5 ways to break up better
There are many reasons people separate. Even the best break ups are usually gut-wrenchingly painful, although they don't have to be. If you've experienced difficult separations in the past, here are 5 ways that may make it easier in the future.
1. Recognise it's time to change
You don’t need to know what to do, but you do need to acknowledge something needs to change.
Often when a break up looms like a storm on the horizon, it’s brewing with resentment and blustering bickering. With all of these emotions swirling around, it can be hard to feel what’s best for you and to recognise if you need to break up or not.
What are some factors to consider?
- You no longer love your partner
- You criticise your partner and feel contempt* for them
- You no longer can or want to repair your relationship after arguments
- You’ve struggled to think positively about your partner or relationship for a long time
Let me be very clear, this isn’t an exhaustive list and neither does the presence of these factors mean you can’t fix the relationship.
Take the time to really look at yourself, your partner, and your relationship to evaluate what is really true and best for you, as objectively as possible.
Then give yourself permission to do what’s right for you, even if that means hurting your partner. The more clear you are about why you want to break up, and if you can calmly communicate that, the better the break up conversation is likely to go.
*Contempt and criticism are two of the Gottmans’ four horsemen of the relationship apocalypse, which can be the death of a relationship.
2. What do I actually say?
Now you’re sure you want out, what do you say?
In terms of the conversation itself, although you may want to rush through it or avoid it, you will probably feel best if you talk face to face. Take the clarity you achieved in #1 and be as kind and concise as possible. As with a job interview, you might want to practice what you’re going to say with a friend or therapist.
Aim to have the break up conversation when you’re both available to talk about something important and you’re not overheard or in a rush.
You may want to say something like this. It’s a suggested structure, not a script to memorise.
- Appreciate your partner or partnership
I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you.
- Give your reason for the break up
I feel we argue so often that this doesn’t feel right anymore.
- Tell them you want to break up
I want us to break up.
- Apologise for hurting them
I’m really sorry that this isn’t what you want to hear and probably really hurts your feelings.
- Say something kind and supportive
I understand this might come as a surprise and I do want to hear what you think and feel.
- Listen as empathetically as possible and allow your partner to be upset and hurt.
You may feel very sad and isolated after a break up, so consider telling close friends and family as soon as comfortably possible. Ask them for more time together or calls or messages so you feel connected.
Allow yourself to feel sad at the loss of what you’ve had in your relationship in the past and what you dreamed you’d have together in the future. You can know it’s the right decision to break up and still feel deeply sad about it. You may want to consider some short-term counselling.
3. Establish your new boundaries
What are the new immediate logistical arrangements you need to put in place?
Until recently, this person may have had access to most areas of your life, from your finances to your toiletries.
Take time to consider which areas of your life you still want them to be involved in and which you don’t. You may want to write down a list either just for yourself or to share with your now ex.
In today’s digital age, this can include everything from shared bank accounts to Netflix, Amazon, and your children’s homework portals.
When it comes to friends and family, do you want to set new boundaries on social media or about how you’ll each see mutual friends? Are you going to unfriend each other’s families or block each other on social media?
If children are involved, consider getting some mediation or putting a co-parenting plan in place. Although this can be very emotionally challenging, try to be as kind as you can to yourself and each other.
4. What is this new relationship?
Just because you decided to end the romantic and/or sexual aspect of your relationship, it may not mean you’re ending all aspects of your relationship.
Maybe things have fizzled out but you both want to be friends? Maybe you share children or a house and need to organise joint care? Maybe you still want to be in each other’s lives but not as primary partners?
Relationships don’t have to be binary.
Part of being as kind as possible to both of you during the break up process is to be as honest as possible about how you want the relationship to evolve. Of course, you can change your mind, but the chances are, you already have a good idea of the level of contact you’d like in the future. So share that with your ex partner so you both know where you stand going forward.
5. Decide what's next for you
Want to buy a Harley or become a nun? Both? Go for it. Give yourself permission for you to decide what comes after this relationship.
Honour your agreements from #3 and #4 in terms of childcare, finances, or contact with mutual friends, and then do what’s best by you.
This might be going to therapy or picking up an old or new hobby, or it might mean having sex with as many people as you can. Whatever you decide, this is your chance to do what you want.
While relationships are opportunities for us to learn and grow with other people, being single allows us to reflect and develop on our own. Both situations are valid and useful. Onc you’ve navigated the break up, I invite you to focus on doing things that add joy, fun, and meaning to your life.
If you’re wondering why I would write an article about breaking up, let me explain.
My thinking is,
- People deserve to be supported through all stages of their relationships
- As a society, we are especially poor at having difficult conversations, such as break ups
- Part of my work is to provide helpful tools and insights to make relationships easier and better, which this article aims to do.
As a therapist, I have no particular interest in keeping couples or polycules together. I am, however, deeply interested in supporting you to have happier and healthier relationships, whether that’s with your current or another partner.