The Aftermath of Leaving a Good Relationship
August 3, 2021 12:52 PM   Subscribe

I just left my long term mostly good relationship and I feel like I just jumped off a cliff and am in free fall. I think deep down I know it is what I needed to do, but it's not a simple situation and it hurts and I'm seeking guidance from others who've done the same.

It was not a bad relationship, but throughout the years, I'd occasionally get this nagging feeling whether this was enough, or right, or if I loved him enough. Sometimes I'd look at him and just wonder if I should be feeling more, or sometimes I'd look at him and really try to feel more. Gradually I could tell I wasn't putting in as much as he was, and started to feel more disconnected. I think I mentioned things here or there but he didn't realize the extent of it, so it all came out of the blue for him.

I can point to things that he'd done that I'd lost patience for or have issues with, but it all seems besides the point, and that if I'd loved him enough in my core then I'd have the intent to work through these, but it just doesn't feel that way anymore. It's still difficult for me to articulate the core of what wasn't there for me, other than just a feeling. We got along really well and it was easy being together, which is why it lasted eight years. Part of it was a lack of sexual attraction, even though he's an attractive guy and the sex we have feels good, which is all the more confusing for me. Part of it could be the dynamic we fell into, where he "took care" of me and was overly affectionate when I was feeling disconnected, and wondering if we're just mismatched in what we need from our partners. Part of me feels like perhaps i should have dragged it out longer just to be sure, but I can't shake the feeling that I'm just wasting everyone's time, if there's something that's been missing for me at the core. We had a few therapy sessions and I just felt emotionally checked out.

It all feels cloudy. I've read many posts and articles about leaving a good relationship, but I'd love to hear from folks about the aftermath, and dealing with the guilt and the pain of leaving a person you still deeply care about and have hurt. Thank you.
posted by monologish to Human Relations (11 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
You may enjoy this: "Wanting to Leave is Enough", as well as associated recent MeFi post.
posted by hepta at 1:06 PM on August 3, 2021 [3 favorites]

I don't have the experience of a single 8 year long relationship like this, but I do have aggregate 8+ years' experience in relationships like this. I get bored faster than you do, I guess.

You've definitely done the right thing for both yourself and your ex. You are now both free to move on to relationships, or honestly just single life, that is more independently fulfilling. You were in a relationship with someone you weren't 100% into, he was in a relationship with someone who wasn't 100% into him. That sucks for you both. And that's not a judgement call--that's a thing that happens! And it's ok! Far too many people ignore it and then get divorced and it's a huge big mess.

Someone who you deeply care about but aren't sexually attracted to is a friend. You don't have to date friends just because they're hurt if you don't.

You'll be all right.
posted by phunniemee at 1:25 PM on August 3, 2021 [3 favorites]

First I want to congratulate you on taking a very brave, hard step by ending this relationship. I know you're probably feeling unsure about your decision right now, but I have no doubt that if you felt the way you describe that it was the right choice to end it.

I was with a man for about four years and felt the same way you did. It was an agonizing process to separate, and probably only happened when it did because life circumstances precipitated geographical moves for us in different directions. I did feel guilt after separating. It was hard on my ex, who had been more attached to the relationship and clearly mourned it more deeply than I did. He sent me a few sad letters, which set me off into spirals of guilt and anger. But I also felt immense relief. It was joyful to experience the freedom I'd so long ached for. What helped a lot for me was to throw myself into a very different life. I was in a new city with a new job, meeting new people. This might not be possible for you to the same degree, but I'd recommend introducing as much novelty to your life as possible right now. Take a class, move or redecorate your living space, make new friends, learn new things. This is helpful after any breakup, but I think in this situation it will help you realize the expansiveness of your freedom.

In the years since, I've come to realize more about what didn't work in that relationship. From inside, I could only see it as a fundamentally good thing I was ruining with my own rumination. But outside, I see what was missing, what didn't fit, and what was actively harmful. Be prepared for these realizations to unfold in the coming months and years. It's possible that some of your guilt may be assuaged as you're able to look at the relationship with more clarity. It might be helpful to spend some time with a therapist unpicking what was wrong with your relationship, why you stayed, and why you left.

For what it's worth, I did find love again and I haven't had those kinds of doubts with subsequent partners. I had feared that deep ambivalence was somehow baked into my experience of love, and that it would always be with me no matter the person. That was a fallacy. I'm now happily partnered. When I lived with my ex, I'd pause at our front door and take a breath to settle my unease as I came home. Now when I'm out I get antsy to see my partner again, to feel the ease I always feel with him.

And my ex found love too. I know this because his new partner posts many photos of them together, and of him with her two children, with glowingly affectionate captions. It makes me so, so happy that he's found a love I couldn't give him. It would have been cruel of me to hold onto him when he had could have been in that loving family. I hope someday you get a chance to see how good this decision was, not just for you but for your ex and the person or people who will love him.
posted by rabbitbookworm at 1:40 PM on August 3, 2021 [22 favorites]

Here's the thing: you did the right thing, because otherwise you wouldn't have done it. In the immediate term it will make your life harder, lonelier, and more uncertain. People don't do that just for fun. They do it because they have to, even if they can't necessarily articulate why.

So, don't second-guess yourself. I mean, you will, but just... know that you were right to do what you did. But also, I would prepare for a turbulent near future. Everyone I know who left an okay-but-not relationship, including me, was an absolute nightmare for at least a full year—I think of it as second adolescence. It's like going through grief and puberty at the same time, and it's okay to be more of a mess than usual. Be patient with yourself and ask your friends to be patient with you. You may find that the makeup of your friend group changes; I made some new friends who were really only good matches for my temporarily teenage self, and also leaned too hard on some friends and then became embarrassed and had to back off. And some friends got sick of my shit. Still, I'm glad I made a conscious effort not to hide what I was going through, after many years of not trusting my own feelings or allowing them to take up space.

