Q. My now-ex-partner and I had been together for 2½ years and lived together for a little less than two. We had such deep connection, and being in our mid-20s, we talked about the future frequently.
For the past year or so, though, I’ve been struggling with my mental health. I didn’t have a lot of stability growing up, so I tend to see any conflict in relationships as proof that it isn’t real, and withdraw. In doing so, I ended up completely destroying the foundation of my relationship over the course of a year until my partner couldn’t handle it anymore. I feel absolutely horrible for letting things get to this point. My partner didn’t feel loved or appreciated, and after mutually expressing that we’d felt like roommates for months, we agreed to take a two-week break while my partner went on a planned family trip.
I did a lot of apologizing for my actions before my partner left. We had a really great few days, but when they came back, they ended things. They say that they still love me deeply, but just feel disconnected/checked out and simply have “no fight in them” to resurrect this.
The thing is, we share a dog and are going to continue living together. I asked how this is functionally any different than remaining a couple, because — with the exception of removing intimacy — we’re still going to interact every day and will have a front-row seat to the progress we’re making on ourselves as individuals. They didn’t have much of an answer short of saying that while I wasn’t wrong, this was something they needed to do right now, and while it feels like a loss to them they still want me in their future.
This has all left me very confused as to where we really stand — broken up, yes, but irreparably? I see things going two ways: either continuing to live together gives us a unique opportunity to rebuild a healthier foundation as a couple, or it will just make it all the more excruciating when one or the other starts dating other people and/or eventually moves out entirely. I feel like we’re in purgatory!
I know I have a lot to work through on my own and am committed to doing so regardless, but I’m wondering how you’d recommend navigating this new dynamic with the additional goal of repairing our relationship in mind. I hate that I inadvertently mistreated and took for granted the person I care about most in this world, and sincerely want my ex to see that I’m capable of being an attentive, loving person again, regardless of the form our relationship takes in the long run.
Any insight you might have would be tremendously appreciated.
A. I don’t think you should live together, and the fact that your ex is telling you otherwise suggests they don’t understand how healthy breakups work.
They’re not supposed to set the terms for both parties — as in, “We’re going to continue to share an apartment and be in each other’s lives because that’s what I want right now.” You have a say in this too, and it’s clear you don’t want to live with someone who’s moving on.
I know you hope that staying in the same house will lead the two of you back to where you started, but there are no guarantees. Also, you might have a better shot at a good relationship if you take real space from each other. How are you supposed to prioritize your own mental health if you’re performing for your ex? How will you focus if every day at home is a mystery?
Please tell this ex that you need to treat this like a real breakup. Exes share dogs all the time. You can work out a schedule.
If you get back together someday — or become friends — it should be because you both seek it out and feel ready, not because of proximity.
Move out and set up a visitation schedule with the dog.
If you move out, all of your problems are solved. You haven’t given any good reason not to.
By organizing your mental health improvements around winning your ex back, you are still self-sabotaging. If you really want to understand and break these lifelong patterns, you are going to have to create a definitive end to this relationship, and that means not living together, and probably going no-contact for a good while.
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