Dear Uncle Mat

I ended a relationship of one year today. I had been feeling overburdened with expectations and I let her know this several weeks before, giving her the ultimatum that if things didn’t improve, then I would leave. I have said this several times to her in the past, but never really followed through, so she was caught off guard when I told her I wanted out. I feel bad because I hadn’t brought up any issue since the last ultimatum, and she thought I had been dishonest and cowardly for not telling her sooner. Is there a way you are supposed to prep someone for a breakup? I wasn’t aware of one, and now she is totally freaking out and telling me that she will not be able to live anymore without me. 

— Frustrated and Worried 

Dear Frustrated and Worried,

You may not be a coward, but you aren’t exactly Prince Charming. Calling you dishonest isn’t totally unfair: You didn’t lie, but since you made the same statements before and didn’t follow through, why should she have believed you this time? Your ultimatums were just words to her. Of course she was shocked. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t or can’t leave her, but it certainly complicates your situation.

Ending a relationship is rarely easy. Even if both people are unhappy in the situation, it is not likely both will be ready to let go at the same time. It takes time and hindsight to reveal the obvious. There isn’t a defined process for prepping someone for a breakup because every relationship is different. As a general rule, ultimatums are a pretty lousy way to go about it, though — they are the enemy of open communication. In some circumstances, such as drug abuse and physical or emotional abuse, an ultimatum may not only be acceptable, but necessary. Even then, when you’re in a relationship, you cannot just demand that the other person change. It always takes the effort of both people to solve any real problem, and open communication and honesty are the ticket.

In your present case, what is done is done, and you have to close the door as gently as possible. You might need to apologize. Ask yourself if you would like to be treated the way you treated her. If not, own up. If you think you were fair, then let it go.

Telling you she cannot live without you is simply another ultimatum. She is using the structure you created to end the relationship to convince you to stay in it. If she is seriously threatening to harm herself or showing other signs of depression and despair, you need to encourage her to seek help. She should consider seeing a therapist, and you might, too — though not together. You could also talk to one of her close friends or a relative and let them know that you are concerned for her well-being. Let them know you are worried, but also make it clear that you are done with the relationship and are no longer interested in working things out. Be respectful and kind when you talk to either her or her friends or family. This is even more important if they are not civil with you. Threats and arguments are just ways of manipulating and hurting people, not resolving issues.

In future relationships, when you want someone to change, don’t make demands. Let them know that you are uncomfortable or unhappy and want to work with them to resolve the situation. That resolution may be the end of the relationship, but at least you are both working to get there. This is very different than you waiting on a deadline for someone else to magically become the person you want them to be.

Much luck with the hindsight and personal


Your Uncle Mat

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