Saturday, January 5, 2013

How We End Our Relationships

The first post in the series talked about the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships. The second post was a call to action if your relationship is unhealthy- either fix it or end it. This post digs into the uncomfortable topic of ending relationships.

How do people end relationships? Is there a way we should end relationships?

Let's start with the first question- what methods do we see when ending relationships. If you're in a bad relationship, you may be doing some of these right now. Or your partner may be doing them to you. Either way, all of these are signs the relationship has more or less ended for one member of the partnership, and they're trying to work their way out.

  • Positive tone honesty: This is usually very direct, sort of like ripping off a bandaid while eating ice cream. One partner will usually tell the other they still care for them, but no longer love them and would like to move on.
  • Verbal deescalation: This is sort of like the above tactic without the ice cream. You simply tell your partner you no longer love them, want to see other people, etc.
  • Behavioral deescalation: This is a slower method where one partner simply begins avoiding contact with the other. This may range from constantly busying themselves with outside "projects" to completely disappearing.
  • Negative identity management: This method can take many forms, but generally involves the breaker feel better by comparing themselves to the breakee. This may include behaviors like telling your partner both of you should start seeing other people or even trying to set them up with someone else.
  • Justification: This occurs when one partner simply lays their cards on the table by telling their partner they're not meeting their needs.
  • Active sabotage: his method occurs when one partner does behaviors that force the other partner to end the relationship. They're making themselves bad partners. This may range from the unhappy partner acting douchey and critical to ignoring and/or withholding sex and affection to having an affair. A sudden increase in conflict is a tell-tale sign of this method.
  • Taking a Break: Ah, the method popularized by "Friends." The idea is to give the other partner false hope by suggesting that the relationship may continue after a period of time.
  • Moving on before the relationship ends: The unhappy partner finds a better partner and begins an affair. This is fundamentally different than active sabotage because the breaker is looking for a replacement relationship, not just a relationship that will cause the present relationship to end. This almost always results in the unhappy partner making sudden, drastic changes to their appearance or behaviors.
There are probably a few others, but this pretty much sums up most of the popular methods.

So how should we end relationships? In healthy relationships, both partners are acutely aware of the state of the relationship, so neither is blind-sided. In this case both partners realize the relationship has run its course. Both mutually realize it's time to move on. It may be sad, but both are also eager to move on.

What about unhealthy relationships? In almost all cases, one person wants to end it while the other does not. Worse, that partner may be completely oblivious that the relationship is on the rocks even if they're aware the relationship is less than perfect.

It's probably a good idea to attempt to fix the relationship with the help of a therapist before ending it unless there's abuse. Even if it doesn't save the relationship, it will help both people understand why the relationship isn't working.  This will help both partners find some degree of closure and help prevent similar problems in future relationships.

If You're the Breaker... 

The decision to end a relationship is difficult. If your partner does not want the relationship to end, they will likely use some form of manipulation to keep you in the relationship. It's important to be completely honest, but don't be overly critical over your partner's flaws. Just accept that they cannot meet your needs. There's no need to unnecessarily vilify them.

Set a date to tell them of your decision. Choose a private place unless they may be dangerous. Anticipate anger or attempts to manipulate you into staying. If you've been working with a therapist, they can provide mediation if you feel it is necessary. Acknowledge their feelings, but don't apologize for making the decision to end the relationship. Be nice; don't get sucked into an argument. Once the decision is made, stick to it. Afterward, it's likely there will be lots of logistics to take care of (divorce, dividing property, child custody, etc.) That process is difficult and it may be helpful to remove yourself from their presence (live apart.) Having a plan beforehand is useful.

If You're the Breakee...

If you're the person being broken up with, the situation is more difficult. The relationship may have seemed solid even if you were aware of problems. It's important to know most people don't decide to leave a relationship without a great deal of thought. They probably did a few of the things listed earlier in the post in an attempt to distance themselves from you.

Odds are good you're still deeply in love with the person and will do anything to keep them. However, they may no longer love you. A good test is to observe their emotional reaction. If they express anger, it's a decent sign they still have feelings for you but you're not meeting their needs. Therapy could feasibly save the relationship, but only if they're willing. If you do try to fix the relationship, give it one sincere try. Put forth your best possible effort to fix your own personal issues, then work on your relationship issues.

If they have little or no emotional reaction, it's likely they no longer love you. In that case, it's best to move on. Don't become a crazy stalker. As difficult as that may be, the sooner you move on the better. In that case, accept their right to break up with you. There will be a lot of pain, both emotional and physical. The sudden withdrawal of endorphins and dopamine that were released when in their presence is one of the causes and completely normal. Celebrate the good times, and learn from the bad. Treat it as a learning experience. Both of you were likely at fault to some degree, so work on your skills for your next relationship.

Want more information? Here's a pretty good article about getting over a breakup.


Most relationships end. Being familiar with the patterns and warning signs that a relationship is nearing an end may help us fix it before it's too late, especially for the breakee. It may also spare us some of the prolonged heartache associated with living in a bad relationship. If we're the breaker, we may recognize the relationship is over and seek a quicker end.

So... do readers have any other ending relationship tips? Leave a comment!


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