How to Deal With a Moody Boyfriend

How to Deal With a Moody Boyfriend

I’ve read through your posts on changing men, or not changing men, depending on the situation. In one response, you mentioned that one of your ex-girlfriends had not communicated a concern she had with you about being moody, anxious, etc., because she didn’t want to make a mistake by being overly critical, but you felt that it was a valid concern.

I have a moody boyfriend, and it seems that just about anything negative that happens in his life can get him in a bad mood. He doesn’t get mean, or anything scary. He just backs away, and stays there, sometimes for days.  Sometimes I just ignore it, go about my business, and wait for him to re-emerge. But other times, it affects me negatively, like when we have plans and he now “doesn’t feel up to it”.

We’ve talked about it, many, many times and he thinks it’s out of his control. I disagree. Since you mentioned being moody, I was wondering – is that a thing of the past? Are you still moody, and if so, how does your wife deal with it? Or did you do something about it because it affected your relationships?

Thank you.
Katie

If there’s one thing I’ve concluded after marrying a happy person, it’s that everyone should marry a happy person. And no, I’m not entirely kidding.

Needless to say, given the amount of misery in the world, choosing from only happy people would leave a much shallower dating pool, and yet, I still think it’s worth the risk. And while I tend not to believe in black and white thinking, I don’t believe that someone who is fundamentally unhappy can be a great partner.

I’ve concluded after marrying a happy person, it’s that everyone should marry a happy person. And no, I’m not entirely kidding.

Before I go any further, allow me to acknowledge a few things: unhappy and moody are not exactly the same. “Moody” sounds temporary, where “unhappy” is chronic. Then again, if your boyfriend consistently finds himself in a bad mood, I’m not sure how different it is from being unhappy. If it sounds like I’m familiar with the condition, it’s because, from 20-30 years old, I was always somewhere between unhappy/moody/anxious. I dated a LOT in that time and while there were many stretches where I could get by on charm, I could never mask my perpetual dissatisfaction with my career. Women would take a chance on me, but either I was a total downer or I was so unhappy that I’d choose an unsuitable woman just because she was there. Both are recipes for failed relationships.

I don’t want to sound like I have no sympathy for your boyfriend. Life can be tough, especially in light of thwarted dreams, unrealistic expectations, financial instability, flimsy support networks, and run-of-the-mill insecurities. But not everyone deals with things in the same way; and, whether we like it or not, this stuff matters. There are some people who will give up online dating if one email is not returned or give up on relationships just because the last one went bad. Even if this is somewhat “normal,” it’s certainly not a healthy trait. Not for the anxious/moody person, and not for the poor soul who has to be the strong, patient partner. When your boyfriend is unhappy, it’s only normal to want to pull him out of it, to want to flip a switch in the back of his head to get him from pessimist to optimist. Furthermore, when he’s at his worst internally, that’s also when he’s a terrible boyfriend. He obsesses, stays at home, stews in his own juices, and builds up stories about what’s wrong in the world that may not accord with reality. Not only that, but such a boyfriend has nothing to give to the relationship because he’s always dealing with his own mercurial moods.

I think your question, Katie, is good snapshot of most questions I get on this blog: some form of “I’m dissatisfied with my boyfriend. Should I stay or should I go?” The thing is that he may have the biggest heart in the world, but if he’s perpetually unemployed, a serial cheater, a drug addict, a commitmentphobe, or a terrible communicator, it really doesn’t matter how much you love him. I would say the same thing about a guy who is depressed. It’s not that he’s not worthy of love, but at a certain point, you have to ask if this is the life you want to lead: waiting for days for him to emerge from his self-imposed cocoon while you try to act like everything’s normal. I think there are enough quality people out there who are NOT this way that you don’t have to accept that from a relationship. I’ve written this before and gotten a little bit of blowback on it.

It’s not that he’s not worthy of love, but at a certain point, you have to ask if this is the life you want to lead.

