breaking up is hard to do
August 18, 2008 6:51 PM   Subscribe

How do you break up with someone you love, for purely selfish reasons?

My boyfriend and I (late-20s, fwiw) have been together for four years, living together for two. We have a mostly good relationship and love each other very much, but staying with him has meant that I have had to to sacrifice a lot of things I wanted in life. I knew this going into the relationship and I thought I would be okay with it, but I have realized over the past few months that I'm not okay with it anymore and I feel like I'm being held back from the kind of life I want to lead.

I can barely imagine life without him, but I think life with him is going to end with lots of regret and resentment on my side and that's not good for anyone, so I think it's time for us to move on, but... how?

Just thinking about it makes it difficult for me to breathe. We nearly broke up a couple years ago after some near-infidelity on his part, but I quickly took him back because I couldn't stand seeing him (or me, for that matter) in such pain... I can't imagine I'll be able to be any stronger when I don't even have any justifiable reasons for wanting to end the relationship, and now that we live together it seems impossibly harder.

How do I break up with him without hurting him (more than necessary, at least), taking him back, or going crazy myself?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (28 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
Report your reasons for leaving him to him in a matter-of-fact way. Then tell him to never call you, because you'll just feel bad for him and want to take him back. Then, move somewhere else, the farther away the better.
posted by Electrius at 6:56 PM on August 18, 2008


How to end a relationship
posted by sharkfu at 7:01 PM on August 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


What have you had to sacrifice? What's keeping you from those things in your current relationship? Is he aware you feel so stifled?

If it's him, if you've talked with him and it's clear you can't go after the things you want - and there's been some serious rocky patches in the relationship where the only reason you relented was you didn't want to hurt him... that is a justifiable reason. It sounds like you need to sit down, and make a list of all those things you've given up, and note why you can't achieve those things in your current relationship.

If you've talked with him and his response to your deep unhappiness doesn't help move you closer to some of those goals, you may want to start looking for an apartment, and sock away enough money. Get some friends to come move your stuff.

Sit down, have the breakup talk Friday night, have your friends move you out that weekend.

Trust me, you don't want to live with someone you've broken up with any longer than you have to.
posted by canine epigram at 7:02 PM on August 18, 2008


Of course your reasons are selfish! Why else would anyone ever break up?

Start by questioning your story that your own happiness and the fulfillment of your potential is "not a justifiable reason" for breaking up.
posted by ottereroticist at 7:04 PM on August 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Of course your reasons are selfish! Why else would anyone ever break up?

Start by questioning your story that your own happiness and the fulfillment of your potential is "not a justifiable reason" for breaking up.


She seems to have- she said that it was OK, and now it's not.

What she ought to question is how and why being in a relationship with someone should stifle ones potential.
posted by gjc at 7:11 PM on August 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


You've already come up with the answer. What you wrote above, from "We have a... good relationship and love each other very much" to "so I think it's time for us to move on." That's what you say. It covers what needs to be said and explained. It's honest, caring, fair, straightforward with no BS (i.e. you accept the responsibility), and it doesn't draw it out too long.
posted by winston at 7:11 PM on August 18, 2008


Breaking up hurts, unless he wants to break up too. And I'll assume that isn't the case, so it look like you'll have to hurt him.

Make sure this is what you really want. Most likely it is, or you wouldn't be asking us how to break up with him. But make really sure since there's most likely no going back.

Tell him why. Tell him this relationship can't go on. And please, make sure to tell him in a way that not only closes the door but also locks it, welds it shut, and knocks off the door handles. Because any hope that you'll get back together will make it harder for him. And remember that this isn't a discussion, it you telling him what's going to happen. Don't be rude though.

If you don't think you'll be able to go through with it in person, then write a letter or something. Yes, it's probably the cheap way out. But you want to end things, not make friends.

No contact for a while*. No calling, email, IM, Twitter, anything. That's leaving a crack open in the door for you to get back together.

If you have mutual friends, be prepared to lose some of those. It might not happen, which would be great (and really mature, but for your age bracket that's not a given). Make sure that the friends that you do keep will try their best not to get y'all in the same area together for a while.

Alter your schedule and activities so you don't run into him if at all possible. You broke up with him, and there's no reason to make him change because you decided to end the relationship.

I'm saying this again at the end because I feel like it's the most important part. Make sure that this is what you really want. Are you sure that you can't have what you sacrificed with him in the picture?
posted by theichibun at 7:12 PM on August 18, 2008


We have a mostly good relationship and love each other very much, but staying with him has meant that I have had to to sacrifice a lot of things I wanted in life.