You did the right and difficult thing both for yourself and for your ex, who deserves to be with someone who's excited about them. (That was a big factor for me—I felt horribly guilty about leaving but I realized I should have felt equally guilty about staying, and at least this way I was making both of our unhappiness acute and temporary instead of indefinite.) But it's not going to feel that way right away, and making space for feeling like shit (and ideally getting a good support network into place, even if that network changes over time) might be more effective than trying to not feel like shit. I promise you will NOT feel like shit 100% of the time!
posted by babelfish at 1:56 PM on August 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

I also did this. I guess the one thing I'd suggest considering is whether you feel depressed—looking back, I know that I was, and I think I would have felt completely different about the relationship if I was feeling better in general. That doesn't mean it was terrible to end things, but I think it could have gone differently.
posted by pinochiette at 3:58 PM on August 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

Not saying this is the case for you, but perhaps worth considering: I had no idea why I was so reluctant to see a future with my wonderful and attractive boyfriend of several years. There was no reason, I just didn’t feel it and I had no idea why and it really sucked and breaking up with him was awful.

Turns out I’m gay. YMMV.
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:17 PM on August 3, 2021 [9 favorites]

There's no really great way to deal with the guilt and the pain. They're appropriate feelings, honestly, for having hurt someone and for having lost someone who was a huge part of your life. You just have to sit with them. Write them out, when they get overwhelming, or hash them out with a therapist or a good/best friend.

If you live with the feelings and sit with them and don't try to make them go away by distracting yourself from them or acting on them, two things will happen: you will get more clarity on whether your decision was the right one, and you will increasingly feel like you are in touch with your feelings. Right now it sounds like you're kind of switched off from yourself as much as you were from your partner.

I mean, it sucks. It sucks so hard. I am more than a year out and only recently got to a point where I'm not crying almost every day. And I was the one who wanted to break up! I was the first of us to move on and start seeing someone. But even so, until a few weeks ago there would be at least 5 or 10 minutes a day, every single day, when the loss --the loss I asked for-- was just too much for me to keep in. Free fall is a good way to put it. I didn't even feel like I lived in my body, right after the breakup. I didn't feel like life was real. But nowadays I mostly feel real again. Sad, a bit regretful, but real.

One other thing about right or wrong decisions: life is long. When I first left my ex, a friend of mine who has an enviable marriage told me that actually, she and her husband separated only two years after their wedding. They were separated for five years. And then they patched it up. The man I'm seeing now is someone I met and rejected 20 years ago. Life is long, and a lot of things that seem final aren't. Your future and your ex's futures aren't written. Maybe in 5 years you are the best woman in his wedding. Maybe in 5 years you're the bride. Maybe in 5 years you're like, what was that guy's middle name again? You just can't know. Just got to keep goin, trying to be kind and stay true to yourself, and whatever unfolds, unfolds.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 7:23 PM on August 3, 2021 [10 favorites]

This is the time to think about the relationship that will satisfy you and what you truly want. It might not be another relationship but I suspect you will have a level of grief for the time you might feel you've given up on order to be worked on. White Knights and supermen don't exist and when a partner makes it their goal to save their partner, the victim is equity. So don't grieve, you both are
hopefully going to be better out of this.
posted by parmanparman at 4:15 AM on August 4, 2021

It sounds like you're both good people who cared about one another, but it doesn't seem like this was a "good" romantic relationship. Maybe it's hard because he didn't do anything "wrong", wasn't toxic, etc (from what you said). But you weren't feeling it clearly and that's a good a reason to end things. You gave it 8 years. You did the right thing, and i bet as more time passes you'll be able to see that more clearly.
posted by bearette at 5:27 AM on August 4, 2021

In my somewhat similar situation, I stayed much longer, and it was even more devastating to him when it ended. If you had stayed, it probably wouldn't have a stayed a "pretty good" relationship--and dragging it out wouldn't have made it better, but worse. And the break-up would have been harder for you both.

It was very hard for my ex, but I can say that he's doing much better now (he has said the same). I think I finally realized that it wasn't just that I was unhappy, but he was also unhappy. Since our break-up, he's rediscovered some past passions and reinvigorated his career, and this is definitely a cause and effect situation (I had practically begged him to do this while we were married but he wasn't motivated at all).

I think, in a year or two or three, you'll look back and see that you did the right thing. Right now you're likely in a bit of a fog of questioning. And, even when it's the right decision, it's still sad and jarring and hard to end a long-term relationship. You've lost your major attachment figure; it's going to feel bad and take a lot of adjustment and healing. It's not like it's easy breezy because you initiated it. Feeling bad and guilty isn't a sign that you made the wrong decision.

I ended my long-term, formerly-pretty-okay relationship four years ago, and I haven't had a moment of regret over those years. I regret staying too long in a relationship and building a family in this situation, but it was definitely the right thing to end the relationship.

Good luck to you.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:42 AM on August 5, 2021

Thank you for posting your experience and also relating your feelings and what you’re struggling with. I have a similar situation. I have a girlfriend who I love dearly. She says she feels the same. But there’s something clearly missing for me. It’s a feeling akin to an emptiness or a void. It’s like I know the feeling should be more intense but it isn’t. The relationship feels hollow and without structure.

I won’t go into detail since this is your post, but I wanted to tell you that I think you did the right thing for yourself and that although you’re hurting and grieving, it will get better for you and for him.
posted by x703jko at 2:53 AM on September 13, 2021

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