Cohabitation Situations: Ambivalence Deliverance (#451) & Eviction Prescription (#452)

Before we jump into sad, serious things, Gollum dreamed a dream (of coming to your party?) Courtesy of my friend @spyscribe. You guys watch The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, right?

Now, some letters about living situations gone bad (#451) and very, very bad (#452).

Dearest Captain,

I need some help with relationship ambivalence.

It’s been 3 years and we live together. This is going to sound awful, but I recently has the thought that I am better than him at almost everything. He is extremely unsure of himself and is very dependent on me. He needs help/frets about making even the tiniest decisions. His indecision about inconsequential things used to be something we joked about, but now I just feel very smothered. He often makes his problems/feelings my problem or responsibility. I have had the occasional moment of, “this is definitely right for me”, but more often I have had doubts about whether I really want to be with him.

Here’s the wrench: My whole life has been in a shake-up recently. In the past two weeks, I found out I am losing my job (a job I REALLY love), found out I didn’t get accepted into grad school, then, last week I witnessed a stranger’s death. I was one of the first people to stop and help him. I stood over him as he died, before medics even arrived. The experience has really had a profound effect on me. I was very disturbed by what happened. BF knew I had all this going on though that didn’t stop him from wanting to have a big relationship talk about feeling that we’ve been in a “rut” for the past week. This was two days after the stranger’s death. 

On one hand, I feel like I should not make any major life decisions in such a period of upheaval. On the other, I get the feeling I am being tested and have a gut feeling towards making changes in my life. 

I have a gut sense telling me to end it, but I can’t *rationalize*why because everything seems fine between us. He is a very kind person, intelligent, insightful, sweet, cute, great sense of humor and he loves me very much. We live together very harmoniously. On the downside, he has depression that he has never attempted to do anything about. Recently, on my urging, he agreed to talk to a psychiatrist and then asked me to give him the number to a psychiatrist. Later, he blamed me that he hadn’t called because I never gave him the number. This is the kind of responsibility-shifting that really upsets me and makes me sad. 

In my society, there is a slavish devotion to “rational” thinking and I doubt many of my intuitions. Then here I am being the one who is indecisive and generally at-sea!

I have no idea what to do and could use a little wisdom! 

Private Secretson

Dear Private Secretson:

Your vague gut feeling that you want to end it IS the reason.

You don’t actually need a reason other than “I am not so happy here with you.” In fact, hanging out waiting for (or looking for) a clear, incontrovertible reason is going to destroy any and all affection you have left for this person. So your letter doesn’t sound awful to me. You’ve been through a traumatic experience, and you have a partner who is making that harder rather than easier. You are living with someone who makes you stressed out and tired. It’s okay. You can go!

Look at it this way:

You could break up and move out now, while you still have *some* affection for each other and can hopefully be kind and respectful throughout the process.


You could wait until you detest him and are fleeing the relationship like the scene of some horrible crime.

Someone doesn’t have to be objectively awful for you to not want to be in a relationship anymore.

Intern Paul is handsome, and smart, and funny, and will get you Gatorade and Cheez-its when you’ve been sick, build you a computer from scratch, and take care of your cat when you go out of town.

We dated for a few years, and then lived together, and we found out that we made each other less happy. We were in the exact state of ambivalence that you describe – I like this person so much! But I am not sure I want to be here for the long-term! So I am looking for a reason to end it, or a reason to stay! Everything that happens between us takes on a larger significance because it is part of a decision matrix! Am I happy? What is happiness, anyway? How much happiness does a person really need? Surely this is good enough? Moving in and then out again was an expensive and heartbreaking lesson, but we learned what we were supposed to learn from the experience, namely, “Do not marry.

It’s really, really hard when things don’t work out like you planned. But it is okay to want and work for and change things to get happiness.

So I suggest that you reach out to your support network. Talk to someone about the death you witnessed, talk about your job loss, do everything you can to take care of yourself. Spend a little time looking at your finances & figuring out where you will go if you leave. Call your family, call your friends, work on your resume, find someone’s couch or guest bed you can sleep on for a little while, and make a solid landing for yourself. And then sit down and have the hard conversation.

“Partner, I am so sorry to have to say this, but I have decided to break up with you and find another place to live.”

He may ask why. This is natural and should be expected. People have a right to ask why, but they don’t have a right to know why, or be convinced about why. They don’t have a right to have why proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

What I suggest is that you not use this time to name things about your partner that you dislike. Once you’re done with a relationship, you don’t owe him an exit interview/life-tutoring session, and it’s mean to turn it into a list of reasons you don’t love him anymore. A good script is “Partner, I’m not sure I can articulate a good reason. But I know that my feelings about the relationship have really changed and it is time for me to end it.

The question “Why did your feelings change?” is a hard one, and not one you can ever really answer to another person’s satisfaction when you’re trying to get out of a relationship. If you’re getting broken up with, you’re not stupid or weak for wanting to know that. What makes love stay? What makes it fade? We like to think that if people gave us a list of concrete things we did wrong we could know what to improve to guarantee that this pain of loss and rejection will never happen to us. But it doesn’t work that way. Closure, self-awareness, self-improvement, self-forgiveness come later. Those are things we give ourselves when some time has gone by, not something someone can give us on their way out the door. We think we want those lists of things we did wrong in the name of understanding, but hearing them during a traumatic moment means they tend to stay with us forever as “things that are true” about us that we can gnaw on in our most vulnerable moments. But we are changeable beings  – what makes us a bad fit for one person might fit beautifully with another.

Hi there Captain, Sweetie and Commander! 

I have a seemingly simple breakup question. I am in a relationship with a kind, caring, gentle manchild and I am sick of it. I want OUT. I can’t even imagine that there is a single thing that could happen that could change my feelings about this. We have tried, but he has never lived outside of home before moving in with me and I can’t stand his lack of independence, motivation, hobbies, interests, job, and friends.