If you want to be fair and respectful, the first step is to tell him what you've told us. Not in a moment of anger or after a bottle of wine, either -- you're going to have to have The Talk. This does give him the opportunity to say that he'd rather let you do X than lose you. Better be prepared with an answer. If you could do X and Y and Z, would you stay with him? If you could do X and Y and Z, would you still feel that this is doomed? Why?

Without knowing what these things are, it's a little harder to answer your question, because we don't know how reasonable your desires are or whether it's possible to compromise.

How do I break up with him without hurting him (more than necessary, at least), taking him back, or going crazy myself?


Be clear and straightforward, ignore metaphors and comparisons (it's as if I told you that you weren't allowed to Q anymore sounds like great idea, but it tends to backfire logically), be kind but don't lay on the praise too thick, look him in the eye, don't open the floor to arguments that you won't truly entertain, be concise -- don't obfuscate and exhaust the point by throwing a lot of words into making the same point six slightly different ways, let him say his piece, make your arrangements, and exit the scene.
posted by desuetude at 7:17 PM on August 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Guy's perspective here: certainly the nicest breakup I ever had to deal with sounds almost like your situation: mutual love, desire etc, but also a mutual acceptance that our longer-term goals & lifestyles just weren't going to be compatible, ever.

It's still sad, but that sort of bittersweet breakup is a million times better than "I'm just not into you anymore" or "Sorry, but I found somebody else I like better" or just about any other variation on the usual kinds of breakup stories. At least you have some nice, warm feelings to take away from the situation.

Others may have their own thoughts on whether this is a good idea or not, but in my case the situation was sweetened immensely by statements (white lies or not, I don't care) that I'd be near impossible to replace, being supposedly the most wonderful person she'd ever met, and similar stuff along those lines.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:31 PM on August 18, 2008 [4 favorites]


Is he even aware of the sacrifices you said you've made?
posted by Ky at 7:32 PM on August 18, 2008 [2 favorites]


OK, so desuetude already disagreed with laying on the praise too thick, so to clarify: the incompatibility was something we both recognised equally. If you see issues that your boyfriend doesn't, or that he resists, then tone the praise right back.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:34 PM on August 18, 2008


I've been the broken-up-with in a situation where conflicting goals led to increased fighting and the general deterioration of the relationship to the point where we hit a bumpy patch in the road and my ex just snapped... couldn't do it anymore.

It came at the worst possible time in my life. To say that the timing was bad is a monumental understatement. I had just lost my job. My husband asked for a divorce on our wedding anniversary and then moved out a month later three days before my birthday.

It would have been better for both of us if either one of us had recognized, as you do, that the resentment that builds from making sacrifices (as opposed to compromises) for a relationship is toxic and ultimately leads to incredible heartache when you DO hit the point when you just can't deal with it anymore. Neither of us wanted to admit this because we did love each other immensely and yes, for the most part, our relationship was wonderful. I read somewhere that the most destructive element for a relationship isn't anger, but contempt. The minute you start feeling that *contempt* and resentment that your b/f is keeping you from something - that's the minute that your relationship starts dying.

Since your question isn't "How do I get over this and keep the relationship going?" but "How do I end it?" you should gather up all your courage and do just that. As I said, it was awful for me to be on the receiving end of such a break-up, but it would have been WORLDS better had it come "out of nowhere" while things otherwise were pretty ok rather than the relationship crashing into a wall while everything else in my life was falling apart as well. Don't wait until you feel like you don't have any other options - do it now while you still love each other so that you'll be stronger to deal with the inevitable pain of breaking up.

Trust me, you don't want to live with someone you've broken up with any longer than you have to.

This is SO TRUE. And the last thing that you want (no matter what you may SAY) as the broken-up-with is for the person you still love still living in your house with no possible hope of reconciliation. I know for me in the month between my ex asking for the divorce and his moving out, all I could think about is that there must be one more thing I could DO to fix it. Of course, rationally, I knew that there wasn't, but emotions aren't rational.

I'm going to echo everyone else above: get your ducks in a row. Find a new place. Get your friends to help you over a weekend. Tell him on Friday. It will seem sudden and shocking and heartless, but it will be better for EVERYONE in the long run. Do not offer to talk about it. Tell him simply that talking can't change anything at this point, and you're very sorry, but you don't have anything you can say. Don't tell him you still love him. That sends all kinds of mixed messages. You can tell him you're sorry that it came to this and you wish that it could have worked out differently, but don't dwell on that. Make it quick.

