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Break His Heart to Save Him

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"You're a great actress, Satine. Hurt him. Hurt him to save him."
Harold Zidler, Moulin Rouge!

So, you've got someone you deeply care about, and who cares just as much about you. However, you know the two of you cannot stay together: being near you, or just the fact that he loves you is putting him at risk. You tried telling him, "It's Not You, It's My Enemies", but it didn't work—he knows he'll be in danger, and he's okay with that.

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But you're not. So, you lie to him. You pretend to be mean, callous, and completely disrespectful of his feelings. You say you never loved him. You do everything you can to make him hate you, because you know that's the only way he'll stay away from you and, in turn, from danger: you have to break his heart to save him.

The human version of Shoo the Dog, quite possibly the most extreme manifestation of I Want My Beloved to Be Happy; this is when a character does ostensibly hurtful things to their beloved because they know it's the only way to protect them from some sort of even greater harm. Cruel to Be Kind is the supertrope. See also Break Up to Make Up. Can lead to a character regretting taking an action that they now believe Was Too Hard on Him. Note that when this trope is done poorly, it will often collide with the Idiot Ball if there's an obvious solution to the problem that does not require such a drastic step or your deprivation of key information is actually going to put that person in greater danger than being honest would have. In particular, it's likely to backfire spectacularly when the pain of the breakup just drives the other person to do exactly the thing you needed them not to do (and especially if you skipped the "It's Not You, It's My Enemies" step).

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Unsurprisingly, while it usually works temporarily, in many cases, it doesn't hold up for very long.

Compare Inspirational Insult, Break Up Demand and Motivational Lie. A sub-trope of Hidden Heart of Gold.


Examples:

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    Comic Books 
  • This was common in Silver Age Superman and Batman comics, usually to explain plot twists that would otherwise make the characters out to be total jerks.
    • In "The Batman Plays a Lone Hand", Bruce tells Dick that he's becoming too much of a bother and he cannot remain Robin any longer. At the story's conclusion, he confesses that it was all a trick to protect him. A gangster named The Thumb warned Bats to keep his nose out of his business or his gang would shoot Robin on sight. To keep his young sidekick safe and catch the crooks, he momentarily tried to put him out of action.
  • The Mall Rats in the Gold Digger miniseries Throne of Shadows. Lydia McKracken sends away her friends Moisha Rich and Romeo Ellis by insulting them. She knows that as Gothwrain's heir she's the target of every criminal overlord on the planet, and that her friends are as doomed as she is if they stay with her.
  • When Raven of The New Teen Titans turned down Beast Boy, he asked if she was doing this. She denied it. He... took it well.
  • An odd variation from John Byrne's run on the Fantastic Four; when Sue Richards was being mind-controlled by Psycho-Man into becoming the murderous Malice, Reed was able to free her from Psycho-Man's control by berating her (and even slapping her across the face) in order to make her hate him, however briefly.
  • In 52, Renee Montoya has gone to an ex-girlfriend, Katherine "Kate" Kane, for information on an abandoned property that her family might own. When Kate reveals that her family does own the property, and gives Renee the name of its last occupant, she demands to know what this is about and why Renee needs this information, explaining that Renee at least owes her an explanation. Renee, however, explains that this situation has nothing to do with her and she does not owe Kate anything. Kate is visibly crushed, but Renee's narration reveals that, if The Question's theories are correct and Intergang is behind everything, it is not just themselves who are in trouble, but all their friends and loved ones as well. Renee does not want to drag Kate into this. However, unknown to Renee, Kate has her interests in the game.
  • In the Ninja High School: Shidoshi series, Tetsuo goes against his grandfather in hopes of becoming the clan leader and getting out of an arranged marriage so he can marry his true sweetheart, Nanashi. However his grandfather is too strong and, realizing that he'll kill Nanashi if he continues to defy him, Tetsuo puts on a jerkass performance in order to drive Nanashi away and keep her safe.
  • In Runaways, Chase tells Gertrude that sometimes it's necessary to lie to someone a person loves, in order to protect them. She keeps this in mind later, when Chase is in danger of being sacrificed by the past self of Geoffrey Wilder. She pretends to hate Chase for kissing Nico, and tells Wilder exactly how much of a scumbag she thinks Chase is. When she's dying from a knife wound, she is able to tell Chase that she still loved him and lied about him being a bad person.
  • In Action Comics #317, Supergirl thinks her friend Lena's boyfriend is an enemy spy so she sets out to break them up and save Lena from a future heartbreak, even if she ruins their friendship.
  • Ghostopolis: According to her uncle, Frank left Claire because he was afraid his bosses would find out and banish her back to Ghostopolis.

