Breaking up is hard to do... but here's how

A therapist’s breakup tips for no matter which side of it you’re on.

A therapist’s breakup tips for no matter which side of it you’re on

(Photo by Joshua Ness on Unsplash)

Breaking up is hard to do, but if the relationship isn't serving both partners, it's the right thing to do.Therefore, we asked Janna Comrie, therapist and couples counsellor for her best advice on how to end a romantic connection and how to deal with the emotional fallout no matter what side of the breakup you're on.

The kindest and clearest way to breakup up with your partner

Don't procrastinate: Some people will do almost anything to avoid telling someone that they no longer want to be with them: "They don't want to deal with the fallout. They don't want to hurt the person. They don't want to explain why they don't want to be with the person… They don't want to look like a jerk." Other times, they have good practical reasons to postpone a break.

Still, Comrie says that once you've decided that something isn't going to work, you should tell your partner as soon as is practical. "If you know they're not a good fit, you're not being fair to your partner by stringing them along. I think everybody deserves to have somebody in their life that feels the same way as they do about them…You're not only cheating yourself, you're cheating them."

Be clear that you're ending the relationship: Even when people try to break up, says Comrie, they often have trouble being explicit about it. "Be as kind as you can, but don't sugar-coat it. You need to actually say the words." What words? "We're done", "this relationship is over", or "I don't want this to continue", all work. Just be clear.

"Maybe we need a break" and "who knows what the future holds?" are not clear. Comrie named both of these phrases as common ways of muddying the waters of rejection.  "A lot of people pussy-foot around it and that creates more confusion and more hurt... They think if they take the temporary step before they take the permanent step, somehow it'll be easier, but that's absolutely not true."

Say why you're breaking up, and share responsibility: Comrie advises against the "it's not you, it's me" approach to breakups. Even if it's mostly true, it's not going to make the other person feel any better. "At a minimum, you have to identify why you think you're not a good fit. It can be in terms of differing interests and you can do it without being harsh or critical, but you have to do it."

The reverse —"it's not me, it's you"— isn't any better. "Typically, relationships don't break down all because of one person, and if you can own up to your own part it can be a lot less hurtful. And if you're breaking up and you still have stuff to divide or you're living together… you're not looking to burn the bridge before you've settled everything."

Be clear about your post-breakup intentions: If you want to remain friends or maintain some other kind of relationship, says Comrie, you may have to leave some time in between but be clear about your ultimate intentions. If you want them out of your life, don't count on them taking any hints. "Sometimes you need to say 'I wish you well, I hope you have a great life, please don't contact me again.'"

Stay the course: The actual sight of an erstwhile partner's heart breaking can make a lot of people waver. If you're going wobbly, Comrie says "remind yourself the worst thing you can do is string them along. The more you go back and forth, it makes it worse for both of you. Once you've made a decision, recognize you made that decision for a reason. Write out those reasons, and going back to those reasons if you are wavering can be really helpful."

Dealing with the breakup (advice for both sides)

The pain of being jilted is more spectacularly depicted in songs and movies, but Comrie says that breakups can bring up really difficult emotions for everyone involved. Here are her top tips for coping with a breakup, no matter what side of it you're on.

Don't argue: This is most important for those who are being broken up with. If somebody has decided they don't want to be with you, don't try to convince them that they're wrong. "Even if you convince them to stay," says Comrie, "they're bending to your will, not doing what they want to do." And if they don't truly want to be with you of their own volition, "they're never going to value you the way you deserve to be valued… You want somebody who knows they want you." This is also good advice for those who are instigating a breakup. Remember, you are explaining a decision, not opening a debate.

Don't go on a bender: It's really easy to run and drown our sorrows. However, says Comrie, "at the end of the day, you're now hungover and you're miserable. I've never met anyone who ever processed while on a bender."

Don't isolate yourself: One common reaction to bad breakup feelings is to isolate oneself until one feels better. But Comrie says this "is not a great way to handle it because you get in your head and you stay in your head and all you tend to do is question and critique and criticize yourself." Instead, Comrie says that it's especially important to reach out to friends and family during a breakup. "They are the ones who remind you who you are and why you're great. And they often help to lift you out of it."

Take care of yourself: "Go to the gym; do some walking; feed yourself right; get enough sleep." In emotionally intense times, it's really easy to forget these simple things that help bring down our stress and take us out of our heads.

Reinvest in yourself: Comrie recommends taking a course or starting a new project. These kinds of activities can provide a sense of accomplishment and worth. "Focus on anything that you can do that will boost your self-esteem [and] remind you who you are."

Remember that you're worthy of love: Someone has decided that this relationship is not going to give you what you need. No matter what side of it you're on, Comrie says to remember that you deserve someone who you know you want to be with and who knows they want to be with you.

What breakup strategies have worked well for you (or failed spectacularly)?

Clifton Mark writes about philosophy, psychology, politics, and other life-related topics. Find him @Clifton_Mark on Twitter.


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