My boyfriend has taken to drink, drugs and other girls after his mother’s death

Tell me about it: I’m so stressed and worried about him that I can’t study for my upcoming college finals

PROBLEM: Myself and my boyfriend are both final-year college students. We have been dating for the last two years and although we are in separate colleges in different parts of the country, we have managed to keep our relationship going.

At the moment, I am very stressed with upcoming academic deadlines and final exams. The problem is that I am not sleeping and I am experiencing anxiety and finding it difficult to study. My concentration is poor and I keep checking social media as I believe my boyfriend could be cheating.

My boyfriend has just decided not to undertake his exams this year and has resigned himself to repeating the year. His mother died last year following years of treatment for cancer. I have supported him during her illness and throughout his period of grief. A year on, he is still suffering and his recent behaviour has started to really upset me. He is spending most days drinking and taking drugs with people from his college. I have been seeing him less and less over the last few months as he has been partying all the time and I am too busy trying to study to join him.

He is constantly tagged on social media partying with different groups, but mostly girls. A friend of mine that attends the same college as him has told me that she has often seen him in the morning leaving different girls’ rooms on campus.

I have confronted him several times. This always results in him getting angry and threatening to end the relationship. I am so confused – one minute he is pushing me away and the next he is crying on the phone saying he loves me and that I am the best thing in his life.

I love him so much but this is having a negative impact on my psychological health and I am finding it impossible to study right now.

ADVICE: You are in a long and committed relationship but the relationship is now in crisis because your boyfriend is going through huge grief and loss and he appears to be trying to drown it with alcohol and drugs. Losing his mother is an enormous and devastating loss and it is perfectly understandable that he is struggling with his direction in life and with his concentration.

However, being in a close relationship with someone can often mean that you too suffer similar symptoms – in this case lack of concentration, anxiety and mood swings. The pattern in your relationship now is one where you are constantly suspicious and look for reassurance and your boyfriend responds with threats and anger.

This cannot go on, as the likelihood is that the relationship will end with you being extremely hurt and your partner left without any grounding influence. After your exams, you will need to book time for a serious conversation with him – but in the meantime, it is your own life that needs attention.

You want your boyfriend to address the issues in his life in an upfront and courageous way, and you can ask for this only if you are doing the same yourself. Right now, you need to focus on your exams and your career path as you have put many years’ effort into this and your final exams need all your attention. This will require that you set a date and time for meeting with your boyfriend and every time your mind or your hand reaches for your phone and social media, you stop and reassure yourself that there is a plan for dealing with this. You may need to block your boyfriend on social media just for the duration of your exams (obviously tell him) so that you don’t have the temptation to check up on him.

You love your boyfriend but that does not mean you turn a blind eye to digressions or to his self-destructive behaviour. It sounds as though he needs help and this should not be your role – bereavement counselling is readily available in most parts of the country and it is likely that student counselling is available in his college and he could get a referral from them. You are his partner and as such require loyalty and kindness. You can offer to support him through this agonisingly sad stage of his life but only if he is willing to take responsibility for what is happening to him.

If he continues to divert his hurt into drinking, taking drugs and perhaps engaging in casual sex, then you may need to stand back as you cannot force someone to change or to accept help if they do not want it. It may be that you offer to give him three months to consider what he wants from the relationship but if you do this, then boundaries and rules are very important. You should only agree to meet or contact each other at agreed times and honesty should be a required part of any conversation.

You too are going through grief (potential loss of your boyfriend) so that also needs to be taken into consideration in whatever you plan. You cannot make this relationship work on your own – it takes two – and all you can do is to be courageous, clear and supportive after your exams.

But if you get no positive or engaging response, you may need to let this relationship go as it will begin to damage your self-esteem and it is your responsibility to maintain that.