Break up without breaking a heart

Break up without breaking a heart

Break up without breaking a heartBy Jacquie Wise

Do you have the courage to break up in the right way? Do you even know what the ‘right’ way is? There are specific steps you can take to minimise the risk of breaking up in the first place, and minimise heart-breaks if there is hope of saving the relationship.

A client was complaining to me about her boyfriend who, according to her, was prone to fits of unreasonable aggression. The issue was usually his sensitivity about something she’d said, something she hadn’t said…he kept hounding her and he was driving her nuts.

One day she showed me a text message he’d sent her. ‘There you are, you see!’ she said. ‘That’s a typical example of how unreasonable he is!’

The message I saw was expressing bewilderment and hurt because she’d broken up with him. By text.

I was hoping the text she’d sent him was some kind of confirmation, although the tone of it suggested otherwise. Just to make sure I had the facts right, I asked her If she’d told him face to face that she wanted to break up.

‘No, I didn’t want to have another impossible discussion. I just wanted a clean break. So I texted him’

‘How had you handled disagreements before? Did you discuss them and try to reach an understanding?’

‘No, it wasn’t worth the hassle.’

I found out that she’d never been able to sit down and have a heart-to-heart with him. The times he was being ‘unreasonable’ and ‘hounding’ her sounded to me as if he’d been trying to get her to talk to him.

Further checking with her confirmed that her style was to avoid talking and, instead, resorting to sulking.

His style was to try to resolve problems through talking, sharing, reaching an understanding, finding an acceptable compromise.

I explained to her that his reaction to her text was not surprising. It would have been a shock to him, particularly as he’d had no idea she was building to a break-up. She was surprised. It had never occurred to her how he might feel when he received this message with no warning.

Texts were never intended to replace conversations, much less sensitive discussions

Texting is only useful to let people know you’re running late, or to confirm an appointment. Maybe to let someone know you’re thinking of them, or to send a quick snippet of news. A snippet is just a few lines, to fill a gap until you can talk again. Texting is never an adequate replacement for a good telephone chat or a face-to-face connection. There is absolutely no way texting is an adequate medium for letting someone know how you feel about something important.

The cowardly way to end a relationship

It’s called ‘Ghosting’.

Cowards just slip away into the ether without a word. They just stop returning texts and emails, they ‘unfriend’ someone on Facebook, and they ignore voice messages.

That leaves the person at the other end of the relationship not knowing what hit them. Not knowing if they’d done anything wrong…just not knowing.

Ghosting is so common that there’s even a dictionary definition these days:
‘Ghosting—the act, or an instance of ending a romantic relationship by not responding to attempts to communicate by the other party.’

Even if you’ve been rejected for a job or a promotion without being told why, you’ll know how disheartening this is. If you’ve ever been dumped by a partner or a friend without knowing why and without being given a chance to talk things through, you’ll never ever do it to someone else.

Five steps to break up without breaking a heart

Firstly, if you enter into a relationship thoughtfully, there is more chance it will succeed instead of heading to a painful break up from the start.

When you are considering committing to a romantic relationship, give yourselves both time to get to know the real person. It takes at least six months for the ‘auditioning’ stage to fade. You are both still on your best behaviour, focusing on doing fun things. Auditioning is slowly replaced by a more authentic and comfortable relationship. This is when you discover each others’ bad moods!

Secondly, set ‘ground rules’ from the start. How else can you ensure that you each understand your partner’s needs if you don’t explain them clearly?

Clarify your expectations and agree on how you will work as a team for day-to-day tasks. Above all, please discuss your values.

For example, how you will handle money and budgets, children, work-life balance, spiritual needs—all these aspects of life are vital yet so often overlooked. That’s called asking for trouble down the track!

Thirdly, talk about your concerns as they arise. If you discuss things when they’re small, they won’t build up into a collection of insurmountable issues. Learn to be assertive so you have the skills necessary to have mature and calm discussions about emotional topics.

Fourthly, If you decide this person is not for you, you will hopefully have made that decision before you enter into a long-term commitment.

If not, then give your partner a chance to change behaviours to meet your needs. It works the other way around too. Wouldn’t you like to be given the chance to defend or explain or adapt yourself before you’re dumped?

Your partner needs to know that there are problems growing. It’s a test too of whether you’re really suited. The amount of effort each one makes to adapt to the other is an indication of how much you care. Or how selfish you each are. Or just plain unsuited, which is why you need to find out early on.

Finally, have the basic decency to tell your partner face to face. It takes courage for sure. It also takes a lot of preparation to draft your ‘script’ so that you can prevent an explosion. It should never ever come as a surprise to them that you want to break up. If they know it’s coming, you are less likely to break their heart.

Breaking up should happen like any other ‘termination’ discussion. People need to be given a minimum of three chances to change their behaviour. Only then do you have you the right to finalise the break up.

If you feel you need assistance in your relationship, please contact me directly to arrange a convenient appointment time.


I’d love to know what you think of what I’ve said here. You can give me your feedback, ask a question by email or post a comment below.

If you or someone you know would like a personal consultation, please call +61 3 9690 8159.

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