How to I get out of a rocky relationship?
September 22, 2008 12:46 AM   Subscribe

I can't get out of the relationship I'm in with my girlfriend. Normally, it would just end. Parties would walk away and that would be that. But it's just not that easy with her...

This relationship is a rocky one. We have our good times. We have our bad times. We have times that are just outright drama. She has some emotional issues I didn't discover until a couple months in. And by then I was already hooked, or at least cared enough to try to prevent a scary outcome. She is prone to manic depression and occasionally suicidal thoughts. This means I keep how I really feel about the relationship bottled up to a certain extent. I don't "floor" her with the truth on purpose. I've been trying for a year to 18 months to get a breakup to be her idea (Note: not all that time, most of the time the relationship is pleasant). That way, she can move out, and move on and she'll most likely keep things together.

The last time I broke up with her outright, she drove straight to the grocery store, bought a bottle of pain relievers, and ate half of them during a manic episode. I helped her through that. And I learned not to be so blunt with her.

But I don't feel like I should have to be there for these things. I want a relationship that is truly fulfilling and this is not the one. But, I keep getting sucked back in. Both of us are very busy with work and school and don't have strong social networks to fall back on. We are each others' best friend.

But this has to change. I have to get out. Or it will be this way indefinitely. She's moved out this weekend after a fantastic fight. But if it follows past patterns it won't last. She huffs and puffs in anger for a while. She hates my "rules" (I like to keep my house clean, her standards are different). ...Until she leaves. Once she is out the door, she is the sweetest person on earth. She loves me, she wants to be with me. She really is incredibly sweet. (Acquaintances generally know her this way.) And is takes everything I've got not to let her back in. She's very persistent, so I've relented the few times that this has happened over the past couple years.

I want to break the cycle though. The relationship is too rocky to sustain, IMO. I'm pretty convinced that I don't want to ride a rollercoaster the rest of my life. She has really great qualities and really bad ones. The totality is that I want something else...maybe something better. But I haven't been able to break myself away because A) she has some really amazing qualities when she's "good" B) I'm afraid of what will happen if I stick to my guns on "no contact" and C) it gets especially hard to stay disciplined since each of our social networks are neglected, meaning, neither of us have a whole lot to fall back on (outside of family, whom neither of us likes to involve too much).

PS. She's on some meds which help *a lot*, but don't ultimately prevent manic episodes under a high amount of stress. Either way, I'm fairly young and we're dating. I don't feel like I want to deal with this condition for any longer...
posted by runflats to Human Relations (27 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know what answer to give you other than this time, don't let her back in the house but ...

"I've been trying for a year to 18 months to get a breakup to be her idea"

Don't do that. Please. It is a really really good way to completely fuck with someone who is already emotionally unsteady.

If you want' to break up with her you are going to have to man up to being the one to do it. Just make sure that she has family, or someone there for her if you are that worried about her wellfare. Beyond that, (I presume) she is an adult and responsible for herself.
posted by arha at 1:32 AM on September 22, 2008

oh yeah, major-league unhealthy stuff.

your friend is manipulating you into feeling guilty when it's not really your responsibility to make sure her life works out fine. you arenot a supporter but her partner. by 'helping her through' pain-killer drama episodes you are reinforcing the notion that if she behaves erratically she will get what she wants. it's unfair and egotistical of her.

you mentioned she has moved out at present. change the locks. the only way for you to not fall back into this relationship and take it again is if you finally stick to your guns. it's lazy of you to not have done so because 'it was so difficult' to split up until now. be firm to yourself and don't change your mind.

yes, your friend needs help but it's not from you but a professional. it's up to her to sort her shit out first. if her tantrums are what bother you, tell her that. tell her to get her life in order before you're even willing to talk. the but I can change, just let me in first response you will hear at first is an attempt to not do anything at all.
posted by krautland at 1:33 AM on September 22, 2008 [3 favorites]

Been there. Married that, because I couldn't face the prospect of breaking up, because at that point the dysfunctional relationship had pushed everything else out of my life and breaking up seemed impossible. So I witnessed the suicide attempts. Watched the near-death experience and its aftermath. Visited her in intensive care. Finally she did start taking better care of herself, at which point she decided she didn't need me anymore, and left. Two weeks after the divorce she called me in tears, lonely, asking if I was seeing anyone. It's a wringer I would never put myself through again, for anyone. Six years evaporated from my life, and it did neither of us any good.

