I love you, goodbye: How to break up with someone you love

Q:

My wife and I have been together 28 years, married for 15, and sadly, it needs to end. It’s hard to imagine life without her, but it's time to figure it out.

I don't even know how to begin saying, "I love you. Goodbye."

Trying to talk it out has become fruitless, and every attempt at communication is janky. We break up and get back together as a matter of routine, our values don’t sync, and I feel more numb than hurt.

I do still love her, but I don’t like myself with her. Constant fighting and mean-spirited attacks from both sides leave me exhausted.

Part of me still thinks we should not give up on the decades we put into it, and I have no idea how to go about ending things. Our lives are so intertwined, and I want her happiness, just not with me.

How can I be sure it’s time, and what’s the best way to let her down?

Dear So Long, So Long:

The pain of breakups is undeniable, even when it’s the right decision. Finding comfort feels next to impossible, and tackling the issues can run you in circles. The immediate future will be difficult, but the only way past it is through it.

Here are a few tips for cementing your resolve, finding the words, and starting a path forward with love.

Sadly, you land squarely on some of the sure signs that it’s time to part ways: You keep breaking up, your priorities aren’t aligned any more, you stopped caring, you don’t like yourself, you fight all the time. Signs for couples might also include lost trust, unmet needs, and emotional or physical abuse.

Since you tick so many of the boxes, last-ditch efforts may be in the rear-view mirror, but honest conversations, rekindling connections and/or professional counseling helps some couples.

It’s tough stuff to even consider, but the act of breaking up itself feels even more daunting and brutal. It’s not easy, but it can be done with respect. 

Gratitude. Consciously and purposely think about how thankful you are for the good times. You don’t lose those years because they ended. Make a list of things you love about the other person. Then lead with that when it’s time to talk. 

Honesty and Clarity. When you tell her, refrain from high-octane emotion as much as possible, and stay resolute in your decision. Vagueness is the enemy, so map out what you want to say, and stick to it.

Listening. In order to own the breakup, you should be prepared to let your partner have their say and answer any questions they may have. Remain firm and consistent, and acknowledge issues without going in depth.

Preparation. Be ready for how she may react, and commit to the attitudes of gratitude, firmness and collaboration. There could be tears on both sides, and that isn’t reason enough to stay. Be ready with ideas for logistics like bank accounts and living arrangements.

Distance. You may be tempted to lessen the blow by promising to be friends or see each other occasionally, but you both need space to heal before that happens. Set appropriate boundaries.

When the deed is done, allow yourself to grieve, confide in a professional or someone you trust, and focus on yourself for a while. Breakups are an emotional roller coaster, so remember that you made the right decision, and that this difficult phase will pass.

Illustration by Brad Gibson

Therapists on healthline.com provided some of the advice in this week’s column. The Q is intended as entertainment, not professional help. Send your burning Qs to [email protected].

This column originally appeared in Q magazine. Read the Q advice column archives here, and read the latest issue online here:

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