A breakup is far more than just the ending of a romantic relationship between people. It’s also where you show how relationally healthy you are and how much care you have for your partners. It’s a problem that a lot of people see breaking up with someone as the disposal of something no longer wanted and having no worth.
We take so much care and effort in courting and working our way into our partners’ lives, but then burn and run once the romance ends. Here’s how to end a romantic relationship without being an asshole.
1. Lead with Compassion
It’s a person you are breaking up with, so leave with integrity and care. Don’t treat them as though they have no value, because regardless of why it’s ending, all parties deserve compassion. Remember, all relationships heal or wound you, and there is no valor in being part of someone’s relational trauma story. Leave people better than when they met you, and better for having met you.
2. Don’t Ghost
If you are definitively dating someone, then you have taken on the responsibility for being in a relationship and that means having to actually end it if your interest level changes. Disappearing, going silent or delaying responses are tactics of cruelty. Don’t let your soon-to-be-ex have to go through their day confused, hurt and unsure about what’s happening. It’s also a gift to yourself to honestly and clearly end things so that you don’t have to carry guilt or awkwardness when you next see each other.
3. Use Complete Honesty
Don’t be vague, because there is nothing more painful than a lack of clarity around whether or not you are breaking up, taking space or are just unhappy and need some time away. When breaking up, use those words. And don’t say things that “leave the door open” if that’s not true, because that leaves your partner feeling confused, and that’s cruel. The most loving thing you can do is be honest and clear. There is no way to end it painlessly.
4. Don’t Reach Out When You Are Lonely
Your ex is healing and mourning your loss, and reaching out to play “relationship” for the day keeps them confused and maintains an attachment. Many people will hang onto any sign of possibility and hope, and this doesn’t allow them to move on and find someone who does want to be with them. Reach out only if you want to repair and reunite, or if you both want a friendship.
5. Don’t Burn It Down
Leave with love so that a friendship down the road is possible. If you leave in a hurtful and traumatizing way, then you don’t allow for the possibility of friendship. Ideally breaking up isn’t a full ending to all forms of a relationship but is instead a transition into a non-romantic style of relating.
6. Hold Space for a Friendship
Being friends with exes is both a healthy sign and a gift. All the things you valued in each other can still exist, plus a deepened level of care and intimacy. Just because a romantic relationship is no longer possible, that doesn’t mean a new healthy form can’t exist.
7. Don’t Talk Shit, Because You’re Always ‘Marketing’ Yourself
Just an FYI, how you break up with someone should be seen as how you treat people in general, and all future partners should see how you left as a warning for what they can expect as well. When people disparage their exes they are saying more about how much integrity they bring to a relationship. Those who publicly slam and attack after breaking up are not safe.
8. Be Kind When You See Them Next
It can feel awkward when you next see an ex while out, whether planned or not. Lead with kindness and say hello. All parties feel best when treated well, and no one leaves happy if side-eye, shade or rudeness ensued. Calm down, smile and remember that your ex is someone you once cared deeply for, and lead from those feelings.
Dating is often about disappointing others and being disappointed yourself. You have to be willing to end things properly, or else you aren’t emotionally mature enough to be dating.
Leaving people hurt in your rear view mirror as you cruise around looking for love is not OK. Date with compassion, and honor when interest or chemistry lacks by ending things with care and the possibility of still actually being friends.
Breaking up is hard to do. Do you have any breakup horror stories?
Dr. Chris Donaghue is a lecturer, therapist and host of the LoveLine podcast, a weekly expert on The Amber Rose Show, and a frequent co-host on TV series The Doctors. He authored the book Sex Outside the Lines: Authentic Sexuality in a Sexually Dysfunctional Culture and has been published in various professional journals and top magazines. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.