Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“When Should I Tell My Deployed Boyfriend That I Want to Break Up?”

Military love
I’ve been dating my boyfriend, “Don,” for two years. He has been deployed for four months. When he comes back home in early July, we were planning to move in together, but the more that I get to know his family the more I have doubts. He has a 22-year-old daughter who has two kids with one guy and another kid with another guy. She is not with either men, does not work, and gets welfare, but she is now going to college. Don also has a 20-year-old son who recently got his girlfriend pregnant. He doesn’t work either, and he is not interested in going to school. They both live with my boyfriend.

Don loves his grand-kids and has taken care of them like he’s their dad, and I’m not comfortable with that because I’m not interested in raising someone else’s kids. His daughter is not very attentive to the kids, and the grand-kids don’t listen to anyone really. I don’t wont to hurt Don, but I am not comfortable with his parenting ways. He is a great man; I love the way we are together when we are alone, but the reality is his kids’ issues become his issues (which is his choice), and I have to share him with six people who really need him.

I’m financially stable, I don’t need him financially the way his kids do, and I just don’t want to share the financial burden he has with carrying for his grown kids and his grand-kids. He has the biggest guilt for the way his kids have turned out and how they live, but I notice he continues to enable all of them.

We planned to go on a trip two days after he gets back and then officially move in together. My problem is I don’t know when to tell him, or how to tell him, that it’s not going to work out. Should I tell him over the phone, e-mail him, or wait till he gets back and tell him in person? I know he is under a lot of stress, and I know he loves me a lot, but having this time away from him helped me better focus on myself and my wants and desires in life. HE would be perfect if he didn’t come with such huge baggage. — Not Interested in His Baggage

Your reasons for wanting to end this relationship are totally valid and, of course, you need to tell Don. But because your relationship is serious enough that you were planning to move in together and because Don is deployed (and likely in a pretty stressful work and living environment) and because he’s going to be home in just over a month, I think you should tell him in person when he comes back. One way that you could get the ball rolling and sort of clue him in that he might not be coming back to the warm homecoming he might be imagining is to tell him that, after thinking about things while he has been away, you aren’t ready to move in with him when he gets back. He’ll probably ask why and you can tell him that you have missed him and are looking forward to seeing him and want to talk everything over with him when he returns.

When he does return home and you have a chance to discuss your feelings with Don, be honest about how your relationship, when it’s just the two of you, is great, but how you can’t accept the responsibilities Don has taken on for himself, including supporting two grown children and a bunch of grand-kids. Knowing that he is going to lose you because he can’t stop enabling his children may be a wake-up call he needs to make some changes in his life. Whether that happens and whether it happens quickly and well enough to satisfy you and persuade you to give him and your relationship another shot/more time is something only you will be able to decide. Maybe, in your mind, it’s simply easier to make a clean break and move on.

Regardless, I would give Don the heads up that you aren’t ready to move in with him and then give him the details while on the trip you’re planning to take when he gets back. He deserves the chance to speak with you in person and to plead his case. And if you can give him that chance and you still want to move on, you will be better able to do so with a clear conscience.


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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

35 comments… add one
  • Lyra June 2, 2014, 9:19 am

    Yes your reasons are valid. I admire him for helping his children and taking on his grandchildren as his own, but I can also totally see why you don’t want to move into that situation. I would tell him in person when he gets back. Find some time to talk with him by yourself and explain why it’s not going to work. Please don’t drag it out — it sounds like he already has a lot on his plate. Good luck!

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    • Lyra June 2, 2014, 9:48 am

      Also, in all honesty there is really no “good” time to break up with someone in the military, especially when they’re deployed. If you find yourself waiting for the perfect time, it will never come.

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  • HmC June 2, 2014, 9:26 am

    I think Wendy’s advice could be suitable for a lot of people, but speaking for myself if I were Don, I don’t think I’d want to be clued in like that. I am anxious by nature, and I think having my SO say they didn’t want to move in with me anymore and that we’d talk later would make me freak out and maybe force the subject. To me, either bring it up, or don’t.

    And in general, I’m a big advocate of breaking up with someone as soon as you know that’s what you want. Drawing it out is just a waste of time and it can be torturous because people can usually tell if something is off anyway. But I don’t have experience with deployments so I see how that could be a specifically tricky situation. If I were you LW, since the deployment is almost over and you have a serious long term relationship, I would probably just wait to break up until he got back.

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    • Lyra June 2, 2014, 9:30 am

      You have a great point in regards to bringing it up now may make him anxious and force the conversation. I agree with that.

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    • theattack June 2, 2014, 9:31 am

      I agree about either bringing it up or not. It would be just cruel to let him wonder for a month if you were still together, what your reasons were, if you found someone else back home, etc. I think it’s either all or nothing here, and there are compelling reasons for both.