    Films - Animation 
  • In Wolfwalkers, a more platonic example occurs. Robyn is told by Mebh's mother Moll that Mebh and the other wolves must leave her behind and leave the forest before it's destroyed. When Mebh goes into town to find Robyn herself, Robyn confronts Mebh telling her she must leave with the wolves, discouraging Mebh from searching for her mother and leaving her feeling betrayed. Later, when the townsfolk gather to watch Moll being humiliated, Mebh tries to stop them and Robyn, who was told by Moll to keep her daughter safe, tells the wolf-hating kids Mebh is a wolf and has them trap her in a cage so she doesn't get on stage. Robyn explains to Mebh that her mother told her to keep Mebh safe, which understandably further upsets Mebh as her new best friend was lying to her the whole time.
  • Johnny does this in Hotel Transylvania to Mavis, at the behest of her father.
  • In Wreck-It Ralph, King Candy convinces Ralph that Vanellope was never intended to be an actual Sugar Rush character, and that allowing her to participate in the races will put the game out of commission which, in turn, will kill her permanently as she is not able to leave it. Ralph proceeds to destroy Vanellope's kart to prevent her from ever racing again, despite it being her dream for her entire existence. Upon seeing Vanellope's picture on the side of the Sugar Rush cabinet, however, Ralph realizes that breaking her heart was a big mistake and, via interrogation, discovers that King Candy was lying.
  • Shrek the Third: Shrek tells Artie that he was only pretending to like a loser like him, so he'll stomp off in a huff rather than be killed by Charming as one of the ogre's allies, who point this out as he leaves.
  • Silver claims he was trying to do this to save Jim in Treasure Planet when his crew start questioning his loyalty.
  • In Frozen (2013), Elsa keeps as much physical and emotional distance from her little sister Anna as possible. She does this to avoid harming Anna with her ice powers, like she did accidentally when they were little. Unfortunately, Anna doesn't know this because her memories had to be altered to survive the initial curse. When Elsa runs away, Anna goes after her anyway, believing that Elsa won't hurt her. Three guesses as to what happens when Anna finally catches up to her.
  • In The Little Mermaid (1989), it's bad enough for King Triton to discover his daughter Ariel has a secret grotto chock full of artifacts and trinkets belonging to humans, whom Triton perceives as barbaric, soulless fish eaters (And given the prequel reveals Triton's loving wife Athena lost her life being crushed by a pirate ship, it's not hard to see why the guy thinks Humans Are the Real Monsters). But when his daughter reveals she's fallen in love with a human, Triton flies into a rage and uses his trident to violently destroy Ariel's collection, believing it is the only way to keep her safe from humans. The crushed look on his face after he finishes the deed shows he isn't too happy with what he's done, but nonetheless believes it is for the best, until Ariel swims away from home, much to Triton's utter despair.
  • In Happy Feet, Gloria follows Mumble after his exile so that she can confess her love for him, and Mumble, not wanting to put her in danger, tells her that she would probably be better off with a penguin who can sing. She's aware of what he's doing, just disgusted by it.
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    Films - Live-Action 
  • The Trope Namer is Moulin Rouge!, when Zidler tells Satine she has to drive Christian away so that the Duke won't kill him out of jealousy.
  • In The Adjustment Bureau David Norris does this to Elise. After hearing from Thompson that if he stays with her, she won't become a world famous dancer, he leaves her without explanation in the hospital.
  • In Crazy Rich Asians, even though it's been made clear that nearly his entire family, including his mother Eleanor, opposes their relationship, Nick still proposes to Rachel. Rachel turns him down and goes to leave Singapore to return to New York, having realized that Nick was stuck between either forever resenting his family, especially his mother, or losing the first person to love him for something not related to his family's immense wealth; she essentially chooses for him so that he wouldn't have to deal with that Sadistic Choice, herself unafraid to lose Nick in order to preserve his happiness. This turns out to be what convinces Eleanor to approve of their relationship, as Eleanor believes that Americans are too self-centered for the more family-oriented Chinese culture in East Asia but Rachel's willingness to sacrifice her own happiness to preserve Nick's tells her otherwise. Nick chases after Rachel just as she was boarding the flight to New York and proposes again, this time with the fancy jade wedding ring belonging to his mother.
  • In Dangerous Liaisons, The Vicomte does this to Madame De'Tourvel, but not to protect her—he did it at the order of the Marquise.
  • In the Film of the Book Day Of The Dolphin, Dr. Terrell has taught several dolphins to speak English, and has come to love them as if they were his own children. At the end of the movie the evil government representatives are coming to take them away. He has to tell the dolphins that he doesn't love them any more to get them to leave him, so they can be safe.
  • Seen in Harry and the Hendersons when John Lithgow not only says mean things to their Sasquatch friend, but also punches him.
  • Will Ferrell's character does this to his love interest in Land of the Lost.
  • In A Man for All Seasons, Thomas More is in serious trouble with the King, and his friend the Duke of Norfolk is feeling the heat. More can't convince Norfolk to break off their friendship, so instead, he attacks him verbally until Norfolk actually lashes out. It pains More terribly to do this, but it works: his friend stays away from him after that and is spared the King's wrath.
  • In Only Love, Silvia does this to Heller after making a deal with her father to save his life after he was seriously injured during a trip to Gomba, a fictional African country, due to lack of hospitals in the immediate area and her father had her marry Nico as part of the deal.
  • Hartigan does this indirectly to Nancy at the end of That Yellow Bastard—he doesn't break her heart upfront, but lies to her and kills himself afterward. If he had stayed with her, Senator Roark would have most likely attacked Nancy to get revenge on him.
  • Peter ultimately rejects Mary Jane's Anguished Declaration of Love in the end of Spider-Man after realizing his future enemies might target them again. In Spider-Man 3, Harry Osborn forces Mary Jane to break up with Peter to save him.
  • In The Amazing Spider-Man, Gwen Stacy's father makes Peter promise to break it off with Gwen as his Last Request. Peter does so, but Gwen quickly figures out that her father put him up to this. Peter later hints that he might not be able to keep the promise.
  • There was an interesting variation in Ever After. Danielle attempts to explain her true identity to Henry, but he doesn't really give her the chance. Later, his mother explains that "Nicole" is engaged to a Belgian, which is what Danielle's stepmother has told her, and he thinks that what she was really trying to tell him was goodbye.
  • In The Dark Knight Rises Alfred reveals Rachel's true choice in The Dark Knight before her death in an effort to force Bruce to move on with his life without Batman. Alfred acknowledges this will likely earn him Bruce's hatred but that doesn't matter to him as there's a chance it could save his life.
  • In the theatrical cut of The Butterfly Effect, Evan finally decides that the best course of action is to go back to where he and Kayleigh first meet and be mean to her, so she never befriends him, moves away with her mother and avoids the sexual abuse by her father which ultimately leads to her suicide.
  • At the end of Candy, Dan gives up on Candy because he knows that if they stay together, he's going to drag her back into addiction.
  • A downplayed example occurs at the end of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo tries to set off on his own, knowing his quest to Mordor will probably kill him and hoping the others will find a safer way to help save the world. Even when Sam catches up to him, Frodo first refuses to look at him and then explicitly commands him to return to shore. Sam ignores him, and Frodo ends up having to save him from drowning. Afterwards, he gratefully accepts that there's no way he's getting rid of him.
  • Stella Dallas: Stella decided that Laurel should live with Stephen and Helen, because they are fancy society folks—and because, for some reason, Stella is unable to do basic things like stop dressing like a hooker. But she knows that Laurel will never leave her mother. So she pretends that she doesn't care about Laurel and tells Laurel that she's tired of being a mother and is going to marry Ed and have good times. Stella breaks down crying after a distraught Laurel leaves for good.
  • Robocop 2. Worried over a lawsuit from his distraught 'widow', OCP lawyers convince Alex Murphy to cut all ties with his family, pointing out he could never be a proper husband and father to them.
    Ellen Murphy: [sees Robocop without his helmet] Alex, is it really you?
    RoboCop: [gets up and walks to her, mesh metal fence separating them]
    Ellen Murphy: [crying] Don't you remember me? Whatever they've done to you... whatever has happened, we can work it out... start again...
    RoboCop: [leans forward] Touch me.
    Ellen Murphy: [she touches his lip, downhearted] It's cold.
    RoboCop: They made this to honor him.
    Ellen Murphy: [crying] No...
    RoboCop: Your husband is dead. [walking away] I don't know you.
  • In Teen Beach Movie, Mack breaks up with Brady when she is about to leave for an academic preppy school across the country to fulfill her late mother's Last Request. They get back together at the end of the film after she changed her mind and decided not to go after all.
  • In Keith, Keith does this after Natalie learns that he's dying, knowing that she's fallen hard for him. He dishes out his most scathing insults, claiming that he planned everything that happened between them as a final act of spite. The trope is subverted, however, as Natalie sees right through his ploy, refuses to let him have the last word, and insists on making him admit what he really feels. He finally confesses that he's fallen for her too, and that he couldn't admit it because he had already resigned himself to his imminent death.
  • Baloo from The Jungle Book (2016) is convinced by Bagheera to persuade Mowgli to go back to the man-village or else Shere Khan will kill him. So he walks up to Mowgli and tells him to take a hike, saying that he only used him to get honey and he doesn't need him anymore. When Mowgli leaves in a rage, Baloo looks very guilty about what he had to do.
    Baloo: Well, I did it. And that's about the hardest thing I ever did.
    Bagheera: [solemnly] I know.
  • In the pre-code film, Midnight Mary, Mary wants to save Tom from being implicated with her crimes, so she lies to him, saying that she was taking him for a ride and how he's a sucker for falling for her line.
  • Joe does this to Betty in Sunset Boulevard. Though they've fallen in love, Joe realizes that he can't provide Betty with the kind of life she deserves. There's also the fact that Joe's in a complicated relationship with the mentally unstable Norma Desmond, who's obsessed with him and could potentially become violent (and she later does, killing him). Joe acts like a Jerkass to Betty so she'll leave him and follow through with her original plan to marry her fiancé Artie.
  • The Lover. The Chinaman tries to do this to himself, making the Girl say that she was only ever sleeping with him for money, from the moment they first met. Given that The Girl doesn't want to admit any romantic attraction herself, she plays along willingly.
  • In the silent film The Plastic Age, Hugh's academic and athletic performances decline due to his relationship with the wild party girl Cynthia, played by Clara Bow. Eventually, she dumps him so that he will focus on school again, telling him upfront that this is her motive.
  • Bonnie & Bonnie: Kiki, after being injured and afraid she'll slow down Yara from escaping, tells her to go while claiming she doesn't really love her. Yara refuses to believe it however, staying with her.
  • The Slipper and the Rose: When Lord Chamberlain convinces Cinderella to leave Prince Edward for the good of the country (so he can make a political marriage), she asks him to make Edward believe she was being cruel to him, to make him glad she left him. It doesn't work; he sees through it immediately.
    Cinderella: Tell him that it wasn't love; say I tried, say I lied. Make him hate my memory, make him glad he's free.
  • Liberal Arts: Realizing that Zibby still has her life ahead of her to be in an Age-Gap Romance with a man pushing middle age like him, Jesse backs out on making their Relationship Upgrade official. She didn't take it well at first but they eventually get better.
  • Logan: When Laura is reunited with the other X-23 kids, Logan intends to leave her with them and head out on his own again. The two get into a fight and Logan tells her that he is not what she thinks he is, making snide remarks about having done what he agreed before pointedly telling her the people he cares about tend to die. Hurt by this rejection, Laura snipes back that it means she has nothing to worry about, and leaves.
  • Definitely, Maybe: Emily thinks Will would be better off not tying himself down at a young age, and refuses his marriage proposal. When he insists, she informs him that she cheated on him, and it's suggested she did so to make breaking up with him easier.
  • Bleach: In the finale, Rukia calls Ichigo a lowly human and saying that she's sick of living with him in order to try and save him from Byakuya. Her being on the brink of tears undermines her credibility.

