Healthy break-up without needing to “win”?
September 24, 2019 10:11 AM   Subscribe

I’m in a probably codependent relationship with a person who I love intensely, feel incredibly warmly about, and get along with, but cannot make it work due to baggage and alcohol. We need to split, but keep bouncing back, partly because we each need to feel like we “won” at the breakup. How can we break this cycle and move on?

I love this person deeply and we are highly compatible on one level: amazing sex, same taste in music and food and cars and fun and movies and books; and we both just viscerally want the other. But we also have horrible verbal fights and there has been boundary pushing like going to her house uninvited (on my part) and mild violence (on her part), both when under the influence. We’re both around 40 and both professionals and both dealing with alcohol use disorder.

One of us will try to leave, but then see the other with someone else or on bumble or etc, get jealous and lonely feeling, and beg the other back. And we each have our pride and want to feel like we’re the one that did the leaving.

How can we break the cycle and set each other free? I know there’s no one answer but I hope this is an answerable Ask at least in part. Books, links to descriptors of the phenomenon, etc.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
You’re not a “we.”

You are yourself, an I, and you break the cycle by ending it and going no contact.

The we in your question is the critical piece.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:16 AM on September 24, 2019 [25 favorites]


And we each have our pride and want to feel like we’re the one that did the leaving.

If you see this, then swallow your pride and let them "win," if you can. Go no-contact, and take some time off from dating altogether. I don't feel like you need a book on this one, just make the decision and stick to it.
posted by jzb at 10:18 AM on September 24, 2019 [7 favorites]


But we also have horrible verbal fights and there has been boundary pushing like going to her house uninvited (on my part) and mild violence (on her part), both when under the influence. We’re both around 40 and both professionals and both dealing with alcohol use disorder.

Are either or both of you sober now? Have you ever been together while both of you were sober?

If this relationship is intertwined with your relationships with alcohol, then you may need to go no-contact in order to get or stay sober. Don't use your love for this person as an excuse to keep drinking. Don't stay in their life if your presence puts pressure on them to keep drinking.
posted by rue72 at 10:25 AM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


You seem to get that alcohol is a significant part of the problem here. Work on that part. Try some meetings. Get support from friends / support groups. Once you're committed to being sober, this relationship will not be so appealing.

ETA: Your relationship is not healthy. Aiming for a healthy breakup is not reasonable. Just stop seeing her.
posted by momus_window at 10:26 AM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


This article on abuse and trauma bonding might seem extreme but it sounds like you are both getting off on the cycle of love - hate - fight - reconciliation or something close to it, it's highly addictive.

I had an on and off relationship where we had great chemistry but would have terrible fights and were not compatible in a stable way. I remember the euphoria of rekindling things with him, but then not a few days/weeks later we'd be in the midst of a terrible conflict and the cycle would repeat. No contact is what worked for us, we each needed to recognize that we were not healthy together and cut each other out of our lives but you can make that decision unilaterally too. No regrets except how much time I wasted in that cycle instead of cultivating friendships, hobbies, etc. The highs were not worth the lows and wasted energy, you know?
posted by lafemma at 10:29 AM on September 24, 2019 [2 favorites]


I love this person deeply and we are highly compatible on one level: amazing sex, same taste in music and food and cars and fun and movies and books; and we both just viscerally want the other.

I mean...this might be worth fighting for, actually, if you can both get on board with sobriety + counseling. It's a big "if," and you'd both have to do some hard work. But what you describe doesn't sound unsolvable to me. Would you both be willing to try a month sober and see what happens? If nothing else, it would save you some money and you'd probably get some good sleep.

But there are also a lot of problems that, yeah, you would do well to just walk away from.

Either way: A book that has helped me during a hard breakup, and then helped me again while I was forming my relationship with my spouse, is How to Be an Adult in Relationships. It's highlighted and marked and dog-eared to hell. I consider it an essential tool.
posted by witchen at 10:38 AM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


I read a couple of really great pieces in a recent Psychology Today about break-ups that don't stick and how to have a good break-up. The Endless Breakup is online, and at the end, there's a section called "The Good End" that's also quite useful.

Now, some things I've gleaned from books recommended right here at AskMe:

In the book Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment, the authors write that for some folks, you can't really stick the end and keep to it until you believe deep in your core that the other person won't change, and that it will never work. That resonated with me because I once had a relationship that was on and off for way too long because I believed so deeply in my (ex) partner's words rather than their actions and how we behaved together.

Also, you might read Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay. It's an incredibly healthy approach to thinking through relationships where we feel ambivalent. She does write a bit about power and "winning" in relationships.

No one wins with a breakup. I think you know that. I don't think you want to win the break up. I think you all care deeply about each other and you're not really letting go. Maybe you're addicted to the drama and the roller coaster? The book Attached speaks to this dynamic quite well.

Good luck.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:40 AM on September 24, 2019


same taste in music and food and cars and fun and movies and books

What are "things that keep people stuck in terrible relationships until they reach a horrific breaking point because these things are not subsitutes for love and kindness and respect?"

