Trapped in my relationship, but its proving very difficult to end
August 4, 2016 3:05 AM   Subscribe

I am in a tight spot. I know the relationship must end and have been honest about that with her, but I’m having a hard time figuring out practically what to do after this, as her reaction to my attempts to break up have been volatile. Ultimately I would like us to split and to live together long enough for her to find somewhere else to live, but from her behaviour so far, I am concerned that she is not stable enough to carry through with that plan. But I am desperate to avoid the alternatives - either escalating things to the point her family or even police are involved, which would obviously traumatise her, or with me just leaving the house with no future contact, which I feel could lead to serious depression as she has deep fears of abandonment. The latter option is also difficult as it is my parent’s home. What’s most frustrating is that, depending on her mood, she herself can see that we are not suited and need to move on. What do I do?

Hi all,

My girlfriend and I have been together almost four years. We love each other very much but are clearly not suited to each other - we are now arguing almost every other day. She is amongst other things beautiful, funny, interesting, warm and sweet - but she also has had a difficult upbringing and has depression with mood swings and a persecution complex. Off-hand comments that most people would brush aside have been hugely overblown and led to fall outs, even within my family. She is seeing a therapist at the moment, but is still in denial about some of her problems, is very insecure and needs a lot of attention to make her happy. Perhaps this wouldn’t be a problem if I was just a 9-5 kind of guy and I had more time to devote to her, but I am very single-minded in the pursuit of my career. So much so, that I could be viewed as selfish in that way - and this might be a problem for a lot of women, not just her. So even without the strain of her depression and anxiety it is unlikely that the relationship would work out. We may argue about nothing, but obvious concerns about our compatibility and her insecurity about our future is the root cause of everything. She can see this and has often talked about leaving but never does. I feel that she is simply scared to be alone again. I don’t doubt she could find another man, as she is often approached when she goes out.

I have said before that we should end things and explained why we are not suited. A few months ago, I even moved out to an AirBnb flat, but was so concerned about her subsequent depression (she had panic attacks and at one point even threatened suicide - hard to gauge how serious this was), as well as being unable to afford to continue to live elsewhere, I moved back in. We live in my parent’s flat with low rent which has helped us both. It would be difficult for me to leave but I am more concerned that she will not be able to support herself on her own whilst she is managing our break up. Unfortunately, whilst her family have stated that they would be supportive, they live out of town and she is not close to her father or his wife (her step-mother). Her biological mother is not particularly stable and she cannot turn to her. She has friends, but I’m not sure she can rely on them to support her either.

Recently, I tried to end things again, saying I wanted to give her time to sort out a place to live. She reacted by angrily packing all her things, saying she never wanted to see me again and threatening to leave right there and then with no plan for where she would go. I care for her too much to just throw her out in this way, and feared that it could really make the whole situation much worse.

I am in a tight spot. I know the relationship must end and have been honest about that with her, but I’m having a hard time figuring out practically what to do after this, as her reaction to my attempts to break up have been volatile. Ultimately I would like us to split and to live together long enough for her to find somewhere else to live, but from her behaviour so far, I am concerned that she is not stable enough to carry through with that plan. But I am desperate to avoid the alternatives - either escalating things to the point her family or even police are involved, which would obviously traumatise her, or with me just leaving the house with no future contact, which I feel could lead to serious depression as she has deep fears of abandonment. The latter option is also difficult as it is my parent’s home. What’s most frustrating is that, depending on her mood, she herself can see that we are not suited and need to move on. What do I do?

I have tried to write this as objectively as possible, but needless to say, there is a lot of emotion underscoring all of this.

Many thanks in advance for your responses, its appreciated,
Troubled man
posted by Troubled Man to Human Relations (25 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm going to cite an Ask Metafilter favourite here: "Don't set yourself on fire to keep somebody else warm." This is more or less what you're doing here, OP. I understand that you're trying to be nice and fair, but this breakup is going to hurt her no matter what, and the faster you get it over with, the faster you get on with your life. Remember, her reaction to this is not your fault.

If she makes suicide threats, call 911 and report them. If she truly is suicidal, they can help her. If it's an attention seeking act, they can still help her. You are going to need to cut contact with her. The sooner, the better.

You moved out once before, you can do it again. You are ending your relationship and are not responsible for what comes after that. I know that may sound cold and I don't mean it to, but your own mental health and wellbeing are at stake here as well. Put yourself first.
posted by futureisunwritten at 3:22 AM on August 4, 2016 [28 favorites]


Recently, I tried to end things again, saying I wanted to give her time to sort out a place to live. She reacted by angrily packing all her things, saying she never wanted to see me again and threatening to leave right there and then with no plan for where she would go. I care for her too much to just throw her out in this way, and feared that it could really make the whole situation much worse.