But if we all get out of our own egos for a little bit and stop defending our worldviews, I ask you: if you had a choice between a partner who was anxious/moody/depressed and one who wasn’t, why would you choose anxious/moody/depressed? When I was feeling that way, believe me, I felt chagrined when women would pull away from me. But now that I’m on the other side, I can completely understand why they did.

Oh, and to answer your last question, Katie, my moodiness pretty much disappeared when I found this career and got married. I realized that happy/optimistic is a much healthier way to live and I have an amazing example to follow in my wife.

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Comments:

  1. 1
    Ruby

    Has Katie’s boyfriend been to see a therapist? It’s very possible that he suffers from depression or even a mood disorder, and would benefit from therapy and medication. Of course, he would have to be willing to consider looking into this, acknowledge that things might not be “out of his control”, and getting treatment.

    1. 1.1
      Julia

      I think that the willingness to get help is the key here. I have been depressed several times in my life but as an introspective person who’d much rather be happy, I seek help when I need it and can get better pretty quick. Many people deal with depression for a myriad of reasons, all of them are capable of being loved and loving. However, if they are unable to care for themselves and get the help they need, they aren’t worth being in a relationship with.

  2. 2
    jln

    Thank you for this blog post. I recently ended a relationship with someone who I love a great deal; but I finally realized that his depression was going to be a lifelong issue, and not one that he was willing to fully address. Of course, there is a lot of guilt that is going along with that decision, because I feel like I “abandoned” him when he needed me.
    Reading this reminded me that ultimately, he is responsible for his own happiness, and I am responsible for mine. Maybe he will meet that person who inspires him to get the help that he needs, and who won’t be dragged down by his illness. And I am now free to look after myself. Given our love for each other, we both see this as the best way this could have worked out.
    And now, the hard look at myself, because I always invest in this kind of relationship.
    Thank you!
     

  3. 3
    kathleen

    This was so good for me to read. My now ex-boyfriend and I had just over two wonderful years together, and we really did think we were going to spend our lives together. We had discussed marriage and kids; we had real intimacy, warm companionship, trust and that nice, easygoing sense of partnership with one another. Then he began to get “moody” as he hit certain bumps in life — which escalated into a depression that went well beyond our relationship. Like Katie’s boyfriend, he isolated himself and pushed me and his friends and loved ones away. He stopped doing things that made him happier; he sort of just atrophied in his life. He said being with people and making plans felt like “a chore,” and that aspiring to hopes and dreams felt “futile.” And like Katie’s boyfriend, he thought his feelings and outlook were beyond his control, no matter how much we talked or discussed. That’s when I realized I had to walk, because ultimately I believe that taking responsibility for your own fulfillment and happiness is key to a successful life (and relationship!)
     
    That sounds way easier than it was. It was hard. It was agonizing to walk away from a relationship that brought so much happiness, peace and contentment in my life. It’s hard to give up those dreams I had with my ex: the children I was going to have, the life we were going to lead. I come from a family with a depressed parent, and it was HARD for me to break my pattern of “caretaking” and co-dependency and taking on all the responsibility. I feel sad to lose someone I love, angry at him and myself, guilty for “abandoning” my boyfriend. And yet I’ve seen up close from my own parents what Julia is 1.1 says:  if they can’t take responsibility and take care of themselves, there’s little hope of having a functional relationship until they do. And I’ve done so much work to get to a happy, contented point in my life that I can’t give that up now, just to hold onto a relationship that isn’t meeting my needs.
     
    Ultimately the key thing here — whether it’s just moodiness or a more serious depression — is that he feels it’s out of his control. I know how it must feel that way, and that depression (if that’s what Katie’s boyfriend has) can create this vicious cycle where you feel hopeless about life — so why take action to fix it? But that first step is acknowledging the problem and perhaps how it’s affecting you and your loved ones and then getting some help. You can help them down the path a little once they get going, but only they can really take that first important step — which is ultimately one of taking responsibility.
     
