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You’re set to Leave, so now What?

I’ve given my relationship a long hard look over the past six months and without a doubt have decided that it really needs to end. I’ve been with my partner for six years, and after the initial honeymoon, things essentially went downhill from there. We’ve tried couples counselling, but nothing has seemed to make the relationship feel better. At this point, fear is the only thing holding me back; I’m afraid of what people will think about my unsuccessful attempt at a real relationship. I guess I’m worried that my friends and family will see me as a failure and that it will affect how they perceive me overall. My family took a while to get comfortable with me being queer, so I’m especially worried that this will confirm their biases toward gay relationships. How can I get over my fear and do what I know is right?

Dear Amy:
Often in these situations, we can find ourselves reactively leaping to the thought of separation when some hard work and patience could lead to a positive relationship overhaul. In this case, however, it seems you have thoroughly thought this through and carefully considered the possibility of separating, put in lots of effort and have come to a clear and confident conclusion. Now, your issue is no longer a broken relationship but rather your preoccupation with other peoples’ potential judgments and the intense fear of how bad you imagine you will feel as a result.

A theory that I’ve been holding lately is this: when we are sitting in fear of a “future feeling”—in this case, shame—it likely means that there is already some of that feeling present inside of us. One way to reduce the panic about a possible “future feeling” is to get a little bit more comfortable experiencing and expressing that emotion in the here and now. It’s a lot harder to dread something that we are able to befriend and experience with bravery and compassion.

It is important that you examine your own beliefs and notions about breakups and question any shame you yourself might be harbouring about this relationship not lasting through to the twilight years. Unfortunately, we get infected with lots of messaging that frames all splits as either tragic or the result of complacency. The term “failed relationship” is thrown around with abandon, and this has always bugged me—especially when there are occasions in which staying in an unsatisfying relationship could be seen as the real tragedy. We gays have it doubly hard in that homophobia can push us to feel like we have to overcompensate and be so exceptional that we don’t struggle with the same woes as our hetero counterparts.

I have a suspicion that lurking under your self-criticism is just a good dose of old-fashioned disappointment. See if you can brush the shame aside a little, and give yourself room to grieve the loss of what you had hoped this relationship would be—that might clear the way for you to enter your next chapter with less emotional baggage and a more solid sense of self-esteem.