Letters from Japan: ‘When To End A Relationship?’

Ask Hilary: Questions From Readers Answered

By Hilary Keyes
May 25, 2022
Ask Hilary

Savvy Tokyo's resident "Love in Japan" columnist, Hilary Keyes, answers anonymous questions from readers on everything from dating in Japan to women’s health issues. Got a question you’d like to ask Hilary? Send it to askhilary@savvytokyo.com.

Hi Hilary,

I don’t know where to begin. My Japanese boyfriend and I have been together for six years. We mostly speak Japanese together (I have N1) but he’s also almost a native English speaker. We’ve talked about marriage and kids and where to live, our parents getting older, all that stuff. We came to some compromises and we understand one another in either language. I mean it when I say we communicate well.

However, he’s never tried to propose and when I mention it he changes the subject so I stopped bringing it up. What really got to me is that in early April we walked by a jewelry store in a shopping center and a necklace caught my eye so I stopped. He seemed irritated and kept walking. I was left standing there awkwardly talking to the staff who came out. He’s never done that before.

From then on he’s been less affectionate towards me. He has his own apartment but he used to spend more time at my place. Now he’s there instead because he’s tired and when he does stay there, I hate saying this but I feel happier. At this point, my relationship is the only part of my life that’s unsatisfying. I used to see a future for us but not so much anymore. I guess my question is basically when to end this relationship? 

-Tired of Trying

Dear Tired of Trying,

I think you know the answer to your question already, but I can also understand wanting to talk about it with a neutral party. Ultimately, what makes you happy is the way you need to go with this. That being said, it could be a kindness to him to tell him why this is happening before or as you go.

You’ve been together for six years so you’ve known one another pre-pandemic, have ostensibly gone through the new relationship honeymoon period, and, as you said, have talked about all the major things that should be discussed pre-marriage. You and your boyfriend have done the work that many skip in the lead-up to marriage, which you should be proud of.

It’s understandable then that you would be upset by him cutting off any discussions of engagement or apparently actively showing irritation at the thought of you looking at jewelry. He must have assumed you were looking at engagement rings, if it were that type of jewelry store you stopped outside. If it were just some casual accessories shop you stopped at, I would seriously wonder about his reaction.

Something could have occurred that either changed his mind or made him think putting marriage off was for the best.

Again, according to your message, you seemed to still be on the marriage track until some point in the recent past I assume? When did the issue with talking about getting engaged start? What was happening in your lives at that point in time? Something could have occurred that either changed his mind or made him think putting marriage off was for the best.

Regardless of what was going on though, he should have communicated with you as to how he was feeling or if there were any problems from his perspective in your relationship. You mention trying to bring up the subject and him changing it, so he likely has a reason that is legitimate to him as to why he doesn’t want to talk about it. Given that you’ve said you both speak each other’s languages fluently, it might not be a matter of inability but a reluctance to explain the issue.

You’ve been together for six years so I assume you’ve had disagreements or arguments in the past. How did the both of you react to those situations? Did you need time to cool down before talking? Do either of you tend to hold grudges? Was there something that would make marriage to one another seem less than ideal? Or, could it be something outside your relationship that has changed his feelings?

Seeing a messy divorce can put people off making any big relationship decisions ‘just in case’

I can’t say for certain how your boyfriend feels, but if he is, for example, friends with someone going through a particularly bad divorce, he might not be very keen on getting married himself at the moment. It’s irrational to view your own relationship through the same lens as other couples, but that doesn’t mean people don’t do it. Seeing a messy divorce can put people off making any big relationship decisions ‘just in case.’

He could also be dealing with something at work that makes the stress of wedding planning, all the family discussions et cetera sound like too much of a burden too. There’s no way of really knowing if he won’t share his reasoning with you. As I often say, relationships can’t work unless both parties are willing to communicate and at the moment, he isn’t.

Judging from your last paragraph, you sound as though you’re almost ready to move on from the relationship, which is a difficult situation to be in when you are still technically a couple. Are you feeling unsatisfied strictly because of the engagement issue and how that’s changed your relationship? Would you want to stay with him if that were no longer an issue?

What do you want to do?

You may need to take some of that time when he’s at his own place to think about the future of this relationship. Is it the quality of the relationship itself that is unsatisfying to you or simply the structure of it? What do you want to do?

There are three possible outcomes here. One is the easiest but probably the least healthy or productive: you leave things as they are for the time being and see where they go in the future.

I wouldn’t really recommend taking this approach since, as you yourself said, you’re not satisfied with your relationship any longer. If the situation doesn’t change, you could find yourself stuck in relationship limbo for another six months or even six years if you let it go on as is.

The second option may not be the best either. That is to pack up whatever he has at your place nicely, have him come over to collect it, and point-blank tell him that the relationship is over. 

While this one is often championed as being the most empowering of options, for a couple that was so ostensibly good at communicating this might be too sudden for either of you to properly cope with. Ripping the bandaid off does feel good to some people, but it’s not for everyone.

I recommend you seek to clarify your stances with one another before you go

The third option is, of course, to sit down together and try to discuss what is going on. He may be willing to open up and talk, you should be able to explain how you’ve been feeling, and, ideally, the two of you will come to some kind of understanding as to what steps to take next.

If things go as positively as possible, you may find that spark in your relationship comes back, and things go back to what they were before the engagement issue arose.

Things could go neutrally too, where you both explain how you feel, and you mutually decide to either keep working on the relationship or to end it as it is. If you do decide to stay together, you both will need to do some work to understand one another better and hopefully move forward from this. In that case, it might be worthwhile talking to a couples’ counselor, either online or through a service, to prevent this kind of misunderstanding from happening again in the future.

If, on the other hand, you two decide to end your relationship, then that may be for the best for the both of you. If you can no longer see a future with him and he’s unwilling to take the next step or discuss the matter, then breaking up is probably the only way to end that stalemate. 

Whatever the result is, I recommend you seek to clarify your stances with one another before you go. Whatever happens from there, I’m sure it’ll be for the best. Good luck.

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