“After 12 years together it looks like my relationship with my partner is about to end. We’ve been struggling on and off for a few years and have recently both declared a desire to move on. When my last relationship ended, the process of separating was very traumatizing. The fighting and bitterness seemed to last forever and divvying up the stuff (and even friends) was brutal. Right now, things are at a standstill as neither of us seems willing to get the breakup train rolling. We live together so this will mean a lot of upheaval. Is there any way to do this with even a shred of grace and the preservation of my sanity?”
Let’s face it: Breakups are messy because emotions are messy. There’s no way to sanitize a breakup to the extent that it is a perfectly peaceful event. However, there are measures you can both take to minimize the damage and respect the 12 years you had together.
Typically, when separating be-comes a never-ending dramatic rage-fest, it’s usually because a war has been started. Relational conflict often stems from folks being incapable of expressing themselves with vulnerability rather than obsessively trying to win and be “right.” The truth is that there has to be sadness and disappointment somewhere in both of you. Being able to voice these feelings is a good way of finding some common ground and potentially eliciting a sense of camaraderie between the both of you.
A lot of couples seek out counselling as a way of mending an ailing relationship but seeing a professional could also support both of you to navigate the breakup itself. You can utilize these sessions to have frank discussions about move-out plans, financial matters and needs regarding certain friends you each want to have as primary supports. There’s a lot of grunt work involved in separating a long-term live-in relationship and, ultimately, you’ll need to work as a team until the deed is done.
As with any loss, separation brings up grief and its many stages (shock, anger, sadness: You know the drill). In many ways, when a relationship ends, what is being grieved is the loss of the relationship you both had hoped for. Unlike other times of crisis over your years together, this time around you can’t lean on each other for emotional support — this would be the equivalent of ripping the Band-Aid off really slowly. Look to your close friends/family to be your back-up as they have the advantage of distance and perspective.
The best thing you can do to encourage an amicable breakup is to take exceptionally good care of yourself so that you’re less likely to be reactive and make matters worse. If your partner behaves combatively, remember to always meet inappropriateness with appropriateness — it’s your only chance at keeping the peace.