How to Break Up Well
By Gary Thomas
May 24, 2013
Gary Thomas is the author of the recently released The Sacred Search: What if It’s Not About Who You Marry, but Why?, from which this article is adapted, as well as the bestseller, Sacred Marriage: What if God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy? You can follow him on Twitter at @garyLthomas.
When a couple that has been dating for two and a half years hears the news that their friends who have been dating for six months have made the leap to engagement, questions often arise: “What’s wrong with us? If they’re ready, why aren’t we?” Many couples conclude that the reason they’re not ready is that perhaps the relationship isn’t right, so they break it off.
When your partner wants to know why you’re breaking up, be a true friend and be honest.
Whatever the reason behind your breakup, what does a healthy break-up look like? How can you do it with integrity? And how can you respond when the person being left behind is you?
Sooner is better than later
Once you know the relationship has run its course, don’t prolong its inevitable end simply because your girlfriend’s sister is getting married in a month and you’ve already agreed to be at the wedding. More damage can be done and more hurt can be leveled in a month of uncertainty than a year of trial and error. It’s just human nature. Your significant other will sense you’re pulling away, and when they bring it up and you deny it, they’ll rightfully accuse you of dishonesty and wasting their time.
I’m not saying you should run as soon as you have any hesitation. Be deliberate and thoughtful. If you didn’t enter a relationship too hastily, there’s no reason to get out of it too hastily. But when you arrive at the point where you know there is no chance the relationship will progress toward marriage, be open, honest and clear.
Be helpful but not a counselor
When your partner wants to know why you’re breaking up, be a true friend and be honest. Compassionately but clearly state the main reasons. Keep in mind, however, that this isn’t the time for counseling. If the issue is that the guy has no ambitions, say so: “I just don’t see you going anywhere right now vocationally, and that’s a huge problem for me.” This helps him and chases away some of the uncertainty that creates even more hurt. But don’t get sucked into a counseling session where he might come back with, “Well, what if I send out more applications or take that internship? Do you think that would be wise?” At that point, be direct: “I’m not the one to discuss this with, and this isn’t the time or place, because whatever you do, it’s not going to change what’s happening here.”
Some people, by not giving any reasons for a break-up, risk creating anger that takes a long time to resolve. You’re trying to be nice by remaining silent, but the other person usually takes it the other way, feeling that it’s cruel to leave him or her hanging—and that person has a point if the relationship has been a significant one. If you can find a sensitive way to explain why you’re breaking things off, do so. Giving that person some clues can help him or her grow through the experience, which is kind, but that doesn’t mean you need to become a counselor and try to fix what went or is wrong.
Don’t blame your parents, your friends or God. You made the call to get into the relationship, and you have to own the decision to break it off.
Own the decisionDon’t blame your parents, your friends or God. You made the call to get into the relationship, and you have to own the decision to break it off.
When you say, “God is leading me to end this” (particularly if the person is less spiritually mature than you are), you’re risking making the person angry with God instead of you, when in reality, you should be more concerned about how he or she is doing with God than how he or she feels about you.
Your desire to not pursue marriage with the person is legitimate; in the end, that’s all someone else needs to know. It’s your decision. Own it.
If it’s over, tell them it’s over
Don’t say, “It’s time to take a break,” if you don’t intend to ever get back together again. If the relationship is over for good, say so. It’s unkind to leave a boyfriend or girlfriend hanging or to give them false hope just to spare you the pain of watching that person hurt. Hurt will come eventually, because one day he or she will realize you’re never going to get back together again—either when you start dating someone else or when more time passes and you don’t pursue them. If you indicate any hope for a return to dating them, that person may even expect you to let him or her know if you meet someone else, which will set up another painful conversation.
Do yourself and them a favor: End it completely, thoroughly and without any ambiguity.
If you’re on the receiving end ...
What if you’re the “victim”—i.e., the one being left? Whether or not you had your own doubts or you had high hopes for this relationship, it's going to hurt. And that's OK. Remember that faith isn't denial. Mourning is an entirely appropriate, emotionally healthy and even biblical response to disappointment. (See Joel 1:13 and the entire book of Lamentations.) Let yourself hurt for a while. But be careful about trying to save the relationship in order to save face. It’s embarrassing to be dumped, but do you really want to spend the rest of your life with someone you had to convince to stay with you?
Take the time to learn from your pain. Use the opportunity to let God show Himself to you as the Great Comforter and truest friend you will ever have. Though this opinion falls way outside the scope of this article, I believe the Bible is very clear that there isn’t just one right person for each of us to marry. This break-up needn’t, therefore, be the end of your romantic dreams as much as it might be the necessary heartbreak that can lead to the beginning of an even better one.