Lifestyle: When a partner uses threats to stay together, it’s time to break up

I’ve been in a relationship for three years.

Dear Harlan: I’ve been in a relationship for three years. My girlfriend is threatening to hurt herself if we break up. How can I get out of a relationship with her? I don’t want to cause her to hurt herself.


Dear Man: You didn’t cause this. You are not responsible for her mental health. When a partner uses threats to keep someone in a relationship, that person needs professional help — not a boyfriend. If you have a relationship with her family, let them know what’s happening. Encourage them to get her the help she needs. If she doesn’t have family, confide in a close friend and explain the situation. Talk to a therapist who can help you direct her to experts and resources. Make sure she has the number for The National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-8255. At the same time, find people in your corner who will guide and support you. I know you feel responsible for her, but you need to take care of yourself. Staying together is just keeping her from getting the help she needs. She doesn’t need a boyfriend — she needs professional care.

Dear Harlan: I like a woman who recently broke up with her boyfriend. He cheated on her after a long relationship. I want to get together with her, but don’t want to be the rebound guy. Any advice?

Not the Rebound Guy

Dear Not the Rebound Guy: Yes, she’s hurting. Yes, she might need time to recover from the cheating. And yes, you should be sensitive to what she’s going through. But don’t be too nice. While you’re worried about being a rebound man, she might find the love of her life. A rebound can turn into forever if you take it slow. Instead of deciding that this isn’t going to go anywhere, be there for her. Make it clear that you respect her need for space to heal, but when she’s available, you would love to take her out. She might need you now. Wait too long and you’ll miss the rebound and the relationship.

Dear Harlan: My boyfriend and I broke up in October after two years. Our relationship just wasn’t a priority in his life anymore. We wanted to try again, but he wouldn’t fully commit. The relationship has just been dragging along, and it’s very frustrating. I just don’t know how to let go of it, and I also can’t seem to find interest elsewhere.


Dear Lonely: Two years is a long time. You’ve shared meals, conversations and kisses for two years. Losing your boyfriend is losing a part of you. You don’t just snap out of it. This will take time. Give it a good year. I know that’s a long time. But you need the time. You need to be patient. Without patience, you will panic and run back to him or the wrong guy. Take time to get to know yourself again. I called this “training spiritually.” It’s filling your life with activities and friendships that inspire you. It’s losing yourself in activities that don’t depend on a boyfriend. This takes work. What do you love to do? Where can you do it? How long will you commit to doing it? Focus less on finding people who are interested in you and more on things that interest you. Lean on friends, family, spiritual leaders and professionals. Be patient, and appreciate that this is a big, huge and dramatic change.

Dear Harlan: I’m 21 years old and a senior in college. I feel like I know what I want for the rest of my life, but after a year together, my boyfriend is a little slower. We both love each other very much, but I don’t want to waste my time if I want to marry him and just he’s dragging his feet.


Dear Committed: What’s the big rush? It’s only been a year. What are you running from? It’s easy to get married, but much harder to stay married. Don’t run too fast. Give it a couple more years. He might want to graduate, find a job and be in a place where he has security. He might not be ready to commit the rest of his life to you after one year.

Harlan is author of Getting Naked: Five Steps to Finding the Love of Your Life (While Fully Clothed and Totally Sober) (St. Martin’s Press). Write Harlan at harlan(at) or visit online: All letters submitted become property of the author.

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