It sounds to me as if you're asking how to break it off when, in fact, you know damn well how to do it. You're asking if someone can make it easy. No one can.
posted by jon1270 at 1:51 AM on September 22, 2008 [22 favorites]

You may not like to involve family (completely understandable if my mentalist family is anything to go by) but if it stops her attempting to commit suicide next time you don't let her back is it not worth a try?
posted by twistedonion at 1:54 AM on September 22, 2008

The worst thing you can do is "make it her idea". Don't be that cock.

You're just going to have to bite the bullet. If you want to impose a "no contact" rule, then make sure her friends are aware of what's happening and check in with them to make sure she's doing okay/has support.
posted by robcorr at 2:09 AM on September 22, 2008 [4 favorites]

She's on some meds which help *a lot*

I assume from this that she knows she's manic depressive? That she's aware she has a problem? In that case, tell her that you're splitting up, and stick to it. It would probably be a good idea to warn her family too, or whatever support system she has.

If she's an adult, and she's aware she has a problem, it's up to her to deal with it. Or not. One thing it's not, however, is your responsibility to deal with it. Kick her out, and don't get involved with the inevitable drama. Close your heart (and probably your eyes) to it. Completely and utterly. Or she'll just end up dragging you down.

This is going to be hard for her. But prolonging the drama is only going to be harder, long term. It's up to her to get the help that she needs. It's like pulling off a sticking plaster. It hurts more to do it slowly. How she deals with the breakup is up to her.
posted by Solomon at 2:27 AM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm afraid of what will happen if I stick to my guns on "no contact"

She's responsible for her own actions, whatever they are. Accept that and still to the "no contact" rule.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:12 AM on September 22, 2008 [5 favorites]

You have to be honest with her, no matter how hard.

If she downs pills again, take her to the hospital and call her parents/friends/anybody but you. Don't just ditch her there, but call in back up and as soon as she has someone ELSE with her, leave. She's using her mental illness to manipulate you, and while she's probably not doing it intentionally, it's not doing your OR her any favors as keeping this relationship going is in no one's best interest if one party spends the whole time wanting out.

If there's no one you can think of calling to help, prepare to go through this cycle of "outburst. hospital. lather, rinse, repeat." for a while, but limit your contact with her to bringing her to PROFESSIONAL HELP when she acts out. Don't try to "fix" her or "help" her yourself. It might take a while, but it sounds like you've given it enough time to be prepared for that.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 3:40 AM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

It sounds to me as if you're asking how to break it off when, in fact, you know damn well how to do it. You're asking if someone can make it easy. No one can.

She's responsible for her own actions, whatever they are. Accept that and still to the "no contact" rule.

Favorited and seconded. You're getting good consistent advice because there isn't much doubt about this.

YOU MUST END IT WITH NO EQUIVOCATION. And then follow through.

Trying to make it "her" idea is no idea at all. You want to end it, you end it. There is no other way. Accept it.

Now get out of here and do what you know you have to do.
posted by three blind mice at 3:44 AM on September 22, 2008 [3 favorites]

You might want to do a little reading into "Borderline Personality Disorder" for a another way to look at her behavior. Good luck and, as others above have said, make this your mantra: "The only choices I am responsible for are my own."
posted by thebrokedown at 4:00 AM on September 22, 2008

The best thing you can do for her is help her get therapy. Be honest, because it isn't her idea. She's has to be responsible for herself. A good therapist would be part of a support system.
posted by theora55 at 4:15 AM on September 22, 2008

She is prone to manic depression
Um, nope -- she either has manic depression or she doesn't. You wouldn't say someone is 'prone to diabetes' or 'prone to polio' would you? It's an illness which you have or don't have.