    But even if it’s just moodiness, resilience is such a key and under-discussed point for a long-term relationship. Life and relationships aren’t always easy. What’s going to happen in the future when your toddler goes through the Terrible Twos, or money is tight, or someone goes through a rough career transition? While I fully acknowledge some people need space to process stress, but if you’re in a partnership, you can’t just sequester yourself away for a few days and leave your partner possibly high and dry with the mess. If Katie’s boyfriend doesn’t change — and I think she needs to make that assumption, judging from her letter — is this acceptable to her? Only she can make that call, but it sounds like it’s not.
     
    As for myself, now I’m struggling with the sadness, anger and grief of ending a relationship. Sometimes in my darker moments I wonder why I and the relationship wasn’t “enough” to inspire my ex to seek out help and get better, but then I remember that even my own parent couldn’t get better for a long time, even with kids in the picture. That’s my lingering belief of “not being enough” rearing its head, I know. But deep down, I feel at peace that I broke my own pattern, that I stood for my own happiness, that I was honest with my own needs. Whatever decision Katie makes, I hope it leaves her with that deep sense of integrity and honoring herself.

    1. 3.1
      Goldie

      Kathleen, I admit the first paragraph of your comment struck a chord. Last summer, my boyfriend of two years walked out on me, out of the blue – just told me at the end of a weekly date night that he was leaving, handed me all my things from his apartment, that he’d packed before he left home that evening, and I only saw him once since that day. The only indication he’d given me was three days before he left, when he said “you were not happy last night”. Last spring, i.e. 3-4 months prior to that, I had a loss in my close family, my workload around the house doubled, then I changed jobs and my new job was harder than the one before it, and took a while to adjust to. Things got easier by the end of last year, but in the summer, I was completely exhausted from having all that new workload on top of trying to meet my ex’s many needs. I was still happy for the most part, just very tired and more irritable than my usual easygoing self. I admit that I still feel disappointed with him that he couldn’t wait for the hard times to pass, offer help and support, or even tell me that I had changed and ask me to get help (since I was too tired to even notice). Instead, he just walked out when I needed his help the most, because, after two years of making him happy and meeting his needs, there came a brief period of time when I couldn’t, and he just refused to put up with that. I still feel that he betrayed me, violated my trust in him, and let me down. I used to respect that man a lot and I don’t think I will ever be able to anymore.
       
      But you did none of those things that my ex did. You tried. You talked to your boyfriend. You discussed these issues with him. You say you tried to get him to seek out help. I would’ve been so thankful if my ex had treated me like you treated yours. And I would’ve probably responded with positive changes. The fact that your ex didn’t, means you did the right thing by walking out. There’s only so much you can do to help your partner heal when they are not cooperating in any way. I wish you quick recovery and complete healing in getting through this post-breakup stage, which is indeed very hard.
       
      “What’s going to happen in the future when your toddler goes through the Terrible Twos, or money is tight, or someone goes through a rough career transition?”
       
      These exact thoughts went through my head too. Having been through a bad marriage, where my husband got angry, distant, and resentful any time we hit a rough patch – and as a young, low income family with two children, one with Aspergers and the other one with ADHD (both undiagnosed until they were 12), we had a lot of those – I completely agree. The only way to start a family is to start it with someone you can count on, who will support you and carry their weight, who won’t let you down or check out on you emotionally when things get hard. Otherwise you’d be doing a huge disservice to yourself, your future family, and your future children.
       

  4. 4
    Elizabeth

    Kathleen, what a beautiful, thoughtful, nuanced comment. Utterly inspiring.

    1. 4.1
      JoJOe

      Kudos Kathleen.

  5. 5
    missy

    I read this with an open mind and heart and I had a guy I loved dearly he was very moody, and he ran hot and cold. what  eventually happened was I had to let go he refuse to  get help and all he was doing was dragging me in his funk, I could not do it. I love him still to this day, but I love me MORE!! YOU can’t fix, repair or coddle anyone with severe issues, it’s not your job, he found someone and married her did he get the help he needed.. NO!! it;s such a vicious cycle..

