Ask Erin: My Partner's Bad For Me — Why Can't I Let Them Go?

Why can't I leave him once and for all?

Why can't I leave him once and for all?

She’s made all the mistakes, so you don’t have to…Ask Erin is a weekly advice column, in which Erin answers your burning questions, about anything at all.


I'd like your opinion on why a smart, formerly-independent woman can't break ties with someone who I know is emotionally manipulating me, making me question myself, uses me as an option at his convenience, is a womanizer, and admits to being a narcissist?

I'm 45, divorced, and have a fantastic son who is in boarding school out of state. Two years ago, before I met this man, my life was perfect and I was in control and happy, even though I was single.

I've broken up with him three times now and still allow myself to get sucked back in by his charm. We aren't even monogamous anymore, because when I thought we were, he was sleeping with at least three other women. I have alienated myself from my friends so I can be available if he chooses me, I just lost my job for the first time in my life, and I feel like I am sinking into depression.

I know leaving him forever is what I need to do, but am afraid and lonely, which he knows. I've compromised my standards of what I've ever otherwise accepted from a man, and yet I still am afraid to be without him.

The sex is phenomenal and he is financially very generous.... Those are the best things I can say about him. When I try to put space between us, he sends texts and voicemails that are insulting and disrespectful. I feel it's easier to just tolerate him while I look for someone else, but recently, I have lost motivation to go out and meet other men.

I told my friends and mom about him to try to hold myself accountable, and yet I still allow him in my life. I'm isolating myself because I feel like a failure lately, weak.

Why do I accept this mental abuse when I've left men for less in the past? What happened to my strength? I read your article about toxic relationships and know I am in one, but why can't I leave him once and for all?


You have already taken the first step in extricating yourself from this relationship by recognizing that it is toxic. Sometimes, we see people in destructive relationships and nothing anyone says can get them to admit that. But, you are past that — you are aware that this is a losing proposition.

Please know that you are not alone; 90% of the questions I receive are some variation of your question. I have known many, many intelligent women and men who end up entangled in this sort of dysfunction. The heart and the head often work against each other.

So, stop dwelling on how you got here and let’s focus on getting you out and not repeating this pattern.

As I reread your question, one line continues to come in to focus “Two years ago, before I met this man, my life was perfect and I was in control and happy, even though I was single.” Contrast this with what you say later on “I know leaving him forever is what I need to do, but I am afraid and lonely, which he knows.”

Everything you need to know is right there. Before this guy, you were happy and OK with being single yet with him, you feel afraid and lonely. The “you” from two years ago, happy, single, and in control, is still there. She exists.

I understand what you’re going through. I’ve been there: a smart, capable woman, desperate to hold on to this person who makes her feel like crap, all the time.

There will be a breaking point. And when you do get out from under this man who wants to make you feel unstable/lonely/afraid, you will look back and wonder what took you so long. When we look back, we often realize we have spent so much time and energy trying to get someone to love us, to treat us right, to see our value.

You have to love yourself. You have to treat yourself right. You have to see your value. When you do, it will be impossible for anyone else to deny.

It’s good that you have begun opening up to friends and family about this. But, if you really want to move this process along, I am going to suggest what I always do: Please find a therapist, an educated third party that can help you sort through this and can help you make sure you do not repeat this pattern.

Do this for yourself — but also for your son. Even if he is out of state, I think it is so important as parents to model healthy relationships to our children. I have not always done so perfectly, but I am happy and grateful that I do that now.

You know what you have to do. I promise that you will be way less afraid and lonely without him in your life!

If you have a question for me about toxic relationships, sex, parenting, divorce, French literature, friendship, Stouffer’s cheese pizza, or anything at all, email me at As always, your anonymity is golden. xoxo

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