How to break up with someone when you don't quite know why?
July 21, 2009 4:34 PM   Subscribe

Feeling horribly guilty about the possibility of breaking up with a really great person. How can I articulate to SO reasons that I don't fully understand myself? And what responsibility should I take for practical matters such as finding a roommate to replace myself, cancelling mutual holidays etc?

After around 2 years together, I am seriously contemplating breaking up with my SO. He is 34, I am 26 and we live together with 2 other housemates (who I am also feeling increasingly incompatible with). I accept that I have done the wrong thing by procrastinating about having "the talk", but I have just felt so ambivalent & am constantly internally debating whether or not / the way I can do this - taking as much responsibility as possible for my decision, even though it's really just because of a growing feeling more than anything else - while causing the least amount of hurt to him...

SO is not in any way at fault for the disintegration of our relationship. Even I can't articulate exactly what feels wrong about it, I just don't feel that enthusiastic anymore. For the most part we can laugh and have fun, relax together, enjoy ourselves and of course I feel great love and affection for him, but deep down I think I've been unhappy for a while. I think I can sense that he is discontented also, although I'm not certain if our relationship is the primary cause of this. I have tried to talk to him about how he feels about things (his career, life goals, us, etc) but he is not a big "talker" and it's pretty difficult to coax his thoughts and feelings out of him... although no doubt I could be a more patient and understanding communicator also.

Although I have tried several times to broach the topic of our relationship, change never seems to result. Maybe this is because I'm not sure what actually could change, to make us happy together. We have both talked about how we feel unfulfilled by our present jobs and suburban lifestyle. I don't know exactly whether it's as urgent for him as for me... I often discuss the future possibilities & am researching job options, courses etc, but he doesn't seem to do this... at least, if he does he doesn't discuss it with me. I would love it if being with him inspired me with possibilities, rather than made me feel that we will be in the same rut forever... but hey, he probably feels the same way about me! Also, we don't seem that sexually into each other anymore either & there has been less and less activity on that front recently. In general, I find it hard to express to him what's important to me in a calm, rational manner; I just feel like I'm babbling on hysterically, as he often simply listens silently rather than responding or saying anything. Now I look back and can see that we got together at a time that I was a bit lost and lonely, to be honest, and hence overlooked several factors (like our different personalities, goals and values) that are gradually starting to bother me quite a lot. For example, I would describe myself as being, on the whole, quite proactive about solving problems in my life (except, it seems, relationships...) where as SO has a more relaxed, accepting approach that occasionally frustrates me, as (from my perspective anyway) it seems to result in "drifting" a bit. I realise that this is mostly just a question of "different" qualities, and not "better or worse" qualities in each of us. He is a very calm, gentle person who doesn't easily or often express himself in words, and I am dogged by the constant guilt that maybe I haven't tried hard enough to understand his side / talk to him about "us". I am also worried that he doesn't have much of a support network, as he became slightly distant from his close friends while we were together and tends to be fairly introverted when it comes to getting out, calling people etc.

Anyway, I feel incredibly guilty about the prospect of breaking up with him. Firstly because he's done nothing but be himself (and he is a truly great, funny and caring person); secondly because I moved in with him and let the relationship progress this far when, in truth, I always suspected it may not be a long-term thing; thirdly because I know it will hurt him deeply and I worry he may not reach out for support. Even more so, because we have holidays booked coming up (just a brief interstate trip, but then in March his mother has booked flights for us elsewhere) and I know that my moving out will probably precipitate the break-up of the share house that I'm in because it will be too expensive for them (we shared a room and therefore there was an extra person to split the rent between).

So I guess my questions are:
How can I go about this in a mature way, causing minimum hurt to this wonderful person, when I'm not 100% certain of the reasons why I actually want to break up? Is it too unkind to say... "I'm just not that into it anymore?!"

On practical matters:
Do I simply give 4 weeks notice to the housemates (there is no lease as the house belongs to a mutual friend)? Or should I find a replacement housemate myself? Should I reimburse his mother for the holiday?

I feel this urge to take care of all these issues myself, because I am the one breaking up with him. I know I have a responsibility to start being honest with him ASAP. But I'm just not sure HOW honest to be, and where my other responsibilities start and stop...
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
How can I go about this in a mature way...

