Linda Lewis Griffith

How to break up with an emotionally unstable partner

Charlotte Observer/TNS

You’ve decided to break up with your girlfriend. But you’re worried because she has a history of mental instability. The last time you tried to call it quits, she threatened to kill herself. She actually attempted suicide when she was in high school and was hospitalized for two weeks.

You’d feel terrible if she did anything drastic because of you. At the same time, you’re trapped by her behavior. You desperately want to get out.

It’s normal to feel responsible for a loved one’s well-being, even when the relationship is no longer working. The initial attraction may still be strong. You share friends, past memories and an emotional bond.

Still, you can’t stay with someone just because he or she is too unstable to live without you.

Nor should you want to do so.

Ideally, partners carry their own psychological weight and contribute equally to the relationship. A lover should not be a person who requires constant care or saps your financial or emotional resources.

Friends can inadvertently add to the struggle. They obviously care about your soon-to-be ex and are likely to be anxious about his or her mental state. They may try to talk you out of leaving, predicting a horrible outcome if you do.

They may even attack your personal shortcomings and blame you for being callous.

In reality, you’re not responsible for your loved one’s problems. Yes, you care about him or her. You certainly don’t wish him or her any harm. Yet breakups are a fact of life. They’re inevitably painful. However, the vast majority of people move on with their lives.

If they do suffer severe emotional trauma, it’s up to them to seek appropriate care and eventually heal.

Former lovers should be kind and compassionate. They should attempt to make the breakup go as smoothly as possible. Then they are free to focus on themselves and hopefully find a healthier partner next time around.

Linda Lewis Griffith’s column is special to The Tribune. She is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit

7 steps to breaking up with an emotionally unstable person

  • Be strong. Don’t cave into the drama or threats. Do what you know needs to be done.
  • Don’t feel guilty. You’re not responsible for your former lover’s actions. Let go of any blame.
  • Make a clean break. Don’t attempt to soften the blow by promising to remain friends or breaking up in stages. Do it once, then keep your distance.
  • Advise your lover to get counseling. Feel free to make a few suggestions, then back out.
  • Discuss your concerns with your former lover’s family and friends. They may not be on board with your plans. Still, it’s only humane to give them a heads up.
  • Call 911 if necessary. If you discover that your lover has done something drastic, call in emergency personnel. But don’t think you must remain in the picture until they recover.
  • Get counseling. This is apt to be a challenging period in your life. Seek your own supportive therapy.