But not impossible to do with kindness, says Ros Bell.
Until my most recent break-up, I had a theory: people who have never had their hearts broken are terrible at breaking up with people. It was a good theory. It made sense to me. Of all the break-ups I’d had, the ones that were the cruellest had been by people who had never been dumped before.
Unfortunately my theory was crushed recently, along with my heart, when I experienced what can only be described as negligent levels of empathy in the break-up department. But anyway, this isn’t about him. Honestly. Not at all.
If you’ve never been on the receiving end of a break-up, then it takes a leap of empathy in order to do it as kindly as possible. Even if you have been dumped before, it’s difficult to get right.
Rarely does everyone walk away from the situation happy and satisfied, but there are steps you can take to make it less horrible all round. I’ve put together this handy guide for how to do it properly. Regardless of gender or sexual orientation, this works for every romantic relationship that has come to an end – and maybe even some non-romantic relationships too.
Disclaimer: This guide is not recommended for those in abusive relationships.
Before the break-up
Do you really want to break up?
This may seem obvious, but really think properly about it. There’s a lot wrong with Sex and the City, but I’m a firm believer in Samantha’s attitude to relationships.
It may seem simplistic (because it is), but if you are mostly sad in a relationship, the truth is that it should probably be over.
Let me clarify: if the actions of the person you’re in a relationship with make you sad, or if your interactions together specifically are making you sad, then it’s time to end it. If you feel sad and it is unrelated to your partner, maybe move on to the next steps and see if any of them resonate before making up your mind.
Why are you breaking up?
Think long and hard about this. Make a mental list of reasons why you want to break up; not the events but the reasons. For example, the situation might have been: “You cheated on me with my mum, then killed my dog”, but the reason you’re breaking up would be that you no longer trust them and their treatment of animals is worrying.
Taking the emphasis off specific events and focusing it on cause and effect will help you think clearly about whether this behaviour was a one off, or part of a pattern. Yeah, the events may have directly contributed to the break-up, and this might seem like a very ‘therapy session’ way of phrasing it, but honestly, it takes the accusations and negativity out of it.
I don’t recommend writing issues down, but if you need to, make sure the list is entirely destroyed after you’ve made it. We’ve all seen Friends. Don’t be Ross.
“It is beyond the worst idea to have one more fuck for old times’ sake. You passed The Worst Idea a few towns back and now you’re pulling into You’ll Regret This Later Garden City.”
Don’t delay the inevitable
You’ve decided you don’t want to be a part of the relationship any more. Once you’ve made the decision, don’t prolong the effect. People do this for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes they’re putting off ending things because they know it’s going to be a grim conversation and they don’t want to have it. There is a particularly immature tactic of behaving like a tool until the other person is driven to break up. Sometimes it’s because they haven’t made up their mind.
Whatever the reason, once you have decided it’s the best idea, have the conversation. Use your discretion. If you’ve come to this monumental realisation a day before their Gran’s funeral, perhaps wait until afterwards. Use your best judgement. Put yourself in their shoes.
Prepare what you’re going to say, but don’t memorise a script
Do not learn a speech. Cliches are usually best avoided and honesty is always best, but not to the point of coldness. If you’ve simply fallen out of love with them, the best thing to say is, “I’m sorry, I don’t feel the same way any more.” It’s likely they will want clarification, and it’s at this point you can tell them one or two reasons that you have.
The really important thing is to prepare something and think about what your honest reaction would be if someone were saying it to you. Is it too cold? Does it make your feelings clear?
Set the time
You’ve decided it’s for definite. Now you need to arrange a time and place to meet. I’m a big advocate of going to their house. You’re the one doing the breaking up, so you should be the one to get yourself home afterwards. This is true for most long-distance relationships too, but does depend on the distance and the length of time you’ve been together.
The public break-up is a minefield and usually a cop-out – privacy is always best. If you are considering breaking up over text, please don’t. If you’ve been with them long enough that an official break-up seems necessary, then it needs a face-to-face meet up. It will be awkward; there’s no getting around that, but you are an adult. You can do this.
During the break-up
Be honest, be clear, be kind
This should be your mantra (it also works for life in general). You can apologise where appropriate, too, but don’t overdo that. Remember what I said before about reasons, not events. This is when they are useful.
Raking over the past is a quick way of getting embroiled in difficult and emotional arguments. You’ve already decided breaking up is for the best and your negative feelings are valid on their own. Now is not the time for accusations, however relevant or true.
“If the actions of the person you’re in a relationship with make you sad, or if your interactions together specifically are making you sad, then it’s time to end it.”
If you find yourself starting a sentence with “You”, then readdress this; “I” statements are best right now. “I feel like the trust in our relationship is no longer there”, “I feel like the spark has gone and it hasn’t come back.” Simple, declarative statements leave little room for misunderstanding or bargaining.
Answer their questions
They will have questions. It might not be during the actual break-up; maybe they have to process it later while you’re not there, as people handle this stuff differently. The important thing to remember is that you owe them an explanation, within reason.
If you’re getting constant upset texts, try arranging a phone call. A back and forth text-based situation is to be avoided. It’s hard to convey tone and intent over text, and it’s also much harder to draw a line under a WhatsApp conversation. Hanging up the phone is more final and definitive. If you feel like you’ve answered all their questions, you’re well within your rights to say, “I feel like we’ve been over this a lot, I don’t have anything new to add. I’m sorry.”
After the break-up*
*This bit applies if you’ve been broken up with too – there’s something for everyone.
There is no hooking up with your ex
Nope. That’s a hard no on the sex stuff. It is beyond the worst idea to have one more fuck for old times’ sake. You passed The Worst Idea a few towns back and now you’re pulling into You’ll Regret This Later Garden City, one of the newer places awarded city status, due to so many stupid people moving there after fucking their exes.
It always seems like a good idea and you always think you’re the exception. You are not the exception. Let me say that again: you are not the exception. Someone will get hurt.
Leave them alone
You may want to text them when something good happens, you may want to talk to them when you’re feeling angry or resentful. Don’t. Call someone else. Do something else. Take a shower. Sing a song really loudly. Watch The X-Files. Do not call them when your primary motivation is emotion.
If you need to get in touch for a practical reason, that’s acceptable. “Hi, I just remembered that I still hate you” is a bad idea, “Hi, Royal Mail tried to deliver a parcel for you today; it’s at the sorting office” is totally acceptable. But only if it’s true.
Don’t talk shit about your ex to their friends
Drama needs to be avoided. The relationship is over, keep contact with their friends and family to a minimum. You don’t need to discuss it with anyone else, it is no one else’s business.
Break-ups are crap, but you try to make them slightly less crap for everyone involved by being empathetic. Remember the mantra: be honest, be clear, be kind.
Dedicated to both Jims, and anyone who has had their heart broken.
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