Go No Contact Or Try Again - Can We Become Whole People Together?
October 12, 2013 1:10 PM   Subscribe

After loosing ourselves in each other, my girlfriend and I broke up. Is it possible for two people who still get great along splendidly to recover from dual co-dependency and love loss?

We're in our late 20's/early 30's, live together, and have been together for almost 2 years. Unmarried. We get along fantastically but we've both come to realize, post break up, that I'm co-dependent and she lost herself. For most of the relationship, I sacrificed myself to try to make her happy, and then become unhappy whenever she didn't want to partake in my interests which would have allowed me to be the real me. At the same time, she dropped a lot of her hobbies and interest just to spend time with me; she focused all her energy on her happiness-sapping work and me and nothing else. We maintained our friendships outside each other loosely; we had dangerously become each others one and only, but neither of us is acting like an individual.

I'm not in love with her anymore; the issues just went on so long and I became frustrated and bitter. I finally broke up with her definitively. We still live together as neither of us have no place else to stay and we have two one year old dogs that need taking care of. We work off schedules but we see each other every day. We actually get along better than we have when we were together, now that we're trying to grow as individuals again. Still, I'm trying to move out and she's looking for a roommate.

I'm afraid to lose her because I wonder if we could be great if we were each more true to ourselves. She feels the exact same way, but she still loves me. I've been reluctant to get back together, nonetheless, and have kept a “we're broken up” stance. But she just when I feel resolved in what's going on, she makes me wonder if we're doing the right thing by telling me we should give it another go. We're both great talking and incredibly logical people; there are no more fights, we're just exploring who we are and what we should do together. There real laughter and warmth here, but I'm fraught with skepticism. I want it to work out and be true, but I'm struggling to believe that's possible. I have one foot on the boat, but am looking the other way, so to speak.

It took me a lot of courage to break up with her, and now my foundation is shaken again. What should I do my MF friends? You're so full of knowledge; this site has been invaluable to me. I'll be around if you need me to give you more of the nitty gritty.


posted by GoneWhere to Human Relations (23 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Move out, go no contact, and really, for serious, give each other the chance to find your individuality again. You can perhaps become friends again after you've dated other people, but if you don't love this woman, you should not be a couple again.

And just in case you need reminding: you don't love this woman, and going no-contact is the kindest thing you can do to give her the best chance of finding someone else who does.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:19 PM on October 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

You need to learn to build healthy relationship habits with someone who does not bring with them the memory of how not to carry on a relationship. At some point in the future when you both have worked on these things, you may well be a good fit. As it stands, though, you two don't know how to carry on independent lives. That does not bode well for a relationship's long term stability.
posted by wierdo at 1:20 PM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

You're hurting her terribly by staying there. Likely, her letter would read a lot differently. If you ever loved her, set her free.
posted by 3491again at 2:19 PM on October 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you really think it might work*, then commit yourself to try again and figure out what to try that will make it work where it didn't work before (e.g., couples counseling). Most likely, you will return to the patterns of before and waste some time in the process, but if you need to try that, then really try.

If just reading that paragraph gave you a feeling of dread and "ugh, not that again," then move on as quickly and cleanly as possible.
posted by salvia at 2:26 PM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

* and that you really want it to work, and that it is worth the effort that it will take to make it work
posted by salvia at 2:27 PM on October 12, 2013

I'm not in love with her anymore;
Now there's some good news -- you're not in love with hr anymore. By which I'm assuming you mean that you are no longer in that almost narcotic limerence state, where you can see nothing clearly. Now, you can see clearly. Now, you're at the place where you can begin to really be together, not because you see one another as a drug but rather that you see one another as someone you care about, and love to spend time with.

Every relationship I've seen hits this wall, some at three months in, some at three years. The bloom always fades. If you leave this woman -- who it seems that you are really compatible with -- if you leave this woman to find someone that you're head over heels with again, in time you will hit this same wall, and it may not be someone who you are compatible with. And then you're out and about once again, seeking this limerence yet again.

I don't think it's time to leave. (Quite frankly, I don't think you do either, or you've not be writing about it as you are.) What I do think is that it's time to find you a good couples counselor, someone trained in helping people negotiate this exact same thing you are in. Not only trained in it, but wants to help people, really lives to see people find their way.

