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I keep trying to break up with my boyfriend but he won’t let me

Ask Roe: ‘Since nothing has gone wrong he doesn’t understand why I’d want to end it’

Dear Roe,
I have been with my boyfriend for about a year, and I want to end things. I no longer feel that I wish to be in a relationship, despite the fact that he is a wonderful man. I’ve already tried to end things twice, and each time it has made me feel so guilty seeing him so upset that I’ve felt that I have to try again. I hate seeing him so distraught – especially when it will be me who the break-up serves and not him. I don’t want to cause him even more pain, but I don’t want to be in a relationship with him, or anyone at the moment, but he doesn’t seem to get my reasoning. Since nothing has gone wrong he doesn’t understand why I’d want to end it, but I’m not happy, and I don’t feel that we’re a good match. I don’t know how to say that to him without hurting him even more.

Here’s the problem I see in your letter: you don’t trust yourself. You’re not convinced that you have a right to want something different, something more, something other than this. You appear to believe that leaving a wonderful man makes you bad and cruel and possibly dysfunctional. You believe that your boyfriend’s feelings matter more than yours, which is why you say, guiltily, that leaving would only “serve” you – but ignore that staying in this relationship only serves him.

What is right for you always matters, and here, it is the most important thing

This is why every time you try to end this relationship, you enter the conversation from a place of doubt, and let yourself be talked over and talked out of what you know is right for you, because somewhere inside of you is a voice saying “Maybe what is right for me doesn’t matter as much as what is good and kind and right for him.”

That voice is wrong. What is right for you always matters, and here, it is the most important thing.

It can be difficult to leave someone who is good to you. Without the excuse of a big fight or an infidelity or a clear flashing neon sign giving you permission to go, you have to give yourself permission – permission to leave, to hurt someone who loves you, the permission to want something different now than you did before. Many people find this hard, particularly if their gender or how they were raised or their view of themselves prioritises being caring and loving and self-sacrificing.  It can feel selfish to put yourself first, to leave someone who loves you without seeming to have a “good” reason.

Wanting to leave is a good reason. It is the only reason you need.

And you can leave kindly – but this kindness must be firm, and clear

You want to grow, and evolve, and explore who you are outside of a relationship. Leaving itself will be a huge step for you. Leaving will be a sign that you trust yourself, respect yourself, that you are not interested in self-sacrifice to the point of self-annihilation.  It will be you redefining what is right and kind. Because leaving someone you don’t want to be with is a kindness to you both.

And you can leave kindly – but this kindness must be firm, and clear. Practice making definitive statements, like “You are wonderful and this relationship has meant a lot to me, but I need to leave. This isn’t good for me anymore, so I’m ending our relationship.” Say them to your boyfriend. If he tries to argue with you, say “I’m sorry that you’re hurting, but this is my final decision. I’m not going to argue with you about this.” If he continues, end the conversation, telling him that you’re happy to talk with him at another time about how to move forward but that you can’t help him pretend this isn’t happening.

This is happening. You are trusting yourself, and leaving, and walking towards yourself, and your future. Good luck.