Breaking up an LTR when your SO has no backup ?
September 15, 2012 7:41 AM   Subscribe

Break-up filter - how do you end a long term relationship with someone who doesn't have anyone else or anything much to count on as back up or support?

In a nutshell - my relationship is on the ropes after about 5 years. I'm not going to go into much detail about it, because that would be a separate, very long post. All I can say is that it's both our fault.

I am pretty much convinced that things can't be worked out between us. There is too much emotional and psychological garbage going on that it's taken it's toll on both of us and we barely get along anymore. We've both turned the other cheek with each other too much and we're at our limits. The subject of breaking up is coming up more and more in our conversations/bickering, but we don't act on it.

We've lived together for about 99% of those 5 years. We live in one of the most expensive areas of the USA. About 3 or so years ago, she went back to school pretty much full time, so I am financially supporting both of us. She has no income, and very little savings, probably less than a few thousand total. She is also very much estranged from her immediate family and I'm pretty sure does not want to rely on them. She has no real friends or peer group locally, and maybe has a few decent long distance friends at best.

Breaking this off now is going to make me look like a major asshole, because of the timing of things that have happened to us over the summer have been very damaging. Her father died unexpectedly 3 months ago, and his estate was left in disarray (there's a big, ugly disagreement over who gets what). Just before that, our landlords gave us notice to vacate our home. We couldn't find a good place to move to, so grieving from the father's death, we lived in temp housing for over a month. We had to settle for a less than great apartment, which turned out to be unsafe so we had to break lease about a week later. Now we live in a better, but still unsafe, less than great apartment, because it was the best we could find and afford. But it's terrible too, so now we're looking to move yet again.....!

I am sort of resigned to the fact that I will probably still need to support her (???) on certain things while she gets her affairs in order. Like I said, there is way, way more background to this that would require a separate, longer post. But I just need to figure out a way to navigate this, because if I don't, it's just going to perpetuate forever and ever.

Yes, I am in therapy, so I do have a foundation of coping abilities and my own support....and please refrain from asking if I supported her enough, and not just financially - I did to the best of my abilities. Whether or not it was enough for her is not the issue here.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
All you can do is tell her what you're going to do, set a deadline that allows you both a bit of time to work out some logistics (e.g. November 1st if you don't have a lease?), and then stick to the deadline whether she's "ready" or not. Otherwise she may never be ready.

Years ago I was in a somewhat similar situation. It was not a fun transition, but she ended up attaching to another guy after a few months, and that was the end of our regular contact.
posted by jon1270 at 7:54 AM on September 15, 2012

There isn't a hell of a lot you can do. Be clear, give reasonable timelines and stick to them.
posted by koahiatamadl at 7:55 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Figure out how much money you are willing to give her either upfront or over the next x period of time. Get this in writing. If you break up tomorrow, I think offering to pay the rent for October would be a nice gesture.

If you can afford it, even if it means you cut back on spending for awhile, I think it would be the least headache for you to just write her a check for the total amount you are willing to support her. After that it's up to her.
posted by nakedmolerats at 8:13 AM on September 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

I feel like in a relationship, both parties have a responsibility to maintain their own finances as if they were independent units. Obviously there are exceptions - when one partner is unemployed through no fault of their own (I call this "unfortunate life circumstances"), the other partner has a responsibility to step up. Or if the couples makes a conscious decision to have one partner be a stay-at-home parent, for example.

Supporting your partner through school is not one of those circumstances. School is a conscious decision to avoid making income in the short term in order to better one's future in the long-term. If you choose to support her in this, the correct way to think of it is not as your "duty" but rather as a happiness investment: ie, you're supporting her studies because it will lead to a happier future for the two of you - together - at some point in the future. If there's no long-term future for the two of you, then this investment is only benefitting her happiness, and it would be selfish of her to expect you to pay for it.

That said, since she's already enrolled with the understanding that she would be supported (a commitment that presumably you made of your own free will), it would be a very nasty move to suddenly withdraw your support. I think you should establish a reasonable timeline and support her until the end of the semester - that way she doesn't waste her college credits, and she has time to look for a job and a new place.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 8:16 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

One month to get a job, gather enough cash for a months rent and find a place is a little quick. I would say covering her rent through novermber is more realistic. I don't think you should continue to live together for any longer than you have to, though. I agree with the idea of cutting her a check for a reasonable amount once you seperate living space. "When we move this time, we won't be moving in to the same place. I'm going to give you X amount to cover october and november to help you get on your feet, but I don't think living together is healthy any more."

Don't drag it out. Let her know right now so you both have as much time as possible to detangle your lives.

Good luck.
posted by Blisterlips at 8:41 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Her dad died, she has no emotional support locally, she's in school, her immediate family is a mess, and she doesn't have income. I agree with you; it would be really cruel to just abandon her when she's probably going to have to suffer additional grief from trying to get over you. I'm guessing school might go down the tubes for her too.