You've put together a pretty sweet thing, or so it seems to me. Now the real work of love begins, that's all, all that easy jive-ass limerence bullshit is out the window and you're with your partner, who you care about, who cares about you, you've got this live breathing woman standing right there in front of you, reaching to you. And you're going to walk?

I'll stop here: Remember all those divorces that stopped when 9/11 hit, when people saw the real truths of their lives, when all the bullshit drops to the floor -- those people wanted to be with people who they trusted, who they loved, who loved them. So. Let's say you get hit with some grievous news, maybe your brother dies, or your mother, some huge punch in the guts, life as it happens. Who would you want to be with? Or say she has something horrific happen in her life. I'd bet you'd go to the ends of the earth to be with her, and care for her, and love her. Which I am pretty sure you do.

Good luck.
posted by dancestoblue at 2:30 PM on October 12, 2013 [6 favorites]

So, you tried for nearly two years and are now getting along better now that you're no longer in a relationship. What exactly has changed about both of your relationship styles that makes you think that trying again will work?

If you're not 100% invested in a relationship with her, then don't bother. If she's not 100% invested in a relationship with you, then don't bother. There are a lot of people in the world to fall in love with. Go find one, instead of trying to force something with someone that you get on better with as roommates.
posted by Solomon at 2:37 PM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Stay the course. Move out. Go No Contact.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 2:53 PM on October 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

You're hurting her terribly by staying there. Likely, her letter would read a lot differently. If you ever loved her, set her free.

I totally disagree with the viewpoint that your honest, genuine presence can be damaging to someone else. If you told her that you're not in love with her and she still wants you to stay, then it is paternalistic to leave her for her own good, as if she were a child who cannot help herself.

Meditate and do whatever feels right. No one knows your internal world better than you do.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 3:10 PM on October 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all your answers so far guys. I know this is a terribly common question.

@dancestoblue: I totally understand what you are saying; this girl is telling me basically the same thing and I want to be like that. I don't know how to do this yet, and I'm afraid of keeping her hostage and deciding later I don't want this.

@Espirit: You and this girl both. She wants to make her own decisions and me making them for her is part of how this mess started, among many other mistakes we both made along the way. Your paragraph reminded me of something she'd say to me.

I'm a person of balance, and I always attempt to thoroughly see the advantages and disadvantages to ever action and situation. It's put me in a deadlock and it happens a lot. Seeing the mixed answers so far lets me know that my confusion is justified, but i know I can't stay in this indecisive holding pattern forever, because it's unfair.
posted by GoneWhere at 3:17 PM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Esprit, I respectfully disagree. Lots of people want things that aren't good for them and end up damaging them more in the long run. OP's (ex?) girlfriend may well be one of these cases.

OP, take her out of the equation, because Esprit's point about making decisions for her is a valid one. Irrespective of whether she wants you two to be together, do you want to give this another go? Because if you ultimately decide to leave, after deciding the relationship's not good enough/not worth it for you, for what you want out of a relationship, it's not patronizing her or making her decisions for her. It will be you making a decision, for you.
posted by Zelos at 4:19 PM on October 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I don't see going no contact with someone who unrequitedly loves you as being paternalistic. To me, sticking around when you don't love her, and you know that you are breaking her heart by not getting back together with her/making her life harder with your presence, is selfish and immature. Not only that, were I in her position, of course I would want you to stay if I thought there was a chance of getting you back - but in retrospect, knowing that you did not want a relationship, I believe I would find your continued attempts at "friendship" to be cruel. Sorry. You gave this a good shot already and it didn't work out. If it had been salvageable, do you think that you would have broken up with her, being as logical as you are?
posted by treehorn+bunny at 4:19 PM on October 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

Just because you don't dislike her doesn't mean that she's the one for you.

The time for that whole "I wonder if we could be great if we were each more true to ourselves" was before you fell out of love and broke up with her.

Now, it's just kind of unfair to go back on your break-up because you think that if you both acted differently, it'd be better, based on the shaky example of a broken-up couple still co-habitating peacefully.

It's not that I think it absolutely could never work. Anything is possible! But you have to actually give the being "whole people" separately thing a chance first. You're actually not doing that yet.
posted by sm1tten at 4:28 PM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

If allowed to, children would eat nothing but chocolate and drink nothing but soda. We don't let them live this fantasy because the bad habits will hurt them in the long run. As the child matures, the child seizes more responsibility for both the choices and the consequences. This is why it is paternalistic to decide for her. You are treating her as a child who will permanently damage herself.