The problem I have however is this; we live together and he has nowhere else to live. This is my house, in my name, and I can’t/won’t leave it. I need it for my kids! So he needs to leave. The trouble is, he has no friends or family and nowhere to go, or a job to pay for a place. How can I do this? Whenever I try to get him to leave he pulls the mental health card, which I understand because I have mental health issues as well but I think he’s doing it manipulatively. Basically I just wish he would pack up his stuff and go pleasantly, but clearly that’s not going to happen.

How can I kick him out when he has nowhere to go?

Fifty Shades of DONE

Dear DONE:

There are two questions here. One is “How do I break up with this person?

The other is “How do I get him out of my house?

Honestly, I think what you need right now is:

a) a savings account  for a security deposit and 1st month’s rent somewhere new. Do not tell him you are doing this, this should be a surprise that comes only when he is out of the house or has agreed and is actively planning to get out of the house.

People give the whole alimony thing the side-eye nowadays, but I think it has a legitimate place when people are financially intertwined and are making plans based on promises and assumptions of a shared future. While this is not an obligation, if the person you are breaking up with is financially dependent on you, and you are in a position to create a modest, temporary “If I’d known you were going to break up with me, I would have maybe put a little more in savings instead of buying you that awesome Christmas present/paying off your student loans/buying new living room furniture, Jerkface” fund, I say, do it.

b) Team You: family, friends, a counselor or therapist for you, and an attorney.

c) The beginning of “Team Him”, starting with a social worker who can help him address the mental health issues and maybe find him some housing, even a group home or halfway house situation, and

I would start with the lawyer and do nothing until you have engaged one.

I say this because:

  • There are legal implications to evicting someone from a residence, and you should know what they are and make sure that you are following the letter of the law so that it doesn’t come back to bite you. We do not know where you live, we are not lawyers, we don’t know how long you’ve been living together and what your agreements were like. Even if we did know those things, and even if we were lawyers, we would not be YOUR lawyers. Commenters, please do not try to give specific legal advice. The Letter Writer needs to call an actual lawyer where s/he lives, tell that person all the specifics, and work within local laws, and nothing we can say is a substitute.
  • Whatever relationship you have had with this person in the past, once you’ve asked them to leave and they won’t move out, this person is now in an adversarial relationship with you. If he were going to cooperate with you, when you first brought up the subject (after initial shock wore off) he would have said something like this: “I am very sad and also very scared about what happens next and where I will live. I feel overwhelmed – can I ask your help in coming up with a plan & a timeline so that I can find a new place to live?” 

You could have dealt with that, right? But he is refusing to deal with it at all.

If your employer has an Employee Assistance Program, one of the things they often handle is legal referrals.

Once you’ve talked to the lawyer, I think it might make sense to handle the breakup in two distinct stages.

First, can your kids stay somewhere else for…a weekend? A week or so? Longer? I think your lawyer will have advice that says that you cannot/should not vacate the residence for any reason, but you might want to get your kids out of the way during difficult conversations.


Partner, I am breaking up with you. Our romantic relationship is over.

He will ask where he is going to live. You can say “That is a separate discussion, but as of now, you should sleep ______ (guest room, sofa, basement) and store your things in (closet/storage space).

The breakup is a final decision. Your bedroom? Is closed. Your persona around him? Robotic, detached, repeating statements like “I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that I don’t want to be your girlfriend anymore.” “I realize that this isn’t good news, because (mental illness, worries, etc.) I can’t solve those worries for you, but I do need to be honest about my feelings.

His attempts to manipulate you are an example of “forced teaming” –  manipulating someone by trying to make problems into shared problems. Sounds like you’ve been dealing with a lot of this as your ex tries to make the question of you breaking up about where he will live. The fact is: You don’t want to be with him anymore. Where he lives is a separate issue, and not a precondition.

Your lawyer will have advice on how to officially notify him that he must leave, how to make a timetable, how to enforce that timetable, how to handle finances, your lawyer and a social worker will maybe figure out how involve your city government (access social safety net, mental health care).

This is an honesty zone, so let me say right here: This guy might end up in a homeless shelter. Or, depending on how pronounced his mental illness is, a state-run mental hospital.

And placing him there will seem unbelievably cruel, and he will let you know this every chance he gets.

He may threaten to harm himself.

Do while we’re being cruel and cold, put this in your back pocket.

1. Someone who threatens suicide to manipulate you, is committing an act of emotional terrorism. “I will murder someone if you don’t do what I want.” If he harms himself, it will not be your fault. He will be proving that he is someone that will do violence rather than break up with you in a clean, respectful way. You don’t have to negotiate with (or remain engaged with) people who threaten violence.

2. Once upon a time this guy had enough…intelligence? Charm? Wit? to get you to fall in love with him and want his company all the time. He had something going for him, even if you don’t think so now or it didn’t hold up to further scrutiny. What did he do before he met you? Where did he live? He didn’t spring out of a hole you dug in the back yard like that weird Timothy Green movie, right? It might help alleviate some of your guilt to remind yourself of this. In The Gift of Fear‘s”how to fire people” chapter, de Becker talks about making people feel like they have other options.

This is a really hard, sucky situation and I think it will take some time to extract this guy from your house. Protect yourself, protect your kids, use every single resource that you can find, and stay true to the truth, which is that you don’t want to be with this guy anymore.

69 thoughts on “Cohabitation Situations: Ambivalence Deliverance (#451) & Eviction Prescription (#452)

  1. Oh dear – all the very best to both of you.

    LW2, I was recently in a very similar situation, except that it wasn’t a boyfriend; it was a lodger. When his business failed and he had to sell his house, I took him in on the understanding that it was only until he could find somewhere else. I will not go into all the depressing details, but he never did bother looking for anywhere else and he ended up actually costing me money.

