How does one respectfully remove themselves from a relationship that in fact does not have any huge problems?
I’m with a righteous man who checks a lot of boxes but doesn’t get me excited. I enjoy his company, we have a great time and do a lot of cultural things. The flip side is there is no passion, there is no tingle. As someone that is used to the old fade out move, how do I end a relationship respectfully and with integrity? And where are my balls to do this?
— Fan of the Fade
One of my favorite “celebrity” relationship therapists is Esther Perel. She’s famous for her work with couples and infidelity (check out her awesome TEDTalk “Rethinking Infidelity”) meaning, she knows a thing or two about the hard work of relationship repair and its tragic opposite: the break-up.
In a recent article titled Relationship Accountability (estherperel.com/relationship-accountability), she details four break-up styles: ghosting, icing, simmering, and power parting, which are on a scale in order of least direct/brave to most direct/brave.
Ghosting, as we know, is a vague-yet-transparent drop-off-the-face technique, while power parting grabs your break-up by those balls you mention and says straight up, “This relationship has been great for XYZ reasons, but now it’s time to end it.”
The other two (icing and simmering) exist luke-warmly in the middle. Sounds to me like you’re somewhere in the simmering department: reducing the frequency of dates and communication while you silently plot your exit, assuming your BF is none-the-wiser — though, he likely is, but just doesn’t have the concrete proof he needs to call it out.
The most interesting part of Perel’s commentary about the four break-up styles is her reflections on what our break-up style says about us. While power parting is often easily done by the self-assured, the other three tend to highlight within us some shadow sides of our sense of self: we’re terrified to hurt our partner so we stay; we’re anxious that we can’t handle being lonely or sad, even just for a little while, so we stay; we like the security of sure companionship, but want to be able to browse other options whilst buffered by a safety net.
The reality of a break-up is that no one will come out of it unscathed. Feelings will be hurt, loss will be felt, and re-learning your daily life without that person in it as a partner will be uncomfortable. Even if a break-up goes swimmingly, these things remain true.
Simmering is a game of avoidance and waiting for the perfect Break-Up Excuse that’ll “force” a choice that’s already been made in head and heart — he cheated on me, she’s too depressed, our sex life just isn’t what it used to be; so, of course, I have to leave now!
The thing about the Break-Up Excuse is that it makes the break up decision appear to be about the partner, rather than being about the one who is leaving taking accountability for what she or he wants, needs, and desires.
It’s okay to just not want to date someone anymore. It’s okay to pursue what makes you happy, not because someone wronged you, but just because you want to be happy. You don’t need to wait for a huge problem. You can just end it — clearly, confidently, kindly, and with trust that the perfect break-up excuse can simply be your desire to break up.
Yana Tallon-Hicks is a relationship therapist, sex educator, and writer living in the Pioneer Valley. You can find her work and professional contact information on her website, yanatallonhicks.com.