Dear Therapist Within:
My good friend Sally, 21, is living with her boyfriend and after a few months of living with him, she now wants to break up. Most of her friends, me included, told her that she was rushing into things since she had only had been with him for three months before she moved in with him but she refused to listen because she thought she was in love. She can’t break the lease since it’s up in October; it would be very expensive to do so. She’s under a lot of stress because they are constantly fighting and she doesn’t know what to do. She hasn’t broken with him yet since she thinks it will be wise to do so after they move out. What could I suggest to alleviate the stress since they neither one can move out until the lease is up?
ANSWER: I don’t see any reason to believe that Sally will take your advice now since she didn’t before she got into this mess, but here goes anyway:
The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference. I am not sure why Sally is fighting with her soon to be ex, but it tells me that she isn’t done with the relationship yet – she isn’t indifferent at all, but is still invested. Sally might better spend her time thinking about why they are fighting instead of fighting with him. After all, if she has no intention of continuing a relationship with him, why does she care about any issue enough to fight about it? If she were truly done with him (if she had truly worked out the issues that brought her into this relationship in the first place) she would be able to be objective, cordial, and avoid arguments.
In addition, I am concerned about her ethical decision not to break up with him (i.e. not be honest with him about her feelings). Seems to me she is being very self-serving in this situation and her “lie” could be exacerbating an already difficult situation. It would also bode better for her future relationships if she could begin to be more forthright with her partners, would build the character that is needed for a successful life. What I would advise in this situation is
- Talk to her “boyfriend” immediately and be honest with him regarding her desire to break up and to work out an amicable living arrangement until the lease is up. And be willing to live with the consequences of doing so. By avoiding this discussion she is also trying to avoid the consequences for her bad decision originally. Time to pay the piper.
- Think carefully about why she moved so quickly in the first place. Did she have reservations that she ignored? If she had no reservations, why not? Is she needy? What else might have driven her to make this kind of decision – signing a lease – without really knowing this person’s character (a process that takes time!)?
- Spend some time considering her contribution to the failed relationship. What are they fighting about? How can she “dial it back.” Can she practice some healthy and grown-up communication techniques to evolve the relationship into a friendship? Since she is the one breaking up, can she increase her “kindness” factor?
I wish you luck – your friend has some growing up to do – she is, after all, only 21. But she is trying to avoid the pain associated with growing up by trying to have her cake and eat it too. I don’t really blame her for wanting to wiggle out of this relationship without having to suffer the consequences, but that is also a way to avoid maturing and string out adolescence forever.
Filed under: Disfunctional Relationships