Rip off the bandaid in one swift tug and give yourself plenty of time afterwards to heal.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:47 PM on August 18, 2008 [4 favorites]


Don't do it by getting caught fucking someone else. That really sucks for everyone. (Although, was that perhaps what your boyfriend was up to when he got caught with his pants down? You may not be the only ambivalent person in this relationship.)

Make the break clean — don't sort of break up, but keep sleeping in the same bed and doing all those relationship things for another six months.

Arrange for a place to stay (like with a friend) unless you are booting him out of the apartment, in which case you need to give him enough notice to find a new place, and think about the financial stuff — sometimes finances can get really entangled when you live together, even if you don't share a bank account. It can be a real problem when one person becomes suddenly responsible for the other half of a shared rent, shared bills, and so on, if their finances can't stand the hit.

Be kind but firm. Realize that you've had six months of preparing for the breakup moment, but for all you know he was out shopping for an engagement ring the day before — he will probably need time to process and understand what's going on.

Don't be afraid to use kind but meaningless cliches like "it's not you it's me" and "I just need some more space" and so on. (Sometimes those cliches can be the most cruel words in the world — if you have a choice, take the path of kindness rather than brutality.) You owe kindness and ethical behavior — you don't necessarily owe him detailed explanations or endless conversations about the breakup.

Lastly, expect that it might hurt a lot more than you think it will. Just because you are the dumper doesn't mean that it won't feel like you've been kicked in the stomach. Give yourself the space and time to heal without making him get involved in your recovery.
posted by Forktine at 7:57 PM on August 18, 2008


OK, so desuetude already disagreed with laying on the praise too thick, so to clarify: the incompatibility was something we both recognised equally. If you see issues that your boyfriend doesn't, or that he resists, then tone the praise right back.

This is a good example of not having quite enough information about their dynamics. I was thinking (and probably should have stated more clearly) about the nervous on and on and on and on about the wonderfulness in a "letting him down easier" way, which would rather suggest "if I'm so fucking great, why are you leaving? Either you don't mean this or...what?" This sounds quite different from your scenario of a more mutual decision.
posted by desuetude at 8:22 PM on August 18, 2008


I'm not sure I totally understand what Forktine is saying, but I would definitely *not* use cliches if I were you. Everyone knows those cliches, and they don't sound kind. They sound scripted. I was once dumped after 2.5 years with someone. I was handling it all reasonably well and holding back the tears until he said, "I love you. I'm just not in love with you." ...at which point I exploded. He evidently hadn't felt our relationship worth the effort to continue, and now he couldn't even make an effort to break up with me in his own words. That may not be rational thinking, but that's sometimes the way one thinks when being dumped after a long, serious relationship. Please avoid the cliches.

I agree with what others have said - make sure he knows about your sacrifices (and that you know of any he's made) before deciding this relationship can't work. And if that's the way it has to be, then just say what you've said here. You love him, but you need to reach your own goals.
posted by katillathehun at 9:55 PM on August 18, 2008


I don't even have any justifiable reasons for wanting to end the relationship

No? You must. Think about it until they become clearer. Part of your problem seems to be that you HAVE reasons but you don't think they're legitimate. Well, I can't say it any plainer: if you don't want to be with somebody, you just don't. You can't mitigate that by staying with them. If your first bloom is long past and you're not forming feelings of long-term attachment then move on. The biochemistry is pretty much that simple.

It's good of you to ask how to do it. A lot of people stuck in your situation would do something stupid and hurt everyone involved. It's good to take some time and consider the right sequence of steps to go through, things to say. I hope he makes it easy for you in return.

But I do think the first step is to really understand, resolve, and commit to your reasons for wanting to do this. If you can't understand and validate it, he'll have a damn hard time figuring it out.
posted by scarabic at 10:04 PM on August 18, 2008 [3 favorites]


Yeah, scarabic's advice is right on. For me, the easiest breakups have been when I can point to something very clear, so that in my saddest moments, I can understand why we cannot get back together. Usually, it's something we've discussed, where I've clearly asked for something, and the person has clearly given an answer I just can't accept. This mushier stuff ("well, maybe he just didn't understand me," or "well, if I just tried harder...") is harder to live with. Figure out exactly what you want, what you really just cannot live without, and see if he'll agree to it. If not, you have no choice, right?
posted by salvia at 10:58 PM on August 18, 2008 [3 favorites]


Do not offer to talk about it. Tell him simply that talking can't change anything at this point, and you're very sorry, but you don't have anything you can say. Don't tell him you still love him. That sends all kinds of mixed messages. You can tell him you're sorry that it came to this and you wish that it could have worked out differently, but don't dwell on that. Make it quick.

