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As the song goes, “Breakin’ up is hard to do.”
And, as cute as that tune is, ending any kind of relationship is awkward at its best and downright messy at its worst.
There are so many elements involved in a breakup and the decision to do so.
So, let’s assume that you’ve done your due diligence and you’re confident in your decision that things must end. One of the most important pieces is the struggle to people-please or over-explain during the breakup conversation. Chances are, if you’ve given this enough thought, you’ve likely had a conversation or two about your unhappiness with your significant other, and they’ll know where this is coming from.
It should go without saying, but in this technologically disconnected society we live in, it sadly needs to be said more bluntly: be human, have the conversation!
Breaking up has not only gotten lazy, but with ghosting and breadcrumbing and such, it can be downright cruel.
My rule is (and, trust me, I’ve broken it with ugly consequences, too): if you don’t want to ever receive it, then try not to dish it out. Simple, right? But so often we avoid facing difficult conversations and leave messes behind. You may think it’s the easy way out, but you’re leaving your own special set of karmic breadcrumbs behind you every time you avoid instead of face it.
Okay, mini-rant has ended, stay with me here.
The end of any relationship, be it romantic or otherwise, is always tough. We are such a complex bundle of feelings and emotions that it can be hard to navigate our own on a good day, let alone someone else’s on what may be one of the hardest days for both of you.
After I’ve worked with someone to make sure they’re making the best possible decision for themselves, I guide them through these steps to ensure that they have the best shot at walking away feeling like they managed their way through a tough conversation with their humanity intact:
Step one: Leave your codepen-dancing shoes at home.
It’s natural to feel bad or even a little guilty when we’re about to break up with someone, even a friend. You may be the one doing it this time, but chances are you’ve been in those shoes before.
While it’s tempting to want to over-explain and over-care for the other’s feelings, this might actually make things messier and prolong an already awkward conversation. At the end of the day, you are only responsible for a clean, compassionate delivery and not their feelings, perceptions, or projections on to you.
Be clear about how you feel, what your reasons are, and why you’re sure this is the best thing for you (and ultimately for both of you in the long run). Take deep breaths and rest assured that you’re making the right decision. When delivering your reasons, avoid the urge, whether internal or from your partner, to overly explain yourself. Chances are you’ve given these reasons already multiple times throughout your relationship.
Step two: Stay present and stay compassionate.
You may be entirely sure of your decision, but as much as you think the writing has been on the wall for a while, this may come as a shock to the receiver. Deep-seated feelings of abandonment come up for many people on the receiving end of a breakup.
Be willing to hold space and answer questions (without feeling the need to make excuses for yourself or make them feel better) and give some time for both of your feelings to process. Don’t walk away until you feel complete and don’t feel obligated to stay until they are. This is the delicate balance between sympathy and empathy. You don’t want to find yourself taking on their feelings and feeling responsible, but you can empathize with how much what is happening sucks.
Step three: Grieve it.
Saying goodbye is never easy, and, speaking from someone who has been on both ends of this story, as relieved as you may feel walking away, give yourself some time to process the loss. We often think that the one breaking up should have it easy; after all, it was their decision. But that doesn’t negate that this is an ending, and with endings comes some form of grieving. You loved this person at one time. In fact, you may still love them, even though it has become clear it’s time to go.
Allow yourself the time and space to feel what you feel without judging it or yourself. Be around people who can show you empathy and care for what you have experienced.
The last thing I want to say about a kinder breakup is, for heaven’s sake, don’t get drawn back to this person out of selfish reasons or your own loneliness. One of the cruelest things to do is have breakup regret for the wrong reasons and then keep someone else on the line simply because you don’t have the courage to make a clean break.
It’s natural to feel tempted to call someone again after you’ve ended it, but if you do get this urge, please pause. Ask yourself whether you’re ready to pick up the relationship again. Be honest about your reasons for wanting to reach out.
Here’s a hint: if those reasons mostly involve soothing yourself, then don’t pick up the phone. Allow that person the space to move on.
Relationships are tough, but everything is a relationship. In the end, it’s the one we have with ourselves and our own sense of integrity that matters most.
If you do the work and you remain conscious and compassionate, you’ll navigate your way through your breakup with class.