Ending the relationship means very concretely saying that you are not her support system anymore -- you have to give her the power to assert the reality of that change in her life, especially since you are the one who is ending the relationship. Aside from the emotional burden on you, it is not respectful to her to require that she work through this breakup in a way that you deem appropriate.

You say that you care too much to throw her out, but in this story it sounds she like made the initiative to pack up and leave. Her actions might be reactions to yours, but that doesn't take away her agency automatically. You are asking her to be independent from you, so let her do it.
posted by telegraph at 3:36 AM on August 4, 2016 [25 favorites]


Think of it this way: you weren't able to fix her depression and other issues while you were together, you're not going to be able to fix them mid- or post-breakup either.

Tell her you're moving out for one month and within that month she has to find another place to live. Then move out and do not speak with her during that month. Have your parents ensure she leaves and stay out of it. The good thing is you've already begun this discussion so she isn't going to be completely blindsided by it.

I understand you care for her safety and well-being but she's not your responsibility and it's not okay for you to be held hostage this way. You just need to get out and give her space and a few weeks to get herself out.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 4:36 AM on August 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


I agree with the previous posters that if you are ending it, end it; take responsibility for that and maintain your boundaries.

That said, this throwaway line spoke volumes to me: Off-hand comments that most people would brush aside have been hugely overblown and led to fall outs, even within my family.

Here's a life pro tip for you. Just like you don't get to require that she respond to the breakup correctly, you also don't get to decide what's a sensitive or hurtful subject to someone. Perhaps there were things that were hurtful to her that wouldn't bother most people; that happens. It's really shitty and disrespectful when your partner blows off the things that are upsetting to you. Sounds like you weren't exactly blameless in the failure of this relationship either. PS, go find that big emotional labor thread/summary document and study up. You've got a lot to learn.
posted by Sublimity at 4:56 AM on August 4, 2016 [22 favorites]


Bexause you're at your parents, it feels like a bind because you're the one initiating the breakup but expecting her to take incentive. I assume you still share a bed and living space. If you wanted be kind to her in finding a place to live, I think you can do that without moving out of the house -- but you DO need to stop acting the part of a couple. Move to the living room couch. Separate all of your things and put them in a closet. Stop spending time at home with her. Basically move out of your shared space to make it clear that you will not "take her back" if she just manages to stay long enough. I also would feel like a terrible person if I was breaking up with someone and they had no place to go. I, like you, ended up in a semi-relationship because I was too "nice" to set firm boundaries. So it will be a challenge to break up with her without moving out, but if you just stop any interactions and shared space/belongings with her at home, she will quickly come to terms with the fact that yes, it really is over and yes, she needs to find a new place to live. I did this with a "friend" who was living with me temporarily, and "friend" found a new place to live and was out in 2 weeks. Good luck!
posted by DoubleLune at 5:00 AM on August 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


The thing is, she's never going to accept that a breakup is a good idea. You are acting unilaterally in this decision and you have to follow through with that. It will be really hard for her for a while, and you're just going to have to face it.

There are other options short of you "throwing her out" or you storming off and never speaking to her again. For example, you could move out of the shared flat in to your parent's home and continue to pay your half of the rent for the flat, with a deadline a few months along the road for her to find a new living situation. Presumably with your parents being your landlords you have quite a lot of room for negotiation and leniency compared to dealing with a private landlord or agency. If she can afford to rent half of a flat she can afford to rent a room in another shared living situation or become a lodger for a while til she's back on her feet.

This will suck and be painful and hard for both of you. But it is imperative you make the breakup final like NOW, and separate your living situations as soon as possible. If you wait for her to be stable and happy until you do the disentanglement... Well, you'll end up not breaking up at all, because it just won't happen.

Btw, threatening suicide is an abusive tactic and is not your fault. If you feel she is in legitimate danger, call an ambulance, but otherwise don't engage.
posted by mymbleth at 5:06 AM on August 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


Please don't do that thing that passive people sometimes do when they want to end a relationship, but don't want to take responsibility for that decision, where they string their partner along and treat them worse and worse in the hopes that they'll subtly force the other person into breaking up with them.

