I need more space time away from a partner who has severe depression/ anxiety; he often wants more of my time/energy than I feel is healthy for me. I’m having trouble maintaining relationships with my friends because much of my time goes to my partners. Sometimes I want more space from all of them. I especially don’t know how to approach this subject with my mentally ill partner. How do you tell someone you don’t want to be there for them when they feel like they need you to be?
It’s okay to set boundaries and make space for yourself, no matter what! My recommendation is to do concrete things to get that space, rather than just ask for it in the abstract.
Make plans with your friends, or for some alone-time, and put them on your calendar. If your partner asks you to get together or be on the phone with them during that time, say, “I’m sorry, I can’t do that - I have other plans.” You always have the right to set your own schedule! You can suggest sharing your Google calendar with him, so he can see whether you’ll be free; or asking for hangouts to be planned in advance, or whatever works for you. If your partner throws a fit, tries to guilt or manipulate you into leaving your plans for him, or otherwise doesn’t respect your very reasonable boundaries, that is a serious red flag that the relationship isn’t healthy for you.
Does your partner have a therapist or other support system? Try talking to them about making a plan to get support from someone other than you. You can say, “It feels like lately you’ve needed a lot of support from me, especially when it comes to your depression and anxiety. I care about you and want to be there for you, but I’m not a professional, and I don’t want you to just be stuck suffering if I can’t be there for you. Let’s brainstorm some strategies for how you can get support in different ways that don’t rely on my availability.” That could be identifying some other people he can talk to; or having you write him some affirmations he can read over any time he wants; or him setting up some self-soothing techniques like taking a long shower, coloring, etc.
If asking for specific things doesn’t work, then try having an honest conversation about how much emotional labor you’re doing, and how much you’re willing to do, and concrete steps you and your partners need to take in order to get the space you need. No relationship should make you feel exhausted or weighed down; you are never responsible for another person’s mental health; and you always deserve to have time for yourself and your friends!