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Couples Chronicles — Interview 8
Devastated: Surviving a Relationship Breakup
by Demian
First published in October 1987
© January 7, 2018, Demian

In a break from our usual interviews with couples, we talked with one man to hear about abuse, which had led to his relationship breakup. Surviving the recent uncoupling was exhausting for Robert, a counselor who conducts personal development workshops for gay men. He had been in a 4-year relationship with Burt.

How did you feel about the end of your relationship?

I was devastated. When I told someone at a bar that I broke up with my lover six weeks ago, he said, “You mean you’re still bothered by it?” He didn’t understand what I was going through.

What was positive in your relationship?

Debriefing time. I need to check in at the end of the day with somebody who comprehends the stress I experience in my work.

What caused the breakup?

He was very possessive. It was not O.K. for me to have friends. We did virtually everything together. I believed that he was all I had.

He told me things my friends had supposedly said about me; that nobody had any love or respect for me, etc. I did not bother to check out the stories because I couldn’t believe that someone who professed to love me would lie to me.

He was very judgmental of everyone I knew. He would be charming to their faces and afterwards say things like “I never want that person in my house again.” After a while, I got tired of trying to defend them, so I stopped being around my friends.

When I finally decided to have an occasional lunch with friends, he realized he had lost his power over me. He was afraid I was going to leave, so he did it first.

How did he end the relationship?

This was the fifth time over the past four years that he broke it off. Several months previous to that, I had told him that if he ever decided to end the relationship again, I would do nothing to stop him, and it would be final. When he said he wanted to end it, I moved out and went ahead with my life.

Was the separation difficult?

He had always been verbally and emotionally abusive, but when I left, he began to make physical threats toward me and my property. Now, I only communicate to him, when necessary, through his attorney.

We had bought a house together a year ago and did not have a relationship agreement or anything that spelled out what would happen if the relationship ended.

He had been utterly offended when the real estate people suggested that we draw up such papers at the time of purchase. I didn’t press for it because I thought that he finally knew what he wanted — a forever relationship. We ended up with no plan of action.

It’s been a long complicated, ugly process, but now it looks as if I’m going to buy him out.

Why did you put up with his abusive behavior?

There were a lot of good things in the relationship. I kept hoping the abuse would stop. I was cut off from my friends, so they didn’t see the relationship patterns and couldn’t help me.

I didn’t let anyone know what was going on. He could be so charming that I didn’t think anyone would believe me. Also, I didn’t like the reflection that was on me — that I tolerated it.

Any ideas as to what caused his abusive behavior?

He comes from an abusive family. His father died from alcohol-related disease and his mother is an alcoholic. His behavior is typical of adult children of alcoholic parents.

Just before the relationship ended, he had a crisis. His doctor said he had to get away for a week. Then something clicked: this man was in crisis when I met him, he’s always been in crisis, and he still is.

Did you think you could change some of his behavior just by loving him more?

Yes. And now I know that I couldn’t have. No matter what I tried to do, it didn’t change a thing.

Were you able to recover old relationships after the breakup?

After the relationship ended, I checked with my old friends about the tales he had told me. None of the stories were true. He had lied to keep me near him.

My friends were chagrined that they had seen so little of me these last years, but are now open to reestablishing things. My two best friends from before are now his friends; they are the only two I lost.

How else have you responded to the breakup?

I founded and host a free, peer counseling group for gay men every two weeks. It serves ex-lovers and recently divorced men.

I realized how useful it would have been for me to have a support group with people who are willing to listen. I wouldn’t have needed to rely so heavily on friends who usually couldn’t understand or tolerate the number of times I needed to talk about the breakup.

The group is also a way for people who are interested in committed relationships to find each other. It can help those who valued what they had, or thought they had.

How would you handle a relationship in the future?

As I developed a relationship with a man, I would not focus all my time and attention on him. I would make it clear from the beginning that I was going to need and take time to be with friends.

I’ve promised myself to never enter a relationship where I give up outside friendships. Outside friends and interests are not mutually exclusive in a healthy relationship.

For handling finances and property during and, if necessary, after a relationship, I think a partnership agreement is absolutely essential.

Also, I am now very sensitive to anything that looks like abuse. Even if expressed as a joke. I will not tolerate it. If it means loosing the relationship or friendship, that’s O.K. I tell you, my antennae are out.

For Tips on abuse, please see: “What You Can Do About Domestic Violence”

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