You aren't trapped in anything. You're an adult and you need to make a hard decision. All of this reads like you just want her and this relationship to magically disappear because you don't want to be seen as a bay guy for ending it. The kind and respectful thing to do here is to own your decision, make a plan to move out, clearly communicate your choice to her, leave and don't come back.
posted by scantee at 5:33 AM on August 4, 2016 [31 favorites]


Just accept that this break up is going to be messy and do it. As her ex your no longer responsible for her and as mentioned, if she contacts you and her well being seems to be at risk, call 911 or someone else.
posted by KernalM at 5:57 AM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


Something to check: what rights does she have as a tenant? Obviously you're planning to give her time to move out, but you probably want to check on how much time you are legally obligated to give her - if she has the right to sixty days, for instance, you don't want to give her a six week time line.
posted by Frowner at 6:18 AM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


Because it is your parents' place, it would probably be best that she, not you, is the one to move out. But --- like Frowner says --- check on the legal stuff first: did you sign a lease with your parents? Who is on it, just you or both you and her? If she is on it, then she probably has the right to stay until that lease expires. If she is not on it, then how much time are you obligated to give a tenant to move out?

On the personal side, stop sharing a bed and a life with her; until she does leave, reduce your interactions to nothing more than a roommate who shares space and utility bills with you. If she chooses to pack and walk out immediately, that's her business and none of yours: where she goes, where she lives, none of that is your problem. If the breakup hurts her feelings, that's hers to deal with, not yours. If she threatens suicide, call 911 and report it.

Right now she is using emotionally-abusive techniques on you; break it off once and for all. Breakups hurt, there's no way to make one totally painless: rip off the bandaid and move on.
posted by easily confused at 6:50 AM on August 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


I went through something very similar, once. What I eventually had to realize was that my staying in the dysfunctional relationship was causing ongoing trauma to both of us, whereas leaving—even though it was messy, even though I did it without her buy-in, even though she attacked me emotionally, even though she gave me guilt for abandoning her, etc.—was the only path toward ending the trauma for even one of us. Also, I realized that on some very basic level I had to look out for myself and my own health—physical, emotional, mental—because nobody else was going to do it and when it really came down to it, I needed to put my own critical, core needs above those of someone else. I was doing no good where I was.

It wasn't easy. It wasn't without conflict, both internal and external. But as soon as I knew I was gone and not coming back, I immediately felt much, much better. My head began to clear almost instantly—I knew I was in a bad place, but I had no idea how fogged I was—and right away I knew I had made the right choice. Not a perfect choice, but there were no perfect options available.

For what it's worth, I kept a very distant eye on her for a couple of years after the breakup, and from what I could tell she did fine. She eventually left the state and got a job doing something that I know it had long been her dream to do. She messaged me once on Facebook, a year or so later, with a sort of apology and an update and from what I could gather it sounded like she was in a much, much better place than where she was when we were together. So I think that at least in this one case, my actions freed her to take action for her own benefit, and in the end we were each able to do better alone than together. I can't even imagine how awful things would be now if we'd stayed together.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:20 AM on August 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


I strongly suggest you re-evaluate this:

Her biological mother is not particularly stable and she cannot turn to her.

This woman needs someone. I presume, since you mention her father lives out of town, that her mother lives in town. This is perfect because your ex desperately needs to keep showing up at her job. (IE, needs to stay in town.) You're right that taking care of someone who is suicidally depressed is too much to ask of all but the closest friends (and very temporarily at that). The police will not help. This woman needs family. Her mother is is town and is her mother.

Unless by "not particularly stable" you mean her mother is in jail, or is actively doing extremely harmful things in daily life, she is the best option.

I think you need to encourage your ex to go to her mother.
posted by stockpuppet at 7:27 AM on August 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


This question may be helpful to you, especially this answer.
posted by Melismata at 7:29 AM on August 4, 2016


As someone who stayed in a bad relationship for way too long because I was the one with means and I was worried about what would happen to him (and his dog, tbh) I have two words for you: Evict her.

Stop leaving your own house for this woman. The suicide threats, etc, are her way of abusively manipulating you into letting her stay around. Fuck her. She needs to go. Her trauma is going to be her own fault. She might need someone, but that someone sure as fuck shouldn't be you anymore.

Here is what you must do:
Find out if she has any tenants rights (did she sign a lease? is her name on any of the documentation that gives the two of you a right to be there?). To fully protect yourself, you may wish to consider talking to a lawyer in your jurisdiction who is aware of both tenants rights and family law issues (hopefully no actual family law stuff is implicated -- I'm thinking kids, common law marriage, etc). Get items of value to you to some place safe. Set up a "safe room" that you can retreat to and lock her out of.