    1. 5.1
      Pauline

      Missy
      so true what you say, you can’t fix, help, heal or love someone out of whatever severe issue they have. Until they acknowledge there is something wrong whatever you do or say can make them worse and dig deeper into denial or worse, they can turn on you and blame you. 
      My daughter was recently diagnosed with depression, she finally recognised that something was very wrong and had been for quite a while and went to her doctor. With medication and counselling she is starting to put her life back together but it’s going to take time. It’s been hell on wheels for her husband and me, the closest people in her life. 
      It’s a tough decision to break up with a loved one but, we have to take care of ourselves first. We are responsible for our own happiness and we have to leave others to find their own.

  6. 6
    soul sister

    Evan, this is very timely for me!  I wrote about the bf with undiagnosed Aspergers.  The relationship became pure hell.  I was the only one trying to work around his disorder, and the drama and depression that comes with it, he refused to acknowledge he even had it, and when I tried to talk to his family about it they got mad at me!  Everyone wanted me to just accept him as he is, because that is the way “God made him and God loves him”.  I have three things to say about that:  1) I am not God, I am a person with my own needs, desires, and issues 2) I was getting completely worn out trying to tap dance around the disorder and I was starting to feel like I was going nuts myself, and 3)  God helps those who help themselves.  I am not saying he is not worthy of God’s love or my love.  I am saying, he is not worth sacrificing MY LIFE and MY HAPPINESS for. 
     
    Like Kathleen #3, at some point, you just have to look at this and say “if I stay, this is the life I am agreeing to, and I need to be ok with that”……I started feeling like a battered wife.  He would have his meltdowns, tell me I was not being a good enough girlfriend for him and everything was my fault, break up with me, then call me shortly afterwards and want to “work it out because he loves me”.   With every breakup, I would lose sleep, lose weight, have trouble concentrating at work.  The cycles were coming faster and faster, with less breathing room in between. The bad times were far outweighing the good times.  I finally gave him an ultimatum, and told him he needs to acknowledge he has this disorder and work WITH me on it, I am done being the only one accommodating it.  He and his family all got mad at me, how dare I “diagnose” him!  I am not a doctor!  I did have him take several tests that all indicated a very high likelihood, and I read several books on it…and guess what, for those who have it borderline, they may go their whole lives being undiagnosed until a wife or a girlfriend figures it out.  People just think he is odd or quirky.  The SO lives it with him every day, and she starts to see the patterns and seeks answers.
     
    I am the woman who loved him, supported him, and put up with him for well over two years.  I am the woman who kept coming back after he broke up with me. I am the woman who compensated and paid for everything because he couldn’t get a job. I am the woman who was there for him 24/7.  His family, of course, was on the other side of the country.  One of his siblings did say “we have always known there was something off about him, thank you for loving him enough to figure it out”, but then he was bullied by the rest of the family. So there was zero support coming from anyone.
     
    Being the friend or partner of someone who has huge mental or emotional issues takes it’s toll on you.  Only a martyr or a doormat will stay for the abuse though, and I am neither.  It was very sad, I wish him the best, and I hope he does find someone who will put up with his erratic rollercoaster behavior.  I also hope she sees it WAY faster than I did, so she can make her decision before she falls in love with him.  And I hope she is the type who feels good about dedicating her life to someone else, because she will never count. The disorder will always come first.

  7. 7
    Kay

    Evan, I’m de-lurking to say this post is BRILLIANT. Thank you a million times over for this! I’ve been feeling sad since dumping a moody guy last month, and this is just what I needed to hear. You’ve helped me feel so much better about my decision. I hear a lot of my male friends complain about dating women who are “downers,” but rarely do I hear my female friends complain about moody men, so I was torturing myself about dumping this guy. I wanted to believe he’d snap out of it, but he didn’t, so… goodbye and good luck to him. Thank you, Evan, for your perspective as someone who has “been there,” and thank you for reminding women that we deserve better.

  8. 8
    Blue Music

    It’s one thing to leave a downer partner you’re casually or seriously dating in order to take care of your own needs, but what happens when you meet and marry a happy person, start having a wonderful life and children together, and then your previously happy partner starts becoming moody/depressed?  What if the depression is caused by a terminal illness or some other life-altering event?  Do you get a divorce so you can take care of yourself?  