    I did what the Captain has suggested here and sought legal advice, and I strongly second what she says. There are a lot of complicated issues around shared living space, and you do need a professional to sort them out. One thing I was repeatedly told by everyone who helped me was that where the lodger was going to live after I threw him out was not my problem. He needed to get help for himself, and if he wouldn’t do that, I could not be held responsible for his failure to act. Hearing that from professional people was vastly helpful.

    It’s so easy to end up feeling guilty because someone else isn’t doing anything to help him/herself. It’s also totally unnecessary, and I think sometimes we all need that reminder.

    1. “It’s so easy to end up feeling guilty because someone else isn’t doing anything to help him/herself.”

      Oh goodness, yes, this! You are not responsible for other people’s life choices, even if those choices are bad.

    2. Thank you!! I am LW2 and this has helped so much. Getting a lawyer is a fantastic idea, and I just remembered that the legal service I have spoken to before about another issue has a counseling service for victims of DV, which I’ve also used before (while this situation is not abusive, I think the counselor will be able to help me with my side of the emotional stuff particularly in regard to standing up for myself). I have recently told him emphatically that he has to leave, I have given him a date (by Easter, which is a long time) and I am reminding him of this every day. He says he needs a job first, and I tell him he is leaving either way. Speaking to a lawyer as well as my landlord is going to help a lot I think.

  2. Just want to comment on the idea of hiring a lawyer for the housing legal part. This may become necessary but it would not be my first step. I’d call Fair Housing. It’s an excellent free program throughout the US to give advice about housing issues. While they focus on tenants’ rights, I’ve used them before for help with tenants and found them supportive and useful.

    Just Google “Fair Housing [your city].” They’ll know all the laws specific to your area and tell you how to evict your tenant (yes, a roommate in a home you own is your tenant and has those rights) legally. They’ll also tell you when or if you need a lawyer, police, or courts.

    My specific advice would be to pay for the move. Maybe it seems unfair but it’s going to be cheaper than taking him to court to evict him, and gets him out faster. That means the loading/unloading and driving and/or a storage unit. In addition to the excellent advice from CA.

    Good luck!

    1. Yes, if you can’t afford a lawyer, there are various resources online for tenants that will be helpful to you as they typically explain legal issues – implied tenancy, tenancy at will, the eviction process, etc. My state attorney general also publishes a handbook for landlords advising them of their rights and responsibilities – might be worth checking if you state’s attorney general has something similar.

      1. Use all available resources!

        The reason I suggest an attorney is that you’d be surprised how quickly someone who seems very passive and disorganized like boyfriend can get themselves just together enough to be a giant pain in your ass at a time like this! Having someone you’ve hired to be unequivocably on your side and do some of the tougher negotiation for you is so valuable.

        1. Well, and also, all available resources, but an attorney is particularly useful because it’s someone you’re paying to be calm when everyone else is not. Do not discount the power of a professional calm person when dealing with someone who is scared and hurting.

        2. I strongly agree on the attorney because you’d also be surprised how that sad, needy “pity me” guy can become a raging, angry guy when you stop buying into that sort of manipulation. My ex went from talking suicide to raging at me – with a gun in his hand. Extreme I know, but I would never have believed he was capable of that at the time.

        3. Also with being a giant pain in the ass, I’d throw in watch out for them breaking your stuff, like giant adult entitlement tantrum-> smashing your car’s windows, etc. Make sure you have all your insurances up to date, keep backup copies of important documents, etc. When things get ugly, some people can get pretty vindictive. Hopefully this will not happen for you though!

        4. A comment on the whole “you should get a lawyer”-advice I see here quite often: getting yourself a lawyer is not as integral part of legal struggles everywhere as it is in the US. I don’t know anybody who has ever gotten themselves a lawyer, and my friends and I have filed police reports, gotten into hefty disagreements with past employers about paychecks due, and also, yes, evicted tenants. There are many places in the world where a) the law is clear, simple, and online, and b) you can use the help of the court, police and, in the case of evictions, a distrainor, without ever contacting a lawyer.

          So I would suggest getting a lawyer only if it is usually needed in your society. But first and foremost, get information on how to act from some reputable source, like a local landlords’ association.

    2. LW2 here, I am so sorry for what you posters have been through! That’s really awful.
      I don’t think he is potentially abusive (I’ve been in a very abusive, violent relationship before and I like to think my instincts in this area are well honed but I could be wrong), and I’m not in the U.S. so unfortunately none of those services are available. I have had contact with a legal service previously for other matters though and I can make an appointment there as well as speak to my landlord; he pays rent directly and is listed as a tenant but the lease is in my name only (we are in community housing, not a private rental so it’s a bit different).

  3. I was once in a similar situation to your, LW2, in that I had to evict a dear friend who had moved in with me “temporarily” and ended up staying for a very long time, and I heartily recommend the savings account idea.* By the time we had the talk, she was in debt to me for a very significant amount of money and wanted to use a windfall to pay me back, but instead I said that I would forgive the debt and she could use the money to find another place to live. Although it was still very emotionally hard and I still felt guilty about forcing her out, it did help to know that she had a small cushion to fall back on and wasn’t immediately wandering around in the rain with a hobo bag over her shoulder or something.

    *subject, of course, to any legal advice you receive.

    1. I’ve currently got a friend who is in the situation of LW451 – she isn’t happy with her boyfriend but she’s not made up her mind about leaving him either. Since her job conveniently relocated to be far closer to my home than the one she shared with her boyfriend, and our place has a separate room+bathroom with its own entrance, my friend is now living there several days of the week. Mr Theorem and I sincerely hope that she will at some point make up her mind to leave him; some of the things he’s done to her are bad enough that he is not welcome in our home. And when she does make up her mind to leave and get an actual flat for herself (which she can afford, provided she does decide to leave him), we plan to help her get started by giving her back some or all the money she’s paid in rent while staying with us.