If you are honest, she knows that you don't love her, that you might not get back together with her, that you might meet someone else. If she lets you stay, it is presumably out of a supreme courage to face the situation. Let her take charge of her life.

There is often asymmetry in love — where one person is more desperate for the other. Sometimes these things work out and sometimes they don't.

And if they don't, the idea that you can "damage" someone is totally ridiculous. No one ever died of being broken up with. If you think that leaving her is going to "damage" her, get over yourself. She'll be right as rain the next time she falls in love. Maybe she'll suffer a lot, but you aren't at all responsible for that. You are honest. Whatever she experience is the fair consequence of her sticking around. And so by treating her as an adult, she learns from the experience as an adult. Why steal the lesson from her?

My advice is to be honest and do whatever you want to do for yourself.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 5:17 PM on October 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I respectfully disagree. We have an obligation to care for each other. This is not paternalism; it's kindness. For the OP, think: what is the kindest way to handle this situation? If you don't love her, the kindest thing to do is let her go. People rarely fall back in love after falling out without some time and space between.
posted by 3491again at 5:58 PM on October 12, 2013

if you really want to try again then you need to do things differently to get a different result. don't just start up the relationship again with good intentions but not making any real changes. if you do, you will just fall back into the same patterns.

since you two tend to lose yourselves in the relationship, first, don't live together. that will solve a lot of the problem and give you time & space to rediscover yourselves. then, either get some relationship counseling and/or go to co-dependents anonymous. don't go to the same meetings as your gf obviously. you each would need your own meetings. reinvest in your friendships that you've let slide and any interests you also let slide. sign up for that class you've been wanting to take or neglecting. practice self-care.
posted by wildflower at 7:36 PM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think it's very easy to think you are caring every time you bring to your child food, drive them where they need to go, or buy them the luxuries they want. This makes sense at 15 years old more than it makes sense at 25 years old when you come to realize that you are stealing the life experience that will make them happy at 35. Sometimes caring for someone means letting them make and learn from the mistakes they want to make. It's hard like letting a baby cry it out…

In fairness, she is free to go. She is choosing to stay. It's her life to wreck her own way.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 7:43 PM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I respectfully disagree with dancestoblue.
If after only 2 years you've fallen out of love, are you expecting to fall back in? My grandparents have been married 68 years and I know my grandpa is every bit as smitten with my grandma as he was when they first met.
It sounds like your codependency is still trying to make her happy.
What would make you happy? Get out of your head and into your heart for a minute.
posted by tenaciousmoon at 9:33 PM on October 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I suggest you keep it simple. Absolutely move out. Then talk to her about this: Tell her you need to go no contact for three months. And then meet somewhere for coffee to catch up. Maybe you fully reconnect, maybe you remain friends, maybe it's best if you don't. The time will help you both to decide.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 3:46 AM on October 13, 2013

Here's what I would do to figure out my own feelings about this: take a week, or at least a long weekend away. Go to a place that is unconnected to her or your relationship with her, and where you feel you might find some peace of mind. This is so you create, via geographical distance and a peaceful environment, the emotional distance and inner calm necessary to reflect on a few things. I'd try to figure out a few scenarios/ answer a few questions:

1. Imagine that some little tweaking here and there can sort out the worst problems in your relationship. No fights, you no longer have to carry the burden of her unhappiness, and the tension and the atmosphere of discontent disappear. Imagine, say, it's Thursday afternoon, somebody asks you if you want to join them for x activity, and you do. You call your girlfriend to tell her you're going to do x with friends, so you'll be home late, she says Ok, I've got to complete this assignment for the nightclass I am taking with a view to get out of horrid job, so see you later. You get home after having a blast, she's happy to see you, asks you how it was, you chat a bit about it, then she tells you she hopes you can do x activity again with the same group, cause she knows how long you've been wanting to get involved, you say you hope so too, there is this x-related event in a week, you can't wait for it, does she want to join? She says maybe, she'd love to, but she has to see how her assignments are going. Then you go snuggle, she tells you about cool thing she figured out/ asks your opinion on x she found during the assignment etc., you get the drift: everything which has been negative in your interactions has a more overall positive tone, and everything that would have previously made you feel tense, demotivated or guarded is a source of good feelings, interest, connection. How does this impact your feelings towards her? Are you wishful and feel some of the old romantic stirrings, or do you think: this would be the best roommate ever?

