Leaving a More-Than-Boyfriend

Q: How do I tell my boyfriend of 14 years that I no longer want to be with him? -- Kacey, 35

Dr. Susan: Fourteen years makes you common-law spouses in many places, which is a deeper relationship than mere boyfriend and girlfriend. In deciding how to break your news, think along lines similar to being married. Some considerations: Have you given him a clue that you've been and are unhappy? Are you willing to give him a chance to help you work this out? Do you have a home or children or funds that are comingled, so that you need to seek legal advice to protect yourself? Even if you don't, it would be wise to check out your legal rights and obligations. One of you might even have to pay the other some kind of financial support.

The telling itself is never easy. While you don't have to give him reasons for your decision, it may make things easier if you do. Put yourself in his place and think about how you would like to be approached if the shoe were on the other foot. If you have found someone else, expect emotional fireworks from him, and try to be compassionate. If your reasons are more prosaic--perhaps you've become bored and feel it's time you saw who else might be out there--just tell him the truth. If you are determined not to be swayed by pleading or argument, then be careful not to give mixed messages. That would only prolong the misery for both of you. Should you draw this out with hints ahead of time or make a one-time announcement of your final decision? That depends on your nature and his. Remember that all relationships go through bad patches, and even yours might be worth preserving. Ideally, this is a decision the two of you will be able to discuss like adults.

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