Long story short, my ex and I split on pretty poor terms a couple months ago. They cheated again, I moved out, and now they're moving in with the person they cheated with...

I'm trying to "break up well", trying not to hold grudges, or foment animosity. I'm not looking to be friends with them, but I'm also not looking to be enemies. Basically I'd like a clean break. They go their way, and I go mine.

Here complications arise. Despite the context of the breakup, and being told that I'd rather not hear from them, they still want to be friends, and still want me to help them when they run into problems. To further complicate things, we're still legally married, so I kinda need to keep things as civil as possible till the paperwork has been shuffled.

My goal is to be civil, but to put a stop to these requests for help, sympathy, and friendship. Basically I'd just rather not have contact till we're signing papers.

How do I go about telling them that these messages need to stop without escalating the situation? Or perhaps the more nuanced question... How do I explain to an ex that breaking up, in this context, means that it's kinda inappropriate to continue leaning on me for support?

My first thought was "Your problems are no longer my problems." But... This sounds a bit blunt and cold, and I suspect that it may cause things to escalate.

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    @Jess K. I asked that they not contact me till they were ready to sign papers when we initially split. Since then I've not really been responding unless it was something tangible or financial that I had to respond to, but they don't seem to be getting the hint. – apaul Aug 10 at 18:48
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    @apaul Do you think your ex is really not getting the hint (i.e., you've been circumspect and they're not picking up on what you really want), or have you been explicit and clear about what you want and they are just ignoring that? – Upper_Case Aug 10 at 19:15
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    @Upper_Case Do I seem like the sort to beat around the bush? – apaul Aug 10 at 19:20
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    @apaul Certainly not, but the phrase "getting the hint" carries a certain implication, which in light of a desire to keep things running smoothly for the immediate future might result in out-of-character actions. – Upper_Case Aug 10 at 19:23
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    "still want me to help them when they run into problems. To further complicate things, we're still legally married," Depending on your location and under which rules you decided to get married, her problems may be your problems until divorced: you may be asked to pay for her debts for example. – Taladris Aug 11 at 14:52
up vote 25 down vote accepted
+100

I've went through a lot of break ups since I came out. Most of them were because of my own shortcomings at the time, but in almost all cases I wanted to remain friends with my exes because at the time I was still fairly emotional dependent on them. Bad idea.

What I found is that when I was met with statements calling me out for my behavior, such as

"You can't be part of my life anymore because you did X."

it actually made me feel as though maybe I could make a friendship work if I repented enough to make up for X - meaning I started trying harder to prove I could be a great friend. Alternatively, sometimes it made me feel the need to argue to validate my actions. Either way, not beneficial to either party involved.

However, I found that there was a lot less arguing and tension when I'd be told something more like:

"I can't see myself being friends with you right now, it's too difficult for me emotionally, with everything that's happened."

or

"Right now, I need some time apart to figure things out for myself."

I think this was more beneficial for a few key reasons:

  1. Gave me an end goal for regaining their emotional support (i.e. Eventually maybe we can be friends again), which tided me over until I was able to find emotional support not reliant on their presence
  2. Made me feel like I was doing the "right" thing by honoring their request, which was beneficial since I felt like I was in 'the wrong' in terms of our break up

In the case of your ex, I think #1 is most important here. Your ex desperately wants to hold onto your emotional support, but you don't want to give it. However, you still need things to remain civil until you are no longer legally married. Express to your ex that you can't stay in touch right now because of how you feel about the situation (don't use 'you/your', focus on 'I/me').

As the length of your absence from their life increases, it's likely they'll replace their previous dependence on you with a dependence on someone/something else. They'll realize they can survive without you and not push the friendship envelope any further. However, if that's not the case, stick your ground, focus on what you want and what you need without pointing any fingers at them, and get through your divorce before escalating to any more 'blunt' methods of rejecting them.

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