logistics of breaking up with emotionally unstable live-in SO
January 23, 2017 3:23 PM   Subscribe

I have reached a point in my relationship where I believe it is in my best interests to break it off. I love my girlfriend and there are many ways in which this relationship has been good for me, but there are patterns in how we interact that indicate this is not sustainable as a long-term partnership. There are some ethical and logistical considerations that I am not sure how to handle and I would appreciate some outside perspectives and advice.

My girlfriend and I have been together for about a year and a half and have lived together for a little less than a year. We have had a lot of really good experiences together, met each other's families, and supported each other through some difficult times. Over the last several months it has unfortunately become clear to me that in addition to differences in interests, values, and long-term goals that might be dealbreakers by themselves, she has mental health challenges (partly innate, partly a result of traumatic experiences) that cause behaviors I do not feel able to live with. Her history includes at least one nervous breakdown with episodes of psychosis, and she is in general not very emotionally stable and lacks a consistent and reliable narrative of her experience and state of mind.

She is very attached to me (does not like it when I leave her alone for long, sometimes even if I'm just in a different room), says she loves me and views me as a life partner, and is in many ways very thoughtful and caring. She is also prone to a pattern of idealization and devaluation, the latter part manifesting in hours-long episodes of rage where she deflects blame onto me for her own actions or for events I had little to do with, accuses me of dishonesty or desires that are or harmful towards her, and lists off all the ways in which I am a selfish, neglectful, and generally terrible partner. Sometimes there is a grain of truth in what she says, sometimes her accusations are completely divorced from reality.

This abusive behavior has damaged my trust in her and left me feeling emotionally unsafe in my own home. I need to end this relationship. It is certain that she will be very hurt and angry with me and will not be calm or coherent in trying to figure out how we should detach from each other. It is possible that she will act self-destructively—also possible, if less likely, that she will be vindictive or destructive towards me or my belongings if she feels that I have wronged her (she has never made me feel physically unsafe though). She has said that if we were to break up I would simply never hear from her again, but unfortunately that isn't the worst possible outcome here. I want to be as kind to her as I can in ending this while still protecting myself. I don't have any previous experience with a situation (or a person) like this.

Logistical challenges:
  • We live in my apartment. She is not on the lease and all the utilities, etc are in my name as well. She does (unofficially) contribute to rent and household expenses like groceries.
  • Our locale has a notoriously challenging rental housing market. She has lower income and (much) worse credit than I do so it may be difficult for her to find a new place to live (albeit she has successfully done so in the past). She does have some friends she could probably stay with for a while.
  • For maximum paranoia let's assume that she knows my birthday, social security number, mother's maiden name, bank account numbers, and other sensitive personal data, has made extra copies of keys to our building and apartment, and has a cache of naked pictures of me. We don't have any financial accounts together, I do not share my computer or passwords, and I am somewhat cautious about data security (encrypted hard drive, obfuscated answers to security questions, 2FA where available, etc.).
  • She recently sustained an injury that will require another two months at minimum to fully heal. She is able to work and do normal daily activities but should not be doing anything strenuous that would slow healing or cause additional injury.
What are my ethical obligations to her? How do I give her time and space to figure out what she wants to do, while retaining secure enjoyment of my home? I am willing to help pay for hiring movers and perhaps for some or all of the deposit on her next place... should I? What about the issue of her injury and healing? Recognizing that her mental health is not my responsibility, who can I recruit if necessary to support her (and me) in a crisis? I don't know any of her local friends very well and I am extremely reluctant to involve her family.

In my previous relationships I was always the one to move out and those breakups were largely amicable. How does this work when that won't be the case?
posted by un bel di vedremo to Human Relations (16 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I've been here. It is so difficult. Good for you for asking this question, it is step one of many.

In my situation, I decided to give him the house we shared. I realized I would never feel safe knowing that he knew where I lived and would probably have keys. I could have changed the locks, but changing the locks didn't feel like it would be enough. I knew that he would sit outside waiting for me if he knew where I lived, if I somehow successfully got him to leave the shared house. This was the best place I have ever lived and leaving was awful, by the way - low rent, had just been fully renovated, amazing location... but leaving it to him was the best thing I could do. You may want to ask your landlord about transferring the lease over to someone before your term is over, just informatonally, to see if this could be done.

