You Need Help: Can I Go Through this Heartbreak Again?

Q:

My partner of 5 years ended our relationship while we were discussing our future path and a job offer I’d received. She had been ruminating on not being able to see a future together for years and had fallen into a bad cycle of holding in doubts, letting them build into silent resentment, suddenly breaking up with me and then taking it back the next day.

I really loved our relationship. To me, there were no major value conflicts. We consistently had fun together and I felt a deep attraction and respect for her. I had a lot of faith that the issues she saw were things we would grow and work on together as long as we maintained a secure love and respect for each other. On the flip side, my partner had attachment fears and would often run away from conflict resolution by shutting down and claiming “maybe we are just too different to be together.” This brought a huge amount of pressure on me to be the one to insist we work through conflicts and to maintain the security in our relationship.

After this last breakup (the fourth) I told her that for me it would be final, but predictably she has expressed a lot of regret. She has been going to therapy and reading some relationship books to try to break some of these psychological stresses she has with attachment and communicating emotions. She has asked us to take some months apart and then to reconsider if I might give it another go. Despite my pride, I find I am unable to move on from the relationship and clinging to the idea we will get back together after a few months of personal growth. Does this make me a sitting duck to go through this heartbreak once again? Is this the inevitable point of being truly vulnerable in a relationship and loving someone unconditionally? Or am I really being treated unfairly, and I need to move on and find a love that is equally supportive and secure?

A:

Oh, friend. I’m going to say something very harsh right away, to get it over with: Your partner does not see a future with you. She has not seen a future with you for years. She has told you with words, and she has told you with actions. It is absolutely time to let her go.

Yes, I realize she’s said other things, too. I realize she’s expressed ambivalence, sadness, and regret. I realize you’ve gotten back together three times. I understand why you’re unsure. When someone expresses a lot of contradictory feelings, it can be really natural to gravitate most strongly towards the ones that you want to be true. You love her. Of course you want the truest parts to be when she regrets the break-ups, when she wants to be with you again. And if this had just happened once, I might think that instinct was right. But it hasn’t just been the once. It’s happened time and time again.

You’ve mentioned being the one who has to “insist that you work through conflicts.” I want to be very clear about something here: regardless of what your partner’s fears might be, regardless of her attachment style, regardless of what she is working on in therapy, one person absolutely cannot insist that their partner stay and work on the relationship with them. You cannot insist that you work through your problems any more than you can insist that your partner eat an ice cream-cone, or walk the dog, or take a fellowship. Her choices are her own. In order to work through problems in a relationship, both parties must be present, willing, and able to do the work required. It’s a little like you’re sitting side by side in a rowboat, each holding one oar. When one person does all the rowing, you’re only going to go in circles.

You ask if this is what it is “to love someone unconditionally.” People sometimes take the concept of unconditional love to mean “I will love you whatever you do, however you treat me,” but I think that would better be described as un-boundaried love. We can think of conditions as rules we set on someone else’s behavior, and boundaries as what we ourselves will accept. You may love this person unconditionally, but that does not mean that you should not set boundaries. What’s your line in the sand? How many times are you willing to play your part in this cycle?

Five years is a long time. When you’ve been living in a certain pattern for that long, even if it brings you distress, it can feel far more safe to stay in it than to break free. But you’ve tried to end the pattern before, and you’ve written this letter now. You have an opportunity to say no when and if she asks you to consider getting back together, to help end this cycle. You can set a boundary that sets you both free to grow separately. If you are able to let go, that will clear the space to learn new ways that you can thrive, and someday, I’m confident that you’ll meet the person (or people!) who can see a future with you. It’s time.

I wish you all the best. 💙


You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.


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Darcy

Darcy, a.k.a. Queer Girl, is your number one fan. She's a fat feminist from California who doodles hearts in the corners of her Gay Agenda. They're living through a pandemic, they're on Twitter, and they think you should drink more water! She also wants to make you laugh.

Darcy has written 301 articles for us.

11 Comments

  1. I went through exactly the same with my ex (minus the getting back together) and am quite happy to hear that I’m not alone with this kind of sucky relationship experience. Perfect answer by Darcy, it was just what I needed to hear right now. So, thank you dear unknown person who asked the question and thank you Darcy for answering :)

  2. I’m a big fan of conditional love. Yes, my love for you has conditions and if you don’t meet those my love for you will diminish/disappear and you will be removed from my life. It’s hard but necessary. I’ve been in a similar situation with a woman. Lots of mixed signals, I was the one doing most of the work and the relationship went far longer than it should’ve. It’s easy to think that you’ll get back together bc that’s been the pattern but eventually you have to break that pattern for your own sanity. There are ppl out there who will love you and show it in healthier ways.

  3. I had a partner once who did something similar to this. Every other week or so, she either told me she wanted to break up, or she would actually break up with me – and then take it back. It took almost six months for me to finally end it. I realized that I even though I loved her very much and felt like we “worked” together really well, I didn’t want to be in a relationship with someone who couldn’t decide if she wanted to be in a relationship with me. It made me feel anxious and insecure. It certainly took time to move on from the hope I harbored that we would work things out, but once I did, I discovered how much happier and safer I felt in more stable, secure relationships. I wish the same for you <3

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