Staying in a relationship with him, it’s likely something like this will happen again. He was diagnosed with epilepsy about a year ago, along with other health problems. This is his second seizure, the first he was driving a car, luckily slowly. My mother practically begged me to leave him when he was first diagnosed, but love ruled. Being so involved in his second seizure has woken me up; I realize I can’t deal with it. I can’t sleep — I keep seeing his empty grey face. I was so terrified to hold his severely wounded body in my arms, TERRIFIED! He didn’t recognize me and kept pushing me away while I fought to keep pressure on his wound. I was nervous he would hit me out of confusion, but more nervous he would bleed out and die. He needs me now more than ever. So, I have resolved to be there for him as a girlfriend, until he is no longer directly dealing with the aftermath of the incident. But I need to break up with him for my own sake. I can’t willingly subject myself to that situation ever again, unless I have to.
He is healing at his parents’ home now, but I can’t bear to have him come back to live with me. I went to visit him tonight and he’s already asking when he can come home. I don’t think he has an inkling of how traumatic this was for me. He was either in a fugue state or unconscious the whole time, and he doesn’t remember any of it.
I care about him deeply, but I am too young to introduce this much trauma into my life. I want to be there for him, but I just can’t be the one. I’m scared my leaving will spin him into depression.
How should I carry on now, when I know I’ll have to break the relationship when he’s better? How do I break up with him with as little damage as possible (and hopefully still be there for him)? — Needing to End This
How scary that seizure must have been for you! I can imagine it must have felt very traumatic — to see your boyfriend looking near-death and to be solely responsible for keeping him alive until EMS got to you. You may need some post-trauma counseling — maybe just a few sessions — to help you move past it, as well as deal with the guilt you feel in ending your relationship with your boyfriend. And you should end the relationship — the sooner the better — if you don’t feel up for the responsibility of being the significant other of someone with serious health issues.
It’s 100% ok for you to get out of this relationship. Dating, when you’re open to and maybe even looking for a longterm relationship, is all about figuring out whether someone is a match for you (and vice-versa). Part of deciding whether someone is a match is learning about his or her needs and figuring out whether you can meet those needs in a way that doesn’t completely deplete your own energy or compromise your values. You’re figuring out that your boyfriend’s needs are beyond what you can meet, and that’s ok. But now you owe it to both of you to be honest about what you’re feeling, what you’re learning about your own limitations and your own needs, and let your boyfriend know that as much as you care for him, you can’t be the one to meet the needs he has.
If your boyfriend is stable and resting at his parents’ home, wondering when he can come back to the home you two share, I would tell him now that he’s welcome to come back but that you need to change the terms of your relationship and your living arrangement. This may mean that he needs to find a new place to live as quickly as possible, or it may mean that you need to find a new place to live. (Is the lease in both of your names? Who found the place? Did you discuss in advance how you would handle moving out if you broke up?) For the moment, you are both entitled to be in your home. At the very least, he’s entitled to retrieve his things and have a couple weeks to find a new place to live before you replace him with a new roommate.
As for “being there for him,” I think your assessment was right that you aren’t the one for that. I don’t see how you can break up with him and continue being a support to him. That’s a conflict of interest. There needs to actually be a true break in order for you to transition from girlfriend to friend. There needs to be closure and a clear boundary set in order for healing to happen and a new space to be made for a different role for you (IF that’s even wanted by both of you, and it may not be. And you probably won’t know if it is for a while.)
Will breaking up with him be “damaging”? I don’t know. Maybe. But I’m not sure it will be any more damaging than most breakups. There’s always a reason, or multiple reasons, people end relationships. And you hope, when you’re being dumped, that whatever it is that caused the other person to think you weren’t the one for her or him is something that will be nonexistent or overcome or maybe even appreciated in a future relationship. Similarly, your breaking up with your boyfriend because he has health issues that are too much for you to handle right now may sting. But it will also provide him a wider perspective for what he needs in a partner going forward. Maybe he won’t be as fast to let his guard down — to move in with someone who hasn’t been “extremely vetted,” to borrow a term we’ve been hearing in the news a lot. If you can be kind and gracious and compassionate in your ending of this relationship, which includes drawing clear boundaries and not muddling the definition of your role in his life, he will be in a much better position to process this in a healthy way and to let it be a learning experience for him and not something that breeds anger and resentment and hostility. The simple truth is: You’re young and you’re learning a lot, and one of the things you’ve learned is that a serious health issue in a partner isn’t something you’re prepared to take on right now. The sooner you compassionately admit this to your boyfriend, the better.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.