

Alas, there’s no return policy in life. We’re stuck in this skin forever, and the hate, the self-pity – it gets us nowhere. But here’s the rub:

When a man is dealing with low self-esteem, he’ll make mistakes. Big mistakes. My shame and low self-esteem led me to become reckless. I felt a constant, nearly unbearable background anxiety. I had to make myself feel different. I had to escape. Luckily, there were several reliable methods: nonstop partying, irresponsible sex, starting businesses, spending lots of money, exotic traveling. My worst nightmare was being alone, in a quiet room. I couldn’t stand my own company. Maybe your man feels the same way, I pray he doesn’t. But my feelings aren’t unique.

The mistakes I made led to more shame and guilt. And then more mistakes made running away from those feelings. The cycle continues. This leads to what I like to call the 9th dimension of shame. The hole can get so deep. The spiral of pain seems unstoppable.

Your man’s low self-esteem can manifest in a variety of ways. Every guy will act out in his own way. Some pull back and hide, some flee and seek experiences. Others party and rage, or try to prove themselves at work.  It’s troublesome for both the sufferer and the poor individual who loves them so much. Low self-esteem is tricky; the sufferer can distract himself or run away from it for years. He may not even realize that the darkness he feels is low self-esteem. And it’s f*cking heartbreaking.

If you love him, he will need you to get through it. You may be able to show him the light. Don’t give up on him, he needs you. Many times it will be confusing, and he may hurt you without wanting to. (Trust me, he doesn’t want to hurt you. He hurts enough just being himself.)

Here are some important things to remember: a cheat sheet to get you through tough times. And maybe to help him see the truth of his ways.

  1.  He loves you so much, but hates himself even more.

    He’s lost. You two may have such an obvious, beautiful opportunity for love but he squanders it. He only sees his own shortcomings. His pain and depression is like a dark, heavy, thick blanket that he just can’t shake. But like I said above, he may not even realize it. He’s not trying to mess with your head. He’s not unreachable. However he is in a state of constant anxiety, always wishing he could be someone HE loves. If you say ‘I love you’, he probably thinks: ‘Why would you? You can’t. You’re wrong’.

    He yearns to love himself, and the struggle to do that can ruin your relationship. This should be a good thing, right? Not all men act out this feeling in healthy ways. It will be hard but think about their perspective. If they don’t love themselves maybe you can do something to help them. If you love him, do what you can to help his HEART. Buy him books on spirituality, ask him how he feels about himself. Listen, and if required seek the help of a licensed therapist or psychologist.

    A book I recommend is No More Mr. Nice Guy by Dr. Robert Glover. It was a wake-up call, and helped launch my wild journey of transformation. Don’t let the title fool you, it’s a book about shame, self-worth and learning to accept yourself. It’s a powerful starting point, buy it now.

  2. He may seek attention outside the relationship, or activities without you.

    This was a huge factor in my relationship ending. My low self-esteem led me to crave attention from other potential partners. I was addicted to approval and validation from other women.

    Maybe he likes attention from others, flirtation and come-hither looks. I hope you haven’t caught him on dating sites or apps. That was another thing I would do – I craved the attention so much. Maybe he also yearns for people to tell him how cool he is, how great he dresses, or what a sweet job he has. Point is, he’s just crazy for attention.

    He seeks attention and approval from other people – but what about you? Self-esteem is a real b*tch. He thinks that he has to either prove to himself that he’s worthy, or look for evidence of it anywhere he can. ‘If other people tell me I’m great, then that must mean I’m great.’

    It may be common sense to you – that we should all love and respect ourselves as human beings. But to a sufferer of low self-esteem, this isn’t the case. Having low self-esteem is like being in a courtroom. And you’re guilty until proven innocent. He’s shameful at the core of his being. His soul appears blackened, damaged and irreparable. He craves escapes from reality.

    Try to talk with him about this. ‘I think you act like this because you like how it makes you feel, right? Why do you need to feel this way?  Can’t you just be yourself, how you feel now?’ ‘Why aren’t I enough?’ ‘Do you need help learning to love yourself?’

    If your man can’t handle this conversation, consider moving on. He’s not ready. It must be him who makes the changes necessary to heal. It is NEVER on your shoulders to do this for him.

  3. He believes he must have ‘got lucky’. He feels unworthy of you.

    At first he cherished you. You were his prize. He held you close, showed you off to the world. It was intoxicating and intense. But soon, he knew he ‘had you’ and started looking around. The high that you and the new relationship gave him faded. The drug wore off, so he’s seeking fresh supply. He needs more intense intoxicating experiences to feel okay about himself.