    Literature 
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany: Anticipating his death, Owen does this to Hester towards the end of his life. Unfortunately, after his death, Hester's life spirals into wild abandon.
  • Robin Hobb has a variation in her Farseer trilogy: it's not an active lie, but the protagonist decides not to reveal the fact that he is still alive.
  • Vanyel does it to Stefan in the Last Herald Mage series by Mercedes Lackey, believing (rightfully) that Stefan will be targeted by Vanyel's powerful Mage enemies. It doesn't work.
  • Richard and Kahlan from The Sword of Truth series when Kahlan tells him she doesn't love him in order to save his life by forcing him to leave with a priestess of the light, Verna. Later on, Richard breaks out of his depression when he does the same thing to his pet Gratch and realizes Kahlan was doing the whole thing for Richard's sake.
  • Twilight:
    • Edward attempts this in New Moon, because he feels that he's put Bella in too much danger. Bella responds by having a Heroic BSoD for four months.
    • Bella also does this to her father to some extent, shouting at him and basically calling him a loser in every way. She does it so she can justify her flight from the "evil" vampires in order to protect him (by leading the vampires as far away from him as possible). To twist the knife further, she uses the same words her mother used when she left him — leaving him stunned, staring, and unable to chase after her, just like she wanted. Then, as soon as she's out of sight, she bursts into tears.
  • Done by Ella to Charmont in Ella Enchanted, as she fears that her curse would make her a danger to him. However, when she realizes that her ability to decline his proposal is actually an indication that the curse has been broken, she un-breaks his heart by proposing to him instead.
  • This trope shows up a number of times throughout J.R.Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series. Example: Rehvenge revealing his life as a coldblooded drug-dealer/pimp to his Love Interest Ehlena in order to drive her away so she wouldn't find out he's half sympath and, worse still, marked for torture and certain death. Thankfully, she saw through the act eventually and helped to save him.
    • Another example occurs in Lover Enshrined, wherein Qhuinn is basically marked for death after cutting open his cousin, Lash's, throat so he plans to go underground. On the way he's caught by his best friend Blay, who says he'll never abandon Qhuinn. Qhuinn resorts to outing his buddy and confronting Blay about watching him, making it sound as though he's disgusted by his friend. Like Rehv's ploy, this is thankfully seen through and at least partially resolved after awhile, leaving the two on friendly terms again, albeit Nothing Is the Same Anymore thanks to newfound UST.
  • In Mistborn, Elend does this with Vin, and then promptly saves him from an assassination team.
  • Sweet Valley High: Steven's girlfriend Tricia begins acting distant towards him. He concludes that she's seeing someone else and confronts her with this. When she doesn't deny it, he dumps her. Little did he know that she was dying of leukemia and, of course, was pushing him away so as to spare him the pain of watching her suffer.
  • In the Wild Cards books, Tom Tudbury, The Great and Powerful Turtle's Secret Identity, had a girlfriend that he loved a lot. But she had a dormant form of the wild card virus, meaning that any children they had would get at best a one-in-ten shot at survival (since he, unbeknownst to her, had the virus). He knew that she really wanted kids, so he manufactured a big fight that led to them breaking up but remaining friends so that she could find happiness with someone else (even though it was killing him to do so). Tom holds the Idiot Ball and never asks if adopting children would work for her.
  • Toyed with in The Truth-teller's Tale. In order to save Roelyn, both the twins say things they know will stay her father's hand, but break their friend's heart. Eleda, who cannot lie, says Roelyn will marry, not the man she loves, but the Prince. Adele, the secret keeper, reveals that she saw the love interest secretly wed the previous day. It works, and Roelyn's father frees his daughter... Only to reveal that Roelyn was the one wed to the love interest, and that the love interest was keeping his identity as prince a secret
  • In Dance of Death, D'Agosta, under Pendergast's advice, ends his blossoming relationship with Laura Hayward when he begins investigating Pendergast's brother Diogenes, in order to protect her from becoming a potential target. The kicker to that? As it turns out, she personally isn't in any danger, as Diogenes is framing his brother for murder and is tricking her into arresting him, meaning he needs her alive.
  • A young adult series called Haunting With Louisa featured a modern girl named Dee who moves into an old inn with her after her mother died and discovered the inn was haunted by the ghost of a girl named Louisa who had died in the 1880s. Dee soon considers Louisa her best friend and does all she can to help her reunite with the spirits of her family. Louisa also thinks of Dee as a friend, but is worried that it isn't healthy for Dee to spend all her time hanging out with a dead girl. Eventually, Louisa tells Dee that as a ghost, she wants to enjoy her special powers rather than be friends with a worthless mortal and disappears, hoping that this will force Dee to make some mortal friends and move on with her life. The plan seriously backfires when Dee decides that Louisa's disappearance means something horrible has happened to her, and Dee nearly gets herself killed trying to find her.
  • In the Malazan Book of the Fallen Apsalar tries this to keep Cutter from following her further down the road of becoming a murderer for hire and possibly getting himself killed in the process. So she just up and leaves, prompting him to go on a journey seeking for her that proves to be much more dangerous.
  • Alix does this twice in the first two books of the Samuel Carver series, first in The Accident Man and then in The Survivor. She genuinely loves Carver, but keeps winding up in situations where she needs to pretend otherwise to save his life, and she's too good of an actress.
  • In Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series, the protagonist Rand al'Thor tries to pull a platonic version of this with his friends Mat, Perrin, and Loial, to get them to leave so they will be safe should the Red Ajah or the Dark One come hunting him (or he just plain goes crazy from channeling the tainted male half of the One Power). It doesn't work (and in fact his ex-girlfiend Egwene completely calls him on it), but the end result is Mat resenting him and wanting nothing to do with him for at least half the series, a bad development when Rand really ends up needing him later.
  • The Riddle Master Trilogy: Deth to Morgon, multiple times. Unusually for this trope, it's actually relatively effective.
