Ending a relationship

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

There are very definite ways you should and should not end relationships.  Ending a relationship is quite a skill and I've covered much about this on other pages too.

You're likely to experience all kinds of endings in a life-time: the ends of couple relationships, the death of loved ones, moving home away from an area, changing jobs, losing friendships and so on. 

The first endings you're most likely to have encountered as a child are the deaths of a grandparent or pet.  However, you may also have experienced a family breakup if your parents separated. You might even have lost touch with one of them.

Your previous experience of ending a relationship - particularly a couple relationship - can become the template those that follow. I so hope that you won't need to go through that painful and stressful process too often.

Unfortunately, endings are part of life... but I'm here to help you manage 'good' endings so that you can reduce the amount of stress and distress caused to all involved.

So, stick with me for a while and let's get through this together.

How not to end a relationship - 9 warnings

I know it takes loads of courage to actually tell your partner that you're ending the relationship. 

However, before we come onto exactly how you should be ending relationships, here's how not to do it...

Sign: no dumping here
  1. Don't deliver the bad news just before your partner is due to go out, go to work, pick up the children etc. Any bad news - whatever it is - will cause a reaction and a great deal of anxiety.  
    You need to pick a time when you partner has space to process the information.
    I know there's never a 'good' time for something as significant as telling them that you don't love them any more. However, there is definitely a bad time.

  2. Don't end a relationship during a telephone conversation. This is no better either.  
    This causes huge distress for your partner, and without a doubt he or she will be angry. You are going to find it hard not to 'lose it' and slam the phone down (if your partner is even still there). All this for sure will result in more trouble on top of what you're already dealing with.

  3. Don't leave a voice-mail with either a hint or a clear message about ending the relationship. This creates no amount of anxiety for you partner. Doing this denies him or her the opportunity of talking about it there and then.

  4. Don't let someone else do the dirty work of ending a relationship. This is equally disrespectful.
    This really is a task only you can do. I can understand that you might need some help with it.
    By all means run it by a trusted friend, but remember - you need to do it yourself.

  5. Don't deliver the message in a public place.
    Ending a relationship in a public place should only be an option if you are worried about abuse.

  6. Don't tell friends, family members or colleagues you're ending a relationship before you tell your partner that it's over. It's very likely to get back to your partner before you have a chance to tell him or her yourself.
     
  7. Don't say you want to end the relationship during a row - your partner may actually be surprisingly pleased!  You may come to regret it.  I've come across this scenario several times in my 24 years of practice as a couple counsellor.
    If you have an anger problem and are in the habit of 'losing it', then I'd really like you to do something about it. You could start by visiting my page on Anger Management Tips.

  8. Don't send a text message saying that 'it's over' to someone you once thought the world of.
    It's a very disrespectful and unkind way to end a relationship.
    I know that telling someone you want to end a relationship is really hard to do face-to-face, but it truly is the best way to preserve your and what's left of your partner's self-esteem (if you have taken care of how you delivered the bad news).

  9. Don't walk out the door having just hinted for the first time that you're unhappy.
    This is going to leave your partner upset, stressed and confused.  You're likely to get anxious text messages. And it'd be all too tempting to convey the message by text that you want to split up and/or divorce.

So, what should you do?

Read on...

6 tips for giving bad news

Even if your partner is expecting bad news, actually delivering it - in the kindest possible way - needs some preparation...

  1. Do it gently step by step, rather than blurting it out first off
  2. Talk a bit slower than you might normally
  3. Take a few sentences building up to the purpose of the conversation
  4. Leave short breaks for contemplation when necessary
  5. Expect your partner to have difficulties processing what you're saying
  6. Expect the unexpected - even from yourself.

It may be helpful to give a little notice when ending a relationship (no more than a couple of hours) that there's something important you'd like to discuss. At that point don't say or hint that the conversation is about the end of your relationship.  If necessary, repeat gently but firmly that you're not prepared to discuss what the conversation is about right now.

A few extra tips on ending relationships

  • Allow your partner sufficient breathing space if the ending has come as a shock.
    Don't start waffling on about something else or say lots of reassuring things you don't mean. Don't offer to stay friends either.
  • Don't expect to start to negotiate division of property or possessions in the first couple of months
  • Stay courteous and considerate at all times when ending a relationship.  This will help you to feel less guilty - at least about the actual ending.  Importantly too - it will help your (ex)partner to recover just that little quicker.

Top tips for ending relationships nicely

You could have a blazing row when you are ending relationships, but why would you?  What is there to be gained?

You could mention all the things that you didn't like about your partner. But what would that achieve at the point of ending a relationship?

From my experience, I know what would happen if your partner really doesn't want you to leave.  He or she will probably see every complaint as an opportunity to offer to change, and make all kinds of promises. It would make ending the relationship even more awkward.

So to summarise these points - whether you are ending a short or a long term relationship:

  • talk about your role in the relationship
  • say how it has affected you - how you've run out of steam
  • avoid criticising your partner for what you perceive to be wrong with him or her
  • avoid giving your partner reasons to promise to change themselves
  • avoid giving him or her another chance if you know you really want a separation.

I know from my clients that the following reasons made it more difficult to move on after ending relationships:

  • not having been told why
  • not understanding why (actually this isn't necessarily your responsibility if you got the previous point right)
  • not having been given sufficient opportunity to talk it over
  • sudden endings
  • sudden inexplicable changes in behaviour

There's more that can go wrong. So, read on...

How to End a Long Term Relationship

Part 1Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

Related Articles

How Compatible Are You Really?
These Are the Problems Often Leading to Separation and Divorce
How to Deal with Infidelity
These Are Signs That You Are in an Abusive Relationship

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Images courtesy of: Elvis Santana and Matthew Stinson