(she) ate half of them (pills) during a manic episode.
Yah, it's possible that she was in a manic episode when you split the blanket and she then attempted suicide. Or maybe she was not. Hard to say.

But you're describing this as if a manic episode is something which blasts over someone like a strong wind, an event which can be caused by something you did or didn't do or her getting or not getting something she wants. That's not how the manic depressive illness works, not as I understand it; manic episodes are cyclic in nature. While that is not how manic episodes work, it is exactly how childish episodes work. And how manipulative episodes work. So far, they've been working pretty well for her.

She's on some meds which help *a lot*, but don't ultimately prevent manic episodes
If her current medications are not preventing breakthrough mania then she is in for more work with her psychiatrist. Since she has demonstrated that she is prone to suicide attempts under stress, this further work with her shrink maybe should be done in a hospital, as it is goddamn sure stressful to work with a shrink and endure the ups and downs, the hopes and dashed hopes involved in a person seeking medicinal armistice with this son of a bitching mental illness.

But none of this is your work. It is hers. If you loved her and were committed to her then it would be for you to support her through it, same as you would if she had cancer or any other chronic, progressive, devastating, potentially deadly illness. But it doesn't appear that you are in that role with her.

Quite frankly, I think she's running a game on you, blackmailing you in a really nasty way, using her illness to do whatever she wants you to do. Yeah, she's surely not stable. But she's also really immature and manipulative.

Also. Manic depression can confer or lead to emotional richness and depth and warmth and fun and abandon, which can lead to monster sex; I'd bet dollars to dimes she's great in the rack, a huge hook for any guy, or any guy I know anyways, has to make it a lot harder to keep that door in your heart locked when she's out there crying softly yet smiling at you and pointing into her shorts -- yikes.

It's the perfect time to make the break. She hauled ass after yet another wacky fight. Now it's for you to hold your ground. A perfect time to say "Hey there Snookums, I sure do love you and we have sure had a time, but this come and go isn't good for either one of us, you know it and I know it, and this past weekend just confirms what I've considered here recently -- we really do need to split the blanket." If you really mean it she'll hear it and so will you. If you have even the slightest bit of reservation she'll hear that, too, and play on it, play a game that isn't doing either of you very much good.

Last. I bet that you are going to miss her. She's gotten into your heart, and you've gotten into hers, you two share a rich and varied love. Probably you are right to get the hell out. But once you pull the plug, for real and for all time -- and especially if she finds some new hot guy fairly soon and you see them cooing and billing with all your old friends, and you're standing there with your professors daughter, as a favor, and she's sweating into her mustache, the fat in her legs breaking through the runs in her too-tight black nylons -- you are going to feel some pain. Maybe I'm wrong here, hopefully you're the Lance Romance sort of guy, a gal on every block, all wanting to walk with you to buy ice cream cones or whatever, and if/when you do run into Old Flame you'll be surrounded by miles of nubile, knowing yet loving babes who'll sneer at her and throw rocks at her.

Good luck.
posted by dancestoblue at 5:25 AM on September 22, 2008 [7 favorites]

If you can't trust yourself to break the cycle, state your position, have her get her stuff out of (presumably your) apartment if she hasn't already, change the locks and go on vacation for a week. Don't bring your cellphone. Don't check your email.
posted by mikepop at 5:35 AM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

She is prone to manic depression

That means nothing. Is she diagnosed as bipolar? (MD is no longer the term of choice)

Otherwise, stop playing shrink.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:38 AM on September 22, 2008

Ok so you've gotten the advice that you need which is that you need to not let her back in, stop being her crutch, and move on with your life. I've certainly been where you are, hoping for a bad relationship to end without having to be the one that had to do the dirty deed (and feeling like if anything happened to her it would be your fault for leaving her). Eventually you have to come to the realization as others here have said that "You are not responsible for her well-being, she is. You are responsible for your own, which is why you need to get out."

