Breakups are a bummer. There’s really no getting around that. They also often hurt for one or both people. But a lot of the time, a big part of why a breakup hurts so much is about the way people went about it.
Ideally, when we’re invested in a relationship and start to have conflicts, problems or issues, we talk about them, right from the start. And when we’re trying to work things out, if and when either of us starts to feel like they just might not be workable, we’re filling the other person in, not keeping those feelings secret. Not only does doing that make it a lot easier to break up if and when it comes to that — and to have it be more of a mutual decision than what one person does to another — it doesn’t leave the other person feeling like a bomb got dropped on them because they thought everything was fine and only found out it wasn’t when they got a one-way ticket to Dumpsville.
That said, breakups often don’t happen that way because by the time someone is thinking about breaking up, they’re not just at the end of their rope, but several yards past it, and communication has broken down. In our first few relationships, things also have probably moved so fast that the shift from things being great to things being awful can happen quickly. It’s also all too easy, especially when we’re new to intimate relationships, to get caught up in or manufacture a lot of drama.
The best you can ever do is just the best that you can at the time. So, whether you’ve been communicating along the way to your decision to splitting up or not, here are a handful of things to make a breakup a lot easier on everyone.
While there isn’t a “right” time, there are some wrong ones. The right time for a breakup is pretty much when you know you want or need to break up. There’s never going to be a perfect time when you can be sure no one will feel hurt, or when the other person won’t be angry or disappointed with you. If you’re waiting for a perfect time, you’re going to be waiting forever.
That said, be kind with your timing. Holidays or birthdays are awful times to break up with someone. Same goes for around big exams or competitions, or when a person is in the midst of a serious crisis outside the relationship, like a problem with their own health, a death in the family or another major crisis. Sometimes that timing is unavoidable, but when possible, a better tactic if you’re feeling the breakup mojo coming on during those times is to ask for some space, or to focus on the friendship part of your relationship during those times, and then do a breakup after the holiday, stressful time or crisis has passed or calmed down.
Splitting up is something to ideally do in person, face to face. Texting or voice mail is great for reminding someone to pick up the milk or sending a cute note, but they’re pretty heartless ways to split up with someone. If you’re in a long-distance relationship where a face-to-face meeting is impossible for a long time, or could only happen at great cost to both people, choose to split with something like a long phone call or a tool like Skype where you can talk face-to-face virtually.
Be clear and direct. When you know you want or need to break up, it’s not time for negotiation or discussions about how to fix things. That time is done. You need to be very clear that you are choosing to break up and that a break up is what’s happening. Statements like “I think we should maybe break up,” or “I don’t think this will work out,” aren’t closing statements, but sound like openings to negotiate or bargain. Instead, statements like, “I need for us to break up,” “I feel we’ve tried all the ways to fix this without results, so I need to be finished, and I want to split up now,” or even “I’m breaking this off with you,” or “I’m leaving this relationship,” are better.
Don’t backpedal if a partner becomes upset or angry, or if they say they refuse to accept a breakup. We sometimes have readers tell us a boyfriend or girlfriend won’t “let” them break up: the thing is, when one person leaves, that’s not a choice anymore, just like if we’re playing ping-pong with someone and they leave the table, we can’t keep playing, even if we want to. Stick to your aim to breakup. You can acknowledge the other person is upset and apologize for causing them any pain, but if you’ve come to break up, you need to remember that you’re done, the time for trying to fix things is past, and keep that very clear.
Own your own stuff, including this choice. You are choosing to break up, based on what you want and need. No one is making you do these things: they’re your choice. So, now’s not the time to go on about what the other person did or didn’t do, why they suck or how they could be better: if you’re splitting up, you’ve probably already gone round that carousel. One or both of you are probably going to be hurting when this goes down, so anything that is or feels like a personal attack will only make you and the other person feel worse when you already feel bad enough: you want to do a split with as much care and kindness as possible. Whatever happened in the past is in the past: you’re making a move towards your future, regardless of what the other person did or didn’t do.
Don’t make promises: A breakup isn’t the time to talk about what kind of relationship you’ll have later, or about if you might get back together some other time or in some other way. What you’re doing right now is finishing the relationship as it stands. Talking about future maybes when you’re breaking up only makes a breakup feel confusing for everyone, and is something that can keep people from having a finality they need to let go and move forward. People also tend to feel differently about what they want post-breakup a few days, weeks or years later than they do in the moment. And if and when promises made don’t come to pass — as they often won’t — it can double the heartbreak.
If later down the road, you want to talk together about a friendship, or revisiting the possibility of trying again with a romance, you can do that later.
Be sure to make space for yourself and give them space after a breakup. Even if you’re going to try to be friends, or if you’ve got some loose ends left to tie up, it’s best to give everyone at least a few weeks on their own, without contact, to grieve and process.
Sometimes someone you’re breaking up with will want to try and get all their resolution done right there and then, or want you to go over ever detail of why you’re breaking up with them. That’s usually not so sound, but you can find some middle ground that’s respectful to both of you and that also helps them save some face. Acknowledge what they want is important and that you respect their feelings and wishes, but make clear that now isn’t the best time for that. You can tell them you’d be happy to arrange a time to do that if they still want it in a few weeks, when you’ve both had some separation first.
Don’t make friends pick sides or put them in the middle. The longer you’ve been in a relationship with someone, or the smaller your peer circle, the more likely it is that you’ll share friends, which can be awkward for everyone for a while. But making friends pick sides isn’t cool, nor is making them part of your breakup, like having them deliver the news or return someone’s stuff. Try and be fair about mutual friendships and find ways to manage them gracefully, and keep your breakup between and about the two of you, rather than dragging your friends into it.
Be nice. Acknowledge the good stuff that was part of your relationship to the other person. Even if things are tense or strained by the time you break up, do your best to just thank someone for contributing the good things they did and for spending part of their life with you. Even if you want to take the low road, or the other person is hitting below the belt, you’re likely to feel a lot better in the long run if you stay on the high road.
See the whole article at Scarleteen here.