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    • muchachaenlaventana June 2, 2014, 9:59 am

      yeah great point. If someone said that to me my anxiety and the wait would be completely unbearable.

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    • lemongrass June 2, 2014, 10:31 am

      I feel the exact same way. Knowing that I don’t know something and have to wait X amount of time to find out would be torture for me.

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    • AlwaysALurker June 2, 2014, 12:12 pm

      I agree! I was in a similar, not exactly but close enough, situation with a long term boyfriend. He decided to break up with me but wanted to wait till after my birthday which was a few weeks away. So I had to endure cold, passive aggressive behavior for a few weeks and a horrible birthday celebration because “he wanted to be nice and not break up until after the party”. The break up was for the best but having to endure that and feeling betrayed afterwards, especially since a few of our mutual friends knew about it, made things much worse. So I think she should either get it over with on the phone or wait until he’s back.

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    • NavyWife June 2, 2014, 2:09 pm

      Yep, agree with this completely. My husband was stationed in the middle east for a year during our dating relationship…we were planning to get engaged and move in together (I’d be joining him at a new duty station) when he got home. Had I contacted him a month before he was due home to inform him I didn’t want to move in, but that I still loved him and missed him, etc…he would have been a wreck for that last month! I know that our relationship and him having so much to look forward to really helped him through that deployment.

      LW, I’d just wait til he’s home. My husband got a “dear John” letter when he was fresh out of college and flight school on his first deployment, and he said it really, really sucked. I believe the girl suggested they “take a break” until he got home…but it became evident she was done and was just trying to let him down easy. It’s ok to not want to be with someone for whatever reason, but I do think you owe it to him to be straightforward but kind.

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    • Cassie June 2, 2014, 2:10 pm

      I half-way agree with your advice… I also don’t think the LW should tell him she’s not ready to move in and wait on the rest of it for a month, and that he might end up forcing the conversation. Rather, I think she should just have the entire conversation once he gets back. I think that during the time he’s deployed, he needs to be able to concentrate on that and whatever dangerous situations he may find himself in. A month is not that long to wait.

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  • peachy June 2, 2014, 9:32 am

    I don’t think there is a soft landing for Don here, but I personally would be pissed off if someone said they missed me and we’ll talk about it when you get back only to find that the truth is they’d already decided to move on. Even if those grown-up kids miraculously reform, get jobs, move out, etc. they and the grandkids would still be a big part of his life and you’re just not up for that, which is your prerogative. When you talk to him, make sure the comments are about you and you alone, “I can’t see myself taking on this role and responsibility – it’s not what I want.” etc. And in future, don’t date dads..

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    • bagge72 June 2, 2014, 9:50 am

      I have a feeling you would be pissed no matter how it was broken to you. It is alright for the LW to let him know that she still misses him, because she does miss him, even if she is moving on.
      Also it is perfectly ok for the LW to date dads, especially dads at their age, because they are at a time in their life that they aren’t supposed to have so many people dependent on them, and there are plenty of dads out there in their age group that aren’t full time parents to their grown kids, and grandkids. They are supposed to be out there enjoying vacations, and visits from their kids, and grandkids, not taking care of them, which is perfectly ok for lots of people, not just her prerogative.

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      • bagge72 June 2, 2014, 9:53 am

        Oh and don’t get me wrong, I don’t think saying that she isn’t ready to move in is the best way to start, but I do think it is ok, for her in general to still say she misses him, and then break up when he gets back. He might be a little suspect if she talks about not moving in, and then she has to come up with other lies if he starts asking too many questions.

      • jlyfsh June 2, 2014, 9:54 am

        That’s kind of what I was thinking dating a Grandparent usually involves less responsibility for the day to day care than being a parent. I don’t think she needs to not date fathers at this point in her life, just not grandparents who are still parenting on a daily basis.

      • lets_be_honest June 2, 2014, 10:16 am

        I sorta agreed with peachy on the not dating dads things, but I do get your point about this one’s age and agree.
        I guess I feel sorry for the dad here since LW had to have known about his kids and grandkids situation all along. So in the future, LW, maybe just try to be sure that you are actually ok with getting into relationships with any man who has “baggage” like this guy does.

  • katie June 2, 2014, 9:45 am

    wait…. is the LW breaking up with him, like ending the relationship? or is she just not moving in with him anymore?

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    • Lyra June 2, 2014, 9:52 am

      I think ultimately she’s breaking up with him: “My problem is I don’t know when to tell him, or how to tell him, that it’s not going to work out.”

