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.

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. 

17 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……………………..


  4. Im in a situation where I don’t know how I can break up with my bf. We been together for 10 months and it’s a long distance relationship.He’s amazing he treats me like a princess and everything but he’s to clingy,overprotected an jealous and he gets mad for no reason? I love that he’s like that cuz it makes me feel loved and special but he’s always on my ass over everything and I don’t know what to do? I want a break and I talked to him about it and he responds saying “Oh who ur talking to”? “Your going to find someone better than me”? It drives me crazy and i can’t stand it anymore. When I want to go do something he get’s sad and mad about it and it’s not fair because I don’t tell him anything when he hangs out with his friends because I want him to have his own space and be happy. I don’t know what to tell him anymore instead of him responding back whining or crying. I’m basically the man in the relationship an I don’t like it. I see him as my future husband and everything and I told him how i feel about him but i feel like he just fakes about what he says and whine just to get what he wants. I feel trapped because I can’t talk to anyone and my friends because he gets mad about it! I stopped doing everything just because of him and he doesn’t see it and just wants to be clingy. He tells me the same things everyday like how much he loves me and stuff like everyday we argue my feelings for him fade away alittle bit by little, He’s kinda borring me because we talk 24/7 and I don’t want to tell him that because It will hurt his feelings . So Can someone give me advice?<3 Please (:


    • You are supposed to be with someone that walks by your side, not someone that wants to close you in a cage and pressure you into abandoning the things you like. “I stopped doing everything because of him” is a huge red flag, in my personal opinion. He sounds quite self-centered and clingy to me, maybe even manipulative. And you don’t sound very happy to me, either, which is the most important.


    • End the relationship… I know it’s hard. I married someone that I had doubts about. I regretted it many times before we finally divorced after 13 years of marriage. You know you deserve better. Don’t settle for someone you don’t want.


    • Oh my god it’s like I wrote this about my boyfriend, word by word. Is his sign cancer by any chance?


  5. I broke up with my boyfriend of 7 years yesterday and now I’m terrified. I can’t stop crying but I can’t bring myself to text to call him even thought I am hoping he will. I broke with him because we got together young and I feel he resents me because I’ve been his one and only girlfriend and now he wants to live the “single” life he wants to have new experiences with other girls. Anytime I would introduce him to one of my attractive girl friends he would latch on and ask them personal questions and just txt them really inappropriate things that if I ever did anything like that I know that he wouldn’t like it either. I love being with him i love him so much we have so much fun together and other than that he treats me amazing. I’m so confused and angry. I don’t want to be with anybody else. I also don’t want to tell anyone because that will make it all the more real I feel so alone. I’ve read a million internet sites they all say “time” will heal all. I just want everything to be like it was. I really hate this.


    • karen, i’ve been being that kind of boyfriend lately, i just broke it off after almost 2 years. i couldnt stand to be around her knowing she loved me so much and i was just there not to hurt her. i felt we were more like friends, and just had the title of boyfriend and girlfriend, we joked, played games, baseball. but when it came to affection i would back out of kisses and hugs, i just feel like we were more of friends. it hurt me to see her cry. im stll hurt as this just happened, any tips on how you two worked out? thanks


      • Troy, I’m currently in a very similar relationship and am very scared of breaking her heart. I feel like my fear of hurting her is keeping me in the relationship. I really relate to the article’s anecdote about Jessica who was with a great all around person but lacked “a meaningful intellectual connection.” I’m also not feeling the kind of chemistry necessary to sustain a life-long commitment. We’ve been together about a year and a half. Essentially, she hasn’t done anything wrong and at the same time she wears her heart on her sleeve, and I care about her a lot, so I’m finding it really difficult to break things off. How did you go about it? A female perspective would also be greatly appreciated.


  6. I’ve been with my girlfriend for 2 and half years, and I love her so much, but we don’t have sexual chemistry. Everything else in the relationship is great, except for the intimacy part. I don’t know what to do! I already talked to her about my needs and about this situation, but nothing changes. I’m afraid because I really do love her, but at the same time, I think sex is also an important aspect. To make things worse, we are supposed to get married in 2 months. I don’t want to hurt her, and we already have almost all the wedding planned out. Am I just having “cold feet”? What should I do? I really do love her.


  7. I recently broke up with my high school sweetheart boyfriend of 7 years. We’ve had some amazing times yet some bad times and I was starting to feel like just a roommate or a friend. We currently still live together but have been broken up for two months, and on top of it I have been hanging out with another guy that is amazing. My head is all sorts of confused. One day I think I’m making a mistake and should go back to him and shouldn’t throw away the 7 years of memories we have invested and other days I feel like I”m finally free and can do the things I want – room for opportunities in my life. I’m about to sign a lease for my own place but I’m still hesitant! why? I don’t know why I can’t just move on. I don’t think I want to be back with him because we are just long overdue, yet it is so hard to let go.