How about by sitting him down and saying this:

"I feel incredibly guilty about the prospect of breaking up with you. Firstly because you've done nothing but be yourself -- and you truly are a great, funny and caring person; secondly because I moved in with you and let the relationship progress this far when, in truth, I always suspected it may not be a long-term thing, and I owe you an apology for that; thirdly because I suspect it will hurt you deeply and I worry you may not reach out for support."

Followed up with:

"But I'm not asking you to absolve me for my guilt; I just wanted you to understand that this is why I put off having this conversation for so long, and I'm sorry."

Do I simply give 4 weeks notice to the housemates...

Give notice, but say you're going to help them find someone, and then actively do it.

Should I reimburse his mother for the holiday?

Yes, provided it was something she did because you and he asked for it. If it was a spontaneous gift, you can reimburse but it's not really mandatory.
posted by davejay at 5:04 PM on July 21, 2009 [3 favorites]


Why? Because you BOTH took the risk when you moved in together that the relationship might go either way. Also, you don't want to accidentally diminish your very mature, honest, and legitimate feelings about not being sure this is the direction you want to continue to take your life in, by then mentioning any doubts you had before co-habitating. Trust me, you both had doubts, and sadly, these are not relevant to the initial conversation that you must have when (possibly) beginning the break-up process. Also, mentioning those doubts right away might be insulting to your SO as an opening to the conversation.

You wrote: I think I can sense that he is discontented also, although I'm not certain if our relationship is the primary cause of this. (emphasis mine)

Funny, but when I first read that, I read "disconnected" not discontented! Then you go on to explain that you've tried to talk about these issues before, but your SO is not much of a talker when it comes to serious stuff or his feelings. If you are living together but don't talk about how things are going for you individually or as a couple than that is "disconnected," right? I imagine it must be very difficult for you to set goals or see what you are working towards if your partner isn't cool with checking-in every once in a while on those subjects.

If you are 26, and you have this growing feeling this relationship isn't for you.... you are most certainly correct in identifying the feeling and very honorable in wanting to plan how to handle things in light of your acknowledged perspective.

I can't advise on vacation finances because someone else could take your spot on the trip, but do give some notice to the housemates after you've talked with the SO. Absolutely let them find your replacement - they will have to live with this person once you are moved out, after all!

***I am wondering from the tone of your post if your guilt might be leaving you open for petty demands for money or emotional recriminations that you don't deserve. Please tread wisely in that arena.****

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 6:20 PM on July 21, 2009

So, this could have been written by me, right now, and I don't know what to do about it either. Which is to say that I don't have any answers for you, but I wish you the best of luck in a not good situation. The only suggestion that I have is to be as open and honest as you can - what you've written here sounds like a really good start.

With regards to the practical stuff, I'd give the four weeks notice, and offer help find a new housemate as well (they might not want the help, as it's them who'll be living with the replacement, not you). Similarly, I'd offer to reimburse the money for the holiday - hopefully they'll be able to work something out.

Best of luck.
posted by shewhoeats at 7:45 AM on July 22, 2009

You can be tactful while being honest. You're not into it anymore = the relationship has run its course, you aren't well suited to each other, things aren't going the way you need them to, &c &c &c. It happens, and it's not his fault and it doesn't mean he isn't a great person. If he doesn't feel like you do, though, this will really blindside him and he will probably be quite upset and need to talk. If you're concerned for him, then there's not much else you can do other than be patient and answer questions. If he is feeling disconnected too, then this should go a lot more easily--he'll be sad, but a little relieved because he was expecting it. You need to do this ASAP though. As for the house--just give the housemates notice and move on. It's not your job to replace yourself and sticking around in things will make it harder for your ex to move on. I'd ask him (or his mother, if you're close) what should be done about the trip tickets.
posted by Polychrome at 1:02 PM on July 22, 2009

everyone has said perfect things so far. i just had to add a little something extra that it tought, but true - i've been through a nearly identical situation, eerily so. you need to be prepared for the fact that it is going to be INCREDIBLY difficult, maybe the hardest thing you've done in your life so far. it's also going to hurt, a lot. but after it's all done, you will feel so much better about yourself, your surroundings, you life, everything. the end result is absolutely worth the difficulty. just keep going through with it, no matter what. as far as the SO goes- it's unfair to stay with him when you're not 100% into it. every day you stay is one less day he can move on and find someone who IS. and if you're in doubt...he will, trust me.
posted by assasinatdbeauty at 9:51 AM on July 26, 2009

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