Is fear of breaking up (FOBU) keeping you in the wrong relationship?

Stuck in an unhappy relationship? Afraid you’ll never find anyone better? Read this to overcome your fear of singledom, and take happiness into your own hands.

Sarah Treleaven 4
A fortune cookie that reads: 'You will make change for the better.'

Though it may seem rough at first, being independent will only make you feel better in the long run (Photo by Getty Images).

Recently, I was at a party, and in between handfuls of tortilla chips, I found myself in a conversation about the tendency to stay in a relationship too long – even when you know that the person you’re dating isn’t right for you.

Most people know this phenomenon intimately. Breaking up with people isn’t fun – even if the relationship is well past its expiration date. “Think of happiness on a scale of one to 10,” a friend once told me. “Your relationship might only be a five, but breaking up might temporarily bring you down to a three. It doesn’t matter that you’ll eventually be happier than you were in the relationship. A lot of people can’t pull the Band-Aid off and face that temporary decline.” In other words, we can be as terrible at delaying gratification when it comes to relationships as we are with anything else.

Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo, a Chicago-based psychologist and author of A Happy You, has a name for this: fear of breaking up (FOBU). “The biggest component of it is: I’m never going to find someone else,” says Dr. Lombardo. “It’s fortune-telling and catastrophizing. It’s the ‘I’m going to die alone and my cats are going to eat me’ thinking. And so we think it’s safer to stay in the relationship than to chance not having a chance at a relationship again. It’s the idea that something is better than nothing.”

Several years ago, “Jessica,” a visual artist (who asked that her real name not be used), was involved with a guy she describes as ‘perfect.’ He was older, smart, charming, successful and extremely nice. “But after three years, the only thing we had in common was each other,” she says. “We were worlds apart and there was a particular, more meaningful, intellectual connection that was lacking.”

Jessica was terrified to break up with him for a variety of reasons. “Here I was with THE guy,” she says. “The guy everyone says they want to find and settle down with.” She had doubts about her vague feeling that the relationship was just a wrong fit: “If I couldn’t be happy in a relationship with him – the perfect, most agreeable guy ever – who could I ever be happy in a relationship with? Was I crazy?” Jessica was also fearful of letting other people down – not just her boyfriend, but her friends and family. She suspected that her parents were secretly saving for her wedding. The fear and guilt ate away at her for over a year.

Dr. Lombardo says that FOBU can have a negative impact on many different areas of our life: “It affects us psychologically, because we start questioning ourselves and our self-confidence takes a hit. It can affect you physically, because it’s a huge stress, and it can affect your sleep and your immune system. It can affect your work, because this constant worry takes up a lot of your cognitive space. And it can also affect you spiritually, even if you’re not religious, if you’re compromising your values and your true belief system.”

Erin Thompson, whose play, Bitch, premieres at July’s Toronto Fringe Festival, was seriously stressed by a man she dated almost a decade ago. They eventually moved in together, but her boyfriend still couldn’t make real room in his life for her. One day, he announced that he was moving out east to go back to school, and that she wasn’t welcome to join him. His departure date kept changing and Erin found herself being strung along.

“In hindsight, as soon as he told me about moving away, I should have packed up all of his belongings and left them outside,” she says. “But I was afraid of what my life would be like without him. I was afraid of losing him because I was afraid I would never love anyone as much as I loved him. And staying in a common-law relationship with someone for nine months longer than I should have, broke me.”

“The fear of breaking up with someone comes from the assumption that it’s better to be with someone than no one,” says Dr. Lombardo. “If you’re miserable in a relationship, you’re better off not being in a relationship at all. Your worth isn’t based on someone else hanging out with you.”

Breaking up is hard to do, but here’s some tips for taking the leap:

1. Keep talking to the people who love you. Make sure you maintain a great support network of friends and family. Nothing makes breaking up seem scarier than feeling completely isolated.

2. Try a reality check. It’s a cliché but it’s true: It’s better to be happy alone than miserable with someone else.

3. Take time for yourself. Dr. Lombardo recommends pursuing the things you love and focusing on your goals. “Just know that this time is for me to work on me,” she says. Try volunteering, a new hobby or taking a course.

4. Don’t underestimate your gut feelings. After the hurt of breaking up, Jessica was pleased to feel an enormous sense of relief. She made the right choice. “Now, I’m with a guy who isn’t perfect, but who’s the perfect guy for me.”

5. Don’t drag it out, once you’ve made a decision. For Erin, lessons learned enabled her to break off another not-quite-right relationship a lot sooner. And the difference, she says, was fewer hurt feelings all around.

Have you ever broken up with someone even though you were afraid? Tell us what got you through it in the comment section below. 

4 comments on “Is fear of breaking up (FOBU) keeping you in the wrong relationship?

  1. Pingback: Advice on leaving someone - Dating, marriage, boyfriends, girlfriends, men, women, friends, attraction ... - Page 3 - City-Data Forum

  2. Pingback: Opie and Anthony » Blog Archive » Breaking Up to Find the Right Person

  3. It’s happening to me right now. I was unhappy in my relationship for 5 months until it ended. He had no filter and told me things like he’s never been in love, doesn’t know what it feels like and doesn’t understand it. He also told me that he’s never been dumped because he was always the dumper. He said the girls fell for him more than he did for them. HE TOLD ME THIS AND I STAYED!!!
    It ended 3 weeks ago when I asked him where I fit in his life. After being together for 9 months (talking everyday and seeing each other about 5-6 times a week) his answer was “I don’t know”. I told him that I couldn’t be with someone who didn’t know where I fit in.
    This hurt my ego hard. Here I was planning on breaking it off, and he says this.
    It’s been very hard on my ego. I don’t miss him, but to hear someone say the things he did crushed me.


    • I’m in the same situation, except we are still together. It is a long distance relationship, I am in NH and he is in Miami, Fl, PARTY CENTRAL. I found out that he has been doing coke and ecstasy behind my back, lying to me about going out until 6am several times, and I even found a girls number in his phone that he had called at 5am. he talks down to me all the time, in arguments he will tell me to shut the f up, and tells me to “listen to him” and contradicts everything he says. he constantly throws things in my face, I found a text to his ex wife that said I love you and I know you love me, at 3am, but he proclaimed it wasn’t the love I think it is because she is now lesbian and they have a child together. either way I said telling your ex wife your issues and not me, and telling her you love her at any time in the day or night is absolutely insane. after all of this, I feel terrible for wanting to break up with him because I know he has a sweet soul deep down and a good heart, and he is just lost. he is 36 and I am 22, but I just do not know what to do anymore. I know we need to break up, I cant trust him at all. but the thought of him out with other girls or doing hard drugs scares me to bits and pieces……………………..


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *