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Breaking Up Is Hard To Do


If your romance has run its course, take heart: You can keep your pride and ego intact—if you follow these 6 steps to an easier split.

By Dave Singleton

“Who ended it?”

This was the first post-breakup question I received from several well-meaning friends who wanted to know the details. On the one hand, I understood the
Clean breaks are better than quasi-breakups.
salacious curiosity, but does it really matter who played which role in the end? Atlanta resident Richard, 35, doesn’t think so. “Why does breaking up have to be an ‘egos gone wild’ free-for-all?” he asks. “Even though my ex initiated our split, I didn’t want to be mean to him. If the relationship wasn’t right for him, then it wasn’t right for us.”

While a completely painless parting might not be realistic, when two good people just can’t make a go of their romance, they can leave with their pride intact, with a few caveats—for one, there must be genuine caring, respect, and solid communication (in fact, it’s best to err on the side of over-communication about feelings) and no serious violations of trust during the relationship. Though that’s not always the way things unfold. Jane, 42, who lives in Virginia, was shocked and devastated when her partner of 14 years, Lisa, 39, came home one day with an announcement: She was in love with a mutual friend, with whom she had been cheating for two years. The acrimony continues to this day.

I was more fortunate. My partner Vic and I were coupled for nearly five years. No one did anything wrong; there was no melodrama or third party. We talked and listened until we came to the sad realization that ours was a friendship, not a romantic partnership. That we came to a mutual decision doesn’t imply that we woke up one morning and calmly agreed to part. But we knew we wanted our relationship to end as well as possible, with no one left devastated in the wake. Here are the guidelines we followed that helped us achieve that goal:

Realize that even good relationships can end.
We have a tendency to think that breaking up means total failure, which hurts our pride. Relationships — even the good ones — sometimes run their course without it being anyone’s fault. Says Richard, 31, of Brooklyn, “It really hurt to see my last relationship dissolve, but I felt better about things when I reminded myself that I had shared my life with someone for 3 years and was capable of a long-term relationship. That got me out of the wallowing after a while.”

Make a clean break.
Holding on to something that’s irretrievably broken will make you feel desperate and sad. Isn’t it hard to keep your pride and ego intact if you stay on the emotional see-saw? In most cases, clean breaks are generally better than quasi-breakups, which might lead you to act impulsively in ways you’ll regret later (i.e., sleeping with an ex with heightened expectations of reconciling). You can agree to be on friendly terms, but
There’s no substitute for time when it comes to closure.
seeing each other regularly and calling each other frequently can just cause the situation to linger in a painful, emotional nowhere-land. Says Marla, 43, of Boston: “At first, I told myself staying good friends with Tracy was a sign that we were both mature and cared for each other. But then I realized I really wasn’t able to move ahead and meet someone new as long as Tracy was in my life. I was secretly hoping we’d get back together. It was only when I pretty much ended having any kind of contact that I could go out and start dating again.”

Accept the breakup.
In his book, It’s Called a Breakup Because It’s Broken: The Smart Girl’s Break-Up Buddy, author Greg Behrendt jolts his readers out of denial with this assertion: You can’t make a person love you, and why in the world would you want to be with anyone who doesn’t want to be with you? The romance is o-v-e-r. You need to move on and create a new life for yourself. That means turning to your friends and family (or a licensed professional counselor) for support, not your ex; exploring your interests—or finding new ones; and forcing yourself to focus on your present and future, not the past.

Take the time needed to gain closure.
Whether you are the “dumper” or the “dumpee,” there’s no substitute for time when it comes to closure. As you two discuss your plan to separate, talk and listen to your soon-to-be ex until you both understand and empathize. Ask and answer questions honestly, and don’t avoid the necessary but painful discussions that could help you or your ex move on. Yes, it’s important to respect space and privacy at a time like this, but if you are left with lingering doubts of “What went wrong?” it will be hard to go forward.

Take the high road.
During a breakup, avoid bad-mouthing your ex. Don’t say mean things about him, or send overt (or covert) messages through mutual acquaintances. Avoid romantic “reindeer games” like spreading gossip, dating his friends, or doing anything that will come off as an obvious sign of insecurity or pettiness. While it may be tempting in the moment to unleash some of your hurt feelings this way, in the long run, it can just perpetuate the bad feelings and bad karma. Handling the situation without malice and vengefulness is the mature way to go.

Don’t overlap relationships.
Even if you have a new romantic interest, don’t enter into a new romance too soon, especially if you are the one initiating the breakup—flaunting a new love too soon can only wound your ex’s pride and make a split more acrimonious.

Bottom line: Whether you are the dumper, the dumpee or half of a mutual decision to break up, do your best to extend love and consideration to a soon-to-be ex. To preserve pride and egos, it doesn’t matter who ended it. It only matters how.


Dave Singleton, an award-winning writer and columnist for Match.com since 2003, is the author of two books on dating and relationships. Send your dating questions and comments to him at davesingleton.writer@gmail.com.
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