I second, third, and fourth this. Once you've decided it's over...let it be over. There's no way to make him feel good about it, so let him get to work on getting over it.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:06 PM on August 18, 2008


Have you sat down with him and gone through the things you're giving up? Is he anyway able to "let you" have these things ?

Relationships are about compromise and sacrifice. Unless you're 100% certain that these things you're giving up are worth more to you than the relationship, and that not having/doing these things is worth more to him than the relationship, it's not time to quit, it's time to talk.
posted by handee at 12:54 AM on August 19, 2008


Without knowing the dynamic, I also recommend talking to him about the life-goals you've had to sacrifice - but in the spirit of seeing if it's something you can resolve together. This also assumes you haven't already had The Talk. Sacrifice is toxic to relationships, but compromise is necessary sometimes. Since he loves you, he may be willing to help you get what you need in order to stay together.

If it's something you've already discussed, and compromise (especially from him) isn't an option - you want kids, he doesn't for example - then make it a quick clean break, as everyone else has said.
posted by ArkhanJG at 1:10 AM on August 19, 2008


grapefruitmoon writes "Find a new place. Get your friends to help you over a weekend. Tell him on Friday. It will seem sudden and shocking and heartless, but it will be better for EVERYONE in the long run. Do not offer to talk about it. "

That advice seems selfish, and even gratuitously cruel. And counter-productive: after four years together, he'll need closure, he'll need to go through the stages of grief, and simply pulling a disappearing act will postpone that, as he'll be wracking his brains asking himself, and trying to find you to ask, "why"?

Having spent four years together, you have obligations to him, and probably practical entanglements (bills, accounts, planned vacations, mutual friends, pets, leases, etc.) that preclude just "up and leaving" without an explanation. Be an adult and leave as gracefully as possible, as cleanly as possible, doing as little unnecessary harm as possible.
posted by orthogonality at 2:01 AM on August 19, 2008


The most distressing and distressed breakup I've ever been close to is one where she told him she had to leave because she didn't know who she was without a partner, never having been without one basically since puberty, but she tried and tried and tried to make it OK for him as well because she hated seeing him hurt.

It's not going to be OK for him as well.

You can't make it OK for him as well.

Breakups just hurt.

If you're going to dump somebody, the least horrid way to go about it is, as everybody else has said, to do it quickly and thoroughly. Ongoing contact will hurt you badly and him worse. What he will need from you, after you've dumped him, is time without you to get over it. However, that won't be what he wants from you. What he will want from you is you back. He will be actively seeking out false hope. Don't let him find any.
posted by flabdablet at 4:16 AM on August 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


theichibun's suggestion of breakup-by-letter is probably the worst one I've seen considering we're talking about a four year relationship where they're living together (the rest of the advice is just fine). Absent extenuating circumstances, there's no reason for someone to pull this. What, is she going to vanish in the middle of the night?

Having spent four years together, you have obligations to him, and probably practical entanglements (bills, accounts, planned vacations, mutual friends, pets, leases, etc.) that preclude just "up and leaving" without an explanation. Be an adult and leave as gracefully as possible, as cleanly as possible, doing as little unnecessary harm as possible.

I'm going to hazard a guess that by "don't offer to talk about it," grapefruitmoon and others did not mean "no explanation and a disappearing act", but rather avoiding the sort of fruitless hashing and over-hashing of "but why?" that can get dragged out into an awful mess. I think there's a fine line between a firmly stated position with a brief discussion and a flat unilateral declaration of being broken up - the latter of which, especially if it's coming out of nowhere, can be really cruel.

Unfortunately the OP hasn't provided more needed context - specifically what she feels she's given up and whether she's talked about this with her boyfriend.

The ideal breakup conversation should be just that, not a unilateral declaration. It shouldn't be a complete surprise - there should have been previous "state of the union" talks to alert the other person that things were not just fine. So by the time you come down to breaking up, there's no need for much actual conversations - those have already been had.

Obviously that progression isn't as common as we'd like it to be, real life being what it is - but the breakup conversation shouldn't be the first time the partner learns something is wrong, and neither should it be a protracted discussion that retreads things that have been discussed ad nauseam before.
posted by canine epigram at 6:40 AM on August 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


Don't just tell him you're leaving and then vanish. It's very unfair, and the shock and lack of closure he will experience makes it much more painful for him.