  • In the Chance And Choices Adventures series, Noah Swift Hawk tries this on Ann Williams, after they get in trouble with Judge Daniel Hall of Little Rock for having a Maligned Mixed Marriage. Not wanting Ann to be punished, he claims he never loved her and "just wanted to have his way with a white woman" and even keeps up the ruse in private for fear of anyone listening in secretly. He keeps it up for the entire month of hard labor they're sentenced to. Ann refuses to acknowledge it, though, as she knows the truth.
  • These Broken Stars: When Tarver approaches Lilac in front of her Girl Posse, she puts him down in the most humiliating fashion possible. She does this so that her bodyguards and Anna don't report on him to her father, which would result in him having an unfortunate accident.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 30 Rock: Parodied, when Jack does this to Frank to prevent him from becoming a lawyer (and subsequently killed by the Mafia). Notable for being a direct reference to Harry and the Hendersons.
  • Altered Carbon. Takeshi Kovacs is reunited with his long-lost sister, only to find she's now a ruthless crime boss who won't tolerate any rivals for her brother's affection. She also makes it clear that she'll have Kristin Ortega, her brother's current Love Interest, tortured until she goes insane if Takeshi doesn't go along with her Evil Plan. When Kristin turns up searching for Takeshi, The Dragon makes it clear that he's to get rid of her or he'll start killing people on the spot. So Takeshi has to respond coldly in the face of her relief that he's alive, accusing her of only being glad that his body is intact (he's wearing the sleeve of her former boyfriend) and claiming their relationship meant nothing to him. Ortega doesn't fall for it, but is visibly hurt.
  • Angel
    • In "Double or Nothing", Gunn is doomed to a fate that will destroy his relationship with Fred, so he dumps her as cruelly as he can. She quickly runs crying to Angel—not because of what he said, but because she knew what he's doing and realizes that he's in real trouble. Fred later makes him apologize for handling the problem that way.
    • Also, when Angel fired Wesley, Gunn and Cordelia in the episode "Reunion". He had been getting darker, especially when he let Drusilla and the re-sired Darla massacre the Wolfram & Hart lawyers for turning Darla back into a vampire and destroying his chance of redeeming her. This did not sit well with Wes, Gunn and Cordy, who insisted on watching him so he doesn't do anything that horrible (or worse) again.
  • Arrested Development: Parodied in an episode with GOB driving away George Michael for similar reasons, and again in Rita's first appearance, where Michael utterly misinterprets her statement "I'll make you blue."
  • Arrow
    • In the pilot episode, Oliver Queen gets "The Reason You Suck" Speech from Laurel Lance for cheating on her with Laurel's sister Sara and getting her killed. Laurel later tries to apologize but Oliver curtly brushes her off, telling her he's the same self-centered hedonist he was before. This is partly to drive her away so he can carry out his vigilante crusade, and partly because he no longer thinks he deserves Laurel after what he did. He realises he might have overdone his Jerkass Façade however, and apologises in the next episode.
    • In Season 2 Oliver convinces Roy Harper to break up with his sister Thea, because he might endanger her with his Super Serum-induced rages. Roy lets Thea catch him with another girl; Thea knows full well what he's doing but is still distraught because Roy refuses to tell her why he's breaking up. This backfires badly because not only is Roy not there to protect Thea when Slade Wilson kidnaps her that very night, it's also one of several trust violations that eventually drive Thea away from both Oliver and Roy.
    • Invoked at the start of Season 3, when Oliver breaks up with Felicity Smoak, who begs him to say he never loved her so she won't be tormented by the hope that they might get together again. Oliver responds with a "Shut Up" Kiss. "Don't ask me to say that I don't love you."
  • Being Human (UK): In the third series finale, Mitchell insults George and tells him their friendship was simply emotional manipulation to try and convince George to kill him. George figures out what he's doing and tells him as much.
    • Later, Tom tries to do it to Allie, telling her that he actually hates her and thinks that she's annoying. Given that he all but breaks down crying while saying this, no one is fooled. Allie still leaves though, because she knows that he's trying to save her from being made a worse person by his influence.
  • Better Call Saul: In the season 4 finale, Werner tries to convince his wife on the telephone to fly back to Germany so that she will be safe from Gus, making up a story that he had to leave New Mexico for work. After she refuses, Werner shouts at her that he does not want to see her and orders her to fly back, which she then does.
  • In Boy Meets World Eric flat-out tells a young orphan named Tommy, that he'd been acting as Big Brother Mentor for, he won't adopt him in order to get Tommy to go with the family in California that had adopted him. In the sequel series, Girl Meets World, T.J. Murphy, a political activist who helps Eric run against a corrupt senator and founder of a website called Thorn in Your Side, turned out to be Tommy and said that it was the best thing Eric did and the family that took him in was a good one.
  • In The Boys (2019), Butcher becomes a surrogate father to his stepson Ryan but fears that he'll end up being a bad influence like his own father. After he has a falling out with Mallory for keeping the team Locked Out of the Loop about a potential method of killing Homelander, she gives him a "The Reason You Suck" Speech about his Fantastic Racism and tells him he's just like his father. Butcher storms out and when Ryan tries to stop him he tells him that he doesn't want to look at him for his Accidental Murder of his mother and Butcher's wife, prompting Ryan to tell Butcher he hates him and run off.
  • In the third-to-last episode of Breaking Bad, the Wham Episode of the series, Walt does this with Skyler, pretending in his phone call to be a psychotic abuser who terrorized her into complicity with his crimes, so she would not get ostracized by the remaining family, and that the police and DEA would (hopefully) not treat her as harshly. He's playing it up hard, crying as he delivers the more evil lines, and you can see when she realizes what he's doing.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Angel does this, though, interestingly enough, he is more concerned about the long-term implications of their relationship, rather than the immediate danger they face on a daily basis.
    • Likewise, Giles in Season 6 (in a platonic love version of this trope) leaves Buffy to force her to become independent.
  • Castle: In the Season 8 opener, Beckett becomes very secretive towards Castle, and eventually leaves him, not really saying why (it's because she has a super powerful enemy that could kill both of them, and she needs to take them down alone). Naturally, Castle being Castle, this just makes him redouble his efforts to "save his marriage".