So now that you've got your "out" so to speak in that she has left you for now, you need to treat this as THE END and not "just another piece of drama". Change the locks, if need be change your phones. Find friends to start hanging out with. Get involved in the community, volunteer, MOVE ON WITH YOUR LIFE. The point is to start reminding yourself exactly why you are better not being in this relationship. If you feel suffocated when you're with her, remind yourself what real oxygen feels like. Being happy will reinforce that you made the right decision and help make it more permanent both in your eyes and in hers (eventually).
posted by genial at 6:01 AM on September 22, 2008

You can't have contact with her for a few years, at least.
posted by beerbajay at 6:42 AM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Break up with her. Yourself. If she acts in a suicidal manner, call 911.

That is the kindest thing you can do. Just because she is bipolar does not mean she doesn't have some control over her actions. Her emotions might be overwhelming but she doesn't HAVE to act on them. If she is manipulating you or if she really can't handle things and is suicidal for that reason, doesn't matter-just call 911.

She will a) learn not to manipulate you that way and/or b) get the help she needs.
posted by konolia at 6:45 AM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

I will bet you a million dollars that she actually has Borderline Personality Disorder and has been misdiagnosed with Bipolar Disorder (the disorder formerly known as "manic depression"). As thebrokedown said, doing some reading on this might give you some helpful strategies.

Also, you are codependent as fuck. Doing some reading on this might give you some helpful strategies to not get into a mess like this again. Seeing a therapist might be even better.

And yes, what everyone else said. You are not doing her a favor by staying in a relationship you don't want to be in--you are almost certainly keeping her from facing the severity of her problems and getting the help she needs. AT BEST. You may also be reinforcing her feelings of being unwanted and unloved, because you're pretending that you want and love her even though you don't--and almost nobody can carry that off well enough to fool the other person.

Being honest with her is the most respectful thing you can do.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:22 AM on September 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

The last time I broke up with her outright, she drove straight to the grocery store, bought a bottle of pain relievers, and ate half of them during a manic episode. I helped her through that. And I learned not to be so blunt with her.

See, this is the codependency talking. Someone who was not codependent would have learned something very different from this experience. What this experience should have taught you was that your partner is too sick at the moment to be in an intimate relationship, NOT that you needed to cater to her sickness.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:24 AM on September 22, 2008 [5 favorites]

Ah yes, the fond memories I have of summer 2001, when I broke up with my (definitely depressed and likely narcissistic) then-husband and he immediately threatened suicide.

- Took him to the Psychiatric Emergency clinic. Waited three hours while they dealt with a violent schizophrenic. Finally spoke with clinician, who expressed more worry about me than about husband. Husband released as outpatient, promised to contact clinic if he felt suicidal again.
- Three days later, husband came around threatening again. Reminded husband of his promise to contact clinic, locked door, called 911. By the time the officer arrived husband was gone, but I was able to suggest where to look for him. Officer found husband, spoke with him, came back to me and reported that he saw no danger.
- Next contact from husband was ... oh, wait, there wasn't one. Because I'd called his bluff and he learned that this manipulative shit wouldn't work on me.
- Heard several times over the next six months that he tried same shit on others. Divorce went through during this period. He did not show up for court.
- Haven't heard anything since then, though I know he's still alive.

He was ill and I loved him and wanted to help him, but it was killing me.

This is an awful situation. You can love her and still break with her. Otherwise you'll just be dragged into that terrible place. It's taken me years to get out, and I'll never be over him completely.

