How do you break up with someone who is depressed?

Question:

I've been in a serious relationship with someone for a while now, and I didn't mean for it to be serious in the first place, but I guess I didn't get my point across when we were first starting to hook-up. The issue is that he's suffering from depression, and I'm not exactly sure how or when to break up with him. I'd still like to be friends and to be there for him, but I'd like to take away the stigma of a romantic relationship. I'm not exactly sure when or how to go about doing this.

It feels like it'd be cruel to talk to him about it when he's feeling good, because that'd be taking away a time when he's happy, but it feels just as cruel to talk to him about it when he's feeling bad, because that'd be making a bad day worse. There certainly isn't a "good time" to do it, but it's not like there aren't better times than others.

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Answer:

I am sorry to hear that you are currently tolerating a relationship that you don’t want. First off, it’s perfectly understandable that you’d want to extricate yourself from a romantic relationship you didn’t fully intend — especially if that relationship isn’t meeting your needs. You have no reason to feel guilty for wanting what all people have a reasonable right to pursue: A mutually beneficial relationship that makes you feel better in the relationship than you would feel outside of it.

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The best thing that you can do in this circumstance (when only one party wants the relationship to end and the other party might be devastated by the loss) is try to marshal resources and support for your current partner to cushion the fall when you do break up with him. If you personally know any of his friends or family members, you might choose to alert them to what is going on and ask them to check in with him more over the short term.

For similar reasons, it might be best to break the news when your partner is likely to be around other people who love and support him, so he won’t have to cope with his grief all on his own. It is also probably better to tell your partner when he is relatively good spirits, especially if your partner struggles with emotional issues, but not right before something that will require him to perform (like a test, interview, etc.).

If your partner becomes suicidal or threatens self-harm in response to the break up, you can provide resources such as the telephone number for a suicide hotline (The Trevor Project is a great resource for LGBT individuals in the US who are under the age of 25: https://www.thetrevorproject.org). However, it is important that you not make yourself responsible for your former partner’s emotional wellbeing. If you allow your partner to believe that he can convince you to stay with him if he threatens self-harm, you are setting yourself up to be manipulated and emotionally blackmailed. For your own health and emotional wellbeing, you simply cannot let yourself be placed in that circumstance.

Because your boyfriend is someone you cared about and had important shared experiences with, it is only natural that you might like to remain friends with your boyfriend, even after the breakup, perhaps with the idea of offering some limited form of emotional support as well. Emphasizing to him that you like and appreciate him as a friend but just don’t have the energy for a romantic relationship with him may help your ex understand your desire for a transition to friendship, but there is also a chance you won’t be able to be friends for a while until he is over you. If you get the sense that your boyfriend is more emotionally disturbed in hearing from you than he is comforted, you might choose to offer space and check in again after some time has passed for his emotions to cool.

Hope that helps! If you have any further questions or comments, please feel free to leave a comment or get in touch via our contact information available at www.feralattraction.com/conact.

Viro the Science Collie

Viro Science Collie is a PhD virologist and medical writer, experienced in teaching, technical communication, and writing for the public. He has been active in the furry community since 2012 and has been happily and ethically non-monogamous for much of that time. His interests include non-traditional relationship structures, technology, biological science, and tennis.