The 6 steps to ending a relationship (like an adult)

Posted on January 13, 2011


We’re not even two weeks into the new year and Valentine’s Day stuff is already all over the place. And you know what that means.

People everywhere will be breaking up.

Sure, some people will be getting engaged. Some people will be proclaiming their love to a new sweetheart. And many, many people will decide their relationship isn’t worth continuing.

It happens all of the time. The advent of a new year (and pressure to make positive changes) coupled with an approaching “holiday” meant to celebrate love, leave a lot of people deciding their love life isn’t one worth celebrating.

Starting and ending relationships is a natural and inevitable part of life. There is nothing wrong with deciding to move on when you’ve decided that you must, but the way in which you do says a lot about your character (and what may be posted on someone else’s Facebook page for eternity).

If you’ve decided that it’s time to call it quits, make sure you do it the mature way. Follow the six steps below to ensure that you’re ending things and keeping your integrity. (The following steps have been adapted from Elizabeth Svodoba’s article in the February issue of Psychology Today).

Step One: Break up face-to-face.

Yes, it’s uncomfortable. You’re supposed to feel uncomfortable when you know your actions are going to hurt someone else’s feelings. But adults end romantic relationships in person.Gather up that courage and no matter how uncomfortable you are, make sure you break-up in person.

Step Two: Take full responsibility for the break-up.

It’s okay to say that your feelings have changed or that you see your lives going in different directions. But blaming the other person for the break-up isn’t productive and doing awful things on purpose to try to get them to break up with you is downright despicable. Man (or lady) up and admit that you’re making this decision for yourself.

Step Three: Be honest and kind about why you’re ending things.

Everyone deserves an explanation when a relationship ends but sometimes the actual, full truth may be too hurtful for another person to hear. Telling someone they’re awful in bed or that you now find them less attractive is mean (and makes you look like an unforgivable jerk). Telling someone they are not the right one for you is a truthful and compassionate way to deliver-what will inevitably be-painful news.

Spare the bad clichés (really, no one wants to hear the “It’s not you, it’s me” line) and don’t give a detailed explanation about what went wrong in the relationship. (This will only encourage the other person to get defensive). There is always a way to be honest and kind to someone. Find that way to express yourself.

Step Four: Communicate your appreciation for the good times you’ve shared…

Even in the worst relationships, there was some (however small) good. Letting another person know how much you appreciate what they’ve given and taught you shows your respect for them as a human being. So reflect on the positive aspects of the other person and the relationship and make sure to communicate this.

Step Five: …But don’t promise a future friendship.

Sometimes, in order to soften the blow of dumping someone, we tell the other person that we hope we can still be friends (guilty). Svodoba reminds us that this actually gives someone false hope that a future relationship may be possible (she’s right) and that we should gather our courage to end the relationship completely.

Step Six: Act with dignity despite nastiness.

Let’s face it. People aren’t exactly thrilled to be dumped. You may get called names, there may be rude words thrown your way and it’s not uncommon for someone to deliver a low blow of some sort. When people are hurt, they often react in anger.

No matter how badly the other person acts, retain your dignity. Don’t participate in name calling and don’t insult them back. “I understand why you’re hurt,” is a phrase you can repeat if the other party starts saying mean things. And remember, if someone else starts to get violent, get away. Safety trumps manners.

But what if you’re the one who’s being dumped? More on steps you can take if this happens to you in my next post.