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  • kare June 2, 2014, 9:53 am

    Don’t break up with him while he’s still deployed. My brother was dumped while in Iraq, shortly after he was injured in combat and saw some really traumatic things. Obviously I don’t advocate staying in a relationship if you’re miserable, but if you can wait a month and spare someone the added stress then please do so.

    I don’t have any advice in regards to the adult children living at home. A lot of my friends and relatives are in the same boat (not working while in school, living at home, etc).

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    • sarita_f June 2, 2014, 12:19 pm

      100% agree. Waiting a month won’t kill anyone (uh, wow with that turn of phrase), but doing it now could cause additional stress. I also do NOT think the LW should hint about it, I actually think that would be the worst possible thing to do.

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  • SasLinna June 2, 2014, 10:51 am

    I don’t believe there’s a way to make this comfortable for Don, but I would apply the general rule that once you have decided for sure that you want to break up, you should communicate it as soon as possible.

    Now if your partner is just defending their PhD, or doing finals, or going through some other majorly stressful phase that will be over within a few weeks, then as soon as possible will be after that phase is over. But if the stressful phase exceeds a few weeks, you have to break up in spite of it because waiting more than a few weeks to break up would probably create even more pain. It’s not an ideal situation by any means, but unfortunately it happens.

    So I would say a lot depends on how stressful the last few weeks of Don’s deployment are expected to be. If he’s under enormous pressure, then I’d hold out for a few weeks and tell him immediately after he gets home. If it’s probably not that bad, then call him and tell him over the phone. That way he can already adapt to the news. While breaking up in person is preferable, I think a break up call is better than deferring for weeks just to do it in person.

    In any case, I would try to avoid hinting at a possible break up or trying to find solutions for the problems you’re having. Only communicate the decision to break up, not your doubts about the relationship or anything of that sort.

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    • lemongrass June 2, 2014, 11:13 am

      I don’t have any personal experience with deployment but I can’t imagine it is ever “not that bad.”

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      • SasLinna June 2, 2014, 11:21 am

        I have zero experience with deployment and didn’t mean for that to be a flippant comment at all. Probably LW has enough information to assess her bf’s stress level. (The background of my comment is that I think that waiting to break up is usually not a great idea. I would reserve it for very special circumstances and I don’t know enough about deployment to tell if it’s always an instance of that).

      • SasLinna June 2, 2014, 12:06 pm

        Out of curiosity, I googled where US troops are currently deployed. Over 40000 are currently in Germany and over 50000 are in Japan. So a lot of soldiers are not in combat zones. Still far away from family and probably not living under great conditions, but I don’t think we should necessarily assume a dramatic situation.

      • Lyra June 2, 2014, 12:30 pm

        Yet, it doesn’t have to be a combat zone to make it a “dramatic situation”. My boyfriend was in the Navy and he was underway on a submarine for months at a time. He couldn’t communicate with friends or family and sometimes he had no idea where they were headed. Yeah it wasn’t a combat zone, but it was still incredibly stressful for him. I’m not saying that every career in the military is insanely stressful and dramatic. My point here is that military jobs are often considerably more stressful than other jobs for many reasons — being far from family, your location and when you move decided by someone else, not being able to communicate with family and friends as much as you would like, missing important life events, etc. etc. Just as an example, my boyfriend’s dad was deployed for 2 out of 3 of his sons’ births.

      • lets_be_honest June 2, 2014, 12:32 pm

        Ugh, thank you!

      • SasLinna June 2, 2014, 12:57 pm

        I can definitely see that being deployed would be more stressful than many other jobs. I guess my question is whether someone who’s deployed would necessarily prefer not being broken up with until they get back home. This guy is expecting to move in with his girlfriend immediately when gets back. Only letting him know it’s not happening once he’s home seems not that great. I would have a hard time keeping up communication and pretending things are fine & talking about moving in for several weeks if I were the LW.

      • Lyra June 2, 2014, 1:10 pm

        I don’t think there’s a great time to do it. Since it’s only a month away and they are in a serious relationship, that’s why I think it is best done in person. Yeah it sucks leading up to that point, but a serious relationship like this deserves an in-person break. If it were 2 months or more I would probably suggest calling him or Skyping him or whatever is available because otherwise it could drag on and on and on.

      • MsMisery June 2, 2014, 1:10 pm

        True dat. My best friend’s husband just got back from a NINE MONTH deployment (in the Navy, on a ship, who knows where). She almost lost her damn mind. Thankfully the Navy has decided to no longer deploy for longer than 6 months when they aren’t in active combat, but still. She was starting to get physically ill (migranes, busted shoulder) from having to do everything herself and being so stressed out.

      • Lyra June 2, 2014, 2:01 pm

        Exactly. It takes a very special person to be a military spouse to hold down the fort at home.