      I feel deeply blessed to be in a situation where I’m able to help a friend in this situation. I’ve been there myself, about 20 years ago, getting evicted and having to stay with a friend while finding another place. I was fortunate enough that it was only a matter of a couple of weeks, and it didn’t involve a relationship with anybody other than a jerkass landlord… but I’m very glad to be able to pay it forward.

      1. It sounds like your friend is getting ready to leave him. She’s fortunate to have you. If I may recommend a book that is very helpful to me currently in a similar situation:

  4. Nthing the recommendation to seek legal advice. A neighbor of a friend of mine owned a home and his girlfriend lived with him. When they broke up, she wouldn’t move out. It got bitter and nasty and she ended up filing a restraining order against him, and he had to move out of his home. He ended up evicting her, but that took months. Hopefully your ex will move out on his own, but definitely cover yourself legally just in case.

  5. >hearing them during a traumatic moment means they tend to stay with us forever as “things that are true” about us that we can gnaw on in our most vulnerable moments.

    HAHAHA. *laughing means I’m not crying at the truth in this sentence* The good news is that thanks in part to the great folks here, I know that those things heard during a traumatic moment are not even necessarily true, and definitely not the only things that are true.

    1. They’re probably less likely to be true than things said at any other time, because even if they seemed true to the person who said them at the time, Traumatized!Brain is not very good at hearing things accurately.

      The words are part of the trauma. They’re not some other special unrelated truthiness moment — they stick because they are part and parcel of the rest of the trauma.

      You’re doing great to know that!

      1. Plus, the source is highly suspect! Someone in the process of becoming your ex is not starting from a place of “how can I help this person I love reach his/her full, amazing potential?” The person is starting from a place of “S/he has hurt me! How can I even the score?!?! Oh, I know! I know ALL his/her vulnerabilities! I will zing him/her in every fucking one of them, and call it righteous truth-telling!”

    2. Yeah, I’m still working on making myself believe that angry people do not have some super-truth power, and are often just being dicks.

      1. Yes, sometimes “brutal honesty” is just a form of emotional brutality. That what is being said is allegedly honest does not divorce it from its lack of tact and lack of kindness towards the person it is being told to.

        500x yes to “angry people do not have some super-truth power, and are often just being dicks.”

        1. This thread (and the original quote) explains a whole ton about how exactly manipulative dickheads have managed to get inside my head at vulnerable times SO FREAKING OFTEN. Many thanks to all involved. Here’s hoping that seeing it this way will help me avoid that unnecessary pain in the future!

  6. DeBecker is very good for establishing and maintaining boundaries. Get and read any of his books. All relationships fall apart when someone can’t be or refuses to be self-validating. When they need your approval for every decision they get to live an untroubled life guilt-free life, and you get your troubles and guilt-load compounded. It’s time to publish a “not responsible for decisions, guilt, debts, or emotional baggage other than my own” statement. Paste it to the inside of the front door.

    1. “It’s time to publish a “not responsible for decisions, guilt, debts, or emotional baggage other than my own” statement. Paste it to the inside of the front door.”

      This needs to go on a poster, t-shirt or tote-bag!

    2. (LW2 here) I adored The Gift of Fear, really must reread it! It helped me immensely in dealing with my (then) violent partner until I was able to get out of the situation.

  7. LW2, I just want to say, from the guilt perspective to keep in mind that if he does wind up needing to live in a homeless shelter or in some sort of institution for a while, that that might end up being the best thing for him. Those types of situations, while unpleasant, have better access to the resources he ultimately needs than you do. In many many ways, living somewhere with access to professionals whose job it is to guide him to independence is better than living with an estranged or ex-girlfriend who is done with the helping. You don’t have to help him, it’s not your job and at the end of the day, it’s his responsibility to get the help he needs to manage to live in this world.

    For both LWs, the best way to learn to be independent is to be independent. Sometimes we have to be forced into it, like baby birds being pushed from the nest. It sucks to be the one whose doing the pushing, but it doesn’t make you a bad person to need to do that. You get to take care of your own needs and desires in this world.

    1. Right, the social safety net isn’t always all it could be, but shelters & hospitals exist for a reason. Pros can help the ex in a way a reluctant, angry, and resentful ex cannot.

    2. (LW2 here) That is a fantastic point. We broke up before and he stayed in a mental institution and I felt AWFUL but really, trying again just didn’t work and if he becomes very depressed or suicidal that will be the best place for him. In Australia, where I am, homeless shelters aren’t too bad really and the availability of places is surprisingly good, so I don’t think he will likely end up on the street per se.

  8. LW1 – about not getting into grad school. If you really want to go, then try not to let initial rejection get you down and start thinking about steps for a new application cycle. People get accepted to or rejected from programs for arbitrary reasons that sometimes have nothing to do with your actual qualifications as a student (funding, number of applicants, how many students faculty members are already working with, what you are studying, etc). My husband and I applied to five different programs. I was accepted at three and he was accepted at one. The one I really counted on being accepted to, because of its seemingly low requirements to get in, was one of the ones I was rejected from. We’re now two years in at the university we were both accepted to, with full funding. It works out strange sometimes. You might consider contacting faculty at the schools you are looking into or reaching out to the school(s) that didn’t accept you. I was really shy about this at first, but once I got the courage to reach out, my experience was that faculty (even famous ones at prestigious universities) are generally pretty willing to discuss these things with prospective students and really like to engage with students that will be a good fit. (Maybe you’ve already done all this, but I thought I’d offer it up just in case.)

  9. To the second question, on the issue of the possibility of him ending up in a homelessness hostel or something of the sort – yes, that may happen. That would be okay. Even if it would be awful, that is not your responsibility, but you obviously feel a lot of guilt over the potential of making this guy homeless and I would like to reassure that hostels actually aren’t all that bad (some level of this is location dependent of course, but I am speaking from my experience – I am a professional in this field). He will get a lot of support around turning himself into a person who can live alone, without support, and it sure as hell sounds like he needs that. They will set him up with courses about independent living, about cooking, budgeting, holding down tenancies. He will be engaged with professionals over his mental health problems. He will be encouraged to develop hobbies and goals and build a social life.

