Updated: Oct 11, 2021
The most common sentiment about break-ups, is that they suck. But what if they only suck because no one’s taught us how to break-up well?
What if the reason why break-ups suck so much, is because we only do 1 of 3 steps? And we do them poorly.
What if we could end relationships in a way that makes both people feel understood, respected and appreciated, while also clear that the relationship has ended?
Break-ups are going to involve feelings of anger, loss, relief, emptiness, sadness, and loneliness for one or both parties. And they’re inevitable.
If we’re treated poorly in a break-up, however, we can experience even more unhelpful emotions like confusion, resentment, and abandonment. And we can feel undesirable and struggle with a lack of closure.
No matter what you do in a break-up, it’s usually going to be an emotionally challenging experience. But doing it well, can turn this otherwise horrible life event into a beautiful opportunity of growth and connection.
So, here are 2 principles and 3 steps for a productive break-up that ends well:
2 PRINCIPLES FOR A HEALTHY BREAKUP
PRINCIPLE 1 – DON’T BLAME
Don’t blame them for the relationship problems. Don’t insult their character. If you do, it’s going to create a defensive stance in your ex, and they’re likely going to fight back.
This is just going to end in a long argument, that results in a bad breakup that’s not productive for anyone. It will not end well.
Even if your partner cheated on you, and that’s why it’s ending, it’s best to use ‘I’ statements. If you say things like “You’re untrustworthy” or “You’re a bitch/asshole” or “You’re unreliable” etc, Those statements are attacking the persons character, rather than focussing on the behaviour. And that becomes a blame game.
But, if you focus on “I” statements like “I’m having a hard time trusting you” Or “I feel disrespected a lot of the time in our conversations”, then that removes the blame, and it focusses on your experience, rather than your perception of their character. They can’t argue with your experience.
PRINCIPLE 2 – BE KIND
“Why should I be kind to someone who hurt me?” This is the excuse I hear for people acting out. They’re angry or upset, and use that as an excuse to tear someone else down.
Wanting to hurt someone else (ie not be kind), is an act of self-defence. It serves to disempower the other person so that you can feel safe.
If you get hurt, you try to hurt them back so you can feel powerful again. But now they feel hurt, and they’ll attack back. The cycle only ends when someone decides to take a stance for something else.
You’re allowed to have your feelings. You’re allowed to be angry, hurt, sad. And you’re allowed to want to end a relationship that isn’t healthy for you.
But a relationship that ends in malice and resentment is never good for anyone involved. Including you.
If your partner has disrespected you one too many times, and you’ve decided to leave, the most powerful statement is your actions, and walking away from the relationship.
There’s no need for a lack of kindness in there, because you’re already the person with all the power by leaving.
So be kind and compassionate to yourself, and the person you’re walking away from. People rarely learn from acts of malice. They learn most through positive reinforcement.
And if you leave them, and don’t give them any reasons to hate you by getting into one final argument, they only have themselves to blame.
3 STEPS FOR A HEALTHY BREAKUP
STEP 1 - BE CLEAR
Provide clear reasons why it’s ending. Be open and honest and direct. If you’re not direct, and expect the other person to read between the lines, there’s too much room for misinterpretation.
The last thing you want to do is create confusion and frustration in your ex. Then they’ll be angry not just because the relationship ended, but also because they don’t understand why.
Most people only do this step. The next two are the best, and most challenging, parts to this process.
STEP 2 - EVALUATE YOURSELF
This step requires vulnerability on your part. It’s a stage for extreme ownership over oneself.
It involves taking a close look in the mirror, and recognizing all the ways you could have been a better partner. The mistakes you made in the relationship, how you may have hurt your partner, and what you want to do differently in the future.
Then, and this is the hard part, admit what you learned to your partner. Look them in the eye, and tell them how you screwed up. I’ll say that again: admit to your partner, what you learned about yourself, the mistakes you made, and how you contributed to the conflict in the relationship.
This is a scary and vulnerable part of the process. Not only is there the vulnerability of the break-up, but now all the ways you know you screwed up, and could have been a better partner, are being exposed.
The truth is, though, that unless you come face to face with these parts of yourself, and bring them out in the open, you will make the same mistakes again.
Also, for the person who initiated the break-up, this provides a great opportunity for you to diminish, if not entirely prevent, feelings of resentment or a desire for revenge.
Being broken up with can feel like an attack on your soul. There’s a sense of powerlessness. By showing your humanity to your ex, and all the ways that you’re imperfect and screwed up, it’s hard for the person to feel like they’re the only ones vulnerable in this moment.
It alleviates the feeling of being attacked. And it let’s the breaup-ee (technical term), know that it’s not all their fault. (and it isn’t).
“Who broke up with who?” Is also common question, and it’s steeped in this idea that one person had power over the other. One person was better than the other.
So, by doing this, you humble yourself in front of the person who’s heart you may be breaking. At this point, it’s not about ripping out their heart, or having “power” over them. It’s about showing them that you know you screwed up too.
This is by far the hardest part of this process, especially if your partner cheated on you or was abusive towards you. But this step is not about highlighting what your partner did wrong. And it’s not about blaming you.
It’s solely about taking ownership over your own actions, imperfections, and growth as an individual.
We’re all human. No one is perfect. And a relationship is a two-way street. And even if your partner has been a source of pain for you, you contributed to the relationship and whatever dynamic it had.
Even if that contribution is simply selecting, and staying with a partner like that, you contributed to the relationship.
In case you’re not sure how to word this step, here’s what you can say:
“Our relationship gave me so much. I know I wasn’t a perfect partner. I want to share with you what I learned about myself, some ways I screwed up and hurt you, and what I want to do differently in the future.”
STEP 3 - SHOW APPRECIATION
This is the best, and most important part! Especially after that challenging last step. Now, what you can do, is share what you appreciate about your ex.
This can also be very challenging. If your partner cheated on you, or the last few months or years have been hard or hurtful, it can be difficult to even think of the good things about your partner. But, you chose them. You started dating them for a lot of reasons. And over the time you’ve been together, you know their in’s and out’s.
If all you see is the negative, then why did you stay with them to the point that all you can see is their bad?
This step offers an opportunity for you to remember why you started dating them and all the good things about their character.
And, it simply shows care for the other person. In the previous step, you were able to recognize how you weren’t exactly perfect either. And this relationship is ending because it’s unhealthy for both of you.
This is the step that provides closure. When you go through a challenging process, you can feel pretty raw. By having someone shower you with appreciation, it helps dull the edges, piece you together and end it on a high.
Instead of the break-up being entirely bitter, it sweetens, allowing the both of you to be left in a better place than before.
If you’re unsure how to word this, it can be as simple as: “Something I appreciate about you is:____” and then say everything you appreciate about them.
And lastly, invite your partner to do those last two steps with you. Go first, since you know about this process, and lead the interaction. Take 3-5 minutes for Step 2 and 3-5 minutes for Step 3. Once you get the ball rolling, it’ll get better and better.
Then ask if they’d be open to doing the same. If they are, you’re in for a very healthy, conscious and beautiful breakup. Don’t be mad if they don’t want to though. They may still be a little too raw.