Breaking up is hard to do

Written by: Marilyn Nagel in collaboration with Linx Dating

unhappy  couple in bedroom under stress

Yes, it may sound familiar because it was a song that Neil Sedaka released way back in 1972 that has had staying power, probably due, at least in part, to its title and very real subject matter that resonate with so many people.

When you start dating someone, the last thing you are thinking about is breaking it off. But when you know that it just isn’t the right relationship, you need to gracefully and tactfully end it – the question is… how to do it in the most respectful way possible?

Don’t Have Dessert First

If you know you are going to end it, don’t have sex first, then break up. It sends a very mixed signal since sex is something enjoyable for both parties and is an indicator of intimacy, not breaking up. Women feel closer to a man after sex… so, when a man breaks up with her after sex (and/or sex then a night spent together), it feels like he took advantage of the fun part, and that shows a lack of respect for her as a person. For women, breaking up after sex makes her seem like she wanted to give him one last treat and that does not show particularly strong character, either. Of course, breakup sex between two mutually informed parties is one thing, but bad juju otherwise.

A Private Place and in Person

Don’t break up over email, text, Facebook message, Instagram, Snapchat, or any other impersonal digital excuse. If you have been seeing one another for awhile (more then 3 dates) best to break up in person at a place that is easy to leave, and if one of you feels emotional, no one will be embarrassed. This probably should not be in someone’s home (and certainly not in the home of the person breaking it off because it makes it awkward to ask the other person to leave) but it could be at a park, or a booth at a restaurant/bar/coffee shop that is not one of your neighborhood hangouts. Ideally, meet there so you both have transportation home and you don’t have to be together afterwards in what can be a silent (or worse) car ride together.

Avoid Blame

Most importantly your goal is to break things off honestly but without assigning specific blame. Avoid using the cliché “it’s me, not you” while you are trying to take some responsibility – it is so non-specific and over-used that it is almost patronizing even if you mean it honestly. You can also end up getting a lot of push back and fall into the trap of highlighting and debating the specifics you don’t like about the person – and that means blaming them. The fewer details you provide (this is not a performance review, they will not be improving or changing based on your feedback), the better, because what does not work for you may be exactly the right thing for the next person.

The Exceptions: If the person did something very specific i.e. cheat on you, berate you in public, lie to you, scream at you, force something you don’t like sexually, then give the specifics of your example and let them know that it is just unacceptable.

Breaking up is rejection – if after only 3 dates, or after 6 months, rejection brings up all the other rejections we have felt in our lives so best to stay away from specifics. Any particular shortcomings that you highlight will be relived over and over again and cause greater hurt then you want. You can say something like, “I can’t even tell you anything specific because there is nothing, I just know that I don’t want to move our relationship forward and feel it is only fair to break things off now before we go any further.” And then stick to your guns and try not to let it devolve into a deposition.

Apologize

It is good to say you are sorry that things did not work out and then wish the person well. If you have been dating for awhile, you can apologize that you did not let them know sooner and share that you had some wonderful times with them. You can say, “I’m so sorry, I did not want to hurt you and know that I am at this moment doing that” or “I am not an expert at this, and apologize for hurting you in any way, I am so sorry.” Then let the person retain their dignity, wish them well, get the check and get going.

Let’s Be Friends

Really? Be careful with that. Many people think they have to throw it out there that “I hope we can remain friends” and some even suggest getting together to do some shared activity. This is another mixed signal – I like you but not enough for a relationship, and that can be hurtful. I can tell you from years of coaching men and women, that if it doesn’t work out as a couple, it’s probably best to take a break and make it clean and cordial. If you both love biking, golf, or any shared activity, you may run into each other and want to be friendly but best to let some time pass and regroup with existing friends.

Preparation

Take some time, before you meet up, to think about the conversation, anticipate reactions, and to “put some meat on the bones” of what you might say, exactly. Maybe even develop some good graceful “sound bites” that include responses to potentially awkward moments. If you are really nervous, get a friend to role play with you. Think about it – if you were a manager and had to fire someone (a truly awful thing to have to do, in most cases), you would practice, right?

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