    He will have a support worker encouraging him to do all of the things you have been trying to encourage him to do. Because that stuff? That is a support worker’s job. It is not a girlfriend’s job. I get PAID to do this and I still find it incredibly stressful and tiring, I can’t imagine how tough it must be to be in a relationship with someone who you find yourself relating to in the way I relate to my clients.

    At some point in his life, it is very important that this man learns how to live independently, because that is important for everyone. Chucking him out may well do him a favour, in putting him into a position where he gets professional support in turning from a man child into an adult.

    But in general: all of this? NOT YOUR RESPONSIBILITY. Supporting people like your boyfriend is what I do for a fucking salary, so if you’re unhappy, please god do not continue to do this for free. It sounds like you probably have another full time job, and you’re a parent. You don’t need to be part-timing in support work too.

  10. LW1 – I understand being a logical person, so perhaps my experience will help you tease out your reasons (you don’t need reasons, but they can be nice to have when making your own decisions). I was once with a man who I was very supportive of, but then a few years into our relationship I was sitting some important exams and asked him to handle all the chores for 2 weeks, and generally be supportive of me (I’d done similar things for him previously). He didn’t do the chores and the night before the most important exam, he had an emotional meltdown for no reason, and I spent the night comforting him rather than studying. This was a pattern and it lasted way way too long (more than a decade) before the relationship ended. You’ve just had a terrible time, a really terrible, hard, awful time, and your man has responded with a relationship talk about how the last week hasn’t worked for him. I recognize this behaviour.

    The otherwise sweet intelligent and handsome man of my own experience just didn’t see other people’s problems. It was all about him. And when my support of him went away because I was in a bad place, or sick, or studying, or eventually suffering from depression, he was never there for me, and would see a problem with the relationship. It’s an awful trap LW, where you start to feel like you must be the needy one, or that you have unreasonable demands. And it’s a trap where you slowly lose all respect for your partner, and start to resent them. But at the same time you double down on your efforts to be supportive because when you are they’re so nice and things are like they used to be.

    If this is what’s going on in your relationship, if this is a pattern, know that it won’t change. He won’t be there for you, and he’ll expect you to always be there for him. It probably will never be said out loud, you’ll just notice that whenever things are really really hard for you, something will mean that they’re harder for him, and he needs your support right away. In good relationships people are there for each other – it’s reciprocal, not one sided. That he isn’t there for you when you need him is possibly what’s underpinning your ambivalence. It’s a good reason to get out.

    1. Oh yes, this very much!

      I’ve seen this dynamic in which Friend was a giver and was engaged to a taker. The giver went to all of the taker’s events, but the taker never went to the giver’s events. The taker interrupted the giver’s study time with Woe Is Me chats, and expected the giver to give, give, give. If the giver expected anything at all, suddenly the giver was declared the most selfish person on Earth.

      Friend giver ended the relationship and is now very happy with a new partner who is much more reciprocal.

    2. Oh yes, this is definitely A Thing, and you’ve described it very well. In my experience, there are even a couple different varieties of said Thing:

      1. Classic. This is what you and LW have described here. Person A normally gives and Person B normally takes. Person A has $crisis and asks for support and/or alone time. Person B has meltdown when Person A is no longer giving, demands attention and support.

      2. Opportunistic. Person B has a history of manipulating Person A, relationship is now coolly detached as Person A has established Boundaries. Person A has $crisis, and Person B seizes this as an opportunity to manipulate / abuse Person A while hir defenses are down.

      3. Indifferent. Person A normally gives and Person B is ~neutral. Person A has $crisis and asks for support, Person B fades away into the woodwork, only reappearing after $crisis has passed.

    3. You’ve just had a terrible time, a really terrible, hard, awful time, and your man has responded with a relationship talk about how the last week hasn’t worked for him.

      And if the LW needs any reason to get out of the relationship, this is it. The most important thing about all those disappointments/scary things is that the LW isn’t entertaining her boyfriend enough. That’s… not a good priority.

    4. I don’t remember where exactly I read this (it might have been in Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay which is great for relationship ambivalence) but I read that in situations where the relationship hasn’t been good for a while, the factor most often precipitating divorce is when the woman goes through a difficult situation and gets no help from partner or partner makes it worse. Because in order to get through the bad stuff, they get their support system together, and they start to realize that they can handle anything with or without the partner.

      I had a long term partner who could offer support as long as everything else in his life was going well. If there were any other problems, forget it. I did so much accommodating and anticipating his moods and needs in order to make things more pleasant for him. When I was under stress, I would get crap for not thinking of him and his needs. I never could figure out whether he was consciously manipulating me or if he was just so self absorbed and oblivious that he honestly thought he was being fair.

      1. …that statistic, yeesh. My partner and I are temporarily(?) separated and trying to figure things out because of just such a situation, and that’s pretty much how it went–deteriorating relationship, traumatic family event, insufficient support from him, relying on Team Me to get me through. It’s a good thing to figure out, and knowing that I can make it on my own (even if it’s hard) is a good realization–I just so wish I hadn’t had to. Especially because everything’s harder with grad school.

  11. LW2, I needed to second the Captain’s suggestion that you absolutely should get a lawyer. The issues with removing someone from your house who does not want to go can be huge, and–not to scare you, but–I know from experience that you can get in a lot of difficulty if you do it “wrong.” And unfortunately, “wrong” and “right” vary enormously depending on what your circumstances are, what agreement (if any) you had with him, what city, state/province/region, and country you’re in, etc., etc.