    I had an amazing partner in Mary, but I didn’t believe I was worthy. She could see the man I was, beyond the shit-storm that was my life. She saw through my shame and self-hatred but I couldn’t buy it. I was too deep in my own trance.

    I thought I’d got lucky, that I’d fooled her somehow. So I needed to prove that I could be worthy of someone amazing. Does that sound stupid or what? I wanted to be able to ‘earn someone’ who everyone else wanted, to prove to myself that I was a valuable man. Then I could love myself.

    Remember that this isn’t about you – this is about a hole he has in his heart. He needs to know that he didn’t just ‘get lucky’ when he landed you. Don’t let him feel that way! Please, tell him you love him. Tell him everything you think is unique and enticing about him. Don’t make it only about appearance either. If he feels like he fooled you, he will not treat the relationship with the respect. This is an important point.

  4. He may be restless, or always trying to prove something to the world or himself.

    Some call it ‘hustle’ or ambition. Maybe he has grand ideas or entrepreneurial zeal up the wazoo. He wants to create something that will change the world. That’s wonderful, but in his case it may be a cover-up: a distraction from voices in his head. The voices that say, ‘you’re not enough’. He’s trying to create a life that will prove his worth.

    He doesn’t want a life without you. His big dreams or grandiose desires get him out of his head. They give him hope that maybe one day, just maybe he will be able to like the man he is. After he does all this awesome stuff.

    There is nothing wrong with drive and initiative. But why is he so driven? Why does he desire so much?  If we bothered to ask ourselves ‘why’ we want the things we do, we could save ourselves much heartbreak. We’d stop running after so many shiny red balls. We could live with more purpose. Your man should ask himself why he wants to accomplish so much.

    To bring him down to earth, remind him how much life there is to live right now, in this moment. This moment, between the two of you. Kiss his lips, hold his head in your hands. Tousle that hair and look deep into those eyes you love so much. Say, ‘I love you for exactly who you are, right now’. Tell him he is enough.

    The point isn’t to make him an aimless, lazy ass. It’s to make sure he has his motivation and priorities in the right place.

  5. He can be extremely jealous or insecure about other men.

    My ex, Mary, had to think that I was perfect and wonderful at all times. She was my entire support system, and my source of confidence and security. She was my everything. (And yet I treated her awfully – aren’t men the greatest?)

    If I felt threatened or not #1 importance in her life, I would start to lose my sh*t. The low self-esteem inside your man creates an enormous hole. He filled it with you, and sprinkles in other things like vices and attention from others. When you threaten to leave them empty again they go crazy or become irrational.

    He doesn’t want you to suffer. Nor does he want to dominate you. He doesn’t know why he feels this way, but it’s because he hates who he is. In effect it’s self-defense, your actions hurt him. It’s painful enough just being who he is – when you threaten to make him feel even worse about himself … he lashes out or gets uncomfortable.

    Nothing about this is okay. I’m only telling it like it is.

  6. It can be near impossible to get him living ‘in the moment’.

    Many guys with low self-esteem are living in the past. He may be guilt-ridden and woeful over opportunities he failed to seize. Maybe he regrets not doing better in school, or choosing a better college. He might feel like a failure and disappointment to his family. Who knows, the point is he rides himself down all the time.

    Alternately, he’s living in the future. He dreams of a day when he can ‘be happy’. You may feel sad because it seems all he cares about is making lots of money, accomplishments or fame. Or making his family proud. He may seem to leave you out of his utopian vision of the future. But he probably just feels he’ll only worthy of you once he conquers the world. He feels he’s unworthy of happiness until he proves himself. These thoughts consume him and he’s desperate for that sweet moment of relief when he’s ‘made it’.  Problem: it’s never coming.

    You love him exactly as he is, right? Tell him that right now.

  7. True commitment scares the sh*t out of him – but not for the reason you think.

    In my relationship, I was afraid because I didn’t know who the hell I was. The only parts of myself I knew were sh*t. I didn’t feel like a good person, so who would want to be with me? I convinced myself that I was helping by not giving her marriage or children. By not giving her 100% true commitment I was doing her a favor.

    I didn’t believe in myself. I had no faith in my own goodness or potential. I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle the hard times that would come.  My feelings were ‘everything I touch turns to sh*t, so why would I waste her time? It’s doomed from the start, and I do not want to hurt her’.

    No advice here, no matter what he’s going to give you the ‘deer in the headlights’ look. Knowing this may help you understand the complexity of a man. He needs to learn to love himself through the hard times before he can love you through the hard times.

