Have you discovered that it’s time to go your own way? Exiting a relationship is probably one of the hardest things you’ll ever do … harder still, if the feeling isn’t mutual. Putting some careful thought into the process can save both of you some grief. Then you can walk away feeling good that you’ve made your intentions known, expressed your true feelings, and acted gracefully.
Show Some Heart
Just slip out the back, Jack
Make a new plan, Stan
You don't need to be coy, Roy
Just get yourself free
Hop on the bus, Gus
You don't need to discuss much
Just drop off the key, Lee
And get yourself free
– from 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, by Paul Simon
Paul Simon probably wrote these lighthearted lyrics to his song in jest. Simon’s suggestions make for a catchy song, but when you’re dealing with matters of the heart, you’re much better off showing some “heart.”
Think about what your partner’s reaction might be in advance and prepare some gentle, heartfelt responses. If they’re totally caught by surprise, expect a lot of questions. The big one will be “Why?” Expect emotion. Expect tears. Expect rants. Expect drama. Expect bargaining. Expect the unexpected.
· Prepare what you’re going to say but don’t deliver it like a script. Talk naturally.
· Have the discussion somewhere where you can leave separately. A busy restaurant might seem impersonal and too public. A park or uncrowded coffee shop might be a better choice.
· Have the discussion at the end of the work week or early in the weekend so your partner will have a day or so to recover a bit before having to go back to work. Give them some time to be able to function and act normally before they resume business as usual.
· Let your partner be the first to know. Don’t discuss your intentions with anyone, as close as you might be to them. Your partner deserves to hear it first.
· Design a strategy for separating your belongings, if you’re living together. Make arrangements to get your things out (or if they’re leaving, to get their stuff out) quickly. Have a friend with you.
What to Say
· You’re opening statement will set the stage. Do it thoughtfully. Don’t accuse. Don’t be argumentative or rude.
· If it feels right, begin with an expression of appreciation and love. You might say, “You have been a very special part of my life. We had some wonderful times.”
· What NOT to say: “I can’t do this with you anymore.” “You’re horrible and I’m leaving.” “You caused this.”
· Be clear about what’s not working in the relationship. Make neutral statements and “I” statements rather than “you” statements … something like this: “I haven’t been happy in our relationship in a while and I want to go my separate way.” Take responsibility.
· Express your needs. Tell them you’re making a difficult but necessary decision to leave, that your decision has been carefully thought out, not something at the spur of the moment.
· Let them talk. Listen. Don’t interrupt. Give them their say. Listen to their response sympathetically, but don’t get dragged down emotionally. Don’t turn the breakup into an argument. If they start name-calling, don’t take the bait and fight back.
· Don’t agree to take a temporary time apart – unless you’re still not sure you’re making the right decision and might consider giving it another try. Otherwise, be determined.
· If you’ve made a firm decision, don’t let your partner manipulate you into changing your mind or become rattled and unsure of yourself with a “guilt trip” or other emotional lures.
· Don’t make trite statements like “Let’s stay friends.” Don’t give them false hope. Make a clean break.
If you have a new lover, don’t hide it, especially if they ask. Fess up. They’re going to find out anyway eventually.
How to Say It
· Act with compassion. Don’t send an email, text, or phone call. Meet face-to-face. You owe it to your partner to look at them, eye-to-eye. Your eyes will also express your intent and determination.
· Be honest but not blunt. Kindly state how you feel, in a positive way. Don’t bring up unnecessary remarks that might hurt their feelings. Don’t be mean or cruel.
· Keep your voice soft and calm. Don’t turn it into a drama or a fight.
· Accept that they will be hurt and may be angry. Understand their hurt; don’t add to it.
After the Breakup
Don’t trash your ex when talking to your friends, family, or anyone. Actress Gwyneth Paltrow and her singer/songwriter ex-husband Chris Martin made an amicable split a while back which made the news. They called their divorce a “conscious uncoupling.” They always say nice things about one another in public. They’re good role models for treating your ex with respect and honor.
And for heaven’s sake, don’t air your “dirty laundry” or share details or private feelings about your ex or the breakup on social media.
Give It Thought
Before you start the wheels in motion, give your decision to leave a lot of thought … not just about how you’re going to break it to your partner, but whether you’re making the right decision. If there's still a smidgeon of hope of recovering the relationship, look for ways to mend the breaks in the relationship. Talk. Suggest couples therapy.