If You’re Breaking Up, Do It Now

I’m Alexander Cheves, a writer, author, and sex educator. My nickname is Beastly. I give adult advice on this blog — no question is off-limits. To ask me something, email AskBeastly@gmail.com or send a message via the Ask Beastly contact form.

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My husband and I sought out an open relationship in December as some of the sex fizzled out. And we met two guys his faded away. I met an amazing man that fufills my sexual needs and my emotional needs. My husband of 7 years and 20 total years together has not always been an affectionate person. And about 10 years ago stopped doing things that made the little differences. Like doting, flowers, special dinners, etc. He said all he wanted was to get fucked.

He feels threatened by my new guy as he sees the attraction and attachment. This new man has breathed fresh air into my life and we are in love. Deep down I feel such guilt as I know that we are going to end in divorce. And will hurt the tender hearted guy I met 20 years ago. I know your gonna say be honest with my husband. Which I am trying to do gently. But am looking for more ideas of how to do this and remain civil and still get done what needs done.

My husband has made it clear he only is interested in fucking. And now he found out I don’t like to top. He is irate and says I have been a sham and wasted 20 years. I don’t view it that way I still care for him deeply but we are essentially roommates. Any thoughts on how I can make this a soft landing? Or am I fucked and just have to drop the bomb hoping for limited casualties?


Tender Hearted

Hi Tender Hearted,

You already know the answer. The worst thing to do in a breakup is to drag it out. If you know separation is coming soon, do it ASAP.

The best way to separate is to calmly sit down with him and tell him you want to leave. Say “I want to break up” or “I want to get a divorce.” He will ask why. When he does, tell the truth in the simplest terms: you’re not happy. Make “I” statements, not “you” statements: “I’m unhappy,” “I want a divorce.” Not: “You’ve stopped doing X, Y, and Z and it’s made me unhappy.” This is not an admonition. It is a love letter saying goodbye.

You’re not happy. That’s the truth, and a good partner can’t argue with that. If you’re not happy, he’s certainly not happy, and stating your unhappiness is better than a list of accusations, problems, or conditions you need to be met in order to stay together (that should have already happened by now). You’re not happy. That’s it. He should want you to be happy because he loves you, and part of love is knowing when to leave.

The immediate separation will be awful. Surround yourself with friends. Avoid drugs. You’ll cry in your car on the way to work. But in a year, things will be less awful.

Your marriage doesn’t sound healthy. It may have been great once, but when you outgrow someone, things break down. You will keep loving the man you met 20 years ago, but that doesn’t mean you should be with him. I love many men in the world, but I’m with someone who’s right for me now. When we outgrow each other, we’ll separate. It will be awful, but that’s the deal we make in love: you share time knowing it will end.

Sexually, it’s normal to like one thing (topping) before realizing you prefer something else (bottoming). Our sexual selves are not fixed, they are constantly morphing with age and experience, and I think most sexually active people — especially gay men — understand that. Even in his bafflement, he almost certainly understands that. And sexual incompatibility is a perfectly rational reason to get a divorce.

But even if the reasoning is rational, hostility is not, and it sounds like there’s some hostility on his end. He sees your evolved sexuality as a “sham.” It sounds to me like he’s bracing for divorce too and is using this as a simple justification for it — as a way to quantify something that isn’t quantifiable (the myriad complexities that draw two people together, then apart). Whatever happens — this is important — do your best to not raise your voice. Adults know anything shouted is said in the heat of the moment and not seriously meant. Saying something softly — even waiting until someone is finished shouting to do so — will defuse the situation and show him you’re serious.

You’re gay men, so you’ll probably have a friendship at some point in the future, but that isn’t an objective for at least a year. You need to live without him for a bit.

I know this isn’t part of your question, but I think you should give yourself some time before starting a labeled relationship with this new guy. Yes, keep seeing each other and deepening your connection, but steer clear of labels and commitments for a year. After a breakup, everyone needs breathing room, re-focused friendships (sexual friendships count), and complete freedom to do anything — to fuck anyone, move somewhere, take a trip, and so on. Adults spend a majority of our lives partnered, so separations and divorces offer rare, blessed space to critique everything, explore, and make changes.

Partners keep us rooted in places and patterns, and most people consider that the definition of adulthood — you live somewhere, go to work, and come home to this person. That life is beautiful, but it’s still a routine in which personal reflection is often put off. You may not feel this way now, but you’re lucky to be entering a time in which you can make decisions without anyone’s emotions to contend with but your own. You may decide to stay where you are and keep your life mostly as it is, but everything should be scrutinized — even this blossoming new connection.

Powerful stuff happens when we do this, yet we do it rarely. People’s beliefs are formed in their twenties, solidified in their thirties, and we enter a mode of defensiveness — defending our beliefs within our respective in-groups — for the rest of our lives (this is why people tend to get more conservative as they age). Relationships powerfully shape our beliefs, especially long ones. Being single gives you a chance to re-evaluate what you think — about love, sex, politics, culture, and everything else. If you’ve thought about traveling somewhere or switching jobs or exploring a kink you’ve never touched, the year following your divorce is the best time to do so.

Give it a year. If this new guy loves you and wants to be with you, he’ll be understanding — you’re going through a divorce, after all — and will be there when you’re ready.

Love, Beastly 

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