  • Chinese Paladin: Ling'er, motivated by a mix of The Woman Wearing the Queenly Mask and Leaving You to Find Myself, does this to Xiaoyao. He eventually gets the point and agrees to let her go.
  • Chuck: Jill was forced to break up with Chuck when she was recruited into Fulcrum.
  • Cold Case: Seen in the episode "Sandhogs". The victim of the week was an avid union activist, but this had made him very unpopular. When his opponents began to make threats against his girlfriend, he abruptly told her he was going to reconcile with his wife and that their racial difference (he was white, she was black) would have doomed the relationship anyway. The woman spent DECADES believing that he had never loved her and was using her, taking comfort only in the existence of the son conceived during the affair until the detectives told her the real reason he had pushed her away.
  • The Decoy episode "Night Light" contains a parental example, where a jewel thief rejects his thirteen-year-old son to prevent him from following his footsteps.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Fourth Doctor does this to Sarah in "The Ark in Space", when she is stuck in a pipe and panicking. He pretends to give her a "The Reason You Suck" Speech, in order to make her angry enough to push her way out of the pipe.
      The Doctor: "Oh, Doctor." Is that all you can say for yourself? Stupid, foolish girl. We should never have relied on you. I knew you'd let us down. That's the trouble with girls like you. You think you're tough, but when you're really up against it, you've no guts at all. Hundreds of lives at stake and you lie there, blubbing.
      Sarah: You wait till I get out! I can manage. I don't need your help, thank you!
      The Doctor: Yes you do, yes you do. [Sarah is fully out] Splendid. You've done marvellously, Sarah. I'm very proud of you. I really am very proud of you.
      Sarah: Conned again. You're a brute!
      The Doctor: Oh, don't be ungrateful. I was only encouraging you. Come on.
    • The Seventh Doctor does this with Ace in "The Curse of Fenric". He specifically needs to break her faith in him in order to save the world, so he convinces her that her life means nothing to him and he only traveled with her as part of a bigger plan.
    • "The Parting of the Ways": The Ninth has a Shoo the Dog moment with Rose, faking an "eureka" moment so he can get her into the TARDIS and send her home while he stays to face a Dalek army, fully expecting to die.
    • "The God Complex": The Eleventh Doctor does it to Amy Pond, for almost exactly the same reasons as Seven to Ace.
      "I can't save you from this. There's nothing I can do to stop it... I've stolen your childhood and now I've led you by the hand to your death. But the worst thing is, I knew. I knew this would happen; this is what always happens. Forget your faith in me. I took you with me because I was vain. Because I wanted to be adored — I'm not a hero. I really am just a mad man in a box. And it's time we saw each other as we really are."
    • Amy tried doing this to Rory immediately prior to "Asylum of the Daleks", booting him out of their home, moving forward with divorce proceedings, and generally acting caustic and unfeeling toward him in the mistaken belief that he would be happier without her. She knew he wanted to be a father and, due to injuries sustained during the events of "A Good Man Goes to War", she could no longer have children.
      "I didn't kick you out, I gave you up."
    • The Eleventh Doctor does this to Clara Oswald in "The Time of the Doctor", repeating the same gambit the Ninth Doctor did with Rose — tricking her into entering the TARDIS and sending her home and out of harm's way. She is heartbroken as a result, but fortunately an ally of the Doctor's is able to reunite them.
    • The Twelfth Doctor's plan to erase Clara's memory of himself in "Hell Bent" is a misguided example. He knows it'll break her heart, but he plans to do it whether she wants it or not. Fortunately, she is able to talk sense into him. Sadly, her heart still ends up breaking when the Doctor loses his memories of her instead.
    • "It Takes You Away" puts a twist on the trope: When just the Doctor and Erik remain in the Solitract's universe, the Doctor entices it to pick her because of her far greater range of experiences compared to him, noting that it can only keep one of them. When the Solitract chooses her, Erik is finally convinced that it's not really his dead wife, which it had taken the form of, and is ejected.
  • Farscape: A staged version. Crichton blows Aeryn off and then asks Pilot to check the comm system, which will take them offline for a minute or so. He then explains that Scorpius is eavesdropping using the comms, and if they rekindle their relationship, Scorpius will use both Aeryn and the baby she's carrying as leverage. Aeryn dismisses him as paranoid until Scorpius is heard asking about the comms. They then continue what sounds like a breakup and end it by kissing. Unfortunately, the Scarrens kidnap Aeryn two episodes later, forcing Crichton to offer Scorpius wormhole tech in return for his assistance in rescuing her, making the whole thing completely pointless.
  • Game of Thrones. Tyrion lies to his mistress Shae in "The Lion and the Rose", saying he never loved her, and delivers an absolutely brutal diatribe against her to drive her off to Pentos before his father Lord Tywin has her hanged. It seriously backfires when a bitter Shae turns up as the Surprise Witness at Tyrion's regicide trial, perjuring herself to get Tyrion convicted. To cap off this Humiliation Conga, Tryion later finds Shae in his father's bed and strangles her.
  • General Hospital: Emily tells boyfriend Zander that she's engaged to someone else to spare him the pain of watching her suffer from cancer—and she ends up falling in love with the other guy anyway.
  • Guiding Light: Similarly, wanting to protect boyfriend Jesse from the mobsters who are after her, Michelle tells him she's going to marry someone else. Sure enough, by the time she admits the truth to him, he's moved on, and so has she.
  • House of Cards (US): In 2x12, Posner makes Lisa go away to eliminate any threats towards her from a constantly opinion shifting Stamper.
  • Subverted in Jessie. Jessie considers doing this to Brooks when Mrs. Chesterfield cut off all of his money and rendered him broke to force them to break up. Fortunetly, just when she was about to go through with it, Mrs. Chesterfield changes her mind after a talk with Bertram and gives Brooks his money and job back finally accepting their relationship.
  • The Last Man on Earth: Phil's brother gives him a "The Reason You Suck" Speech while apparently dying of the apocolyptic virus so that Phil won't stick around to watch him die. It doesn't work, so he makes it his "dying wish" for Phil to leave.
  • Lost: Pierre Chang does this to his wife, because pretending to turn into a total asshole to drive her away from the island is the only way to persuade her to leave in time before everyone's lives become endangered by The Incident.
  • Merlin: (in a way) In 2x09, Freya tries to leave Camelot without telling Merlin so that he won´t leave the good life he has there, and to prevent him from finding out she´s a Bastet.
