Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Don't let manipulative guy keep you in a dead relationship
Break-up brouhaha, California: I have tried to break up with my boyfriend three times in the last two weeks. I told him that I need to move on, don't see myself with him for the rest of my life, and love him more like a friend.
There is also a 13-plus-year age gap; he's in his mid-20s.
I chickened out and couldn't keep pulling the trigger when he begged me not to do it the first time. Since then, he has brought it back up twice — saying he can't keep walking on eggshells — but when I say, "Okay, then we need to break up," he pulls out dark phrases like, "How would you feel if I was just 'gone'?"
I am taking this as a suicide threat, although I really don't think he'd follow through.
The upshot is that he wants some sort of concrete reason, and keeps asking me, "What is wrong with me?" and I have no answer other than I just don't love him anymore, at least not like a romantic partner.
The final, horrible complication: We work together, same department, same office, and he will quit if we break up.
Carolyn: Let him quit.
You are being manipulated, expertly, and you need to get out of this relationship ASAP.
If you fear he will hurt himself — or you — then enlist the help of a psychotherapist to disentangle you as safely as possible.
He is using your guilt to pressure you to behave the way he wants you to.
That's not an "oopsie," that's who he is. If you stay with him, the pressure won't end; he'll just find new things he wants, and new ways to pressure you into delivering.
The pressure will continue — and possibly intensify — after you break up, too, so you'll need to take careful steps to distance yourself. The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker is your must-read manual to prepare you for that phase.
The one option you need to regard as unthinkable is to stay with this person.
You don't need to give anyone "concrete" reasons for breaking up — "I don't see myself with you for the rest of my life" is as concrete an explanation as you owe anyone — and you are not responsible for his life or his job.
"Boundaries" is overused shrink-speak and a lot of people dismiss it as such, but what it refers to is exactly what you need to see: He is blaming you (in advance) for things that are squarely in his personal jurisdiction.
Even beyond soliciting help with the actual breakup, I think you have strong reasons to get into therapy.
That's because you didn't intuitively reject your boyfriend's threats, or otherwise question their appropriateness. If you don't know where the healthy boundaries are between two people, then your difficulties won't end with accomplishing this breakup. You'll be susceptible not only to guilt over ending this relationship, but also to another relationship with similar problems.
So, please, find a teacher, learn where the lines are, and learn the difference between intimacy and crossing all of those lines.