Breaking up is hard to do (remember the old song?) is an understatement. But as terrible as it is, breaking up is a part of dating and relationships that everyone experiences on one end or the other, usually both, so it’s important to know how to do the deed in the best and most sensitive way possible.
Since no two relationships, or people, are the same it’s impossible to offer advice that will apply equally to every specific situation, so here are 5 general tips to follow if you’re about to break up with your partner, that I’ve found to be applicable to most situations.
1. Don’t drag it out.
As hard as you think breaking up will be, it will be even harder and more painful if you drag the relationship on for longer and then break up. If you think there is a real chance of making it work then by all means take some more time to see it through. But if you’ve already made your final decision, DO NOT continue the relationship. If you do you are just wasting the other person’s time, allowing them to become more attached to you, and preventing them from moving on and finding their true love. They will probably be furious at you for doing it, and rightfully so. Don’t let it come to that. When you know it’s not going to work, let them know ASAP.
2. Pick the right time and place.
Time to share a personal story. When I was studying in Jerusalem in 1991, I dated a woman for almost 3 months. Towards the end, while I was planning to propose she was obviously planning to break up. In the meantime Saddam Hussein decided to shoot scud missiles at Israel and it became a stressful and demoralizing time as we stayed close to our sealed rooms and gas masks waiting for the sirens to warn us of the next attack. My girlfriend’s family lived in a small village in a part of Israel deemed to be safe from attack, so she invited me to come out there to spend a couple of days away from the stress, and potential danger, of the city.
After a stressful bus ride to Tel Aviv and then to her home, I made it there moments before the sirens went off and we had to don our masks and enter the sealed room. The rest of my time there is a blur. The only thing I remember is that at some point during my stay she broke up with me and there was no way for me to leave until the next day (because of the wartime conditions). So in my heartbroken state I had no choice but to sit with her family in their sealed room, wearing my gas mask and feeling sick, and spending another night on their living room couch, only feet away from the woman who just broke my heart.
The point of this story is that when you do decide to break up, pick a time and place that is sensitive to the other person. Now, like I said in tip 1, don’t drag out the relationship but a few days in order to spare the person even more discomfort is not a bad thing. For example, if you’ve planned to go on a ski trip together in a couple of weeks, then you can break it off now, but if you’re actually on the trip together, just wait until you get back home, especially if there are other people on the trip. Also, don’t wait until the holidays or some special event to ruin someone’s mood. Give them a little time to deal with things before having to face all of their friends and family.
I guess the best, and maybe the only, way to gauge what the right time is for a breakup is to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. How would you feel if you were broken up with at that particular time?
3. Give the person a sense of closure.
Sometimes it’s clear to both parties that a relationship is headed towards a breakup. In those cases, when the relationship finally does end, there’s usually a sense of closure. Many times, however, the breakup comes as a complete shock to the other person. They are left dazed and confused, as if they were just hit by a speeding train and left lying on the tracks. From my experience, it’s usually the guys who are the culprits in these situations (yes, I was guilty of it on several occasions). One day the guy seems all lovey dovey and then suddenly he’s telling you it’s over, have a nice life, I never want to see you again. Ok, that sounds a bit drastic but it just recently happened to a woman I’ve been working with. Literally, out of nowhere!
Granted, breaking up is going to hurt the other person and there’s no easy way to do it, but after it’s done, you should at least try to give the person some sense of closure. What does that mean? Good question. It means different things to different people, but at a minimum you should have a face to face (if possible) conversation with the person and try to explain your feelings and reasons for discontinuing the relationship.
Now, it’s obvious that there are some things that you will never tell the other person because it would hurt them for no good reason, and that’s fine. But there are certainly some things that you can tell the other person that will make them feel that the relationship was a true and earnest attempt on your part to come to a successful conclusion, that they do mean something to you, and that they helped make you a better person in some way. It’s still not gonna make the person feel great or make the pain any less worse at the moment, but it will give them a sense of closure and when some time passes and they begin to heal, they will view you in a positive, or at least neutral, light.
The worse thing you can do is break up with no explanation and then never speak to the person again (assuming that they want to speak to you). It might seem to make sense to you as the best way to help the person forget about you and move on, but in the short run it’s really hurtful and you deprive the person of the closure that they need to begin to heal.
Now that you’ve broken up and had a closure conversation, give the person the space they need to move on with their lives. If you happen to frequent the same venues, find another place to hang for a while so that your ex doesn’t have to see you and feel the pain over and over again, especially if you’ve already started dating someone else. I can still remember the pain of being on the other end of a failed relationship and having to see my ex on a regular basis. It’s really painful. Give them a chance to heal.
5. Move on with your life.
You made the decision to break up and did the deed. You had the closure conversation. You are done. So why are you still calling them to chat or going out for coffee together? I know, you’d love to be friends with them because you really like them (just not as a spouse), but don’t you realize that they probably still have feelings for you? Don’t you understand that by continuing to interact with them in a close personal manner you are stirring up their feelings for you and possibly impeding them from wholeheartedly dating other people?
If you like them enough to really try again and make a serious relationship work, then give it your best shot and make it happen. Otherwise, please follow the words of Gloria Gaynor and “go on now go, walk out the door, don’t turn around now, for you’re not welcome anymore”. Move on with your life and let your ex move on with too.
Do you have any thoughts on the subject? Please share them in the comments section below.