Two Sense: How to Break Up


How do you make a graceful exit out of a live-in relationship? We’ve gotten a lot out of the past four years together, but I want more and he can't commit. It's a struggle for us to find stuff we like to do together, and I can't help but think we belong with other people who share our interests and with whom we can have a stronger bond. There are no big fights, betrayals, etc., but it's hard for us to even talk about our relationship. So I'm at a loss as to how to break up. Even good old-fashioned crushes on other people haven't been enough for me to pull the trigger. I'd like to end things with respect and as little damage as possible.
He Said: Unfortunately, the breakups I've initiated involved either me leaving town or convincing my girlfriend at the time to do so for a career upgrade. Effective, but overkill as an exit strategy. The good news, for you anyway, is I've had a lot of experience with women initiating breakups with me. And from these I've learned that the best separation route from traveling down life’s highway with your boyfriend is not crashing into a dead-end street, but a turning onto some other quieter avenue.

If you are sure that you want to move out and are looking for some inspiration to motivate you to leave, then know this: the longer you passively stay in a relationship you don’t want, the more likely that you will someday create a problem that makes the breakup painful. Since you aren't fighting with your boyfriend and not involved with anyone else, it’s easier to leave on good terms and remain friends. Also, if you spent four productive years together, there’s no need to throw that totally away by a bad parting. You say you want to leave with respect; then show enough respect to your boyfriend by treating him like he can create a great life without you. Sit down and have a good talk with him. Easier than one of you moving to Stockton.

She Said: Unfortunately, there's no painless way to end a long-term relationship, but from what you say, I think yours will go as well as can be hoped for. First you must decide whether you want to move out or you want to ask him to. Since your boyfriend sounds like the passive type, and you say you can't even discuss the relationship, I think you would do best to move out. You have the option of packing up and leaving very soon after the breakup talk, or sticking around and letting the reality gradually sink in as you pack and such. No one way is the right way: Some pull the Band-Aid off fast, others do better with a gentler approach.

Next, pick a day of the week that seems least traumatic—a Sunday if you want the distraction of work the next day, or perhaps a Friday if you want to pack and move immediately that weekend. Hard as it is to imagine, the best thing to do is keep it as simple as possible. Sit down and say, "This is really hard for me, but I think it's time for us to break up. I'll move out. Our four years have been good and I want to end it clean and without drama." I can't imagine a man who wouldn't appreciate that last sentence.

There's no roadmap for what happens next: talking, crying, silence, perhaps an argument (which would be fine and normal, you don't have to be completely pristine about it), or even pleading and promises to change. For all that, my only advice is to let your gut and heart guide you—not your head. Actually listen to your stomach, or that area in the center of your body right between the abdomen and chest. It will nudge you in the right direction moment by moment.

If all of this sounds just too abrupt, there are of course more meandering paths: you can say, "I think we should try living apart for a bit," and after that happens the breakup talk is half-expected. You can say, "I want us to see a counselor," and deliver the breakup news there, but it sounds like he might not be the counseling type. Or you could say, "I need some time, I'm going on retreat for a week to think about my future." That gives him a heads up that you might be returning with news.

Well, those are a lot of ideas. Eventually you must pick one and just do it. Good luck.

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