Make sure she has the information she needs to access help, and GO.
posted by shiny blue object at 7:46 AM on September 22, 2008 [9 favorites]

It takes serious strength to look beyond the issues here. And as one poster mentioned, you outright have to 'man up' and take this relationship by the horns and end it before it eats you alive. Once the self-realization occurs that a situation like this is unhealthy the most difficult part lies ahead in actually severing the tie. At this stage, love has nothing to do with it. If love was the only factor, then the entire world would be filled with healthy relationships. Take the high road. It's tough as hell, but you'll be better for it in the end.
posted by sniperantics at 8:34 AM on September 22, 2008

"I've been trying for a year to 18 months to get a breakup to be her idea"

I cannot say this strongly enough: DO NOT BE THAT GUY.

What you are doing is passive-aggressive and codependent, and you are doing yourself and your girlfriend a grave disservice -- not just now, but it setting up a harmful and unhealthy dynamic that will haunt both of your future relationships.

There is no way to sidestep what will certainly be a difficult, sad, upsetting process. But please have the decency and respect for both of you to make a clear decision and follow through with it. Make sure she has the support she needs, and end the relationship honorably.
posted by scody at 10:54 AM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Change the locks, get her stuff to a mutual friend if you can so you don't face her, block her numbers and emails... or, change your phone number.

Emotional blackmail only works if you allow it to happen. If you cannot contact her and she cannot contact you, it's going to hurt like hell for a few days. You will wonder if she's okay. DO NOT contact her. Every day you are apart, the guilt and stress will melt away and you will probably get angry with yourself for allowing a low-quality relationship to consume so much of your life. YOU GET ONE LIFE, YOU DESERVE IT TO BE EMOTIONALLY HEALTHY.

She will realize she can't force you to take care of her any more. She may come to the house/apt. and make a scene. If you live in a place where there is a security measure to get in, inform the landlord what has happened and see if they can change the gate/security code. (I assume this girl is not on your lease? Or that you own/rent a home?)

If she shows up and does something crazy, like tries to overdose on your property or makes a scene trying to get in, screaming, crying? Don't open the door, don't respond. Call 911 and let them deal with her. It sounds harsh but she will never do it again if she is threatened with incarceration.

Avoid the places the two of you would normally go for about 2-3 weeks. After things have cooled, you can probably assume she will not confront you in public. You are not her therapist. The only life you are responsible for is yours. Codependency isn't love; if you can see a therapist, please do, if only to reassure yourself that you made the right decision and can make peace with it and move on with your emotional life productively and not make the mistake of getting into another codependent relationship in the future.

I wish you the best of luck; tough actions require fortitude. You may have to endure a grieving process, but grieve, and move on. Once the fog has cleared, give yourself a physical trigger (like pinching yourself or excusing yourself to the restroom) to pull if you find yourself talking over and over about the breakup. That's what the therapist is for; if it gets back to her through friends or acquaintances that you had a tough time with it or are bringing her up a lot, it will give her false hope for a reconciliation. That would be very unwise and unhealthy, especially for her. Also, talking about the breakup frequently will not give you the peace of mind to move past it as quickly as you could otherwise.

If you ever loved her, or love her now, do not talk shit about her around town. Let her actions speak for themselves. It's not your job to make things worse, nor to make her feel as though you are attacking her. That could be construed as provocation and silence makes you look (and feel, and be) the bigger person for handling it forcefully, but without malice. This is about self-preservation and not feeding the cycle.

Be strong. You're making the right decision.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 11:00 AM on September 22, 2008 [3 favorites]

It is not healthy for you to stay in this relationship. And, honestly, it's not healthy for her either. You deserve to have your life back, and she deserves to be with someone who isn't scheming to get rid of her.
posted by meta_eli at 11:57 AM on September 22, 2008

Just in reading this, this girl seems very manipulative, and though you may not realize it, she may have taken those pills to get you to take her back and to feel bad and guilty; she may not have actually been attempting suicide. (Unfortunately, people die in this misguided attempt for attention).

You need to end it. End it quickly and then sever all contact. Since you won’t be talking to her, when you get that note, or door knock or voicemail saying she is going to kill herself, respond by calling 911 and informing them of the situation. Don’t respond to her directly.