    1. 8.1
      Julia

      Jeese, sounds pretty heartless to divorce a spouse going through a terminal illness.

    2. 8.2
      Marie

      That’s different — when you’re married, you’ve taken a vow of for better or for worse.  The poster is just dating this guy.  She has a right to evaluate all aspects of the relationship before fully committing.  And he doesn’t have a terminal illness.

  9. 9
    Christine

    The tough thing about depression is, it’s an illness that is widely mistaken for a character flaw. 
    Imagine if you substitute the name of a physical illness for this mental illness. 
    “There are plenty of healthy people out there. Why would you want someone who has cancer?”
    “I felt guilty about ‘abandoning’ my boyfriend who had cancer, but I need to take care of my own needs!”
    Yeesh. Before you give up, get them to a doctor. Depression is treatable, but for those in the thick of it, it’s very hard to see that. Severe depression makes it very hard to pull together enough hope to go find help, so they may need support to get help.
     

    1. 9.1
      soul sister

      Christine, I think you are mixing apples with oranges on this one.  It is not that the person has a flaw, physical or mental, it is that they are the ones responsible for seeking their own treatment.  I do not think telling someone you love “you need to get help with this because it is destroying us” is abandoning anyone.  It is asking them to take responsibility for their own health and well being.  When we are dealing with adults, we cannot “get them to a doctor”.  We can suggest, we can recommend, we can even beg or plead….but we cannot “make” them do anything. 
       
      I am a doer, not a talker, and I will not sit by and be part of a train wreck that I can clearly see, whether it is mental or physical.   If I have a boyfriend who has cancer, and he will not seek help, I will not stand by for X number of months or years in anguish just to go down with him.  If he is going to doctors, getting treatments, I would stand by him and hold his hand on his deathbed.  None of the posters said anything about abandoning anyone.  I would stay with my Asperger man and help him navigate through this, if he wanted the help!  What I will not do is stand there and be collateral damage. 
       
      I have a quote that I just love (brownie points if you can tell me where it came from!): 
       
      “You can deny reality, but you cannot deny the consequences of denying reality”
       
      If you are going to be a big enough idiot that you are going to deny your reality and not seek the help you need, I am not going to be a big enough idiot to go down in flames with you.  Doesn’t matter if it is mental illness, addictions, or cancer. I know that may sound harsh, but again, I will not sacrifice my life for someone who will not help themselves.  This is the only life I have!

      1. 9.1.1
        starthrower68

        It’s not always a denial issue.  Many people who struggle with depression – and I are one – think “this too shall pass” and that they will somehow snap out of it.  So before you call anyone an “idiot”, walk a mile in his/her shoes.  You don’t want to sacrifice your life for them, so be it.  Don’t.  But don’t try to paint it as a character issue.  Because so many people view as such, those who struggle with depression often feel ashamed or embarrassed that they need help and can’t just snap out of it.

    2. 9.2
      Marie

      Actually, cancer patients are the most motivated patients I know.  They will do anything, try anything to get better.  So not the same analogy at all.

      1. 9.2.1
        Kathy

        Actually, the analogy is the same.. Soul Sister was saying that “if they refuse to get help” she wasn’t going down with the ship.

    3. 9.3
      Clare

      As someone who has also lived with, and deeply loved, a man with serious emotional problems, I can honestly say it is not the problem itself, but the refusal to get help for the problem, which becomes unbearable in the end.
       
      I would have gone to the ends of the earth for this man and stayed forever, if he had been willing to work on his issues.  But in the end, you cannot force a grown man to do that if that is not what they want for themselves.  Should you subject yourself to yet more emotional torture and hurt whilst they spiral ever downwards?  What is the use of two people’s lives being destroyed? Very often it is the tough love in this world that has motivated those people to get help and improve, not the silent suffering of those they love.  Moreover, I don’t believe people with serious issues necessarily want to hurt those close to them – so I actually think calling a halt to the madness can be a kindness for all.