Tell her, in no uncertain terms that your relationship is over and you want her out of your life. Inform her that every interaction that she has with you will be recorded, and set up a camera/cell phone to do so. Tell her how much time she has to be out of the house. Write all of this in a letter that you also hand to her.

If she has no tenants rights, and she's still around after the time period: call the cops to get her out, change the locks, pack her stuff and leave it on the lawn.

If she does have tenants rights, start whatever legal processes need to be started in your jurisdiction to get rid of her legally (you might want to start this before the GTFO conversation if stuff can happen behind the scenes that takes time).

If she threatens violence to you or herself, call the cops. Do everything that you can (without compromising your own safety or interacting with her physically in any way) to not leave the property. If she is actually violent to you, retreat but to not retaliate.

Here is what you can do, that would be a kindness if you can afford it fiscally and handle it emotionally:
Find her an apartment and pay for the first 3-6 months, pay for movers to take her stuff there.
Pay for a few weeks at a weekly-stay hotel, and for a few months of storage for her stuff.
Talk to her friends and family and try to find a place for her.

As you do these optional things, try to make sure that things are in her name as much as possible so that you won't get stuck with some kind of deposit/damage fee.
posted by sparklemotion at 7:36 AM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


Practically, I think you should do the Airbnb thing again. Tell her you are leaving for one month, and she needs to find another place to live. Go no-contact. Just do it.

And on how to deal with her emotional issues... Are you a trained mental health professional? No? Then you are not equipped to help her. And any clumsy attempts on your part are likely to make it worse. That's what I tell myself when I need to exit a troubled relationship. I have good, high self-esteem, but I need to understand that I'm not trained or experienced enough to help this person and my amateur attempts to do so IS NOT HELPING.
posted by raisingsand at 7:57 AM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


And just to add even more to a very long answer:

In rereading my comment, I realize that my distance from my own "troubles" lets me talk about them in a way that sounds very cold and clinical and forgets one important part: Doing these things that you need to do is hard. Crazy hard. Because you are not a bad person, but she is going to make you feel like a bad person for putting your needs before her wants. I consider myself a "strong" person and it almost broke me. And because you are the dude in this situation, and usually it's the dudes who are the abusive assholes, you're going to have people making assumptions about you that will hurt even more.

Part of why it's good to have a plan is because when it gets hard, you can remind yourself that you're just working the plan.

What's also good (and what I didn't have) is to have someone in your corner, who can help you work the plan, or who you can just go to to vent or cry or drink beers and punch things with. If you've got a friend or a relative nearby who you can keep in the loop about what's going on, I would do so. If knowing that you would have an internet stranger's ear would help, feel free to memail me.
posted by sparklemotion at 8:05 AM on August 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


As someone who was once, a long time ago before I knew how to care for my mental health, someone like your GF: she will be fine. Better, in fact. Not at first, of course-- this will ramp up all her anxieties and fears and sadness and it will be a crisis for her and yes, she may even consider or talk about considering suicide.

But you'll be amazed. She is an adult and will find a situation that works better for her. She will. You are not the key to her happiness. You can't be-- we cannot fix other people. And you don't want to be with her anymore, so don't string her along by saying one thing and doing another.

You clearly and finally and concretely ending the relationship is the necessary first step in her healing. It's the best thing for her. Otherwise she will be in denial and never have to fix what's wrong inside her.

If you can, as a decent ex partner and the person at the financial/practical advantage in this situation, help her find housing or even gift her some money, that would be kind and would probably help you feel you've done all you could.
posted by kapers at 8:50 AM on August 4, 2016 [16 favorites]


But I am desperate to avoid the alternatives - either escalating things to the point her family or even police are involved, which would obviously traumatise her, or with me just leaving the house with no future contact, which I feel could lead to serious depression as she has deep fears of abandonment.

I don't see where you've come to the conclusion that there is any way to leave this relationship without emotionally traumatizing your girlfriend. That is fine.

Currently there are two people who are in a traumatic situation that has no long term solution. Constant low-grade emotional turmoil is happening to both of you, in an ongoing way, and you've acknowledged there is no way to change this. In the interest of avoiding one event you feel will be very traumatic, you've made both your lives significantly worse with no end point in sight.

Rip off the band-aid. You'll both be better off, or at least you will. Whether she moves on and works on her own situation is not something you are culpable for. She hasn't gotten better with you, and it is not your responsibility to make sure she gets better without you.
posted by mikeh at 8:52 AM on August 4, 2016


You are not helping her. Your attempts to be kind are actually hurting her, because you are giving her endless excuses to not deal with her shit.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:32 AM on August 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


Please don't leave your home. She needs to be the one to go. If you do not do the hard stuff that has been mentioned up thread it could take you a very long time to get her out, and it will be very ugly.

