First off, your writing really moves me and I relate to much of what you write about your family trauma. I am so glad to have come across your articles and have read as many as I’ve been able to find.
My question: I’m a 40 year old gay male (he/him) who has been in a loving monogamous relationship for 6 years. The sex has been on the decline for years and I asked him for an open relationship. Long story short we are not on the same page about it. I recently found a new job about an hour away and am planning on getting my own apartment close to the new office. However we have many entanglements, financial and otherwise. We jointly own rental homes, which his mother manages for us. We have built a home together and have two dogs.
Is it best for me to try to sell/split everything Immediately and go our separate ways? I believe we can split amicably, as we’ve had rational, calm conversations about it. Part of me hopes we can still run our rental business as business partners. But we have had a very codependent relationship, and I’m nervous about confusing him and myself by not making a hard break.
Any advice would be much appreciated.
– Codependent in Grand Rapids, MI
I don’t think “hard breaks” exist for gay men. Our relationships tend to bleed into each other.
You’ve discussed separating amicably so that’s where you’re at. If you’re unhappy with the sex, he is too. You’ve come to one of my dealbreakers, Grand Rapids. You both want a different relationship. You want an open one and he does not.
I’m sorry, but that’s an impossible hurdle. If you stay together and try to overcome it, one of you will likely propose a compromise (you can only have threesomes and fuck other people together, for example) that, over time, will dissatisfy you and lead to resentment — and probably cheating.
If he’s hesitant to the idea of being open, this compromise, should it be proposed, may be the very limit of his comfort threshold, and you will feel guilty and apologetic for taking him there in order to get what you need. For open relationships to work, both partners have to want openness equally.
I think you already know your relationship needs to end. You’re asking if you should do a total goodbye or, for lack of a better phrase, a “soft” breakup. I think you should break up, but I don’t think you need to terminate everything you have. For gay men, separation is rarely total dissolution, at least not after a certain age and maturity level. You don’t have to stop speaking or terminate your business, in fact I know multiple gay exes who run businesses together.
You and your partner are friends. You have a connection. What if your connection is being threatened by the frustrations and misalignments of your relationship? Think of breakups as the next best step of a relationship, because for us they often are. I know many partners whose connections changed, deepened, and evolved into something healthier after they stopped “belonging” to each other. Sometimes the elimination of that pressure and that myth — “I am yours and you are mine” — is the very thing two people need in order to be happier as friends. (Heads up: you’ll probably sleep with him again after you break up, but try not to do that during your first year apart.)
Your feelings for him won’t just evaporate when you decide to split. But you do need distance. You need to move out. So take the job, get the apartment, and give him some space following the breakup talk. During that talk, be patient and gentle, and don’t bombard him with accusations. Make it about you and your needs. This is not the time to say, “You’ve stopped having sex with me!” or, “You won’t consider opening our relationship!” or, “You’ve stopped doing XYZ!” If you say any of that, he’ll just get defensive and the talk will turn into a fight. Don’t even make “we” statements — “We need to break up” — because they’re very assumptive and he’ll justifiably say, “What ‘we’? You haven’t even talked to me about any of this!” Only make “I” statements: “I need this,” “I want to break up.”
The breakup talk is not the time to discuss business particulars, but at least let him know you want to continue speaking, co-parenting the dogs, and running the business you share. I’d even say that you respect and trust him and can’t imagine running a business with anyone else.
Sometime later, when you both have had time to think, sit down and discuss the details — how you’ll run the business and which entanglements you will…well, untangle. Be professional. Create boundaries on what information you will share with each other.
He’ll ask why you want to break up. The answer, at least to me, is simple: your sexual needs aren’t being met and they haven’t been met for years, so continuing this relationship will eventually make you feel resentful and you don’t want to feel that way about someone you care for so much. Buddy, you will probably always love him — I still love all my exes — but that doesn’t mean you have to be with him right now. A remarkable thing about gay life is that the number of men you love at any moment often dwarfs the number of men you are dating or have ever dated. If things go well, he’ll become one of those loves without a root and no fixed label, and sometimes those are the best ones.
Total goodbyes and slammed doors are straight-people bullshit. We don’t have to participate in all of that. Because we’re better than that.