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Three Tips for Breaking Up Without Breaking Down

The thought has been on your mind for the longest time. In fact it badgers you, pushing its way into your consciousness at the oddest moments. It acts like an uninvited and unwelcome house guest.

And the message is always the same. “Maybe I should just admit that our relationship is a shipwreck? It will never work out. I need to stop kidding myself and just bring this thing to an end so we can both move on… but how?”

I hear you. Nearly everyone has been there at some point in their dating life.

One of the things that can cause us to stay in a relationship longer than is healthy is not knowing how to bring it to a close once we know it is over. It’s a challenge figuring out how to part ways without hurting the person we once loved and still care about.

Paralyzed by this confusion the person remains silent, and the relationship stumbles along with the steadiness of a frat boy coming home from a keg party. The relationship has no clear direction. The joy and passion that had been present every day are now a thing of the past.

That, my friend, is not only a miserable way to live, but a recipe for a bad ending to your romance.

If you’ve done your best to make the relationship work and it is still a mess, then its time to say adios. Hasta la vista. Sayonara. You get the point.

Tough love for sure, yet in the end this will work out to be best for you and your former love interest.

But how can it be done? How do you bring things to a close in a way that is respectful, conveys good will, and does not hurt the other person?

Here is the answer. You can’t. You can have two out of three, but not the whole enchilada. Respect and good will? OK, sure, those can (and normally should) be expressed when ending a relationship.

Lack of pain?  Not going to happen.

Break ups hurt. There is loss, grief, and at times self-doubt. You cannot avoid these feelings, but you can minimize them.

What’s more, you can break up in a way that is likely to cause both you and your partner to eventually look back on the relationship with fondness rather than bitter regrets. That’s a huge win in the long run.

So now that I’ve told you the bad news, let’s move on to the good news and examine three principles, or tips, that make for a successful break up.

TIP #1:  Timing Matters

Choose an appropriate time to tell your partner that the relationship is over. This is an important conversation that deserves a little planning.

Far too many people get cold feet and then delay having this difficult talk. What happens then is that pressure builds until they can no longer hold it in. This makes for horrible timing.

Instead, look for a moment when you will both be unrushed and uninterrupted. Turn off your phones, the television, and the microwave (OK, you can leave the microwave on, but the others have to go).

Count on this taking awhile. In fact, count on it taking longer than you expect.

Also, don’t let the conversation become one where you bargain, belittle, or plead. No matter what your boyfriend or girlfriend may say, don’t get sucked into a verbal struggle.

Your goal is to be clear about your intentions and answer their questions as kindly and honestly as you can. End of story.

TIP #2: End on a High Note

You’re closing a chapter, so do your best to walk away with something positive.

The easiest way to do this is to include an expression of appreciation for your soon-to-be ex romantic partner. Bring up one or two qualities they brought into the relationship that enriched your life. (Pro Tip: If you honestly cannot find a single thing you appreciate, take a pass on this step and skip to the next tip… and also let me know what took you so long to break up. Geeze Louis).

By showing appreciation, and being sincere, you do two things. The first is that you provide the other person with a gift. Of course they may not realize that in the moment when their heart feels broken. But in time, they will find that your expression of gratitude has helped them view the break up with less hurt or resentment.

The other thing this does is allow you to take the high ground. You avoid getting sucked into the quicksand of mutual recriminations.

What’s more, you too are more likely to walk away with a positive perspective about your future. After all, if you are grateful for what this person brought into your life, someone who did not work out, imagine the joys that lie ahead when you find the right person?

TIP #3:  Have a Plan for Untangling Your Lives

After breaking the news to your now new ex, you need to take care of some practical details. That is, you need to untangle your life from that of your former boyfriend or girlfriend.

Did you share an apartment? A bank account or credit card? Perhaps you gave one another the passwords to your email social media accounts (really, what were you thinking?). If you lived separately did you leave clothing or other things at each other’s homes?

All of this needs to be sorted out and the best time to begin planning is before you break the news that the relationship is over.

If you wait to figure this out after the breakup it becomes more likely to get messy. Planning ahead of time makes this much easier, and will diffuse what might have become a very tense source of conflict.

Of course your ex may have different ideas on how to untangle this part of your lives. Terrific. Listen and compromise where possible. But have a plan ahead of time.

BONUS TIP: If you and your romantic partner had a cat, don’t insist on being the one that gets to keep the little predator. You doubt me on this? Let me explain.

Every time you change the litter box you will think of your ex, and wonder if the litter box is a metaphor for your love life. Yes?

What’s more, cats don’t like change. Your feline friend will think you are cruel for breaking up the pride. That miniature lion of the African plains will come to think of you as the villain in this play, while your ex becomes the hero.

In its resentment, your cat will begin to constantly sneer at you with that ‘eyes half closed’ expression. Before long, you won’t be able to sleep knowing that a creepy little kitty is lurking in the corner giving you the stare.

No one needs that… Leave the cat to your ex as a gesture of good will, and save yourself a few bucks a month on kitty litter.

Now that will make you smile.

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