It's hard, but you're going to have to be matter of fact about the whole thing and not get sucked into her fear and craziness. Her fear and craziness are why you want out of the relationship. Not wanting that doesn't make you a bad person or responsible for her in any way.

Please take care of yourself. Good luck.
posted by cairnoflore at 9:36 AM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


The script that ended the drama in my marriage and led to an amicable divorce was:

"I don't want to do this anymore. I am tired of hurting you and of being hurt. I think we both have it our best. If we could do this dance, we would have figured it out by now. I want a divorce."

I had stopped in the middle of our umpteenth screaming fight to quietly say that. I meant it. He was relieved and agreed. The divorce took a long time, a few years, in part because I was financially dependent and very ill.

However, I was the financially dependent emotional mess, not the breadwinner. But if you can convince her that letting her go is the only loving option left at this point, perhaps she will be more cooperative.

Regardless, others are correct: As long as you take responsibility for her material welfare, this will not end. You can give her some time to sort it out, but you need to specify an end date and then let her figure out how to handle it. Do not tell her where to turn. If she chooses to turn to her mother, that is fine. But do not suggest it. Let her go. Let her make her own decisions.

During my divorce, at one point, he was pressuring me to "Get a job, any job." when my job hunting was not going well. He was worried how I would eat and support our children. I said "OK. I will become a hooker. It is a job, any job." That succeeded in shutting him up, at which point I told him "We are getting divorced. My financial problems are not your business anymore. Your responsibility begins and ends with making sure I get my alimony and child support check on time and in full every month."

This was one of the best things I did.

Do not entangle yourself in her decisions about where to go, how to support herself, etc. If you are leaving her, it is no longer any of your business whatsoever. Shut up and butt the hell out about it.

In short, as suggested above, evict her. If possible, do it nicely and in a way that removes some of her emotional baggage. If that is not possible, do it anyway and, from this moment forward, butt the hell out of how she chooses to manage her life. If you are leaving, it is not your business. So stop interfering.
posted by Michele in California at 12:35 PM on August 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


Thank you so much for all your responses, its much appreciated.

Obviously if I was being objective, I would echo a lot of the sentiment here and say just man up and do it. But of course, when you love and care for someone things are much more unclear and difficult. I do realise that I cannot control the situation and she needs to know things are over concretely and whatever happens, happens.

So I have one more question. I plan to move some of my things to an Airbnb, but then come back to break up in person. Having done this once before I know she will say she wants to move out immediately and will demand that I help her do that - but I know that she will use this time for recrimination and very emotional attempts to guilt me back into the relationship. If I have explained as firmly but kindly that the relationship is over, do you think its then fair and respectful to her to just go and leave her to it?

Thanks again.
posted by Troubled Man at 3:00 AM on August 5, 2016


If I have explained as firmly but kindly that the relationship is over, do you think its then fair and respectful to her to just go and leave her to it?

What are your other options? To sit there while she yells at you and tries to guilt you into staying? You just need to cut the cord and end it. You tell her you'll be gone for x amount of days and within that time you expect her to move out. Then leave. Don't engage in any other discussion.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 6:24 AM on August 5, 2016 [5 favorites]


If I have explained as firmly but kindly that the relationship is over, do you think its then fair and respectful to her to just go and leave her to it?

Yes. Especially since when you have tried to end it before she hasn't respected your desires and bullied you into staying with her.

But I do think you really need to have a plan for what happens if she is not gone when you return.
posted by sparklemotion at 7:40 AM on August 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


At some point, I helped my husband move most of his crap to a storage unit. I did it to get it out of my apartment as efficiently as possible. He was not giving me hell every minute, but I was quite ill and had to lay down between trips.

If you think rolling up your sleeves and helping her move will expedite the process, go for it. If you think it won't make a bit of difference and is just a bull shit excuse to give you hell, nope out of it.

Her fee fees be damned. That is not really important. Feelings come from somewhere. Handling this in the least toxic way possible will be better for both of you. Giving someone the opportunity to be an abusive asshat does not make their life better. It just helps entrench bad habits.

It might help to think of it as protecting her from ghosts from the past that still haunt her. Just say no to toxic bullshit. That not only protects you, it reduces the toxicity in her life.
posted by Michele in California at 10:09 AM on August 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


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