Breaking up as partners, not as friends?
December 21, 2010 2:07 PM   Subscribe

My SO of 13 years and I just broke up. It was mutual and amicable but we feel numb. How do we process this and oh god, logistics? What do we do now?

Split is amicable, so amicable in fact we can hardly believe it's happening. But we just lost our couple mojo a few years ago and it took a while to realize. But where to from here? I'm going to move out, we don't have kids, just shared possessions, finances, and good memories. Please let me know your tips for how to separate as easily and sensibly as possible. We were going to keep casually supporting each other financially for a while so we both get on our feet, but is it better to just cut things off entirely? And how to approach the future incarnation of the relationship, how close can we be without it impinging on our respective growths as individuals? We are each other's best friends, are we meant to pull back into casual friend mode now? It's so hard not to fall into couple mode by default. Should we not see each other at all for a while? Are any of you BFFs with your exes? Please share your stories.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (9 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Get the logistics out of the way as soon as possible. No shared possessions, separate bank accounts, etc. etc. Your casual financial support for each other should have some structure around it, not just be drawing on common funds.

After that, let things take their course for a few months. There are a lot of emotions to process here, including the fact that separating may make you feel all couple-ly again.

Only you can say about the future of your relationship, and I think you probably should make any decisions for at least a month or so.

For the record I am BFFs with one of my exes and have been for 15 years now. Her husband is still made nervous by this. You might want to watch out for that when the two of you start dating other people.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:16 PM on December 21, 2010

er, "shouldn't make any decisions for at least a month or so."
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:17 PM on December 21, 2010

Honestly, if "loss of mojo" (?) is the only problem, maybe you two should give it a bit of a rethink.

Seems to me, just fixing that one little problem (or, heck, even living with it) would be preferable to having to deal with all these new ones you've created by splitting up.

I mean, if you're really best friends...?
posted by Sys Rq at 2:17 PM on December 21, 2010 [10 favorites]

My split was like this. We shared the house for about a year until I moved out. After that, we went for about nine months not speaking for non-work reasons - we worked together - but now, nearly five years later, we're in daily contact on social media and talk on the phone once a month or so. Our continuing friendship has caused little problem in subsequent relationships, although it has been problematic for people who were our couple-friends; that is, our social group felt that they had to pick sides even though we were both clear that sides need not be chosen (i.e., Facebook friends, invitations to big parties, etc.) That hurt and I was not expecting it, given how amicable the break was.

Sys Rq, that "one little problem" may flavor the rest of the relationship and may simply be insoluble. Breaking up the romantic partnership to salvage the 99% of things that do work can sometimes be the right answer. It certainly was for my relationship with my ex.
posted by catlet at 2:37 PM on December 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

My former partner and I split up in August after six years, though for most of the last year, we'd been talking about/planning on breaking up. We see each other probably a couple times a week and are still very good friends, though of course it's more awkward sometimes than it used to be.
Splitting up was very, very hard at first. I pretty much wanted to puke the first morning I woke up after sleeping alone, and we'd been spending so much time together for so long that I felt completely at loose ends hanging out in my apartment by myself. Things that worked for me:
I made sure that I was really, really busy after we split up. I added new volunteer and other activities so I'd have specific things to do and chances to meet new people who didn't know me in the context of "Vibrissa and [former partner]". I had some free time on weekends, but most weekdays were completely packed. This kept me from just sitting around alone being sad.
I think the general wisdom is to not see each other for a while; we didn't do that. [former partner] and I made plans to see each other regularly once a week; we alternated hosting dinners on Sunday nights. One week would be just the two of us and the next would be us and some friends. The nights with just us gave us a chance to talk through whatever we needed to, and the nights with friends... well, those were nights hanging out with friends. :) Outside of that, we've been meeting for lunch or just to hang out probably once a week or so whenever we feel like it. Seeing each other has been important. We are each others' best friends, and I think it would've been harder for us to go without that than to relearn how to interact just as friends (obviously, YMMV).
I guess that's basically it. We try hard to communicate honestly and to be kind and patient with ourselves and each other. I've been getting a lot of satisfaction/happiness from exploring interests that I'd put on the backburner in order to have more time to spend with her; she's been doing the same. Remaining friends through a breakup is absolutely possible.
posted by Vibrissa at 3:10 PM on December 21, 2010

Treat it like a project, particularly if all you are doing is separating where you live, and thereby separating possessions and finances. Set some dates together - when are different parts of the split going to occur? You can agree to be flexible about different dates, but it gives you some structure to work towards. Write things to be split down to reduce the chances of misunderstandings (which can occur even with an amicable situation) and also to facilitate some giving and taking if you would both like the same things. You can be best friends without living together, sharing stuff, and sharing finances, but living apart and having your own stuff and finances opens you up to a range of daily choices that will direct your future friendship (and your friendships with others).
posted by jjderooy at 3:41 PM on December 21, 2010

Try to stop thinking of doing everything in the context of your partner first and you second - from here on out, you have to think of caring for yourself first.

