This month Douglas Holwerda, American trained and licensed mental health counsellor, advises on how to deal with a very difficult situation 


Dear Douglas,


My girlfriend and I have been together for over two years, but for the past few months we have had lots of arguments. She is too dependent on me financially, getting and losing jobs all the time.


A few weeks ago, after a big argument, I told her I wanted to break up and that she should go to stay with her sister or a friend. She did, but has also come back to get things and wants to see me and convince me to keep her. I let her stay for a few days and then again we had a fight because she is jealous that I communicate with my ex-girlfriend. I told her to leave again.


She called me later that night saying she had taken a lot of pills and was going to die. After two hours, she finally told me where she was and I went there to help her. I told her that she can’t come back [to mine] to live. I talked to her sister and mother, to tell them that she needs some help. But again she called me in the night saying she was dying of an overdose. Again I went to find her because I was so afraid she would die and I couldn’t live with that. I really don’t know what to do.


— Scared


Dear Scared,


Yes, of course you are scared. When someone tells us they will commit suicide and that we are the only one who can save them, we feel both scared and trapped. Your (ex) girlfriend is emotionally unstable and it is difficult to predict what she will do. So you are torn between leaving her and rescuing her. You have done a lot of things right in the way that you have handled it so far, but you can see that to continue rescuing her is really being manipulated in a way that doesn’t result in an outcome you can live with.


Suicides occur because people are in emotional pain and cannot imagine a way to feel better. This creates a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. Most often, when a person does feel better the desire to die goes away. It appears that your former girlfriend is in intense emotional pain and hasn’t yet accepted the fact that your relationship has failed. Right now her only method of feeling better is when you show her you care about her, which runs counter to the message to her that you no longer feel like the relationship you have is working and sustainable.


While breakups are almost always difficult — and undesired breakups even more so — we know that the emotional pain goes away with time and with acceptance. At this point it might be helpful to continue to involve her family or other friends and to let her know that threatening suicide will not be a successful way for her to sustain your relationship. While I am sure it is difficult to say, you must let her know that her decision to live or die is hers to make and that there are many ways that she can get help to feel better.


Let her know the healthy ways that you will support her, while maintaining the boundaries that allow you to make decisions that are right for you. Continue to set limits and reduce the time and availability you have for her. Believe that she will adapt and adjust to being broken up, and it will help her to believe it too.


This is undoubtedly painful and difficult for you, so it is important to take care of your own wellbeing, with healthy coping methods (sleeping, eating, exercise, spending time with friends), rather than unhealthy ones (drinking, smoking, letting yourself go). It is better to stay calm and consistent, than to swing between passivity and anger.


Good luck,


— Douglas


Do you have a question you would like Douglas’s help with? You can email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Personal details will not be printed

Douglas Holwerda

Douglas is an American trained psychotherapist, writer of the Dear Abby-esque monthly column in the Word, "Dear Douglas". He holds to the notion that the living of life is a creative endeavour... an eternal adventure without promises. And that we are both shaped by the journey and the shapers of what is possible. Our greatest hope is to find love and connection along the way. Live it all.

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