Boyfriend Has Gone “MIA” Since Losing His Parents

Reader’s Question

My ex-boyfriend recently lost his stepmom unexpectedly while his dad was in intensive care for two strokes. Two weeks after his stepmom died, his dad died too. When his stepmom died he broke up with me, then called me the next day and said that he was sorry and wanted to take it all back. And since his dad died he has pretty much been MIA. He will call me to make plans, and when the time comes to see each other he won’t answer his phone, and I can’t find him. He seems severely depressed, and it seems like he keeps stringing me along by making plans. But he really just wants to be alone, so he ignores me when the time comes to connect. The two times I approached him about this he lashed out at me and said he was busy. I would have let go already, but he keeps holding onto me, and I really care about him. I don’t think this is a healthy relationship for either of us, but I’m holding on because I hope that with time he will be the same great, caring guy he used to be. I want to help him, but I’m not sure how.

Psychologist’s Reply

Experiencing significant and sudden losses can be one of the most stressful circumstances to endure. And, although a certain degree of grief is normal and to be expected, such losses can also trigger a depressive episode. Although there’s no way to accurately assess your situation, there are some definite possibilities to consider, mostly centered around the issue of loss and anxiety regarding loss and attachment.

Anxiety over the possibility of loss can deeply affect a relationship. The more we care about someone, the more we’re likely to feel a certain degree of apprehension about the possibility of losing them. Given the trauma your boyfriend has experienced, there’s a reasonable likelihood he’s struggling with some very ambivalent feelings about your relationship. He might have some very strong feelings about being together while at the same time having some real fears that he could get emotionally bruised again and face yet another loss if anything should go wrong with the relationship, or, God forbid, if anything bad should happen to you. So, the end result is that he likely is experiencing some considerable ambivalence and anxiety about a deeper level of attachment right now.

When we attach, we always run the risk of loss and the hurt that accompanies it. People who have come to overly fear loss can react by either becoming inordinately “clingy” or by distancing themselves and thus insulating themselves against the possible future pain of loss.

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If you really care about your boyfriend, help him work this all through. He may indeed be depressed as well and as such might benefit considerably from medication and/or therapy. If he’s having some attachment and loss anxiety, any uncertainty you have about your relationship will only invite him to be more apprehensive. You have to decide based on your knowledge of this man and his character whether he is the person you want in your life. If he is, then you would do well not to abandon him in a time of considerable need, although you might have to be firm with respect to his getting the help he needs. But be prepared to face some tough issues and the ordeal involved in working such issues through.

You referred to this man as your “ex-boyfriend,” which suggests either that you do not view him as the kind of man you want to commit to “through thick and thin” or that you’re not ready for the level of commitment that all couples need to weather the storms of life, some of which can be very intense indeed. Search your heart for the answer and then act accordingly.

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