  8. I have been with my boyfriend for almost 5yrs. We met in a small town (in the beautiful mountains) I had moved to from a big city and we instantly had this chemistry. I fell in love with this guy and the amazing thing about him is he really has all the qualities I look for in a man. I moved in with him just over a year ago and I have found myself feeling empty and I know what it is but haven’t a clue how to handle it. I am a very outdoors type person, love the woods, camping, mountains ect. and since moving to the city to be with him I am struggling internally to be happy about my move. Of all the wonderful things we share and have in common, the one thing we don’t is the one thing that is leaving me feeling like I am not being true to who I really am as a person. The perfect solution would be for us to move back to the mountains together as that is where my passion and lust for outdoors lies.. but I know this can never be. He owns a house in the city and has every intention of sharing the rest of his life with me. But here I am with this dull ache inside that keeps me from feeling completely committed to this guy and the life he wants for us because I absolutely hate living in a big city. I know he is picking up on some vibes from me and I feel so guilty and selfish but I can’t shake the feeling. I feel I am soon headed for a crossroads and will have to make one of the biggest and hardest decisions thus far in my life. What does a person do when they have the so called “perfect guy” but yet still feel such an emptiness inside? If I stay I fear I will resent him and that’s not fair at all.. but if I go, I will hurt him and it might not even be what I really want, maybe just what I think I do to make me happy. I feel more awful for him because he is so wonderful and loves me dearly and my dog and yet here I am torn as to whether to stay or leave. It’s just not fair to him at all :(


  9. I’ve only been with my boyfriend for about a month… I already know he’s not someone I wanna be with… I’m in going into 9th grade and he’s only one grade ahead, but he talks about sex and… He asks my underwear color and stuff… The point is that I really like him, but he’s not for me. How do I break it off?
    I can’t tell him in person because I live miles away, and I’d have no transportation. I don’t want to hurt him… But I’m only 14 and he’s talking about this stuff! It makes me miserable… And I don’t know if I can talk to my friends about it… Please help!!!


  10. I’ve been with my boyfriend for almost 3 years and a half. He’s the first younger man I’ve ever dated and all of my ex boyfriends were older than me. I soon realised why I had a tendency to date older guys when my current boyfriend spent most parties and celebrations outside blowing up all sorts of things with fire crackers rather than mingling with people. I avoid all upscale places and events because I don’t feel like he can handle or keep up with conversations. So, we both do our own thing, which I didn’t mind at the beginning but it’s definitely contributed to us growing apart. I’m a city women that enjoys wining, dancing and dining. He’s a suburbs guy that enjoys the great outdoors. I’m a career driven, disciplined and independent women. He’s a very mellow, nonchalant and quiet lazy guy. A year ago, he offered to sell his share of a house he owned with his brother in order to buy a new house to share with me. I accepted with hesitations but decided to take the plunge. After a few months, I noticed that he wasn’t paying his bills, not taking care of very important things and leaving me to handle everything. At first he told me that he didn’t know how to be more responsible so I decided to help and teach him. I even hired a personal financial consultant but, he didn’t even bother to keep up with his finances, nor has he been able to keep a steady job. Here I am a year later, frustrated, upset, unhappy, unfulfilled and disappointed. I truly feel like I’ve done everything to try and change the situation and make him understand that this type of life is not for me but he’s managed to give me excuses for everything, and more importantly, to manipulate me with guilt. He’s said things like “I’m a failure, if you leave me it would be the end of my world”. I feel trapped, guilty and horrible but on the other end, I feel like he is dragging me down with him. Yet, I can’t bring myself to leave him, I feel like the bad person leaving the nice guy that is trying so hard. I honestly care for him very much but I think the love has definitely disappeared. Signed, a sad lover.


  11. To all the women whos talking about their messed up relationshipships with men, Im seeing one thing in common with all of you, after you list all the evil things they do you all say “I LOVE HIM SO MUCH”. guess what ladies, he dont “LOVE YOU SO MUCH BACK”. Until you start to LOVE YOURSELF SO MUCH, you will continue to allow someone to ill treat you. you must love yourself before you can love someone else . How can you claim you love a man so much yet he treats you like crap and you stay then you say you love yourself at the same time, it dont work that way. You need to learn to love your damn self, when you trully love you and what you are as a woman you will know your worth and know that no man has a right to treat you like crap, you will stop settling for shit because you will understand your worth. I dont mean to lecture but I have been where you women are, it wasnt until I stop to look within and see that i did not love myself. I could not fix what was wrong, the men were treating me like I treated myself, but once I started loving ME and treating me like a queen I attracted a man that did the same…………………so ladies reality check, word up……stop crying over spilled milk, begin to love you and the right man will come to you


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