    I know it’s difficult and scary and time-consuming and potentially expensive, I know. But I recommend it for any situation more complicated than “I said I wanted them to move out by X date and they said okay and did.” Because the alternatives can be a lot more difficult, scary, time-consuming and expensive.

    Best of luck!

  12. “You guys watch The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, right?”
    Yes, yes, definitely! I love the way they’ve updated it for the modern age – particularly Charlotte and Lydia’s storylines.

    LW1 – It is a very emotional time for you right now, but it sounds as if you’ve had doubts before the recent death, etc. And sometimes, shake ups & upheavals help you see things in other parts of your life that aren’t quite right. You can’t be rational about romantic feelings & that’s okay. You don’t have to talk yourself into staying with this guy if you don’t want to. It’s okay. Romance is not rational and that’s okay. Your happiness in this relationship, that’s what matters, not logic.

    I am so sorry that you’ve gone through so much negative stuff recently but think of this as one of the positive parts – having the power to make one part of your life better for you, freeing yourself from obligation and ‘shoulds’, so one aspect of your life goes the way you want it to. Best of luck with whatever decision you choose to make to help your happiness and wellbeing. The same goes for LW2, but with much agreement over seeking legal advice first.

    I wish the best for both LWs, however they decide to take their issues forward.

  13. LW#1, I am so sorry to hear about all the stressful things that have been going on in your life lately!

    I was recently going through some old journal entries I wrote in the last months of a dying relationship. It is so clear to me that the refrain of “I want this to work, nothing is changing, why am I so sad?” I saw repeated over and over again was a HUGE sign that it was past time to move on, but at the time it was so hard to accept that the two of us had changed and were no longer happy together. I definitely let things go longer than I should have; I was starting to feel pretty frustrated and resentful by the time I broke up with my boyfriend, and by that point he’d said some hurtful things to me that maybe could have been avoided if I’d ended things earlier (I’m sure he would have been thinking them but at least I wouldn’t have heard them!).
    I lived with that pit-of-the-stomach sinking feeling for months before I realized that it would probably GO AWAY if I broke up with him, and indeed it did.

    1. Yes! That horrible feeling of dread over ending a relationship you no longer want goes away fairly soon after you end it. In my case it took longer than it should because the ex was threatening suicide and trying really hard to get my attention. But getting over a relationship you were no longer invested in is still easier than staying in a relationship where you don’t feel happy.

  14. LW1 you should leave now I think, as you seem to want to. Sadly you cannot make your boyfriend deal with his depression or change himself. You can be supportive but the change and energy all has to come from him.

    My closest friend waited much much longer, and got married, and his depression got worse and at the end she was supporting them both and trying to push him into therapy and she ran out of energy. She had thoughts of suicide because that was the only way out she could see. She also moved into LW2 territory as if she kicked her husband out then he had few options and no job (he moved back into his mother’s house in the end).

    Your story might not turn out the same of course. I guess I mention it only as a cautionary tail. But also as a hopeful story because my friend ended it all and got out. She has struggled in the year or so since but she is much happier with her own small flat and the two tiny dogs that she could never get before. Her life is her own to make of what she will. And her husband is also doing better from what I can tell (he has moved an hour away and we see him less). He has some part time work and seems to have pulled together a little. The analogy of pushing a baby bird out of the nest is very apt (thanks Turtledove).

  15. LW2: Your job’s Employee Assistance Program may also offer counseling for the other person, too. Mine covers everyone in the household, regardless of relationship.

    I cut off financial support to my ex a couple of years ago in approximately similar circumstances (though it was her parents who had to evict her, not me). She is officially homeless; she probably couch-surfs (she has a lot of superficial charm), she does odd jobs, she moves around the country and her mother buys her lunch when she’s in town.

    And instead of all of us being miserable, we have one woman who can make an independent life for herself if she chooses, and the rest of us relieved of the burden of dealing with her.

  16. LW1:

    Pretend you can wave a magic wand that makes your boyfriend impervious to the pain of a breakup. You can make any decision you like, and he won’t be hurt! How far does that tip the scales in favor of breaking up with him?

    If part of you still wants to stick around, then maybe it’s worth giving the relationship a little more time and effort, seeing if you can fix the broken parts. But if the prospect of a happy, easy breakup makes you want to break up with him … that’s your answer right there.

  17. I think there should be a 3. in response to LW2 regarding suicide threats which is “If you are considering suicide or self-harm, I am going to call 911.” And do it.

    1. That is the correct recommendation. If they are serious, Emergency Services will sort them out. If the threat is not serious, this will teach them not to try to manipulate you that way. And you might need police, etc. to protect YOU from the person who just threatened to murder someone to get their own way.

  18. Also, if either of the LW’s soon-to-be exes does have chronic mental health issues, they might qualify for assistance from whatever their local equivalent is of Aging and Disability Services and/or Independent Living Resources, as far as obtaining housing and other services. It sounds like this might be more of a possibility for LW2’s STBX, since he’s already aware that he has these issues and LW2 has already decided to kick him out, but if LW1 reaches the same point, it might be possible for one of those organizations to refer him to an psych evaluator so that he can get services. And speaking as someone who is both autistic and has serious mental health issues, I don’t think that the neurotypical partner has any obligation to be the non-NT partner’s sole caretaker, or even a caretaker at all if that’s not what they want. Good luck!

  19. “In fact, hanging out waiting for (or looking for) a clear, incontrovertible reason is going to destroy any and all affection you have left for this person.”

    Oh Captain, I wish I’d had your wise advice many years ago in my first relationship!

  20. LW451, I want to comment specifically on the responsibility-shifting that you mentioned. Your partner sounds similar to someone I dated for several years. He hadn’t finished high school and hated his job (when he had a job, which was not all the time). I think he was very unhappy and he probably wanted out of his crappy situation, but he wasn’t willing to put in the work to get out.

