(404) 874-8536 johnballew@gmail.com

Time to end a relationship?

No one starts a relationship planning the best way to end it.  Whether we are talking about a partner you have been with for years, the decision isn’t easy.  And it shouldn’t be, really; you’re talking about a major life change, about ending a commitment you and your partner made to one another.  But if you’re thinking it is time to consider ending your relationship, doing it well is important.

When do you decide that it’s time to pull the plug? First things first:  if physical abuse is part of your relationship, leave now.  Gay men can be naïve about the dangers of physical abuse.  Some men think violence is a problem only women confront.  That belief could put you in danger.  If your partner gets violent, take care of yourself and get to a safe place.  If you are the one being violent, get away from him and get professional help.

It is hard to look at a relationship objectively when you are in the middle of it.  If you’ve made a significant time investment in the relationship, ending it too soon is a mistake.  Consider what is at stake here.  Are there difficult conversations you’ve put off because expressing your unhappiness felt too difficult?  Better to have those conversations and improve the relationship than to stay silent and live with the doubt that maybe things could have been better.  Have you spoken with your partner about your concerns, or are you acting on the belief that he can’t or won’t change?

We’re often attracted to someone initially because of our differences.  Eventually those differences push our buttons.  This is normal and healthy.  Resolving those challenges helps us to grow as individuals and as a couple.  It has been said that your partner contains your blueprint for personal growth, and I think there is truth in that.  A problem for many same-sex couples is that the lack of societal and familial support means we can end relationships before we’ve really given our all to trying to change things.  That can mean we end up repeating old patterns in new relationships.  And that can turn relationships into a never-ending game of musical chairs.

Listen to your friends, who may have an easier time noticing patterns in your relationships than you do yourself.  If you discover yourself doing the same thing over and over – always dating guys who are emotionally unavailable, for instance – consider getting professional help to learn to do things differently next time.

Let’s say you’ve talked to your partner and still aren’t getting what you want.  He’s unwilling or unable to meet you halfway in making changes.  Someone wise once said, “The space for what you really want in your life is occupied by what you have settled for.”  Life is too short to put up with a situation that will never make you happy. It may be time to cut the cord.

If you’ve given the relationship sufficient thought and you’re determined to end things, how you interact with your partner changes significantly.  When we enter a relationship, our goal is to connect with the other person; when the relationship ends, our goal must be to find ways to disconnect.

If the decision to part is a mutual one, this is relatively easy and amicable, though it is still likely to be difficult emotionally.  If the decision to end the relationship is yours alone and upsetting to your partner, the path ahead is more complicated.

Your goal isn’t to give him a laundry list of things he needs to change.  Your goal is to say goodbye. Protracted conversations about each others’ faults are beside the point now, though if the relationship is ending amicably, a conversation about how you each ended up in this place may be useful.  For the same reason, don’t agree to couples counseling if you have already made a decision to leave the relationship.  Couples counselors are sometimes called “love’s undertakers.”  Counseling can be useful in one of two ways.  It can help make a relationship better if both parties are committed.  And it can be useful to bring a relationship to a kinder end, if both parties understand that is the goal of the work.  But if your partner wants to save the relationship and you want out, counseling is likely to be a miserable experience.

Some people fantasize that “we’ll just be friends instead of boyfriends.”  Sometimes this works.  Often it does not.  Don’t offer friendship as a consolation prize if you don’t really mean it.  Changing from lovers to friends requires disinvesting in one another, and that’s tough if you have had a serious romantic connection.  It must be a mutual decision, and your partner may be too hurt to consider friendship, at least for a while.

Some men find the urge to engage in “farewell sex” is a strong one, especially if the sex was hot during the relationship.  One last chance; what could it hurt?  Think twice before doing that.  Sex play can stir up exactly the passionate feelings you need to cool for a clean separation.  You can’t have it both ways.

Be careful about how you talk about the situation with other people, even with close friends.  You won’t regret being considerate and tactful, and vindictiveness will come back to haunt you. You’ll feel better about yourself if you are as kind as possible, and you are less likely to leave yourself or your ex feeling deeply wounded.

Regardless of how well you handle the situation, you may be surprised at the sadness that gets stirred up inside of you after the breaking up.  Grieving is often a natural part of the process – even if it was your decision. While it’s generally true that the longer the relationship lasted, the longer the period of grieving, short but intense relationships can also knock you off balance.

Take good care of yourself.  Don’t allow yourself to become isolated.  If you are feeling depressed or need to sort through your feelings, see your doctor or a psychotherapist.

About John

I have been  licensed by the State of Georgia as a professional counselor for more than 25 years.  My areas of specialty are relationships, intimacy, sexuality, anxiety and depression.  My passion is helping people build happier lives and stronger relationships. 

I know it isn’t always easy to talk about problems.  My approach to counseling is nonjudgmental and compassionate.  If you have questions, I welcome the opportunity to talk with you about working together.

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Whether you've worked with a therapist before or are exploring counseling for the first time, you probably have questions.  It is important to have the information you need to make a good decision when selecting a therapist.  I welcome your questions -- about your specific situation, about me or about my approach to therapy. Making things better can start with an email, or you can call me at (404) 874-8536.