  10. 10
    Sabine

    My mum was a really wise lady.  Whenever she would hear about someone in a bad relationship and that person chooses to stay, she would say, “They are getting something out of it.”  She was spot on.
     
    I have a friend who is dating pretty, but very emotionally unstable woman who loses it publicly a lot (screaming, crying, excessive loudness).  It’s seems like he does not want to be with her (at the last party it seemed hung out with everyone, BUT her). Needless to say, she had a meltdown (due to lack of attention from him; he’s a social guy) and it caused him tons of embarrassment.  While much of her screaming was directed at him about me and eventually at me (a story for another post…he and I are just friends) it was one of those moments where he was forced to recognize that her actions are now affecting other people who he really cares about. (On an aside, we are still friends and everything is okay.)
     
    All of his friends want him to find a new love.  His last romance left him devastated. I think that he would rather know that he is with her than to be “alone” and forced to “start over”.   He chooses to stay out of some sort of emotional security. Time will tell how much more he will tolerate regarding her outlandish behavior.
     
    Everyone deserves to be happy.  You determine what happiness means to you.  My definition of happiness is to be with someone who accepts me just as I am (as I do the same) and who shares my excitement and passion for life.   Define what happiness means to you and then go after it.  Create your own happiness with someone who shares your life goals, not spoils them :-)

  11. 11
    Charnise

    My man is definitely a mood jude …I try to please him in every which way I know how and it still doesn’t work, he enjoys staying in his funk,  I’ve asked myself  is this what I really want ? Can we over come  our differences? And the answer is Yes, we all have our ways no one is perfect. He makes me feel again.

  12. 12
    Cris

    My situation is not exactly same as yours. But my boyfriend tends to be moody or changes mood within the day. In one instance, we’re chatting in Facebook, i was telling we got free food at work at that day and he’ll just send me a thumbs up emoticon. Normally when I tell him something about FOOD it he would say ” delicious”. We’ve had our relationship for 3 months now. That is not the only the instance of his mood swings. He would suddenly be cold to me. I would ask him ” is there a problem?” he would answer NO. Sometimes it made me think whats wrong? Did i say something stupid? Suddenly out of nowhere he would tell me I Love You. He admits that he is moody. He has bad temper at times but not to the point of hurting me. He would normally raise his voice when he doesn’t want things go the right way. I mean I can feel he really loves me but sometimes it pisses me off when he is like that. What I’m doing is just letting his bad mood passed. I’m just ignoring it. I just let his mood normalize.

    1. 12.1
      JoeJo

      You are being slowly manipulated to look like you’re the problem.
      Watch THE MAN WITH THE WOODEN SPOON
      on Dr Phil
      Then you’ll know where moody eventually goes.
      You’re choice
      Egg shells or feathers 

  13. 13
    Cris

    STEP 1
    Try to determine the cause of your boyfriend’s mood. Ask him if he had a bad day at work, a fight with a friend or if he lost something important to him. Learning the cause behind his mood is the first step to dealing with it. Don’t be offended if he doesn’t want to talk. He may not answer, but just asking shows him that you care and gives him an invitation to talk when he’s ready.
     
    STEP 2
    Provide your boyfriend with time and space to sort out his negative emotions. Give him some time alone to calm down if he seems angry. Questioning him or attempting to talk when he’s upset might only increase his irritability.
     
    STEP 3
    Retreat to your own personal space or activity to allow your boyfriend time to sort out his feelings. Grab a cup of coffee with friends, go for a walk or jog, read a book, or watch a television show. Try to stay engaged in your own activity while your boyfriend works through his bad mood.
     
    STEP 4
    Offer your support and listen if he wants to talk. Provide your boyfriend with an outlet for his moodiness, such as a night with the guys or a day that he can spend doing something he enjoys without interruption. Suggest that you participate in a recreational activity together several times a week, as this can ease your boyfriend’s stress and anxiety.

     

     

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