2. What would your life be like if it stayed mostly the same, but without her in it? Would you make more friends, or reconnect with friends you neglected, would you become involved in many more things? Or are you likely to continue the low social interaction/ few meaningless pursuits pattern, only now you don't have the excuse of being held back by your partner?

3. If you manage to come out of this period of stunted growth, what do you want out of life? More social connections? Of what kind? What do you want in terms of your career? Are you happy where you are? Are you curious about a number of things and would like to explore some of them? Do you want more hobbies? Would you like to travel more? Are there things about you which are dissatisfying and you'd like to change, whether you're in a relationship or not? Or do you just need more time to explore who you are, who you could be, who you'd like to be?

4. If you realise that you need to stay broken up with her because however much you like her and even care for her, the right kind of feeling simply isn't there any more: what would need to happen so you get on with your life? Say, if tomorrow she came to you and said: Hey, just met this amazing guy who I am head over heels for, and he made me realise that I don't love you as a lover, but I love you as though you were my younger/ older brother, and you are the best roommate ever – would you be happy for her, chuffed to entertain the new lovebirds in your shared home? Or, if she just doesn't seem to get over her hope of you two getting back together, and you live with her spinning through hopelessness, hope, unhappiness, various desperate attempts to woo you back, bitchiness, self-abandon for your sake etc. - would you be cool with that, or would it torment you and bring a new kind of tension into the house? Again, you probably see where this is going – try to figure out, if all romantic feeling is gone, what needs to happen for YOU.

5. If, on the other hand, imagining a happy version of your relationship makes you realise that there is still the right kind of love there (or else, if you can still not quite work it out!), try to figure out what needs to happen for you to regain a state of relaxation, fulfilment and happiness/ contentment in the relationship. This isn't just about her, it's about you as well. Do you need to learn to say no and mean it? Do you need to be more open about your desires? Do you need to be less complacent about exploring your needs and desires? Do you possibly need to replace a passive-aggressive interaction model with one that is more assertive, whilst remaining respectful and caring of her? And what would you need from her? A more proactive stance on the issues that plague her? More autonomy? More respect towards your interests? So you need more shared interests in the relationship which are not strictly each other? Do you want more socialising as a couple, or as individuals, or both? Do you need her to build a support network outside of you? Etc.

6. If you correctly identified yourself as co-dependent, what can you do about this? How can you make sure that your next relationship doesn't follow a similar pattern? Or, if you stay in this one and it goes well for a while, how can you make sure you do your bit to not allow the same old dynamic develop again? What is the biggest issue here, the fact that you cannot see someone close to you dissatisfied, or unhappy, without feeling the compulsion to take on their problem and make them your own? How can you develop more autonomy whilst remaining respectful, connected and supportive of others? Should you maybe go to a few sessions of individual therapy, to develop some tools which will allow you to avoid co-dependent pitfalls in the future?

Like others have said, I think if no. 5 pertains, it might be a good idea to try couples counselling, which can help both of you figure out some of your grievances and find a way to move past them.

I think this is quite important, as loving feelings can be obscured by long-term negativity in a relationship, sometimes until they disappear altogether. If you simply get back together with your GF, there's a good chance you realise that, nope, you don't really feel it any more, and then you will have jerked both of you around; or else you might slide right back into the old dynamic despite an initial resurgence of feeling.

On the other hand, if there is a chance you still have quite strong feelings for her beneath the whole disillusionment, and you break up nonetheless cause you don't know how to go about clearing the air, you might come to regret it in the future, especially since it sounds like there is still a lot of affection there. Since this seems to be the thread to respectfully disagree with each other, I'll say that this

If you're not 100% invested in a relationship with her, then don't bother. ….There are a lot of people in the world to fall in love with.

is far from my experience. For lot of people there are not necessarily swarms of others to fall in love with (this is not only my personal experience, there are tons of people out there who are single because they DON'T fall in love with anyone for decades, or don't have somebody be back in love with them); with respect to 100% investment – well, most long-term relationships I know went through times when one or the other of the partners had doubts, sometimes as big as yours (I'm talking here about relationships that work well, not about relationship in which people stay out of fear or whatnot). What seems to be crucial is the fact that the non-doubting partner manages to fight for the relationship; it is when the periods of doubt for both partners coincide that the 100% calculus seems most correct, or when the period turns into forever. In your case, your ex fighting for the relationship would, at a minimum, involve her actively listening to you, working with you towards the changes to the dynamic that need to happen, including by going through couples counselling.