      • NavyWife June 2, 2014, 2:25 pm

        Yep…this exactly. My husband is a navy pilot. He hasn’t been in “combat” in several years, thankfully, but any deployment is stressful…from places like Djbouti (where he was shot at) to running counter-drug ops in the Mediterranean or Central/South America…they were flying 12 hours/day (plus another 4-6 for pre-flight briefing, debriefs, writing reports, etc). At one point, the flight doc was alternately giving them “uppers” and “downers” (legal ones, but still) to help everyone sleep and then be ready to function for the next flight. And all the while, you’re missing holidays, anniversaries, big events, etc (as Lyra said). It definitely takes a toll.

        Even “desk” jobs can be super stressful in the military (ask a recruiter who is responsible for making quota) or a supply officer worried about getting things halfway across the world on time to support deployed troops. Or a mechanic or engineer who is responsible for maintaining aircraft or a nuclear-powered ship or sub. The stress does not end for military personnel.

      • Lyra June 2, 2014, 3:20 pm

        Kudos to you for being a military spouse, NavyWife! As I’ve mentioned on here before, it is not something I think I could do; my boyfriend and I have a continual conversation discussing his future plans after he gets his Bachelor’s and I’ve told him outright I can’t handle the stress of being a military wife. I have so much respect for you for managing it!! 🙂

  • zombeyonce June 2, 2014, 11:33 am

    I was in a very similar situation years ago; I had a much-older boyfriend that I lived with and his children weren’t the most responsible citizens. His daughter (a few years younger than me) had a child with a married man when she was engaged to someone else (a deployed soldier, no less!), and his son started having real drug problems. Before this, they couldn’t keep jobs (when they even tried looking for them) and he allowed them to move in without even consulting me about it.

    He was a total enabler of their lazy and entitled behavior and took care of the grandkids like they were his own kids, too. I couldn’t handle it and refused to put up with it. Knowing him well, I wasn’t surprised when he started telling me that “his kids would always come first”. Which is something I completely understand and I would have been fine with him putting his kids/grandkids before me, but there was no reason that enabling them needed to be a part of that.

    I ended up leaving and it was a hard decision (and he acted completely surprised even though we had talked and talked about the issues). But as soon as I made up my mind, I felt SO MUCH RELIEF. I wasn’t constantly over-emotional and stressed out, and it was the right decision for everyone. He could go on enabling his kids without me telling him it was wrong, and I could stop nagging and do what I thought was right and find a partner that listened to my point of view without dismissing it immediately because it didn’t line up with what he wanted.

    Leaving that relationship made my life so much better, and helped me get to a place where I can now really stand up for myself and what I want. I just hope one day he sees where his decisions have gotten him so he can make a positive change.

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  • tbrucemom June 2, 2014, 7:10 pm

    Maybe she could not move in with him but not break up with him either. I don’t know why it has to be all or nothing. Couldn’t she continue to date him and see how she feels? She’s been away from him for a long time. I wouldn’t throw in the towel yet especially if the only reason is his kids and grandkids. I think it’s actually commendable that he’s so involved with them. Times are really hard and there are lots of grown children who have had to move back temporarily with their parents. I don’t think she has any kids of her own based on her comments so it’s more difficult for her to understand. She also sounds kind of judgemental in her description of them. I understand about personal responsibility but I also know I couldn’t turn my back on my kids.

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    • Lyra June 2, 2014, 9:46 pm

      I do see where you’re coming from, but I think she’s making the right choice. I TOTALLY get how tough it is to get a job and I understand kids needing to move back in with mom and dad (I did it). The fact that these kids are living (from what it sounds like) rent free with dear old dad without working to support themselves and their kids doesn’t sit well with me either. Not that they have to move out, but they need to contribute. I think she would have years of resentment if she stayed because as she said she doesn’t want to take on the financial burden of his kids and grandkids.
      I’m full of examples today, but my boyfriend’s younger brother became a dad right before high school graduation at age 18. His girlfriend had already broken up with him so he was facing single parenthood. They share time with their daughter — certain week days, every other weekend — but he really had to grow up fast. I think my boyfriend’s parents did a great job helping the brother out. He still lives at home, but he works and he goes to school as well so he can contribute. His parents help him take care of his daughter when he’s working and they help provide for the daughter. They don’t enable him; they encourage him. (One of the MANY reasons I absolutely adore my boyfriend’s family.)

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  • Sue Jones June 2, 2014, 11:30 pm

    Now why can’t THIS LW have a non-traditional relationship with her BF? He sounds like a great guy to date as long as she doesn’t want to move in with him, get married, etc. But I suppose if she is looking for the whole package, she needs to keep looking.

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