  • Motherland: Fort Salem: Enlisted witches are forbidden from consorting with civilian men, so the first episode sees Abigail dumping her boyfriend and using magic to make sure he forgets about her.
  • NCIS: DiNozzo wooed Jeanne Benoit as part of a black ops plan to get at her arms-dealer father. After his cover was blown and Jeanne confronted him, he claimed that the relationship was entirely fake...even though he had really fallen in love with her.
  • Once Upon a Time: Snow White has to do this to Prince Charming so he will continue with the Arranged Marriage to prevent his father from killing him.
    • Grumpy also does this to his fairy girlfriend Nova so that she can have a better future.
  • One Life to Live: Sloan abruptly tells Vicky that he's going to marry his childhood sweetheart Beverley, when in truth, he's just learned that his Hodgkin's lymphoma is terminal. It doesn't work of course—Vicky's just as devastated by his inexplicably dumping her and refuses to let the matter rest until he finally admits the truth.
  • Penny Dreadful: Ethan does this to Vanessa at the end of season two, believing that his lycanthropy and murderous past has doomed him, and wanting to spare Vanessa the agony of seeing him hanged. Of course, he doesn't actually tell her any of this, and instead of being hanged, he is extradited back to America, leaving Vanessa believing that he abandoned her.
  • The Princess Wei Young has a variant. Xin Er pretends she doesn't care about Tuoba Jun to save the Li family, because if the "witchcraft" incident was revealed it would mean the entire family's execution.
  • Roswell: Liz does this to Max twice. Once in "Destiny" after hearing that being with Tess was his destiny and again in the "End of the World" after being asked to by time-traveling future Max.
  • Invoked in Saved by the Bell: after finding out that Slater's dad may be transferring to Hawaii, Zack - looking to eliminate his competition for Kelly - tells Kelly, Jessie and Lisa that Slater is terminally ill and can only be treated at a clinic in Hawaii, so they need to be mean to him and convince him that he has no reason to stay at Bayside. It seems to work, until Kelly suddenly declares that she will also go to Hawaii to nurse Slater, leading him to figure out what's really going on.
  • Sherlock: In "The Reichenbach Fall", Sherlock tells John that his entire life was a lie, that he made up Moriarty to look clever, that he researched John before their meeting to impress him, before faking his suicide so that John, Mrs Hudson and Lestrade won't get shot by snipers. John doesn't believe a word of it, of course.
    • Sherlock's earlier attempt to do this was, sadly, a lot more successful. John receives a phone-call telling him that Mrs. Hudson has been shot. Sherlock refuses to go with him to see her and acts as if he doesn't care about her when previous events have clearly shown otherwise. Throughout the episode, people have been slowly turning against Sherlock, all except John, who has been fighting in his corner all the way until this moment, which causes him to snap and call Sherlock a "machine" before abandoning him as well. It turns out Mrs Hudson was fine all along and the whole thing was a ruse set up by Sherlock to get John to leave him so he could face Moriarty alone.
  • In Star Trek: Discovery, in a platonic variation, Michael Burnham left Sarek's home in an attempt to keep her foster brother Spock from being targeted by Vulcan logic extremists for associating with a human. When young Spock tried to follow her, Burnham, in desperation, told him she never cared about him and called him a "half-breed". They didn't speak for years. When they finally reconnect in Season 2, Spock is bitter and treats her with hostility. He also calls her selfish for constantly trying to shoulder the responsibility for everything. He explains that the logic extremists would have targeted him anyway because he's half-human.
    • Incidentally, Spock himself did this to an old flame named Leila in The Original Series. In the episode "This Side of Paradise" Leila is being controlled by drug-like spores. The spores are killed by emotional extremes, note  so when he tells her he can't be with her anymore, her abject grief snaps her back to normal.
  • Supernatural:
    • In Season 8 Castiel does this to Dean in Purgatory, running away so that the Leviathan after him will only target Cas himself at the cost of risking Dean will think he's in distress or has outright chickened out and abandoned him.
    • He then does it again in the same season, letting Dean believe they'll get out of Purgatory together only to stay at the last possible moment, because he knows if he tells Dean he doesn't intend to come along, Dean will refuse to get out until he comes around. This particular stunt does its job of getting Dean to safety and back on Earth, but it screws Dean up so much, his brain fabricates fake memories to rationalize the event as himself failing to save Cas, or Cas giving up and his grip slipping.
    • Towards the end of Season 15 he does it again in an unusual way in "Despair". When Billie is on the warpath about to kill both him and Dean, he tells Dean the Empty will take him away at his happiest moment, and that comes with him admitting to his love for Dean, which causes the Empty to appear and take both him and Billie away, leaving Dean a shocked and sobbing mess alone on the floor, although he is said to have been revived offscreen later.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): In the episode "The Trouble With Templeton", the title character's obsession with his dead wife propels him back to a speakeasy in the 1920's when they were first in love. However, her shrewish, callous treatment of him there forces him to flee back to his present time. After he's gone back, his wife drops the act and breaks down in tears; it was all to make him let go of his obsession with her memory and continue to live his life. He figures it out, too, when he finds her acting script in his hand, back in the present day.
  • The Vampire Diaries: Stefan occasionally does this to Elena throughout the series. Stefan breaks up with Elena or turns his back on her in order to protect Elena. This is especially evident in season three when Stefan leaves Mystic Falls with Klaus and becomes a Ripper in order to protect Elena and the rest of the town. Elena also did this with Stefan in season two by breaking up with Stefan in order to protect Stefan and her family and friends from Katherine Pierce.
  • Without a Trace: After taking a boy hostage because the kid reminded him of his dead son, a man finally agrees to let him go. However, the boy refuses to leave, so the man begins screaming at him, telling him he's a "brat" and "I was just using you". The kid still refuses to leave, being savvy enough, even at his young age, to guess what the man's trying to do and that he's planning to kill himself once the boy leaves.
  • Wonderfalls: Jaye basically treats Eric like crap and breaks up with him because the animals told her to and she thinks there will be grave consequences if she doesn't.