I didn't do this for ethical reasons really, although I had his best interests much more in mind than I had my own. I did it because I would never have felt truly done if I lived in our shared home. He would be a ghost in my life, I would have been constantly wondering if today was the day that he would snap and show up at my door.

Here's the thing. You want to be as kind as you can to her but she is not going to extend that back to you. Therefore, you have to be extra kind to yourself. She is not going to be calm or coherent, she will not be kind or fair or caring about this. You need to have a very clear plan and you need to just put it into motion. It's a lot easier for you to leave the house than it is to get her to leave.

It is very admirable that you care about her mental and physical health. I had these worries too. First off, I told a few trusted mutual friends about what was happening so that they could support us both. None of our friends supported him, for what it's worth, because he had been such a horror to me. I also talked to his parents, because I was worried that he was a suicide risk. This did nothing but make them think that I was the bad guy, and I'm not sure I'd advise it, especially since you say they're not close. Finally, I came to terms with the fact that he had problems and they were not mine to solve. It was not my job to find him support. He had abused me and in this situation he could find his own damn support. I needed to take care of me for once.

I would like to gently suggest that your moral obligations in this specific situation are only to yourself. You owe it to yourself to take care of yourself and to get yourself into a healthier environment as quickly as you can. She will figure her shit out. If she doesn't, and something horrible occurs, it is not your fault. She is an adult. She can decide how to handle the breakup. You can't control her reactions, you can only take care of yourself.

Oh, do you have a therapist? My therapist was vital in helping me plan my exit as smoothly as possible. You may also want to contact a domestic violence shelter. Abuse is abuse and they can help you come up with a safety plan for removing yourself.

Take care.

Ps, change all your passwords.
posted by sockermom at 4:03 PM on January 23, 2017 [14 favorites]

I want to be as kind to her as I can in ending this while still protecting myself.

You will probably have to choose one or the other.

I don't have any previous experience with a situation (or a person) like this.

I have and you are more than welcome to memail me about it.
posted by prize bull octorok at 4:04 PM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

For the financial stuff, call your bank and find out what they can do to protect you. They could put a flag on your account or a credit freeze or something like that. You could change your bank account numbers. Maybe even have bank paperwork sent to a PO Box just in case?
posted by radioamy at 4:14 PM on January 23, 2017 [6 favorites]

What are my ethical obligations to her?

Tell her in advance. It's a toughie, but if you've already been over the possibility of breaking up, and if she says she'd just leave you alone, I'd just be honest. It'll suck, but I think the kindest way would be to tell her in advance. Help her move her shit to someone else's place (a friend). I'd be kind, because you have shared a lot and because it will de-escalate the situation. Or you could move (which would suck, but effectively end things without the need for cooperation - cause she can get a roommate, no?). Then afterwards block everything and be clear and firm on it being over. These kinds of relationships have the tendency to go back and forth between being on and off - the ending is dependent on you. Obviously, if you think she could blackmail or physically harm you, NONE of this applies.
posted by benadryl at 4:55 PM on January 23, 2017

It sounds like she's been living in the apartment long enough to establish tenancy, regardless of who is on the lease. So be aware that you may not be able to force her out.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 5:09 PM on January 23, 2017 [4 favorites]

Open a PO Box and put a forwarding order on your mail immediately. The reason I say this is that it's almost time for you to be getting your W2s and other tax forms in the mail. You don't want those hanging around as hostages, either to be destroyed or to be used for tax refund fraud.
posted by praemunire at 8:58 PM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

These nude photos... where are they? Are they physical on-paper photos? On a phone? On a laptop?
Abuse partner + your leaving her + her having nude photos of you
does not bode well for them staying private. Is there a way they could be quietly deleted prior to the breakup?
posted by blueberry at 11:06 PM on January 23, 2017

This may be out of left field, but I really recognize myself and my partner in this question. it is really really subtle and easy to miss, but to me it is as glaring as a 50 foot billboard. The only clues are the absolute authority in your voice which plainly defines reality, the condescenion towards her (she has 'innate' mental health problems, ie. she's fundamentally crazy), the fact that somehow she's wound up dependent on you for shelter and living expenses (ie. you have all the control and power here) and the little crack of acknowledgement that really what she complains about is how you're treating her. Spolier alert, I emotionally abused my partner and her 'instability' and 'craziness' were defensive reactions to the gradual loss of control of her own life and of her own reality as I escalatd the manipulation and intimidation and told her she was crazy. Hell, what do I know, I'm not you and I can only see what's here and what's between the lines, but dude, I smell a rat. Am I wrong?

