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How Do I End a Perfectly Fine Relationship?

Hi Yana,

How does one respectfully remove themselves from a relationship that in fact does not have any huge problems?

I’m with a righteous man who checks a lot of boxes but doesn’t get me excited. I enjoy his company, we have a great time and do a lot of cultural things. The flip side is there is no passion, there is no tingle. As someone that is used to the old fade out move, how do I end a relationship respectfully and with integrity? And where are my balls to do this?

— Fan of the Fade

Dear Fade,

One of my favorite “celebrity” relationship therapists is Esther Perel. She’s famous for her work with couples and infidelity (check out her awesome TEDTalk “Rethinking Infidelity”) meaning, she knows a thing or two about the hard work of relationship repair and its tragic opposite: the break-up.

In a recent article titled Relationship Accountability, she details four break-up styles: ghosting, icing, simmering, and power parting, which are on a scale in order of least direct/brave to most direct/brave.

Ghosting, as we know, is a vague-yet-transparent drop-off-the-face technique, while power parting grabs your break-up by those balls you mention and says straight up, “This relationship has been great for XYZ reasons, but now it’s time to end it.”

The other two (icing and simmering) exist luke-warmly in the middle. Sounds to me like you’re somewhere in the simmering department: reducing the frequency of dates and communication while you silently plot your exit, assuming your BF is none-the-wiser — though, he likely is, but just doesn’t have the concrete proof he needs to call it out.

The most interesting part of Perel’s commentary about the four break-up styles is her reflections on what our break-up style says about us. While power parting is often easily done by the self-assured, the other three tend to highlight within us some shadow sides of our sense of self: we’re terrified to hurt our partner so we stay; we’re anxious that we can’t handle being lonely or sad, even just for a little while, so we stay; we like the security of sure companionship, but want to be able to browse other options whilst buffered by a safety net.

The reality of a break-up is that no one will come out of it unscathed…continue reading…

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How Do I Leave My Husband?

Hi Yana,

I’ve been with my husband for a decade. We married young and, in a lot of ways, he’s a great guy and right for me. But I still want to leave.

I did leave once a few years ago and he put me on a major guilt trip until I came home. Things have been better, but I’m still not happy. I feel completely obligated to him because he has no friends and I’m his whole world. I know me leaving would devastate him, but I also know I can’t stay and put his happiness above my own. For some reason I feel completely blocked to actually toughen up and tell him it’s over. There’s some barrier in my way, and I think it’s obligation.

— Dismayed to Stay

The hardest part of leaving a marriage is deciding to do it. And this you’ve already done. So, now what?

As a graduate student studying and practicing couples therapy, I would be remiss as to not recommend marriage counseling. Despite some popular opinions, couples counselors aren’t there to convince you to stay in your unhappy marriage or shame you for leaving it.

In reality, couples therapists are there to help couples make informed decisions about how to work on their relationships, give couples the tools and practice to do that work, help each partner make an informed decision about whether to stay or go, and even help navigate the transition of ending the relationship.

You don’t even have to have the same goal (Stay? Go? Separate? Divorce?) as your partner to benefit from work with an informed third party. In fact, couples counseling might help untangle this guilt/obligation cycle to the benefit of both you and your husband.

But I’m not your therapist, today, Dismayed, I’m just your local sex columnist. So, what say I? Consider what has your staying done to help your husband. It sounds like he still has no friends, no independent joys, and here you are still feeling unhappy.

This isn’t to say that your husband is a mean loser — you yourself describe him as a “great guy.” But you need to ask yourself: what has this obligation done for him, what has it done for you.

The tricky thing about anxiety, guilt, and obligation is that they hold illusions of grandeur. Obligation, for example, tells you “You’re definitely the only thing holding your spouse together. And if you don’t, you will be the sole person to blame for his eventual collapse.”

You have the power to break this misconception by telling Obligation to get over itself…continue reading…

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My BF Is About to Leave Me; What Do I Do?

Hi Yana!

My boyfriend and I are approaching our four year anniversary. He recently called me and asked if he could vent to me about what he’s been feeling. He got diagnosed with anxiety and depression this past summer, but stopped going to therapy when he went back to school; so, I was glad he wanted to talk to me.

He told me that he didn’t know if he was in our relationship because he loves me or if he is just trying to keep me happy. He explained how he isn’t happy anymore and he doesn’t know why. He explained how nothing I did or said, or don’t do or say, wasn’t the issue. He explained how he sees how excited I am when we finally get to see each other and he doesn’t feel that same excited. He said he doesn’t want me in a relationship where I love him more than he loves me.

I’m heartbroken and completely lost. We started dating my freshman year of high school, which was his junior year of high school. We’ve been through so many obstacles of growing up, changing, learning, distance, and communication between different colleges that are four hours apart. I know he explained that none of what he is feeling is my fault, I just don’t know what to do. I can’t lose him; I love him. I thought he would be the person I grow old with.

Please, help me figure out what to say or do. He’s coming to visit for our anniversary and I feel like I need to be ready to defend our love.

— On the Edge of Heartbreak

Dear Heartbreak,

This is one of the most painful places to be: stuck between what it is that you want (to stay together) and what it is that your partner wants (seemingly, to be apart). Throughout our intimate relationships we are faced with this conundrum in big and small ways: What do we, as a couple, do when we each want different, contradictory things? This stuckness is what convinces us to shut parts of us down to “save” the relationship. It coaxes us to the couches of couples therapists, and is most clearly visible at the end of relationships.

The traditional love narrative tells the story of partners perfectly synched who share more than they don’t and use compromise as the true glue. But this story never teaches us how to handle difference — the ever-present force that makes our relationships exciting and robust.

So how do you do this now, Heartbreak, in a moment of emotional panic and pain?

If you trust that what your boyfriend is saying is true (and that there isn’t someone else waiting in the wings) then the feelings he’s sharing are about him and not about you. They affect you, yes, but they aren’t your fault. The minute we play the victim to our partner’s feelings, we swallow them up and our partners are left feeling unheard, alone, and like you just proved their point: you’re not as connected as you once were…continue reading…

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Babe Needs to Break Up

Dear Yana,

I want to break up with my boyfriend of a few years. As we both near 30 I’m getting clearer that he’s just not the guy for me.

But here’s the thing: We live together. We have a lease together. We share a car and a cat and just have so many logistical ties to each other that I’m having a really hard time figuring out a way to break up with him that makes everything as easy as possible.

I know that in the end we’re going to break up, but the timing just seems so hard. Do you have any suggestions for when or how I might find an opening to do it at the right time?

Babe Needs to Break Up

Dear BnB,

When it comes to ending relationships of course we’d all like to make the break as clean as possible, but the nature of break-ups is that, ultimately, something needs to end up broken. Cracks, fractures, and snaps are rarely successfully made without leaving behind at least one jagged edge. Putting effort into avoiding them completely is usually effort wasted. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways to break up well and lessen the damage, but coming to grips that things will be messy by design will save you some sweat.

I always find myself surprised at how, toward the end of a relationship, the things you loved most about your partner at the beginning can be the most toxic aspects of them at the end. Organized and driven becomes controlling and anal-retentive; Refreshing spontaneity becomes predictable irresponsibility; Sassy flirtation looks like a wandering eye, etc.

The first step to breaking up well is remembering that your partner doesn’t need to be the undesirable bad guy in order to justify your decision to break up. Break-ups are allowed without projection…continue reading…