  8. He may enjoy seeing you in pain or suffering for the relationship.

    Sick, huh? Hate me if you want, I don’t care. I come in truth. This is a tough one to talk about. Self-esteem can get so low that a man gets validation from seeing his partner suffer. Seeing a person go through hell for us, feel pain caused by us – can actually give us pride.

    It’s a dose of the ‘I’m worthy’ drug … ‘Look at how this person goes crazy for me, I must be worthy’.

    Enough said, it’s time to leave the relationship. Hurt never justifies hurt.

  9. He adores you – but he needs to learn how to love himself.

    Your guy has to learn to love himself. This includes all the deepest and darkest parts too, the parts that scare him to death. The unfaced and unfelt parts of our psyche are the source of all neurosis and suffering. Carl Jung said that, not me.

    If he only loves a certain part of himself like his looks, the rest of him will just go on undeveloped. In many ways I was like a child before. I avoided pain or sacrifice every chance I could, and I turned into a big man-child. If this is happening to your man, you must stop it right away.

In the end, you can get over this together. The bond between you will be unbreakable, and he will love you forever. He’ll never forget that you were the girl who helped him discover the greatest love in the universe. His love for himself. Stick in there, but develop a plan right away. Not only is he suffering, you are as well. Take action now. If he refuses to draw a line in the sand and change his life, it may be time to walk away.


About the Author: Paul Graves

Paul Graves writes about pain, shame, and better living through self-acceptance at TakeTheLemons.com. He lives in Ohio with his 7-year old daughter and two cats. 

Paul is on Twitter and Instagram.

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227 Comments

Claudia

I am so glad I came across this article. I have been “Mary” for a little over a year now and I am beyond exhausted and broken hearted and I am a very strong, independent woman but this put me over the edge. Every good I pumped into him, he turned into something bad. He simply refuses to see it. He was so loving and caring and over the moon the first couple of months and the moment he realized he had me, he started with the emotional cruelty, often not even realizing he did so. I have never let a man get away with as much as I did with him. I can’t wrap my head around him. All I know is that I truly love him and I know he does as well but he just cannot go there. To see that you were able to work through this truly gives me hope. Thank you!

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Cecilia

Hi Mary, I am another Mary. I would normally never comment on an article, but tears have been falling all night since I read this article and your comment. I left my boyfriend who I also lived with a year ago. In our last fight I found myself curled up on the floor not being able to move from the crying and he did not know how to help me, even if he was the only one to. I left him because he would not seek help, and I have been told ever since how strong that made me. I have tried to understand how your big love can tell you that you will always be the love of his life and still let you go. I still feel the wounds of going from being the prize to the one who got away. I am proud I did, but my fear is that I will love him forever. Just like you, I put up with so much more than I ever would. I went far and just to the edge. Every point in this article sounds like words from him. Thank you both.

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Lydia

The comments below sadden me. This is what people do when confronted with narcissism…. They tell themselves that they need to love more, be more empathetic and forgiving. While this article is helpful to understand the why, every single one of these people should RUN. You cannot love someone into loving you. Love yourself!! Do not pur up with abuse regardless of WHY.

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Melisa

I am a Mary as well,I love him with all my heart, mind, body and soul. He is:was my best friend , but word for word he changed like explained in the article
I know he loves me But he also is married and we were killing each other . I miss my friend. Oh and to top it off we got pregnant and lost a baby 👶

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Ashlynn M

I am going through very similar. I appreciate hearing this. It is so encouraging to know I’m not the only one struggling with this. I have had many nights where I just break down and feel I cannot go anymore. Thanks very much for this!

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J

I have loved a man with low self-esteem for 2 years. I have traveled a journey with him that I would not want to do again, but my patience, my constant love shown to him, my support of the wonderful man he was underneath all that hurt and pain, has paid off. He is 100% with me, he let down all his guard and now is able to tell me how much he loves me and wants to be together forever. It was a painful journey and so hard to hang on during it. He is such a wonderful man. It is so sad when people don’t realize that we are all flawed and have baggage. It’s how you pack it away or leave it out in the open that determines your path.

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Beth

I am currrently dealing with this with my boyfriend. I found texts to another girl in his phone. He said he is working on himself right now but how do I help him? I am being supportive and see the true person he is inside and love him deeply. While his working on himself do I keep my distance?

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Been there

Beth – Yes leave him. Go life your life and let him have the space to work on himself. That’s what he needs and if you love him then you’ll let him have that. If it’s meant for you guys to be together than nothing – not even a break – will stop that. On that chance that he never figures himself out then you will look back one day and be happy that you made the tough decision to walk away. And likely you’ll have attracted someone who is healthy well adjusted and capable of seeing in you what you see in mr. current.