With regard to what to do if you decide to stay broken up: I completely agree with esprit de l'escalier:

My advice is to be honest and do whatever you want to do for yourself.

I was once in a break-up where my ex did all sorts of things “for my own good” (actually, the break-up itself was “for my own good”). To this day, this is my worst breakup ever, and I have absolutely zero respect for my ex (obviously, there were other things, too). As esprit de l'escalier says, I felt it was incredibly patronising, cowardly and cruel, at a time when I was quite vulnerable, and actively needed the respect that is evidenced by being treated like an adult. This is one of the paradoxes of life as an adult; even if this is true:

Lots of people want things that aren't good for them and end up damaging them more in the long run.

we still owe each other enough respect to allow each adult individual make their own decisions. There is no care and no respect outside of this fundamental care and respect for someone's integrity and autonomy, which includes the freedom to make what might seem to an outsider big mistakes. This is true for a depressed person who refuses to see a doctor, for my best friend who decided to date a jerk, true for the battered wife who decides to stay with her abuser, true for the diabetic who refuses to stop smoking and take up some form of exercise etc. And it is especially true where the self-interest of the one who somehow figures they know better than the person affected is virtually indistinguishable from what you are doing “for someone's own good”.

So, my advice: don't make her shoulder your kindness, if you decide to go. Represent yourself, because you are the only person you can truly represent. If you stay broken up and cannot cope with seeing her suffer, than that's why you are moving out, not for her own good, same with going no contact, same with everything really (even if I personally believe that it is easier to get over someone who you don't see on a daily basis, but that is by the by). Have the guts to be the bad guy short-term, if it comes to that, rather than weasel out: if it were all for her own good, since she wants you to get back together, you'd find a way to fall back in love with her, and everything would be sorted.

With regard to also being kind: you know her best, so you know best what she would help her long-term most. For example, to me it would be important in the long run to know, I don't know, that we had some of the best times of our lives together even if they didn't lead to a lasting relationship, or something else positive, whilst others might feel even more miserable because if there was something so positive about it, how crap must the crap have been to make you still want to leave; I'd appreciate knowing you honestly want to remain connected to me in principle, whilst someone above said they find attempts at friendship to be cruel. I think the most important bit though is to act with kind honesty, so with respect and care towards both her and yourself. There is not much else you can do, really, once you decide to go.
posted by miorita at 6:25 AM on October 13, 2013 [5 favorites]

Please see your MefiMail.
posted by wryly at 2:17 PM on October 13, 2013

Did you two discuss your problems fairly extensively and try to address them before you broke up? If so, then consider whether it's likely that the positive changes you're seeing will last over time. If breaking up with her was really the first fully honest communication you had about the issues, it's possible that what you have both done is a positive step forward and you just needed a catalyst to make these changes. But if that's the case, also consider why it took either of you so long to identify and discuss the problems, and how do you want to change that communication pattern in the future?
posted by Terriniski at 12:09 AM on October 14, 2013

It really sounds like you haven't broken up with her. You still live together, you're still talking about exploring who you are together, and you're thinking about working on the relationship.

I think what you're doing to this woman is actually very cruel. You broke up with her, that means you don't get to continue to live with her and tell her you're afraid of losing her. And continuing to talk with her about the possibilities for a relationship in the future with someone you know loves you, but you do not love and are not committed to is not a kind thing to do at all.

I really wonder how she feels about this situation--you mention all the warmth and laughter and growing as people--but your "ex" girlfriend is stuck living with a man who dumped her, does not love her, has not moved out, and then is floating the possibility of a future reconciliation in front of her, despite not really being committed to this idea.

Either break up for real, as in move out and stop having conversations with her about doing things together or your relationship with her, or seriously commit to working this out with her and get some couple's counseling.
posted by inertia at 12:37 PM on October 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

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