The thing that she needs the most is control over her life. you have to cede power to her. take what steps and precautions you need to to protect yourself if you feel she really might lash out, but do not decide what happens to her. she is more resilient and capable than you think. the kindest thing would be to own up to your beliefs about her snd validate the fsct that she's not crazy. if you are not willing to do that, at least treat her as a human being and take her at her word that she would disapoear, rather than treating her as if she's some psycho you need to guard yourself against. and let her have her righteous, justified anger when you pull the rug out from under her. don't be a coward and run from it. tell her the truth, that you believe she's funamdentally broken and crazy; it will be immensely valuable for her to hear you say it, instesd of denying it by saying you love her and you would be happy if she was less unstable (ie. more compliant). offer to help with expenses, offer to move out for a while, sure, but recognize this is her life, you cannot give her time and space, because they are not yours to give. you can only not take them. forcing an outcome or a deadline is taking.

good luck. please be brutally honest. do not pin this on her. own your emotions and beliefs.
posted by anybodys at 11:12 PM on January 23, 2017 [11 favorites]

You'll notice at this point you don't have a lot of answers for a normal relationship AskMe.

I noticed a lot of your narrative sounded like code for, "This person was more sensitive than me and I didn't listen, even though we share a home. Her distress is incongruent with my communication style. Get me out of this!"

Be direct and kind. Nothing you wrote indicates she will "come after you" unless you left a lot out. It just sounds like your basic incompatibly with each other triggers her trauma/PTSD.

Be straight, honest, and kind. Sure take normal measures to protect your personal information and such. Just understand you are contributing to her negative reactions. So be different as you end things.

Your soon to be ex may be psycho, we don't know. I do know that treating 99.9% of folks with dignity tends to diffuse most scary situations. Even if it's an act and you take precautions.
posted by jbenben at 1:16 AM on January 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

The only clues are the absolute authority in your voice which plainly defines reality, the condescenion towards her (she has 'innate' mental health problems, ie. she's fundamentally crazy), the fact that somehow she's wound up dependent on you for shelter and living expenses (ie. you have all the control and power here) and the little crack of acknowledgement that really what she complains about is how you're treating her.

Quoted for Truth.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 6:45 AM on January 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

The only clues are the absolute authority in your voice which plainly defines reality, the condescension towards her (she has 'innate' mental health problems, ie. she's fundamentally crazy), the fact that somehow she's wound up dependent on you for shelter and living expenses (ie. you have all the control and power here) and the little crack of acknowledgement that really what she complains about is how you're treating her.

I am really troubled by these insinuations. I have acted similarly to OPs SO and his description of her behavior isn't particularly incredulous to me. During my worst times when I was very mentally ill I was a co-dependent clingy abusive mess. I deflected a lot of my issues onto my SO and was a total nightmare to live with. I can only go by what he has said, but I have dated men who manipulated and used my mental illness against me and they didn't sound like this.

do not pin this on her. own your emotions and beliefs.

As far as I can see he's a victim of emotional abuse, a victim. Please do not tell a victim of abuse to own their emotions and beliefs. If she is abusing him, it is on her.

OP I'm sorry you're going through this. Reading this resonated with me a lot. I'm not this kind of person anymore but my own innate mental health issues and previous trauma made me a very unstable person at times in my life. You are not obligated to figure things out for her, especially before figuring things out for yourself.
The way she deals with it and what happens to her after you break up, is not something you can control or should focus on. It doesn't make you a bad person to leave a bad situation behind. I know it's really difficult but please remember that. I think people above have given very good practical advice, I just don't want you to feel attacked.
posted by shesbenevolent at 8:51 AM on January 24, 2017 [11 favorites]

And please do not tell her you think she's fundamentally broken and crazy and do not feel like a coward. You are not pulling the rug out from under her, you have an obligation to yourself.
posted by shesbenevolent at 8:53 AM on January 24, 2017 [6 favorites]

