Breaking up with compassion

Deciding to end your relationship can be tough, but it can be just as hard to know the best way to initiate a breakup. Ending your relationship with kindness can help reduce hurt or bad feelings for both of you. Try these compassionate breakup strategies to make the transition from “us” to “me” a little smoother.

  • Have an open discussion. Take the time to talk with your partner about your desire to end your relationship. Do your best to be honest about your reasons and how you’d like to move forward. For example, instead of saying something general such as, “It’s just not working out,” try to be more specific. You might say, “I feel like our arguments about ‘X’ are unresolvable, and that makes it hard for me to see a future together. What do you think?” A clear explanation might help your partner better understand and accept your decision. During deployments, it also might be difficult or impossible to have a face-to-face conversation. If you have to communicate in writing, it can ease things when you’re open and thoughtful.
  • Make an active choice. It can be tempting to withdraw slowly from your partner and hope that the relationship fizzles out. But avoiding contact, spending less time together, keeping conversations superficial, or even starting more fights so your partner makes the first move can make a breakup even more painful. If you’re ready to end your relationship, make the first move and bring it up to your partner. Try saying, “I’m at a point where I feel it’s best to end our relationship,” instead of something vague such as, “I need some space.”
  • Show empathy, even if you’re hurting too. Breaking up can be particularly tough on the non-initiator (the person being broken up with). Be considerate and try to speak positively to avoid causing unnecessary pain. Although having empathy means genuinely caring about how your partner is feeling, it doesn’t mean you have to be dishonest to protect her or him. Instead of using the “it’s not you, it’s me” line, try avoiding blame and using “I” statements to communicate your feelings.
  • Be direct and appropriate. It’s hard to know the right way to confront someone with news that’s surprising or maybe hurtful. Avoid using indirect means such as having a friend break the news, starting a new relationship, or changing your “relationship status” on social media before talking to your partner. Instead, try having a private and direct one-on-one conversation about your desire to end your relationship.

When it comes to breakups, it’s common that one partner will be more ready to leave than the other one. But breaking up with empathy and compassion makes it more likely that you’ll both maintain a friendship and move on in happy and healthy ways.


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References

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Slotter, E. B., Gardner, W. L., & Finkel, E. J. (2009). Who am I without you? The influence of romantic breakup on the self-concept. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36(2), 147–160. doi:10.1177/0146167209352250

Sprecher, S., Felmlee, D., Metts, S., Fehr, B., & Vanni, D. (2016). Factors associated with distress following the breakup of a close relationship. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 15(6), 791–809. doi:10.1177/0265407598156005

Sprecher, S., Zimmerman, C., & Fehr, B. (2014). The influence of compassionate love on strategies used to end a relationship. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 31(5), 697–705. doi:10.1177/0265407513517958

Weisskirch, R. S., & Delevi, R. (2012). Its ovr b/n u n me: Technology use, attachment styles, and gender roles in relationship dissolution. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 15(9), 486–490. doi:10.1089/cyber.2012.0169