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Alicia

My boyfriend and I have been together for a couple of years now. We dated years back right out of high school but now we’re closer to our thirties. I love him with all of my heart. This helped me because he would hurt and hurt me and I always thought it was something I did wrong until I caught him crying. He also cheated . I’m still with him but I didn’t realize how hurt he was and how much he looked down on himself. I couldn’t and won’t leave him because I don’t want anyone else. This blog will help me to help better love him . He is my everything. I don’t wanna live without him. Thank you

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Josie

I’m totally with you Alicia. I feel the same way about my guy. He has been so hurt and I love him too with all my heart. This article helped me with patience with him and understanding why he does some of the things he does. It has taken me two years to realize how hard my guy has been on himself too, but my constant love and reassurance that he is a wonderful giving, loving man is paying off. He is opening up like I never thought possible.

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Jess

I have been with my boyfriend for three years. We’ve been engaged for over a year now. I’ve wanted to break up with him a couple times. However, I know who he is deep inside and want to keep giving him the chance to love it. I want it to work. We wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. I just don’t know how much more one-sidedness I can take, along with the lies and messing around behind my back (even though he will always deny it). I don’t feel love from him like I’m looking for. It’s been there a few times. My trust in him had been completely broken and he told me If I give him a chance, it’ll just take time. I’m falling out of love with him because of this. What and how did you change your thinking and behavior? How did you come to that point of self-love?

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Nathalie

I think you guys loving someone like this is so beautiful. It’s a picture of how God loves us all although we come up short. Although, I think if we take God’s example and where he draws the line, is how a man is also inspired to change. God’s line is that’s refers to His people as His bride many times, but not married to us yet. In the same way, we can love a man and be there for them but draw the line and say they can’t have our body, or our devotion, but they can always have our love. Two different things. Respecting someone is not the same as loving someone. And men desire to be respected, which would make sense why they push a women away that isn’t respecting herself by letting him treat her like crap. I myself have to also put my boundaries down because I am learning how to draw the line as well.

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Been there

I hope you have left him. Do NOT marry this guy. It is not going to get better. Marriage doesn’t fix things. You should not take one more minute of one sidedness. Not one more….It sux to be alone but better that temporarily than to sign up for a committment that will likely lead to an even more painful divorce. There are too many good guys out there.

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Hannah M

Right now, Just like the other women in the comments section, I’m also a “Mary”. But unlike the other women, you have been so understanding and all you did is to shine light to your man, unlike me who fucked up everything from the start. I contributed to the pain that he’s going through and I didn’t realize the impact of my mistakes before. I felt sorry and guilty because he don’t deserve that kind of treatment, no one does. Now, his ears has been shut for God knows how long, he’s not listening to what i’m saying, he talks to me like i’m just somebody else. I admit it’s hard and me, myself is also going through something that’s why it sucks. But big props to this article because knowing that i’m not the only one who’s in this situation gave me strength. Seeing strong women/men in this comment section made me love my man even deeper. I’m so proud of ya’ll.

Thank you so much for this article Mr. Graves! More power to you!

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Anonymous

I don’t tend to comment on articles but this one really bothered me. Staying in a relationship that has turned toxic is never a good idea. No one but the person with low self esteem can “make themselves” feel better. Sorry but this just made me feel sick… you deserve better. Understand that like attracts like and that you too have low self esteem if you choose to remain in the dynamic as described above. Once you start to gain self esteem you would never put up with bad treatment and would recognize that you cannot “save” someone… if that’s how you gain your self worth that’s a whole other issue. Sometimes we stay with people we feel superior to in some way, or we stay with emotionally unavailable people because we are too… I’m just in shock and awe to read what some here will put up with and call it “love”. Breaks my heart!

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Paul

I have to say I am a Man with (relatively) low self esteem , I’m jealous reading all these women that love a guy, whether things worked out or not….I am 61 and have YET in my life to find a two-way love. I have had relationships, including once being married, but never where we BOTH felt it. I want that badly but fear it will never come to pass.

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Carla

My and my bf were together for 6 years and he left me because he felt that I wasn’t giving him enough. He also has low self esteem and I did not know how to handle it. It kept pushing and that drove him away. Now he is seeking validation from other women and his friends by drinking and partying. He told me that he hates me but he thinks I deserve better. He said we could still be friends and see where it goes. I don’t want to give up on him. Do you have any advice on how to build his self esteem and in the process maybe win him back?

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Chrissi

My ex was insecure Tried to help him I have study stress managment you can’t fix someone doesn’t wanna to be fixed they have to find them self its part of thier path you gotta set free go on your own. Self care self love meditation saying in mindset in your mind and in the mirror your enough. Mind body and soul take care what you came with once you love yourself thr spell is broken.

