the loss of another relationship

Graveyard Whistling: Why Do I Have to Breakup 3 Times to Let Go?

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I have a pattern of breaking up with a partner in a failing relationship, and then coming back. It seems like I need three chances, with promises (or no promises) of change, before I realize the relationship is actually unsalvagable. Here’s a story from a romantic relationship that happened some time ago. Maybe I will learn from my mistakes.

Strike One in My Doomed Relationship

This one was new to me. My partner had a landlord… This landlord sent a message to my partner two weeks after we’d been dating. “If he moves in your rent is going to go up.”


I wasn’t moving it. We’d just started dating. I’d slept over TWICE. But the message from the keeper of the discounted (because we love you and your kid) house was, you may not really be involved with this new guy or it will cost you dearly. Well, it did cost us all dearly, but that was a few breakups later.

My reaction to his message was, “That’s not okay. He’s controlling you.” My partner said, “Let me handle this.”

And nothing changed. In fact, things go worse. Over the next six months, I asked several times if there was “any progress” on the landlord. “Not really.” It felt so weird. Like I was being manipulated by her keeper. There was more to the story, of course. This dude used to visit several times a week. He was a “friend” of my girlfriend and her kid. But, the moment we were dating he never came back. He never once shook my hand. Never acknowledged me as a human. Okay, that’s pretty bad, right?

But there was a lot more to the “deal” my partner had made with her landlord. I never really got to the bottom of it. But I knew it was unhealthy and vicious. He was making an attempt, direct and threatening, to break us up. He preferred it when this mom was single and he had full-access to her and her child.

Strike Two in My Doomed Relationship

Jump forward to Thanksgiving time, which happens to fall around my birthday, Nov. 27th. There had been no further conversations with the landlord regarding his controlling behavior, that I heard about, but my partner was talking and helping him and his wife on an almost daily basis. I suppose my girlfriend did ask about their treatment of me, but I was never given an update.

Here’s the scene, my partner and I had just spent a lovely Thanksgiving afternoon with my family. It was beginning to feel solid and secure (in spite of the landlord(s) dysfunctional relationship with my partner. And we had returned to the house. I had listed my girlfriend’s cabinet for sale on Craigslist and a potential buyer had arrived to check it out. As the man pulled up in his truck, my girlfriend casually said, “Me and ‘the kid’ are going over to their house. I’m not sure how long we will be.” “Their house, was the landlords’ other house, the one they lived in.

There was no time to chat about it in front of a stranger, and before I had a chance to think, my girlfriend and her kid were gone. Turns out, the guy didn’t want the cabinet and he left shortly thereafter. So, I’m sitting in my girlfriend’s rental house, having just spent an amazing morning and afternoon with her and her child and she vanishes into her keeper’s house, with her kid. I was alone. She had left her phone on the kitchen counter, so I was also unable to reach her and say, “Hey, what’s up?”

I ended up walking to the landlord’s house and knocking on the door. I didn’t want to be left out of the additional Thanksgiving celebration. Well, it was as if I was carrying a gun when I was let into the house. My girlfriend was across the room looking terrified. Next to her was the guy with a chip on his shoulder. Her kid was bouncing on the sofa and greeted me happily. My girlfriend go up, looking like she was in shock, and ushered us out of the house. I had just caused a scene. I was the bad actor. I was the impatient lover. I was not allowing her to “figure it out” with the landlord.

Let’s See If We Can Work Things Out

This incident caused us a lot of strife and drama. I eventually left her house a few hours later, to go back to my apartment and spend a good portion of my Thanksgiving, being thankful that I had my own place. I was scratching my head a bit. She called that evening but confessed that she had no idea what she had done wrong. “Um, yeah. Maybe we need to go see someone to help us with this situation.”

We met with her counselor two times over the next few weeks leading up to Christmas. I thought we made a plan to begin building a “WE” strategy when dealing with the landlord. Her counselor was also concerned that the influence they had on my partner was toxic and threatening.

We talked about options, what we might change. What our approach would be to them in the coming days and weeks as we tried to negotiate and navigate a truce between the landlord and his butt-hurt feelings toward me. But we didn’t really make any progress. When I would bring it up (“Have you given any thought to…”) I’d be slammed for trying to get into an argument. “No, I just want to hear what our plan is. What are we going to do to come together as a couple?”

Strike Three in My Doomed Relationship

Sometime in January, we had the next incident. In a similar rush of momentum, my girlfriend came into the room and said she and her kid were going to the landlord’s house to pay rent. I was hopping onto a coaching call in 3 minutes, so there was no time to chat about it. Turns out, the universe works in mysterious ways, and my client never showed up for the call. So, I found myself again, in my lover’s rental house, staring at her phone as I texted her, “Hey my call didn’t make.”

This time I was pissed. I grabbed my computer and hopped in my car to drive back to my apartment. As I drove out, I passed in front of the landlord’s house, and there was my girlfriend, her kid, the landlord, and his wife all playing catch in the street. I wanted to run someone over but I didn’t. I drove to my house. My girlfriend called about 30-minutes later. I let it roll to voicemail. She texted, “I didn’t do anything wrong. I don’t know why you’re upset.”

The next day I moved out for good. We had a few more interactions. We went to my therapist this time. And on the day we were going to compare therapy notes this final straw happened.

I told her a bit about my session and what I was learning and working on in regards to our relationship. As she began talking, she got a call waiting interruption. “I’ve got to get this,” she said. “I’ll call you right back.”

Two hours later I called her. “Um, did you forget to call me back?”

I didn’t need any further information. She had taken someone else’s call, thus interrupting our “repair” and then forgot to call me back. GAME OVER. STRIKE THREE.

What Do I Need to Learn About Failing Relationships?

I need to learn to listen when the woman says, “I am really not looking to be in a relationship.” And when they agree to make adjustments in their dysfunctional behavior and yet don’t, they are really giving you the final message. They are not going to change, because they don’t want to. Or the amount of pressure to change, to stay in the relationship, is outweighed by their other priorities. She forgot to call me back, sure. But she was continuing to deprioritize our relationship in her life.

I hope to learn to trust my own red-flag-warning-system and say “No” when it’s time to leave. And say single. Returning to a dysfunctional relationship is part of my own dysfunction. I’d like to stop that self-sabotaging behavior.


John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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Note: this post was originally written in 2014.

How I Can Help

I am a relationship coach and a dating coach. I coach women in small groups as well as individual 1 x 1 zoom calls. If you have questions about life coaching I am happy to talk to you. Please schedule a phone call HERE.

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