    Music 
  • "Hate Me", by Blue October, is from the viewpoint of an alcoholic/drug addict singing to his mother.
    An ounce of peace is all I want for you, will you never call again?
    [...]
    So I'll drive so fucking far away that I never cross your mind.
    And do whatever it takes in your heart to leave me behind.
    Hate me today. Hate me tomorrow.
    Hate me so you can finally see what's good for you.
  • "Wherever I Lay My Hat (That's My Home)" by Marvin Gaye (later covered by Paul Young) plays with this trope; the song is about a guy essentially telling a girl that he's a philandering jerk and that the best thing she can do is just walk away from him and forget all about him. However, where Gaye's version is more upbeat in tempo and style, as if the guy's tone is casually along the lines of "hey, baby, that's just the way I roll", Young's version is a lot more melancholy, as if the guy has actually fallen deeply in love with the girl but is trying to push her away because he ultimately knows he's no good for her.
  • "The Hardest Thing" is a 98 Degrees song about a guy who has to break up with a girl because he's already made a commitment to another girl.

    Theatre 
  • In La Bohème by Puccini, Rodolfo leaves a distraught Mimì, ostensibly because she flirts with other men and he is jealous, but the true reason is that Mimì is suffering from lung disease and Rodolfo is too poor to afford medication or even firewood, so he sets her free, hoping that she will fall into more capable hands.

