I was getting a cup of coffee the other morning at my local coffee hub, and as I was waiting in line I noticed a couple sitting at a table nearby.
It was obvious to everyone that they were having a heated conversation! The young lady’s voice was steadily rising and becoming more shrill.
Tears were forming in her eyes, very close to overflowing. The gentleman was trying to calm her but was growing increasingly embarrassed and impatient with the way things were progressing.
If I didn’t know better, I would say that they were in the middle of the dreaded break up. It had that feel to it.
Watching this made me sad for a number of reasons but the two main ones were that, first, it’s always painful for a relationship, no matter how long or short-lived it was, to come to an end. Secondly, the setting and timing were not at all honoring to the relationship. A coffee shop in the middle of the morning rush was hardly an appropriate time or place for this to happen.
The therapist and counselor in me felt so sad to be witnessing this.
No break up is ever “easy”. In the best of circumstances, this is a painful experience. There are some specific things that you can do to help soften the blow. Family, friends and my clients have found the following tips can help make the process of breaking up a bit easier.
1. Be clear.
Maybe you’ve tried taking some time apart before. That didn’t work. If that’s the case, and you’re sure that your relationship is over, then you really need to be clear about this with yourself. Click here if you aren’t quite sure.
If you are clear then you aren’t feeling like it’s not that you want to “take a break”, or “are just too busy right now.” You’re clear and you want to communicate to your partner about your intention, which is to break up and not date or live together anymore.
Trying to smooth over the hard concept with euphemisms of what you are actually wanting, again, won’t be positive for anyone in the end. It only will drag out the relationship, the other person’s feelings and end up being more hurtful in the end.
2. Be timely.
If you know the relationship is not working out for you, but they seem to be fine with everything, then act sooner or later. No good can come from dragging it on. It may seem like waiting until after the holidays, or until a certain upcoming event has passed would be better. Unfortunately, this is not the case. At all. Postponing the inevitable will only serve to plant seeds of resentment for both of you, and will hurt more for the other person in the end.
3. Do this in person.
This might seem like a no-brainer, however, with the use of technology and social media, it’s not always so. Calling can be acceptable, however texting, Facebooking, snapping your intentions is never OK. Ever. The relationship at least deserves the honor of a proper ending.
4. Be on Time.
Show the other person some respect. If you arrange to meet somewhere, don’t leave them waiting. Showing up late only makes all of this worse.
5. Do it in private.
It’s inevitable that the other person’s, or your, feelings will be hurt. (More on that later.) But because of this reason, this conversation deserves a private place. Somewhere in which you both can feel safe to express yourself and work through the conversation would be best, rather than at a restaurant or any other social gathering.
Breaking up with someone in a public setting gives them no emotional space to safely process what is happening. It’s simply not fair to the person being broken up with to put them in this position.
6. Be Sober.
If you are going to break up with someone, one of the last things you want to do is to have one or both of you under the influence. It’s going to be painful enough for one or both of you. Avoid adding alcohol or drugs to an already delicate situation.
7. Be Concise.
On the note of not dragging it out… it doesn’t have to be a SNL opening monologue, just get to the point. I’m not saying you walk in the door and say, “It’s over.” However, you can state what you want to talk about then share your intentions. If you’ve been dating for a short while, it may just take a few minutes. If you’ve been together for a long time, and especially if you’ve been living together, it may take more time.
8. This Is Painful.
I often hear someone who is contemplating a breakup say, “I don’t want to cause them any pain.” While this is a nice thought, it usually isn’t very realistic. That’s because something that was once good for at least one of you, is now ending. Endings are a loss and the person is going to need to feel the pain so that they can grieve and move on with their lives. Unless the breakup is mutual – and even if it is – there is a good chance that there is going to be some pain for one or both of you. That’s completely understandable. Allow for the natural pain that comes with this.
No matter how right it may feel to breakup with them, you have to accept that it will most likely hurt them and you as well. This is true whether a dating, intimate one or one even a work relationship. Any intimate relationship in which feelings have developed, where the heart is invested, has more of a chance for greater sadness of course.
Going into the conversation, if you are initiating it, be prepared for tears, sadness, hurt, and for these things to possibly come out verbally. You don’t need to be abused by their speech, but most of the time it is unlikely they will answer “ok” to your desire to move on.
9. Use “I” statements.
This means saying things like, “I am unhappy with this [situation],” instead of “You always leave the dirty dishes lying around and I hate it!” One version of that statement shares how you are feeling and the other is blaming them for something. Stating something from a point of view of blame sets the person up to be automatically defensive and not open to what is being said. In the end, your basic message of breaking up is not getting through.
10. Listen to their feelings and thoughts.
Part of a healthy ending is being able to first share how you are feeling, and then be able to listen to the other person’s point of view. This isn’t about agreeing with what they are saying, or even changing their opinion.
It’s about listening to what they are saying, ACTIVELY listening, and affirming you hear them. You are helping the relationship end more amicably when you let the other person know you have heard their thoughts and feelings with an open heart.
11. Set some boundaries.
Very few things can complicate a breakup more than by not setting some reasonable boundaries. I typically recommend that recently broken-up couples not see each other for three months. In addition, I recommend that you not phone, text, or write each other. Understandably, the idea of this can be initially painful to say and to hear.
The advantage of setting this boundary is giving each of you a chance to heal a bit and begin to move on with your lives.
Not setting or respecting these boundaries will, more often than not, lead to more pain. Obviously, each situation is unique so use your best judgment.
12. Don’t forget to mention the good things.
Guaranteed the relationship wasn’t all doom and gloom; it just didn’t work out! You got together in the first place for a reason, though. And it continued for whatever length of time for a reason as well. Learning comes from EVERY relationship. Even if perceived to be awful and hellacious, lessons were learned. Acknowledging these lessons is healthy for each of you. Once the gifts of the relationship are shared, you are more able to sincerely wish them well.
I hope that this article has been helpful. Relationships are tough. Sometimes that extra ear can be helpful in deciding when and how to break up. I’d be happy to be that extra ear for you so you can navigate the situation more easily. Please contact me and we can set up an appointment. Whether contemplating a breakup or in the middle of one, I can offer some additional support for you.