    He said he wanted to finish school, provided I taught him. (I was finishing high school at the time). Eventually I told him that I couldn’t be his teacher, but I did look into opportunities for getting his diploma or an equivalent credit and I gave him all the information I found. When I asked him a few months later what had happened with that, he blamed me for not doing enough of the work. If I had taken him to a school and registered him, he probably would have blamed me for not walking him to his first class. If I had walked him to class, he probably would have blamed me for not making sure his homework got done.

    Your partner blamed you for not giving him a psychiatrist’s number. If you had given him the number, I think he quite likely would have blamed you for not making the phone call, or not setting up the appointment, or not making sure he went to the appointment.

    Your partner might not be doing this intentionally. I would totally believe that he wants to get help, and that he doesn’t want to smother you. But he needs to put the work in himself. He can’t contract that work out to you. Even if you wanted to do the work for him, that wouldn’t actually help. If he won’t put in the effort, there isn’t much you can do.

    1. Ugh – yes this is familiar too… >.<

      It seems to me that the question of whether one's partner is behaving badly intentionally is actually a red herring. We get caught up in the question – are they just a pathetic mess, or is this deliberate, evil, manipulation? It seems important, because we think we would never stay with the cold deliberate manipulator, but perhaps the pathetic mess is worth our effort. Our guy/girl isn't *that guy/girl* so we're not being emotionally abused and it's OK to stay.

      But the effect is the same – you get manipulated and your head gets all twisted around and you feel awful. The reactor core doesn't need to want to hurt you for it to be a bad idea to sleep next to it.

      I don't think my dodgy ex was doing the bad things he did deliberately either. I may be wrong about that. There's actually no way to tell. And I got stuck on that distinction for a decade, when the important question was "what is he doing and is that OK?" not "why is he doing it?". So yes – I agree with Copcher here – this is bad behaviour and his responsibility regardless of intention.

  21. LW1, I have SO much sympathy with the brigade of ridiculously negative events coming all at once.

    If you have a “Team You” that you feel you can lean/rely on, I recommend you tell them what is going on, what you want to do relationship-wise, and if possible, tell them when you plan on doing it. What you want to do with your relationship is rough given relatively normal stressors in one’s life, but given the recent events, you definitely need a support system more than ever ❤

  22. LW451:

    Look at it this way: you are now free to apply to any grad school that you fancy. You don’t need to work around your current job or your soon-to-be-ex boyfriend, which gives you much more freedom. (Rejection sucks, but being rejected by the place you wanted does not mean that you’ll be rejected forever from every grad school. Reapply. Apply everywhere, particularly to places with funding. If that means moving… well, now you have the opportunity.)

  23. “Everything that happens between us takes on a larger significance because it is part of a decision matrix! Am I happy? What is happiness, anyway? How much happiness does a person really need? Surely this is good enough?”

    YES. And then I ask myself questions such as, “How much happiness is realistic?” “How happy are most people?”

    My life, personally, has been full of so much unhappiness, tragedy, drama, and catastrophe — and in the last year in particular it reached a level of WTF-ness where I’m finally inspired to write my memoirs, as people have been urging me to do for years (I’m 28 years old, btw) — that it makes me wonder if this is preparing me to be grateful to reach utter mediocrity someday.

  24. I was in a much milder version of LW 452’s situation: I own my house and rented a room to a friend from work and after about a year, we weren’t getting along at all and I had to ask her to move out. Luckily, I’d made a rental agreement when she moved in, so I was able to give her a document that referred to the agreement we’d both signed stating that either of us could terminate the lease with X days notice, per state law. So I definitely second talking to a lawyer, especially if you don’t have a rental agreement, because local laws vary and it could be complicated.

    One thing I ran into with it was she tried to guilt-trip me because she couldn’t find somewhere else to rent that was as nice as my place for the same price. Well yeah, I’d given her a low rate because we were friends. The fallacy there was she thought it was my fault she got used to having her own bathroom and parking and so on, and it was unfair for me to make it so she couldn’t have those any more. I expect your guy is likely to pull the same thing. Just remember how ridiculous the idea behind the guilt trip actually is: “you freely chose to provide things for me and now that I’m used to those things, you have to keep providing them forever.”

    Stay strong! Best of luck to you!

    1. Oh, that is ridiculous, but also kind of funny – “your generosity ruined my life!”. Good on you for getting your friend to sign a rental agreement – if I ever rent out a room in my house I will do the same thing, as it was bad enough trying to deal with housemates we were no longer getting along with in a rented house (we ended up moving out of a perfectly good place just to get rid of a particularly bad housemate).

    2. I had a similar situation, though I didn’t do a rental agreement because I wanted her on a month-to-month tenancy so I could kick her out with a month’s notice. As it happened, she quit her temp job shortly after getting it because she didn’t like the commute, and then was shocked to find out that quitting your job means you can’t go back to collecting unemployment (which would have covered the rent I was charging her just fine). Things got bad when a couple of different events converged: she wasn’t really putting effort into finding a job and was too broke to ever leave the apartment; my mother died suddenly and I was too much of a mess emotionally to confront her (even as I was DESPERATE for her to spend a frickin’ night away so I could have the place to myself); and I became aware that if I kicked her out, she would attempt to skip out on me and over a thousand dollars in back rent she owed me. Which in fact was what happened — she went into a sublet with a new boyfriend and didn’t tell me what the address was. I was only able to collect on the back rent because she’d left documents in my apartment with her social security number on it and I met a guy at the dog park who was a private investigator and got an address for me. I took her to small claims court, presented the arbitrator with all the emails she sent me acknowledging how much she still owed me, and got an award for everything I asked for. She’d already trashed me up and down to our mutual friends behind my back (while I tried to keep our dirty laundry private and NOT trash her for being a deadbeat), so I figured I’d get what she owed me.

  25. “I have had the occasional moment of, “this is definitely right for me”, but more often I have had doubts about whether I really want to be with him.”