Five years of living together in a joint economy is a real part of the calculus in determining what the decent thing to do is, and it's really kind of you as a soon to be former partner not to just "dispose" of her. She is a person and you did live her, and it really speaks to your character that you are not being a sociopath and just disappearing and withdrawing caring about her.

You dont want her to suffer more than she will. You dont want to have her end up homeless or insane from the stress of all of it. That's being a really good person.

I think you should tell her you want to breakup for real so she can start to wrap her head around it. Tell her to think about what she needs to do to live independently and not crumble from the stress. Tell her you'll loan her a small amount of money so she can get back on her feet so she doesn't end up homeless.

Try to make it amicable. This is hard stuff.
posted by discopolo at 8:50 AM on September 15, 2012 [19 favorites]

Sounds like you've both been through a lot, and all of those things can add up to tensions that would stress any relationship. Can you afford to move out and still support her in a separate household for a while? Seeing as how you have been living in less-than-desirable apartments because that's all you can afford right now.

Would she be willing to go to couples counseling so you can work out a way to disengage?

Also, no one can tell you what your financial obligation is except a lawyer. It's up to you if you want to give her more (say, 6 months of maintenance). Will her degree get her a job where she can support herself? How far away is that, and given the job market in your area, will she be able to get a decent job?

Sorry you've both been going through such a rough time, and I agree, work it out as amicably as you can.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 8:57 AM on September 15, 2012

One thing you might do is find out how much more financial aid is available to her. Given her circumstances, she may be able to max out her Federal Student Loans and possibly go the private loan route (though Sallie Mae is evil) to fill the money gap. Not sure if she can change loans after the school year has started. However, if that option is open and you're willing to give her a set amount of support for a limited time, it would at least take the financial survival aspect out of it for her.
posted by cnc at 10:01 AM on September 15, 2012

The good news is that she has a few thousand dollars in savings. Do you know what her monthly expenses are, other than rent? Worst case, she can't get a student teaching job or another loan payment until after January rent is due. Could you give her a cash payment that's enough to cover her rent for Oct, Nov, Dec, Jan? (I realize that might be too much for you.) She could then figure out how she wants to allocate those funds plus her savings to get by. This is fairly generous, so you could potentially do less, but if you can afford it, I think it'd be nice, and it'd make it easier for it to be a clean break.

Of course, moving complicates all this. I think what I'd do in your shoes is assume I was moving out of the apartment and give her enough to cover that apartment, but consider what her alternatives would be if she wanted to move. Hopefully she could save some of that money by moving into a smaller place or a campus house with roommates, but if you guys have the cheapest place in the entire city, I might try to round up. I'd also try to do the bulk of the landlord negotiations re: lease-breaking by telling them just how awful the place is and that you both need to move out, but that you think she's willing to stay there for a little longer.
posted by salvia at 11:01 AM on September 15, 2012

The details of the actual break-up will get messy no matter what - Basically, you tell her, both of you will do lots of yelling and blaming and crying and what-not, and the conversation won't end with either of you feeling very good about it. So, I'll skip ahead to the useful suggestions for the next day.

First, three years into college - Any way you could continue "coldly" cohabitating for another year until she finishes her degree? That would give you a clean, relatively non-dick-move chance to break things off, with her in a potentially good position rather than one of pathetic vulnerability.

If not... You say you've resigned yourself to supporting her to some degree for a while - Find the cheapest* efficiency you can, preferably with utilities included, in your area. Move her into it. Then, over about a month, all but break off contact except for a purely-functional once a month status inquiry. After a year you can possibly return to something like a normal friendship, but if you try to rush that, you'll either end up back together, or hating each other entirely.

Then, move on with your life.

Finally - Keep in mind that you don't "owe" her anything just because you lived together for a few years. If things get too messy, if she starts getting violent or self destructive, if the situation starts dragging you down - You have every right to simply walk away and never look back.

* I say "cheapest" not (only) to save you money in the interim, but because it will take less time for her to become self-sufficient if she doesn't have an insanely high rent to cover. Hell, if you can afford it, in the current economy I'd even consider outright buying a small place for her to live and formalizing the terms as something like "You can stay here for three years, then you need to go". And if you do buy the place, don't tell her that or it will make it a hell of a lot harder to get rid of her if she doesn't want to leave in three years; Easy to say "sorry, not payin' your *cough* rent *cough* anymore", but quite a lot harder to say "you count as a wasted opportunity cost, GTFO". Not to mention, if you really really piss her off, she may consider trashing "your" property when she wouldn't do the same to a rental.
posted by pla at 11:19 AM on September 15, 2012

Sorry that you're going through this.

Would she be willing to go to couples counseling so you can work out a way to disengage?

This sounds like a good suggestion to me - be clear about what the objective of the couples counseling is - that you want out. But it can actually help ending it more amicably than you would be able to on your own.
posted by motdiem2 at 1:34 PM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Another vote for couples counseling for disengagement. Note that by doing so you also create a therapeutic relationship between her and the counselor; that relationship will be there for her support once you're gone.
posted by GrammarMoses at 2:08 PM on September 15, 2012

I am sort of resigned to the fact that I will probably still need to support her (???) on certain things while she gets her affairs in order.