Give him a chance to fix things first. See if there is a way you can both be happy. Tell him what you need. Relationships are about co-operating and finding a balance. I will bet he has no idea that you are even thinking of moving out - you need to tell him "I need these things in order for the relationship to work for me".
And then, if it turns out that doesn't work, work out the breakup details with him.
posted by w0mbat at 9:01 AM on August 19, 2008


Read How To Dump a Guy (A Coward's Manual), by Kate Fillion and Ellen Ladowsky.
posted by russilwvong at 11:03 AM on August 19, 2008


I went through this exact same thing this past year. I was living with my boyfriend, we had been living with the assumption we would eventually get married, and had even looked at rings.

We had the same problem, I had to sacrifice a lot due to his work schedule (he was a first responder), and I slowly realized that even without his work schedule, I would still have to sacrifice a lot of the things I needed to stay with him, just based on his personality and my personality. (Its the same reason why that kind of scheduled worked for him and not for me.) Although we wanted all the same things in theory (house, family, etc.) the details of HOW we wanted them were totally different.

This realization was gut wrenching for me, and I fought it for too long, because I was so scared of the consequences... hurting him, turning our lives upside down, being wrong, moving out & dividing up furniture (and our dog!).

The thought of breaking up with him, or worse having him propose and not know what to say, was terrifying to me. But the thought of staying slowly made me depressed in a way I had NEVER been before. I began to lose hope in the idea of happy marriages, or having an exciting fulfilling life.

Some thoughts that gave me the courage to end it:

1) Although I didn't feel like I had a "good reason" to break up with him, because I loved him and he was such a wonderful person... none of my reasons for staying made sense either! You can't stay in an unfulfilling relationship just because you are with someone thats really nice, and you bought a lot of furniture together and you have a dog! Or because you don't want to hurt someone.

2) I realize that he deserved someone that fit his lifestyle and loved him exactly the way he is. And I couldn't do that anymore... I was wishing for him to be different. And I deserved that too. The longer that we were togther, the more I was depriving us of meeting that "right person".

3) Along that same thought... there is a woman out there (hundreds in fact!) looking for exactly what he is, but I was selfishly hogging him, and not appreciating him. How unfair is that?


How did I finally do it?... well, I first did talk to him about these issues and feelings several times over the course of several weeks, to give us a chance and see it if could be saved... and everytime he tried to do the right things to make me feel better, I felt worse. So I knew it just had to end. I finally gave myself a deadline of a couple of weeks, and decided that I needed to end it before then, and any opportunity I had to start this coversation... I would take it.

The very next day after that decision I found my self with an opening, another "state of the union" conversation had started... we were at home, and could talk and be private. So I took the opportunity. It was really hard, but he really understood, and loved me enough that he wanted me to be happy, with or without him. It was the most mature, respectful breakup I ever had. Because it was honest.

I don't regret it for a second, although I do from time to time, still deal with some guilt for hurting him so much.

Six months later, he's purchased a house in the suburbs... I got myself a townhome with a roommate in the downtown area. Both of these are things that we'd always wanted... both of them things we were holding each other back from.

It was definitely for the best.

It will be for you too. He'll be fine. You'll be fine. You'll both survive, and be better for having gone through it. Just believe that.
posted by veronicacorningstone at 12:15 PM on August 19, 2008 [6 favorites]


I have had to to sacrifice a lot of things I wanted in life... I'm being held back from the kind of life I want to lead... life with him is going to end with lots of regret and resentment on my side...

This does not describe "purely selfish" reasons, and these are in fact perfectly reasonable justifications for ending a relationship. I don't think there's any way out of your kind of situation that isn't going to suck like hell, but at least bear these things in mind.
posted by nanojath at 3:02 PM on August 19, 2008


Little late, but I just want to add that you really should talk to him about these sacrifices before just assuming things are impossible. It's easy to miss how important something is to your s.o., or to assume that just because he "likes the comforts of home" he won't want to move to Paris with you. Ask. See if he's willing to give it a try or let you give it a try.

If it really is that big of a deal-breaker for him as well, then at least you can agree: you want to do it. He wants to not do it. That means whatever you end up doing won't be together. It won't make it easy, but it's the right place to start from, rather than some out-of-the-blue "I've always wanted to be a doctor so I'm leaving, don't call me". Some of the things people are recommending above would make me worry about mental illness or legal / mafia trouble...
posted by Lady Li at 4:44 PM on August 20, 2008


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