One of the occupational hazards of being a writer is that people are constantly putting ideas in your mental suggestion box of what to write about. I say “hazards,” but I actually totally love it. Nothing makes me giddier, or feel more supported than hearing from one of my friends on a random Tuesday afternoon, “I thought of something you should write about!”
I love it because their suggestion says that they trust me—they trust me to put words to their thoughts, or words to an injustice they see going on in the world.
So today, at the suggestion of my very best friend, we’re going to talk about how to break up.
We talk a lot about getting into relationships—how to prepare our heart for a relationship, how to know if he’s the one—but we rarely talk about how to end a relationship. We completely overlook what we’re supposed to do when we figure out it should end. And if you’ve ever gone through a breakup, you know that’s when the worst damage is done.
When I think back to my toughest relationships, the ones that stuck with me for a long time, the hurt or self-doubt clinging to my ankles after all was said and done, it wasn’t the relationship that left the wounds. It was the breakup.
The worst part about it is that we’re not always on the receiving end of these wounds. We are sometimes, which should make us all the most delicate, kind breaker-uppers ever.
But we aren’t always so kind, and sometimes we’re the ones doing the damage.
It’s not that we shouldn’t break up. Very few of us only date the person we’ll end up marrying, which means that most of us are going to confront that moment when we know the relationship isn’t going to work. Most of us will have to have those conversations—the ones where you’re pretty sure you’re going to throw up, and you’re more uncomfortable or hurt (or both) than you ever knew was possible to be.
So what do we do?
When we know a relationship isn’t going to work out, what is the best way to end it?
Well, lucky for all of us, I’ve had plenty of experience in the breakup department (on both sides), and so here are my 4 tips for breaking up well.
1. Have the conversation
The worst thing we can do to each other is avoid the breakup. Sometimes this looks like staying with someone we should have broken up with a long time ago, and sometimes it looks like avoiding that person until they figure out we’re breaking up. Sometimes we treat people terribly, or even cheat on them, hoping they’ll do the dumping instead.
We act despicably to avoid that painful conversation, don’t we? (If you’re a Sex and the City fan, you’ve seen the episode where Carrie is broken up with via Post It.)
So what do we do instead? We have to be brave and have the conversation we know we need to have.
2. Tell them the truth
Have you ever had the breakup conversation and left with absolutely no idea what really happened? I think that happens a lot. In an effort to spare each other’s feelings we’re super vague, or give false hope where there is none. It’s so much easier to say, “I’m not ready for a relationship,” than it is to say, “I don’t think we’re right for each other.”
The kindest thing we can do for each other is to tell each other the truth. Give the person feedback honestly, and kindly. Tell them why you don’t think it’s a good idea for you to be together so they don’t walk away with false hope, or with no idea what really happened.
Be honest, tell them the truth, and do it kindly. They deserve that from you.
3. Don’t hit below the belt
During a breakup, it doesn’t take much for the conversation to escalate. Rejection is like gasoline and it takes a relationship and blows it up with a few cruel words.
When you’re breaking up with someone, if that’s what you’ve decided to do, don’t hit below the belt. That person has trusted you for a long time, allowing you closer than anyone else in their lives I’d bet. Don't use those things against them. Don’t say the thing you know would hurt them most, even if they say that thing to you.
The words people say to us during breakups haunt us for a long, long time. Don’t say them. Do your best to be kind, and set them free without destroying them first.
4. Let them heal
Breakups are hard on everyone—the person initiating them as well as the recipient. You may break up with this person and find yourself lonely the next week, find yourself doubting your decision. You may even want to text them, or hang out with them, or hint that you might have changed your mind.
For the love — don’t do this.
If you’ve decided to end the relationship, end it, and really let that person go. If you are lonely after the breakup (which is totally fine and normal), call a friend. Give that person the time, space, and freedom they need to get over you.
Breaking up is part of life—it’s an occupational hazard of putting yourself out there, and opening yourself up to love. And while they’re never easy, never fun, and never simple, they still should be faced with courage, kindness, and love.
P.S. Want to hear more about how to navigate breakups? My sweet friend Kait and I recorded a Girls Night episode about how to move forward after a breakup! Be sure to tune into our conversation!