A gentleman’s guide to breaking up gently
It’s a situation no one wants to be in, but most of us have been there (or will be there at some point in our lives). This article won’t address why you’re breaking up (whether or not you should). This is for the step afterward, when you’ve decided what needs to be done, but you’re not sure exactly how to proceed.
This also presumes that the factors influencing this situation aren’t too hostile. No one’s cheated, abused or done anything too terrible. If you’re on the receiving end of such treatment, you’re likely not online reading articles online on how to end the relationship compassionately.
Instead, let’s assume more subtle reasons for the breakup. Perhaps you’ve grown apart, external factors like your career or location have made dating unworkable, or, perhaps most commonly, you simply don’t have the same feelings about this person as you once did.
With this mindset, here are six things to keep in mind when breaking up:
Choose a private setting
This relies on the assumption that things are reasonably amicable between the two of you: there’s no history of abuse or extreme anger. If that’s the case, a more public setting is a safer choice.
But for a conversation like this, you don’t want it to be marred by the presence of others. Although it’s likely one of the least pleasant conversations of the relationship, it’s likely one of the most intimate. Plus, no one wants to get dumped in a crowded, social setting.
Avoid ‘you’ statements
This is a good practice for any potentially upsetting conversation, but “you” statements usually carry with them an implication of accusation.
If you’re set on ending the relationship, you’re past the point of trying to fix it. This conversation shouldn’t be an argument, although it often becomes one.
So don’t fabricate the reasons you’re ending the relationship (e.g. it’s not you, it’s me), but be very conscious of your phrasing in situations like these.
For instance, say your significant other recently abandoned their career aspirations and spends a lot more of their time out enjoying themselves instead of working on what you see as worthier goals. Instead of saying something like, “You’ve gotten lazy and you’re partying too much,” which would be pretty confrontational and insulting, you should phrase it a little gentler, like “Our lives are going in two very different directions and I don’t think we have the same things in common as we used to.” Is it more vague? Sure, but it’s a lot less likely to lead to a shouting match.
Don’t say “Let’s take a break”
This is almost always a cop-out. Worse, it’ll be even harder on both of you when your ex comes back to reestablish contact and realizes that you never had any intention of getting back together.
Let them decide the contact afterward
This is a pretty subjective area, but when in doubt, let them make the first move when deciding how often to speak to each other after the breakup. You want to make sure they have space to heal; texting and Snapchatting them might make that more difficult.
Also, if they decide to break contact completely with you—unfriended on Facebook, ignoring you altogether—try not to be too insulted. Sometimes, the “out of sight, out of mind” mode of thinking works better for people, so don’t automatically take it as a sign of resentment.
And sometimes, the exact opposite happens. Friendly conversation can begin to evolve into something that feels like a relationship relapse. Some of the intimacy might begin to reappear. If that’s the case—assuming you don’t want to get back together—you need to be upfront about it. That probably means hurting their feelings, but it’s unfortunately needed before things escalate in their mind. Say something like “I meant it when I said I just wanted to be friends. Things can’t go beyond that between us.”
Keep some distance afterward for her sake
In our interconnected online personal lives, there are many ways to affect others we might not be in contact with. If you begin dating someone else soon after you breakup with your previous partner, don’t flaunt it on social media right away. Chances are your ex is watching. Let them have some piece of mind before you and your new romantic interest debut on the web.
More importantly, don’t take advantage of your ex’s vulnerability. This might seem tempting when you miss them or feel lonely on a Saturday night, but hooking up with them will likely mean more to them than it does to you, and that’ll be an ugly situation afterwards.
Most importantly, be an adult
Breaking up sucks for both ends. There isn’t an easy trick to doing it in a way that’s pleasant for both parties.
If you don’t respect or care about the person, sure, you can give them a phone call, make up an insincere excuse or just blow them off, but if you’ve been in a relationship with them, hopefully there’s some compassion still there. Being courageous enough to have the tough conversations with them, while unpleasant at first, will ultimately leave you both happier.