This post was inspired by a client of mine who was talking for years (literally) about ending a relationship, and she finally pulled the trigger. (Go, you! and you know who you are!) If you’re having trouble breaking up with someone, here’s how to get it done.
We do it on our taxes. Why not in our love lives?
Make a list of what’s keeping you in the relationship, and what makes you want out. Sometimes having it written out in black-and-white can make it real to you. It’s especially stark when the con side is much longer than the pros.
If, however, the pros are longer, then see what exactly is on the list. If it’s all practical things (like “he takes out the garbage”) or fear-based things (like “he keeps me from being alone”), then think how significant those really are.
But if you have more legitimate pros than cons, consider whether you really need to read the rest of this blog. You might need to engage in self-reflection about what you’re really unhappy with in your life. It might be you, not them.
If you’re sure that it is the relationship, consider which of the items on the list can be changed and/or accepted. Also consider whether you’ve been completely honest with the other person about them. Have you tried everything you can to address these? Are the differences between you too fundamental? Or should you maybe see a professional first before going through steps 2-5?
2) Ask other people what they notice about your relationship.
This can be very eye-opening. Maybe you think you’re fooling others as to the state of your union, but often, they can feel the tension and are just being polite by not saying anything.
You might also ask your very good friends what they honestly think you should do, if you should stay or go. Sometimes they’ve been holding back, thinking it would be unwelcome information for you.
This leads into number 3….
3) Form a support team.
Have people you can call before initiating a break-up, and people who will be on-call for you afterward. Even in a relationship where you’ve been unhappy, there can still be a lot of emotional fallout. It’s hard to be alone suddenly, to feel like you only have yourself to rely on. If you form a support team, though, it won’t be as scary. You’ll have back-up.
You can also make sure that you have plans on your calendar in the weeks following the break-up. You’ll want things to look forward to.
They can also help with the self-esteem aspects of the decision. Some people stay because they don’t believe they deserve better, and/or because they’re putting the other person’s needs ahead of your own.
If you’re paralyzed by this aspect of things, despite the support of friends, an individual therapist can help.
4) Plan, plan, plan.
That means think about a script for the actual break-up conversation, and how you’re going to support yourself emotionally and financially afterward. If you’re living together, you need to consider who’d move out and how the divvying of assets would work.
Sometimes people stay together because they imagine that part would be too exhausting. Maybe you’re with someone who would fight you tooth and nail over everything. Maybe you fear retaliation.
I’ve counseled enough people through break-ups to be able to say this with some authority: While fighting it out with your ex is awful, at some point, it will end. Assets will have been divided, custody agreements will be finalized. And then you’ll be glad that you didn’t stay with someone for the rest of your life who is so petty and vindictive. Often the pain of splitting gives credence to why you ended things in the first place. The vast majority of my clients wish they’d done it sooner.
5) Follow through!
You’re going to be scared. You’re going to want to back out. The status quo has a certain safety to it. You might not like it, but you know it, intimately. Yes, this is a leap into the unknown.
Will you be sadder than you anticipated? Will you ultimately be happier than you thought possible? Will you be alone a long time? Will you find someone else quickly and painlessly? There’s no way to tell!
But remind yourself of what you do know: You’re unhappy in your relationship, and it’s not getting any better. Remind yourself that’s not good for you or for the other person. (Prolonging a relationship for pity’s sake is really a pity, for everyone.) Remind yourself that the old L’oreal ad is true: You’re worth it.