Parting Ways Is Hard to Do
By Cara Baker, Erika Larson and Jessica Leopold
November 9, 2009
Romance is like the fragrance of magnolias on a cool spring day. But then a gentle breeze wafts by carrying the unmistakable smell of cow manure. As Simpsons creator Matt Groening said, “Love is a perky elf dancing a merry little jig, and then suddenly he turns on you with a miniature machine-gun.”
Maybe certain things about your relationship have been bugging you for a while, but you haven’t had the courage to talk about it. You can’t see a future for the two of you, or you feel you just don’t have much in common. Maybe you’ve just grown apart. Whatever it is, you know it’s time to call it quits. But you don’t want to reduce your boy/girlfriend to a quivering heap of shattered self-esteem and misery either.
“Getting out of a relationship is a hassle,” marriage therapist Donald Harvey admits in his book lovedecisions. “The truth is that relationships are easier to get into than they are to get out of. That’s why we sometimes stay in them longer than we should.”
When you’re ready to do the deed, if at all possible, try not to blindside your partner. Heather, a 22-year-old teacher from Chicago, believes you should always let the other person know you are not completely satisfied with the way things are going before ending it altogether. “They should at least know that something is up before just breaking up with them and not giving them a chance to change,” she said. If things continue to go downhill, the warning signs will lessen the blow when the break-up finally does happen.
That’s assuming it does, in fact, happen. No one likes confrontation, and sometimes it’s just easier to drop hints and hope the other person gets the picture. The problem is, that just leads to unnecessary emotional torture.
“The worst break-up for me was probably the ‘non-break-up,’” said Diane, a 24-year-old reporter. “I thought things were going pretty well, but slowly he started becoming too busy for me—fishing, softball, soccer, hunting and the occasional nap were much more important than me. If he didn’t see things working out with us, he should have let me know that very minute and not allowed me to go on thinking he liked me. That is completely disrespectful of the other person’s feelings.”
“Too often we ‘hint’ and send a weak message, mostly because we don’t want to hurt anyone,” author and iVillage’s Social Skills expert Mary Mitchell explained. “The message becomes so diluted that the person we are telling it to does not know what we mean. In other words, you need to tell them you’re not interested—simply and straight out.”Don’t put off breaking up if you know it’s inevitable. For both your sake and the other person’s, do it sooner rather than later. Do it in person—and in private. Breaking up over the phone or worse, via email or text (and if you're even thinking of using Facebook or Twitter, you should stop reading now and do some serious soul-searching!), is cowardly, impersonal and insulting. And breaking up in a public setting to avoid a scene may prevent your partner from expressing emotions that may come back to haunt you later.
Offer concrete reasons why you feel the relationship must end, but be sensitive. Don’t criticize or lay blame on your partner, and don’t, under any circumstances, offer lame clichés as reasons. Whatever do we mean, you ask? “It’s not you, it’s me,” tops the list. While the sentiment may be sincere, it ends up sounding like a cop-out, and it really doesn’t communicate anything meaningful.
Coming in at a close second: “God told me to end the relationship.” Who can argue with a decision that comes directly from the heavenly throne room? Exactly. Using this line just makes you come out looking like a saint and your partner looking like they’re not capable of hearing from God.
Allow the other person to share how they feel—don’t just say your piece and jet. “Give your partner closure,” offers “10 Ways to Break Up Graciously,” a list of break-up tips from About.com. “Try to sit down and give your partner time to talk when you’re breaking up.” Be aware that they might not be able to process everything in that moment, and a future conversation may be in order. But if they need to rehash and rehash, it’s time to cut the cord.
While it’s important to let your partner talk, odds are they’ll try to convince you a complete break isn’t necessary. Don’t let them change your mind. Remain firm. If you give in or express uncertainty, your partner will interpret that as hope. But the sooner they know it’s truly over, the sooner both of you can begin the healing process.
Edward, an artist from Kentucky, learned the hard way that leaving the door open only leads to more hurt feelings. “Don’t string someone along,” he advised. “If you’re thinking about breaking up with someone, make sure that you don’t get physical with them afterward. You have to draw the line at a friendly hug on the way out. Anything more than that will send the message that the relationship still has a chance, and if you’re serious about breaking up, you’ll only make the whole thing worse.”
And lastly, what would an article on breaking up be if it didn’t mention the naïve absurdity: “Let’s be friends”? While a friendship with a former significant other isn’t impossible, it’s unlikely the transition to friendship can be made right away. We’re slamming clichés here, but one that actually rings true is “time heals all wounds.” You and your partner need time apart. Resist the urge to make random phone calls “just to say hi.” Stop sending your daily emails to talk about the day’s activities. You aren’t being inconsiderate or rude by doing this. You’re allowing the emotional attachment to loosen its death grip on your hearts so you can move on.
Odds are, you’ve blundered on one or two (or all) of these points in the past, and you’ll probably flub in the future if you’re ever faced with the unpleasantness of ending a relationship. The key word to remember is “grace.” You’ve received it, so make it your ultimate goal to extend it to others regardless of the circumstances. You’ll find that things go much more smoothly.
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2003 issue of RELEVANT.