By Lauren Berger, MSW, RSW
Love is a many splendored thing… until it’s not. Even though love and relationships are permanent fixtures in our society, that doesn’t mean that they are easy or simple. It seems like we have to kiss a lot of frogs until we find a great match. Hey, that’s okay! This is true of almost everyone. When we take turns dating several people, there is an inevitable caveat that we must deal with: breakups. We usually look at breakups as the most uncomfortable part of dating, but today I’m breaking down (see what I did there?) ways to keep it clean, considerate, and comfortable. Buckle up and let’s go!
1. Are you sure?
Rough patches are part of even the best relationships. If things have been awesome and you’ve just hit a bump in the road, consider if ending the relationship is truly what you want to do or if you want to work through the issue. Some issues are non-negotiables for some people (cheating, having kids, core values), and others have the potential to be sorted out (overbearing family members, moving countries, even religious differences). Think about the reality of not having this person in your life and see if the problem is truly a deal breaker or if there’s still hope. Don’t feel the need to tackle it alone. A couple’s counsellor can work wonders to help you move through the heavy stuff and see if you can make it work.
2. Use your words.
When a person feels angry, sad, or resentful toward their partner, it’s easy to use a lot of four-letter words when ending the relationship. While your soon-to-be-ex may deserve a few choice comments, think about ways you can express yourself that will leave you feeling better about ending things instead of worse. Relay information about how you have been affected in the relationship, what’s no longer working for you, and (if you’re feeling generous) what has been great or memorable about the relationship. Chances are there were some awesome moments, and it may make everyone feel better to remember these. The key is to address things from your own point of view, also known as the “I statement”. I feel unhappy with our long-distance relationship. I feel that we aren’t as compatible as we had hoped. When you start using “you statements”, the other party will likely become defensive and you’ll wind up in an argument. You never show me you care. You don’t help me when I ask you. Keep your approach in mind in order to keep an awkward break up a little more comfortable.
3. Is it kind/necessary/true?
This is the trifecta of communication. Before you speak, consider if what you’re about to say is kind, necessary, and true. I know that if you’re angry, leaving out the “kind” bit may seem appropriate, so at least aim for civil. You’ll likely sleep better at night in the weeks that follow if you do. Taking the high ground can help you feel like the bigger person and keeps things clean.
4. And if you’re the dumpee…
Ouch. We’ve all been there and know that it sucks. But you learn something important about yourself, what you want, and what you don’t want in every romantic encounter you have (whether it’s a one-night stand or a 10 year marriage). Figure out what that valuable information is, and use it as data for the next love you experience.
5. When all else fails…
Just remember this: there are always two sides to every story. Even if you think the other person’s is ridiculous, try to keep this in mind when ending things. Feeling a bit empathetic for your soon-to-be-ex will help you remember why you were together in the first place and help keep things kind. Everyone is just trying to get by and find some love along the way. Remembering that will also help you be kind to yourself if you recognize that you’ve been in the wrong along the way. Hey, nobody’s perfect. Learn from this and move on as a wiser person (see #4).
Breaking up is hard to do, but it’s often necessary as you navigate all the possibilities out there to find someone you truly click with. Just avoid breaking up with someone on Valentine’s Day, that’s just mean (and yes I did that once. Oops.) This Valentine’s Day, I’m wishing you all love and the courage to leave something that isn’t right in the pursuit of love.
**Disclaimer: The advice in this article is for informational purposes only and does not replace the diagnosis/treatment of a licensed medical or mental health professional.**