The ability to control our loved ones behavior and ultimate decisions is so very limited, and you must only be responsible for yourself and your actions/reactions. Suicide leaves us, the survivor with such a powerless feeling, but it must be accepted. Please remember that no matter if she attempts or follows through with suicide that it is NOT YOUR FAULT.

posted by Jenny is Crafty at 1:19 PM on September 22, 2008

I want to add one thing: although the day I called 911 on my husband was probably the worst day of my life, it was perfectly routine for the officer who dealt with him. The professionals know how to handle this kind of thing; they've seen it, and worse, a thousand times before. It helped a lot, knowing that they had experience in a situation like this, when I was so lost and confused and frightened.
posted by shiny blue object at 7:18 PM on September 22, 2008

Thanks for all the insights. I just wanted to add a couple of things.

Background: the first episode I was "involved" with occurred was 2-3 months in to our relationship. We used to IM a lot during the day. This one day I was in meetings a lot and went incommunicado for a few hours. Come to find out later that night, she ended up in the hospital from taking a bottle of pills. I found a manic voicemail that I'd missed where she thought I was mad at her, and was crying and carrying on.

That was shocking and my first experience with anything like this. But, I knew she needed help, so I insisted that she get a shrink and get on some meds. She did. And it helped a lot. (Made me a believer that antidepressants can actually help some people).

I wasn't very heavily invested in the relationship at that point. I cared, so I helped. But it seems like I should have tucked tail and gotten the hell out at the first sign of this?

Also, I was surprised to see the "C" word pop up (codependent). I've actually wondered this before, done some reading and concluded that it wasn't the case. I went and found and took a few assessments after reading all these replies, to double check. I still scored low.

I have always taken a hard line with the manic/bipolar/borderline (whatever you want to call it) behavior. Anytime she's crossed the line from normal crying to that god-awful wailing and other yucky stuff, I've never been accommodating. My only response has been, "If you don't stop now, I'm taking to you to the hospital to get some help." Eventually, she calms down.

The time she drove to the grocery store: This was the time I was determined to get out, no matter what. I knew I had to get out, I laid it out plain and clear for her. I didn't hold back at all. She was super upset. She left. I didn't answer the phone. I did check voicemails.

Come to find out, she had driven directly to the store, bought and ate a bunch of pills, was so far in the depths of an episode that she could hardly speak. What she was saying was incoherent, mixed with suicide talk. She was like this, driving a car, not even all the way home to her own apartment, eventually had to park somewhere off a very busy street, all within 20 minutes of her leaving my place.

When I got the voicemails, my eyes bulged. I knew I needed to make it stick. But how can you ignore THAT? What if she hurt somebody? What if she did die? I know it's not my responsibility, but I'm pretty sure that would leave a major mark on me anyway, no matter how much I refused to accept a role in it. So, I called a mutual friend, and her sister so that they could be in contact with her, and talked her through at least getting back to her place. She had her own place then.

The No Contact kicked in and lasted for at least 48 hours. ;) By then of course, the sugary sweet side of her was in full effect. dancestoblue is right, it can be very hard to resist that side of her. I tried I really did. But the night she showed up on my doorstep, with flowers, and crying...once I let her in the house, my breakup defenses were completely shot to hell.

All of that aside though, the net result is that I'm in a relationship that I knew I should've gotten out of 18mos ago. There has been lots of good since then, and lots of bad. I've been careful not to lead her on in most respects. I don't pretend that I love her. But I do genuinely care about her, and I'm sure it shows. What I haven't done is made it clear and obvious that I want to move on with my life. To be honest, I don't feel this way consistently, which is part of the problem. I waffle on it. Some days are good, some days aren't.

In the back of my mind, though, I've known that eventually it has to end. For my sake, and for hers. I realize I'm in an unhealthy relationship. At best, I knew I was in a heavily flawed one. Sometimes I wonder how I got to this point. It really is someone get sucked into thing like this so gradually that they don't see it without hindsight.
posted by runflats at 5:45 AM on September 23, 2008

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