With one caveat: try to be kind, but don't drag things out. You think it'll be easier, but it'll be more painful, I promise you.

Don't hesitate to get a lawyer or accountant's help if you need it. Or a therapist, for that matter. Don't seek comfort in each other OR provide it - that's what counseling is for. And don't drink too much or wear all your friends out - therapy works better, and faster, with fewer negative possible outcomes.

I'm truly sorry. I've been where you are -- except the pain made me more ruthless, and sometimes I regret it. Good luck.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 8:28 PM on December 21, 2010

ughhh poor you and your partner as well. Sometimes I think that amicable breakups are harder but it is worth it if you can come out of this as friends and you can. I will say that, at least from my own experience, remaining friends through the breakup and keeping contact will lengthen your and/or your partner's time frame for getting completely over the breakup. I my case I thought that since we were long distance already, maintaining the lines of communication would prevent us from just drifting out of each other's lives. In the long run we did remain friends and it was worth it, but it was probably a lot more fraught and up and down than it might have been otherwise (at least on my end). I should add that our breakup wasn't totally mutual so that complicated the situation.

Everyone else has already dealt with the more practical advice but here's a bit of a road map to what may happen. Even though it was mutual, relationships are rarely 50-50 all of the time. If one of you is less sure than the other be prepared to question the decision. Be careful not to send any mixed messages and be sure if your partner does, to gently alert them to the fact.

While you expect to be extremely sad for awhile, you may unexpectedly find yourself going through periods of anger at your partner for things that they did or didn't do during the relationship. I personally feel that it's just best to ride those periods out. If the romantic relationship is truly unsalvageable, then there is nothing to be gained and you could say something that you regret that could damage your friendship. You may also find that just when you think that you're just about 100% OK, something will happen, or perhaps triggered by nothing at all, you will go through another cycle of sadness and/or anger. Rest assured if this happens that it gets less intense each time and becomes less frequent until it stops. You haven't gone back to square one, even if it momentarily feels that way. But in my experience it is frequently a case of 2 steps forward, one step back, at least for awhile.

I agree with Unicorn on a cob that you have to put yourself first. It's right that you should do that and you can do that without being unkind or unfair. I, personally, would opt not to see each other for awhile. As you've already noted, it is so easy to fall back into couple mode. You need time for your heart to catch up with your head. Hanging out as friends may be awkward at first or conversely, it may feel weird that it doesn't feel weird. The first time that I saw my ex after we broke up, I met up with him for a weekend in NYC. We'd kept in close contact via phone calls and emails but hadn't seen each other since our breakup almost 2 years earlier. To me, the weirdest part was that we were able to pick up where we left off (minus a sexual relationship) and hang out, talk about our respective careers, art, movies, and other mutual interests, visit museums, go out to eat, etc. It felt odd that it didn't feel all weird and awkward and honestly made me miss what we had but did not plunge me back into post-breakup sadness. It was bittersweet, but overall a very positive experience.

I wish you both the best.
posted by kaybdc at 9:12 PM on December 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I separated from a long-term (9 years) partner about six or so years ago. It wasn't a mutual decision and we did find it was best to get some emotional distance for a while. But I'd now characterise our friendship as the deepest of anyone I know, although there is no chance we'd ever slip back into being a couple. You can definitely be BFFs after a relationship ends. Shit, everything ends eventually.

In terms of processing it, I think you need to both take some space for a while. No need to switch to casual friend mode, just take a little break from each other. If you find you need to take a break from the break, that's cool too. Just do what feels right to both of you. In fact, I don't think you *could* switch to casual friend mode if you've been as close as your post suggests.

In terms of logistics, I don't have an answer for you on this one. I had to make a clean break because I was moving on, so couldn't expect to take our shared possessions, pets, etc. I just had to move on and start again. My personal view is that helping each other out financially might not be the best way to go, just because it could complicate an already-complicated time.

Good luck.
posted by Lleyam at 4:35 AM on December 22, 2010

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