    Honestly, LW, I’m surprised to hear you say you can’t articulate why you want to break up with him in a rational sense, when you’ve given several very rational-sounding reasons why that might be a good idea. I’m not surprised that more upheaval sounds scary right now, and that maybe you’re feeling like you have to stand behind your choices because you’re so frustrated by his indecision, but I think you might want to consider that what you’re labeling your “gut sense” is actually a realization that what you want the relationship to be doesn’t match up with evidence that’s been piling up for a while now. He’s insightful? Maybe on some stuff, but apparently not on what you’re going through right now and what kind of support you need from him. Which in turn doesn’t seem like it would contribute to living harmoniously together from a long-term perspective, at least as more than roommates. Of course you don’t need a reason beyond “This isn’t working for me,” but if something more concrete will help you take whatever steps you need to take, I think you’ve got plenty to choose from.

  26. I suspect no one will see this, but Team Awkward, I think I like this advice column best because I see my faults so clearly. I talk about my feelings a lot; but maybe I should keep in mind that sometimes FEELINGSTALK can be manipulative. It’s good to have relationships where sharing is encouraged, but that does not take the place of self-monitoring for a healthy exchange. I read these complaints and problems and I see small pieces of myself in the antagonist. In turn, reading advice about boundaries helps me lessen the antagonist side within.

    Thank you for that.

  27. Hi everyone! LW2 here. I’ve replied to a number of posts but I might as well pull it all together into one. Firstly though, THANK YOU AWKWARD AND CO. YOU ARE AMAZING. I heard about this site because a friend recommended it and wow it’s just the best thing since sliced bread. Ok and moving on;

    I have given boyfriend (did I mention we were engaged? owch) until easter to move out. He keeps saying he doesn’t have a job and can’t afford it, he needs a job first etc. and I say that whether or not he has a job, he will be leaving. This appears to be sinking in as he has stopped arguing with me about it and when I remind him that he is going to have to move, he says he’s trying (which is an improvement from the barrage of emotional blackmail I used to get). Of course none of this happens around the kids.

    Right now we are still sharing a bed because lack of free space but I am thinking you are right, Captain Awkward, that he’s going to have to migrate to the sofa. We should probably start separating our finances too, since we share bills and food etc. at the moment. I often travel to visit my family and have decided that from now on I’ll go without him.

    Getting a lawyer is just a huge lightbulb moment, I can’t believe I didn’t think of it. He is listed as a tenant and pays rent but the lease is in my name, however I should discuss this with my landlord. I am in community housing (not in the U.S. though) so I believe this will be up to that organization. I should probably notify the welfare office here to tell them as well, and basically just start with those practical things.

    This has been an enormous help, thank you all so much!

    1. Hi 50 Shades of Done,

      I know you wrote this weeks ago, but I only just noticed it…anyway, it’s not *quite* Easter yet, so perhaps this will still be helpful.

      Anyway, might I suggest that kicking him out of your bed might help make it real, and prompt some movement on his part towards finding alternate arrangements? It sounds like on a practical level nothing has changed yet, so he might not have internalised that it’s really, actually going to happen. From what I understand of things like this this might be where he gets unreasonable (as it stops being hypothetical when he has to sleep on the couch), so possibly the kids might need to stay somewhere else for a day or two if you think he’ll make a huge fuss/be angry and scary. 😦

      Also, this is some great advice that a friend gave me when I broke up with a long term partner. If you have a shared bank account, get a new one in your name only ASAP. Get your pay paid into the new account, not the shared one. This will help massively with separating your finances. Since you’re supporting him financially, perhaps only an agreed upon amount could be transferred into the shared account for his use. That way once the Easter deadline comes he won’t be able to harvest your cash.

      You mention you’re in Australia (me too :-)) – so he doesn’t need a job. He needs to sign up for Newstart (I assume your income was making this impossible before?) or maybe even the Disability allowance if he has a psychiatrist who will sign off on it for Centrelink. Then he’ll have enough income to get a room in a sharehouse or maybe even a teeny flat on his own. There will probably be forms to sign and proof to be given that you’ve really broken up, since they’re not good at believing that until the ex actually moves out, but since you are kicking him out in a week or so it shouldn’t be impossible.

      I can’t imagine how awful it must be sharing a bed with someone you’ve broken up with. Have all the jedi hugs and sympathy you can possibly use! Couches suck and are uncomfortable to sleep on for days on end – getting him to sleep on one will give him a good reason to start looking for his own place. But more importantly it will give you your own private bedroom back.

      Good luck!

  28. I had a situation last year somewhere in between the LWs of this post; my then-boyfriend had undiagnosed/untreated mental health issues, did not have a job and wasn’t really looking, and I was paying rent, bills and bus fare for both of us. Combine that with him getting insecure and anxious any time I talked to any of the other people I was involved or involved-ish with (poly relationship, I got engaged last week to my other long-term partner of the time [!!!]), semi-regular interruptions of my sleep schedule (invariably when I had work the next morning) for FEELINGSTALKS, not helping out around the house even when I asked him to do a specific thing at a specific time, and I ended up deciding that none of it was My Problems anymore and I was going to move out and he’d just have to figure something out like the adult he technically was. I gave him and my other roommate two or three months’ notice, paid the rent for an extra month and gave my ex a few hundred dollars to help with move-out costs, and it worked out great for me and okay for them.
    It felt like I was being super harsh at the time in some ways, but enough of me was in agreement that it was an unsustainable situation and had to change to make it work.

  29. LW1 here. Thank you all so much. After a few false starts, I finally ended things. I am very sad but I do also feel very relieved. I guess part of my motivation for writing this question was the age-old “seeking permission” and a diffusion of responsibility. But I’m glad I did because the replies and the Captain’s advice did bolster my decision (which I feel strongly is the right one). Thank you,

    1. That’s a hard one even when it feels right, so much comfort and love to you as you take your next steps, ok?

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