Last week, on Christmas Day, my best friend of over four years and boyfriend of six months asked me to marry him. We've been talking about this for a while so it was no surprise, but the joy of it is overwhelming. But he was diagnosed with long-term clinical depression last spring, which was caused by a specific childhood trauma and parental abandonment. He also struggles with severe insomnia and anxiety.
Considering where he is, he's doing really well. He works really hard to communicate well with me and to connect with other people. He sees a physiologist, is on medication, and has several older mentors (including our pastor). I knew all about all this long before we got into a romantic relationship, and almost didn't move forward with him because of it. But I love him deeply and would rather learn how to do this with him than leave him.
But now we're getting married and things are shifting. Sometimes he doesn't see that he can be demanding of my time, energy, and affection. Recently, we've had several fights because he'll get irritated when I set healthy boundaries and he'll turn cold to me, making me feel like I've done something wrong and putting painful pressure on aspects of our relationship (e.g., intimacy). It was making me not feel quite safe with him. In those moments, he's someone else, not the man I love. (For the record, he will never actually hurt me, for those of you who are worried.)
We met with our pastor last night and were able to talk through a lot of these issues. I know when he's really low, he can't communicate what he's thinking (that's fair, me too) but I end up assuming things. I'll feel like no matter what I do, I'm a disappointment to him, or like he's angry with me or not attracted to me. In his good moments, he'll tell me that what's actually going on is that he's pulling away from me to protect me, or that he's upset with the whole world (including himself) and not just me. That, I can handle. I just can't remember it in those hard moments.
I love this man and I'm convinced he loves me. We're both so much better when we're together, but these things are so hard. It's scary moving toward marriage with this illness, but I'm so willing to do it. But I need help. I'm looking for a counselor for myself, but in the meantime, I need practical everyday advice. How do I shield myself from his lows? I'm a very empathetic person (I think one of the reasons why he loves me) but I'm also prone to melancholy and I get intensely stressed when I feel relational tension. How can I set up healthy boundaries, while we move into marriage? How to I love him well, care for myself, and protect our relationship?