She has some savings, she's in school so presumably she's with-it enough to work and she's not wildly bad with money. I can't tell from this question, but it seems like you feel more like a caretaker than a partner, and that she perhaps has some mental illness or other issues that are making you feel responsible for her well-being. That is a tough mindset to get out of, but you should try very hard to see her as a responsible adult for both your sakes.

So, in this situation, you do what you'd do with a responsible adult--let her know that you are no longer comfortable being the sole financial contributor to your relationship and that she should become independent so that she is not screwed should you both decide to break things off. Frame it as beneficial to both of you, because it is. She can't be enjoying feeling financially stuck in the relationship and dependent on you for money, either!

Ask that she start looking for a job or student loans immediately and that she contribute a proportional share of expenses. Once she has steady income she will be in a much better position to find a decent roommate situation. Since it sounds like you don't actually need her contribution to pay the bills, a decent (but not required) thing to do is to hang on to any money she pays towards expenses and give it back to her when you break things off so that she can have a deposit/moving expenses. You can also offer to provide a reference for future roommates/landlords.

If you desperately need to pull the plug now, then do so, without offering financial support. Keep it in the back of your mind should she ask for it, but let her muster her own resources. You'd be surprised at what people can do when given a chance at independence, and she'll have a renewed sense of competence instead of feeling like she's inadequate or unable to support herself.

Don't move. It's expensive and you'll just end up moving in a few months when you break up anyway.

Good luck.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:56 PM on September 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Well, you do owe her, and if you had been married for five years...let this be a lesson to women everywhere that without marriage you have no protection. You have people here suggesting that you give her a month and a half's notice, which for a full time student is NOT ENOUGH TIME to figure out how to get and work a full time job to pay the rent and other bills and come up with tuition, and not flunk out of school, or deal with grief over death and breakup.

Tell her it's over. Don't be her emotional support, because it will just be hurtful and confusing for her, I guarantee it. But give her financial support for year, and give it to her in writing, because I guarantee in six months, even if you start out strong, you'll be wanting to do the douchey thing. A year will give her enough time to recover emotionally from these huge blows, and start planning financially for the next school year. And find separate housing, as quickly as possible after you break up. Make a plan for it, because living in the same place after a breakup is utter hell.

If you leave her with 1.5 months support after five years, you're a douche. You asked how to leave someone without resources. Friends, she can find, who will help her out emotionally, and she'll find them quicker without you. Money, especially while in the middle of school year, is not as easy to find as friends. If she's on your health insurance, commit to that in writing as So you can do this the douchey way or the non-douchey way.
posted by thelastcamel at 5:05 PM on September 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Argh. Laptop keyboards and accidental cut & pastes. Oh well. You get the idea.
posted by thelastcamel at 5:06 PM on September 15, 2012

Well, you do owe her, and if you had been married for five years...let this be a lesson to women everywhere that without marriage you have no protection. You have people here suggesting that you give her a month and a half's notice, which for a full time student is NOT ENOUGH TIME to figure out how to get and work a full time job to pay the rent and other bills and come up with tuition, and not flunk out of school, or deal with grief over death and breakup.

I really disagree with this. His girlfriend made a choice to be income-less for what sounds like three years when she went back to school. The OP makes no mention of being married, engaged, or agreeing to a level of similar commitment. I think people in a relationship have the responsibility to make sure they are capable of financial independence if the relationship goes south. Maybe she will have to leave school for a semester or take out a bunch of loans, but it sounds like that's what she would have had to do in the first place if OP hadn't already been supporting her.

While I might agree that a month and a half isn't a lot of time to find a job, my question is more "why hasn't she been working at least part time while in school?" I think it is the honorable thing to do to support her for as long as OP feels comfortable, but I don't think he is obligated to do so, from the information given here.
posted by nakedmolerats at 6:41 PM on September 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

FWIW, when I suggested 1.5 months I was thinking primarily about a plausible time to stop sharing a residence, not to withdraw all financial support. I didn't state that at all clearly.

A 5-year cohabitation is enough like a marriage that for these purposes I don't think it matters much whether you're actually married; the end should be handled gently either way. I don't see how extending the painful intimacies of living with an ex longer than necessary would serve that goal, so I'm inclined towards a quick physical separation regardless of how long financial support is sustained.
posted by jon1270 at 3:43 AM on September 16, 2012

I was in the same exact situation about 2 years ago. What I did: I started being less close to her, steered her away and somehow forced her to find a job; thinking I'd break up when she'd gotten a stable footing. Do NOT do that.
After 6 months of that, she still hadn't found a job, hadn't reconnected with her friends, and was waiting for me to go back to normal.
I then changed my strategy, gave her enough money to live by herself for a long time, and broke up. The following weeks were miserable, but a few months down the line, she's found someone else, a job, and reconnected with her friends.

In a nutshell, if you're going to break up, break up now. THEN figure out how you can help her.
posted by Riton at 6:57 AM on September 16, 2012

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