If I had written this question a few years ago before the cracks began to show in my armour, I assure you it would have looked just like this post. But of course there is room for differing interpretations and we cant really know what's going on.

shesbenevolent, would you agree that maximizing her amount of control in this situation is a good approach, regardless? my experience tells me that mental illness tends to get worse when control is taken away. so regardless of who's hurting who I think more control for her is the best chance at a good outcome.
posted by anybodys at 10:32 AM on January 24, 2017

I do think mental illness tends to get worse when control is taken away but OP does have to put himself first. It sounds like a cliche but it's true, "don't set yourself on fire to keep someone else warm". I feel for the SO I really do, as I said, I've been her.
OP you can do your best to make this as easy for her as possible but do make sure you're covering yourself in ways people above have advised. She is going to be hurt, that's a reality of break ups. Do your best to minimize it but don't put yourself in a situation that will hurt you. One of the hardest things you're going to have to deal with is guilt over hurting her. Make sure you have people around you to emotionally support you.
posted by shesbenevolent at 10:39 AM on January 24, 2017

Response by poster: Just FYI, I am also female—this is a lesbian relationship. That doesn't affect the logistical questions but I know (having been on the receiving end of it myself) that one of the manifestations of sexism is the way women's emotional experiences and responses are dismissed as inherently "crazy" or "psycho" where men's are privileged as inherently rational, and I'm not a guy doing the "haha girls are all crazy imirite?" thing here.

I speak with a certain amount of authority about mental health and mental illness because I have direct personal experience with it. Like my girlfriend, I have an innate mental illness that runs in my family and also some history of trauma. I most definitely do not view my girlfriend as "fundamentally broken and crazy" any more than I view myself that way. I do not make that kind of judgements about people and would never tell her that's how I "really feel about her" because that isn't how I really feel about her. That said, my mental health has certainly affected my relationships over the years and, at times, manifested in behaviors that were really difficult for my partners to deal with. Mental illness does affect interpersonal interactions and recognizing that is not the same as abdicating responsibility for my own behavior.

No matter the source, I have reached the point where some of the ways she interacts with me make me feel nervous and emotionally battered and my repeated attempts to resolve this with her have failed. I love her and feel a lot of compassion for her. I am also allowed to make a choice about what is tolerable to me; in the past I might have felt obligated to put up with this, to "set myself on fire to keep someone else warm" as shesbenevolent said, but I no longer do.

My girlfriend is not dependent on me for living expenses and I don't want her to be. She has her own sources of income. The fact that I have relatively more power with respect to housing specifically (albeit in a way that also makes me solely responsible for it) makes me kind of uncomfortable and that's why I am asking about my ethical obligations there.

Thanks everyone for your responses so far. It's interesting to see how widely they range. It's also been a good reminder that I do have resources myself (including local friends and family) if I need support.
posted by un bel di vedremo at 4:08 PM on January 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Is she in treatment? Treatment would be good. I suggest being gentle and present her with a choice to remain until x time. Offer to remain available in some capacity as a friend after the separation (if you feel comfortable doing so) so that the news doesn't trigger the intensity it would if you were pulling all the emotional support away at once. Even if you end up doing a slow fade.

Brace yourself for the possibility that she will threaten self-harm. It is up to you how you will handle that but there is no shame in refusing to take the bait and calling emergency personnel to respond if needed.

Her rage attacks sound like they come from someone who feels out of control and disempowered so it doesn't read to me like you need to worry that she would go nuclear on you to destroy your life. You know her. Is she vindictive? If she has said she would quietly disappear I think that is your answer. Her rages might be efforts to process attachment needs and trauma and if you are unavailable to do that (through a breakup) then she probably knows pretty well how she will respond to that.

You do not have an ethical obligation to give her time, but it might be kind.

In the meantime, respond to the FEELINGS she is sharing with you not the content of her communication. Also peruse this site for suggestions in communication with high conflict personalities. Even if she has difficulties separate from the relationship there are things you might be doing that may add fuel to the fire such as being invalidating. Reading about these things might help you navigate the breakup more effectively in offering some tools for deescalation.

And she really needs therapy.
posted by crunchy potato at 8:21 PM on January 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

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