How to Break Up Like An Adult

Couple Breakup

The break-up–it can be good, bad or ugly. Or a little of all three. We’ve all experienced break-ups–everything from those first middle school “romances” and high school loves to long-term relationships and marriages. While the middle school and high school relationships seemed so traumatizing and “real” at the time, telling your spouse you want a divorce or ending a long-term relationship is a very tough thing to do–for both of you; this is when all this business of being an adult might just make you want to revert to those simple days of school romances–can’t you just have your best friend pass a scribbled note to your soon-to-be ex during math class saying it’s over and you’re sorry? Yes, in this day and age of texting, Tinder and Twitter, things like that still actually happen in a slightly different form. But when another human gives you his or her heart and their life, you owe them a dignified ending. You’ll feel better about yourself in the process, and you will be more likely to salvage a co-parenting relationship or friendship going forward. Let’s explore some real-life scenarios–I’ll start by leading with some bad examples.

Here’s what not to do:

Settlement Option A, B or C

It was just another ordinary evening for this couple, who had been married for 12 years and had a toddler and a newborn. Unfortunately, not unlike many other evenings, the bickering began. This time, he decided he had enough and left. Three days went by, and the wife finally heard from him, albeit indirectly. A family friend called her to let her know that her husband had retained him as his divorce attorney, and he was requested to provide her with three settlement options from which she could choose. This is how she learned she was getting a divorce from the man she had put through school and supported through his career. She later learned he had left her for his mistress. Four months later, the couple was divorced, and he married his mistress shortly thereafter.

iMessage Sent

Their love affair was fast and furious, and they spent every free minute of the day and night together of their two-year relationship. Their friends thought they were the perfect couple, and they regularly discussed their future together. Until one Saturday morning. He left to run some errands, and she went to work out. They were planning on getting back together in a few hours. He received a text from her, which he initially assumed was her letting him know she was on her way. Instead, the words left him cold. She didn’t love him. She wanted out. iMessage sent and message definitely received, with zero closure and leaving him to not only deal with the pain of the relationship ending, but the truly disrespectful, unfeeling manner in which she chose to end it.

You’ve Got Mail

After a couple of years together, he had to relocate for a job he couldn’t refuse. Unfortunately, she couldn’t go at that time. They knew their relationship was something special, and they didn’t want to let it go. They continued on for several more years, but the timing was never right for them to be together. Finally, on one of their too few visits, they made a plan. He was moving back, and they would start their lives together. Marriage was in their future. A few days after he left, he went dark. She called, emailed and texted, with no response. Then, on Monday afternoon, he sends her an email explaining that he’s going through “some things” and she should move on. Quite the unceremonious ending to a 10-year relationship that was on the cusp of marriage.

These are all true stories, as unbelievable and heart-breaking as they may sound. Hopefully none of these stories resonate with you, from either perspective! Let’s talk about doing the right thing–about being an adult and respectful of yourself and your partner. Relationships run their course and may come to an end. Feelings, circumstances and people may change. It happens. However, I’d encourage you to make the parting as respectful as possible. Whether you are married, living together or simply in a committed relationship, your relationship deserves an appropriate ending.

Six Tips for a Mature and Respectful Break-Up Conversation

  • Don’t Lie – There is no need to be unnecessarily harsh, but be wary of hiding behind a white lie to spare the feelings of the person receiving the news. Chances are, he or she will learn the truth and will feel worse as a result.
  • Choose the Right Time and Place – Telling him you don’t love him any more on his birthday in your favorite restaurant is not the right time or place. Pick a neutral location, a place where, if things get emotional, you won’t be the center of attention. Allow time for questions to be asked, versus having to rush off to another commitment as soon as you deliver the news.
  • Avoid Piling On – Try to be sensitive to what is going on in his or her life. Is he struggling with a medical issue, or is she dealing with the loss of a loved one, having serious issues with a child or did someone lose a job? I’m not recommending you stay around if the issue will take some time to resolve, however, try to break the news when the stress is at a lower point.
  • Do It In Person – Very few circumstances make anything other than a face-to-face discussion remotely acceptable. You once loved this person and he or she loves you. Show some basic respect and have the conversation in person like an adult.
  • Be Empathetic and Respectful – This situation is difficult enough without making it worse by being insensitive. Put yourself in his or her shoes, and talk to them as you would want for yourself.
  • Talk Logistics – If you are living together, and especially if you are married, you’ll need to talk about who will be moving out. Perhaps you can offer to leave for a few days to let the other person get their feet under them while you jointly decide on the right path.

This is obviously the tip of the iceberg if you are married, especially if you have children. If a divorce discussion is in your future, please learn more about how Untangle The Knot can support you through it. Among many other resources, you’ll receive helpful information and scripts for telling your spouse you want a divorce and scripts and other considerations for telling your children about your divorce. Ending any relationship is hard work; doing it the right way may be even harder, but in the end, it’s the best way.

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