Try going to a Co-Dependents Anonymous meeting. I went to one, once. I was the youngest person there. Seeing people near to twice my age struggling with the things that were fucking my life up at the time seems to have scared me straight.
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:44 AM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


Sorry but having the same tastes in things like music and movies is not what a strong relationship is built on. You need shared values, respect for each other and the ability to go through life supporting each other without these high conflict situations popping up all the time.
posted by thereader at 11:56 AM on September 24, 2019 [6 favorites]


You already know that this is over and that you're not right for one another despite having chemistry and common interests. That's a very good place to be, especially since you've also realized that you both are driven to "win" the breakup for ego reasons. Recognizing this gives you an advantage.

There's no better way to get through this stage of the breakup than to go no contact for a minimum of 6 months. You can revisit being friends later down the line, but don't get into that until you're completely over this and have had relationships after her. Do you have an ex that you don't feel any sexual energy with but who is still someone you like as a person? Wait until you feel that way about her to be friends. Don't follow her on social media and don't get into drunk texting or whatever. Let her know that you're doing this and that you just need space. Then, stick to it. Write down the reasons why you're breaking up if you need a refresher when you get caught up in the illusion that you want something that you clearly don't want.

Take some time to go to meetings and/or therapy. Move forward. Don't get caught in this whirlpool. There's no easy fix. It just takes time and no contact.
posted by quince at 12:28 PM on September 24, 2019


you can't really stick the end and keep to it until you believe deep in your core that the other person won't change

Very true for me. Stopping drinking also helped. It made it nearly impossible to get wrapped up in his nonsense. I do still have the feeling that I didn’t win, which I hate, but put that alongside how much happier and more stable I am, and I can live with it.
posted by sallybrown at 12:52 PM on September 24, 2019


I don't know if this is the noblest way to answer, but... I always felt like the person who actually goes no contact is the one who "wins," to the extent that there's a winner. I mean the one who calls up the other and begs is the one who loses, no? Loses dignity at least.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:22 PM on September 24, 2019 [6 favorites]


I don't generally recommend this, but going to AA (if that's something you feel you could tolerate) might be great for you. Your sponsor can help you stay strong in going no-contact. Not dating while in the program is a major part of AA, at least for the first year.

Because healing from both your drinking problem and your toxic relationship pattern is what is needed.

This is something you do on your own, for you. There is no 'we' in overcoming dependency, whether it be substances or relationships.

Best of luck. I was in a co-dependent relationship with an alcoholic for many years and I know how hard this is. But I promise you it will be worth the challenge in the end.
posted by ananci at 1:28 PM on September 24, 2019


As everyone said, the answer is to go no contact. And to piggyback off a previous comment, did you break up with them in the hope that it would compel them to address their issues so you could then get back together? If so that would explain why it’s not a proper breakup, you just wanted to scare them into changing.

For it to be a proper breakup you need to be completely done with it and them mentally and know that you are never getting back together (cue TayTay). Then you block and move on.

(Then there is the school of thought that the first person in a new relationship wins but I’ll assume that you’re not 15 years old and will use your alone time to address any issues you have and heal which may take time, for some people, years.) Best of luck.
posted by Jubey at 4:40 PM on September 24, 2019


I cannot favourite thereader's comment enough. You can find other people to have good sex with who have similar interests as you, and some of them you could ALSO build a healthy and happy relationship with. As you're aware, you're in a toxic cycle.

Everyone has the right of it above. You need to go no contact with your breakup, and stick to it. That will be easier if you don't look for any info about them, delete them on any social media, stay away from online and rl places they frequent, etc.

Make a list (like an actual list) of distractions that you can do if you feel the urge to contact them. Examples might be a hobby, a TV show you're currently watching/want to watch, going for a walk or run, calling a friend, cooking a big meal, going for a coffee, etc- whatever is your thing. Then when you feel lonely, or like you need to call them, look at the list and pick something. If you can get into something new (video game, hobby, TV show) that's engrossing, all the better.

Sadly there's no magic fix, the solution really is just to find ways to live your life for awhile that help you meet your goal of no contact. I would honestly stay no contact for a year given your pattern or until you feel the connection break. If you are still thinking about them and missing them, then it's too soon. It only gets easier with a lot of time. Also, I agree with fingersandtoes that successfully not contacting them is the way to "win", so if that's helpful for you to stay strong focus on that!
posted by DTMFA at 6:05 PM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


boundary pushing like going to her house uninvited (on my part) and mild violence (on her part), both when under the influence.

one wonders if the mild violence occurred in direct connection with your attempt to enter her home uninvited, but no matter. maybe it didn't.

As has been so well said, you have the absolute power to break up healthily right now, or tomorrow if right now's not good for you. The "how" is you stop calling her and you keep your doors locked. the end. but if you don't want to do that, and you keep on not wanting to do that, the cops and the courts will take care of it for you.

I understand that your enjoyment of the mutuality of the situation extends to enjoying the symmetry, as you see it, of the "boundary pushing," but if you choose to continue, the person who "wins the breakup" will be the first one to call for outside help to get protection against what are literal crimes.

do not count on your counterpart continuing to feel the same jolly co-dependent spirit about stalking, breaking and entering, battery, etc. I don't know that anything you've done has reached that level yet, but it's certainly going to unless you take the simple step of breaking up with her. and you are going to find out that you are dead wrong about how similar the two of you are, and dead wrong about your apparent belief that the both of you both take this escalation equally seriously or equally unseriously.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:37 PM on September 24, 2019 [4 favorites]


You define the winner as the person who leaves and doesn’t get sucked back in. That’s the hard part after all.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:36 AM on September 25, 2019 [2 favorites]


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