    Web Animation 
  • The end of the third volume of RWBY, it's pretty much implied that this is what Blake did to Yang, when she left in order to protect her and the rest of their team from Adam. Yang is obviously heartbroken over being abandoned by Blake and continues to be upset throughout Volume 4.

    Webcomics 
  • In The Croaking Scra pretends not to know and generally acts coldly towards Ky, his new roommate in military college, despite them meeting daily for weeks before. He does this to keep Ky out of murder business and to keep him away from the racism directed towards him as a crow.
  • In Fans!, when the rare terminal disease that she had lived with for much of her life was progressing to its final stage, Rikk's wife Alisin "seduced" (ahem) Meighan and bragged about it to Rikk, hoping that he wouldn't waste any time mourning her. This plan went wrong on every level: Rikk was devastated and realized what she was doing, and then Alisin was cured just in the nick of time.
    Rikk: Sorry, Ally. I still love you. You can't stop me.
  • In Shortpacked!, Mike finally gives into Amber's request for a marriage proposal by arranging for her mom to sleep with their recovering sex addict friend, then edit a tape of it into a proposal. He was hoping that she would finally realize what a Jerkass he is and leave him. Didn't work.
  • In College Roomies from Hell!!!, Margaret spent several years pulling this maneuver on Dave. It's not him, it's her enemy...who happens to be THE Enemy. But unlike Ally in Fans!, she did it perfectly, convincing not just Dave but most of the readership that she didn't love him—to the point that when Roger figured out her real motives and told Dave, the forum was less inclined to believe him than to be mad at him for getting Dave's hopes up again. Unfortunately, Margaret's efforts to spare Dave included pushing him into Blue's arms...so when the truth came out, it was too late.
  • In MYth: A Promise we discover that Hades willingly made Zeus hate him forever and destroyed the bond he had with his precious little brother to make him stronger and avoid that Zeus offered him the crown everybody knew it belonged to Zeus.
  • Space Boy: After Saito threatens to have Amy killed when she and Oliver begin to get close, he ends their friendship immediately, with absolutely no warning and without giving a reason.
  • Ever Blue: Seta, when told in no uncertain terms that if he won't kill Luna, somebody else will, obediently gets his sword and enters Luna's house in the dead of night. Then he proceeds to chase her out of town, so she'd be safe.

    Web Original 
  • Averted in Twig, where when Sylvester learns that his romantic relationship with Lillian is holding back her career and presenting an easy way for enemies to hurt them both, he goes to her and explains the situation, and together they come up with a plan on how to present their break-up to the outside world to best benefit Lillian. They're both still heartbroken, of course, but there's no deception involved.


 
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Alternative Title(s): Break Her Heart To Save Her

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Gumball Gets Penny To Shrink

To keep from being hit by a truck, Gumball tells Penny that she's nothing to him so she'll turn into something small and they'd both slide under it. She says she understood this later, but doesn't seem any less upset about it.

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