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Nozi

I’d love to just read the comments becoz all im feeling right now is that im not needed or not enough to him and to our relationship. Maybe am not what he wants, or am not worthy of love. Am so sad! Am crying!

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Shreyas

No 1 is so fucking true, no women can ever understand that or cant even think about it

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MsTree

I’m divorcing my husband of 41 years for all the reasons you mentioned. I tried. God knows I love this man and I’m a tortured soul having to let go of the dream.

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I don't agree - Triggered

You never see articles like this about how to understand WOMEN with low self-esteem, but there are so many, plenty of articles about men that needs extra understanding and love, and women writing in forums “How do i help my poor man who was traumatized by blah bla…” Or “How do i help my autistic boyfriend” etc etc etc. I never see any articles about a man trying to do his absolute best to understand and help his autistic or traumatized girlfriend. You know why? Because they drop them ass soon as they see that a woman might need extra care or understanding, saying “Hell no i didn’t sign up for this, i’m out” Or “No damaged goods please”.
Most men only care about themselves, that’s why we have so many single mothers out there. Way too many men are emotionally/socially retarded and society happily accepts it, which is why men and guys only gets gets away with autism/asperger’s/ASD or any selfish behaviour overall. Women are always supposed to, and potrayed as self-sacrificing angels who should put up with so much crap from their husbands. And if they are not fitting into this mold that society has given, then they are portayed or viewed as complete heartless monsters, lesbians, or crazy catladies. There is nothing wrong with either lesbians or crazy catladies though for that matter, i am only reflecting the comments of what has been heard over the years in society overall.

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A.S.

Thank you for posting this. If I had read this last September, I wouldn’t have ended it with him. I feel terrible now for doing that. However he didn’t fight it when I ended it. I just wish he could’ve been kinder, even if he was struggling inside. He was more than enough, he was wonderful. And I can tell from your writing that you are the same, and also have a big heart. Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing your story.

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Denise

This article helped me understand my guy but I already knew about much of his low self esteem. This article confirmed it. He didn’t live in the moment much, he stayed closed off, he felt he got lucky with me and after the first number of months, he began interjecting cruel comments and alleging they were just jokes. Then there was the flirting with other women and he said he was just being a nice guy. He also lied a lot. I left him and I am glad I did. His statement after we broke up was “I don’t feel good about myself right now.” The truth is that he hadn’t felt genuinely good about himself during the relationship and was always seeking new experiences and approval from others to validate himself. I’m not cruel but it’s not my responsibility to “fix” this type of guy; especially at the expense of my own well being.

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McKenzir

My boyfriend is extrememly self concious and depressed. He doesn’t hurt me on purpose, nor does he seek affection from others in forms of cheating.

He just thinks that he is going to fuck up our relationship simply because he is being himself. He’s been extremely depressed these past couple of weeks and I’ve been trying to help him through it. He has a rough life at home (he is 18, I am 17). His parents don’t have insurance and he doesn’t qualify for state insurance so seeing a therapist would be extremely expensive, and him mum doesn’t want him to get a job. He doesn’t want me paying for him to go do something he sees as a waste of his time.

At this point I’m completely shattered that he is stuck in this position. It hurts to see him in constant distress. We truely want to be together for the rest of our lives but I’ve told him that we need to work on this. Any advice?

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Lakesgirl

I can totally relate to what you shared. My boyfriend says the same thing periodically. He says, you are just going to get sick of me and leave. Everyone does.

I have made great strides with him in the past 6 months. I just reassure him that he is wonderful and I love him.. I tell him I accept him exactly as he is and love being around him. I call him a limited edition. He calls himself strange. He is very introverted and that makes situations awkward sometimes.

If you are willing and patient, keep telling him that he is your life and you love him for the man he is. My boyfriend is completely healed in my opinion after repeatedly telling him, he is great.

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Alice

I am definitely the “Mary”in this. Me and my boyfriend has such a beautiful relationship, always telling me “this is it” “you are the one”. a few months ago he went through a life crisis where he didnt know what he wanted to do with his life and he got extremely overwhelmed. He started thinking that this relationship didnt make him happy anymore, when it was really him being overwhelmed and pulling back emotionally from the relationship and not putting in effort. Nothing happened in the relationship, yes we had our small argument, as every healthy relationship does, but he just completely stopped putting in effort and I believe he is going through some type of depression. He seems like a completely different person even within a month. We are currently taking space but I am still in this in between where I want to be there and help and and reignite our love that is still there. I dont know what to do and I am in so much pain.

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