Let’s face it, ending relationships is no fun.
Photo by Lina Trochez on Unsplash
We’ve all had to exit a relationship at one time or another.
Whether it’s a job, romance or friendship, at some point we have to come to grips with the fact that all relationships change with time. Sometimes the changes draw us deeper into engagement and other times we struggle because it’s no longer a good fit. When the latter happens, the smartest and kindest action is to create a straightforward exit plan and bring the relationship to a close.
Let me be clear here- ending a relationship doesn’t always mean you never engage with that person, team or company again. It does mean that you make a clear break from the original terms of entanglement and craft a new agreement that serves you and allows you to move forward. It may mean no contact ever or could be the start of a different type of relationship with that person or job.
Sometimes it takes a review of the original contract or a discussion of agreements. Other times it can mean a complete break in communication for a period of time or for good. It all depends on the original agreements and expectations, on the outcome you desire and what will support the change best.
It doesn’t always look like “all or nothing”.
Here’s an example:
Years ago a friend came to me completely undone because she’d been told that her marriage was over. She’d been married for 25 years, loved her partner most of that time and while she’s been unhappy for a while, wasn’t willing to end the marriage. What she saw ahead of her was an all or nothing choice; being partnered or being alone.
As she let loose with her fears I suggested that perhaps the “end” of her marriage was simply a letting go of the relationship as it had been and an opportunity to create a new relationship with her partner.
They were now at a point where they could choose to redefine what they wished to create together. She was willing to take a look at what she wanted moving forward and do the hard work, (yes, it’s work to shift the trajectory of a relationship), of letting go of what her marriage had looked like- what she expected it to continue to feel like into the distant future. Happily so was her partner.
While it was often challenging and painful at times, they each allowed themselves to release old ideas and expectations. Together they crafted a new relationship and deeper connection with each other. Today they are one of the happiest couples I know. Spend an afternoon with them and they exude appreciation and contentment which embraces everyone around them.
Ending relationships can involve some difficult conversations and if you’re willing to step into the lead, will allow you to aim your actions and responses toward your desired outcome.
A little planning goes a long way to creating a meeting if not of the minds, at least a conversation where it’s clear to all parties what’s going to happen next. Being clear in what you’re moving toward will help ease the breakup process whether you’re breaking up with a boss, a job, a lover or a friend.
And again… breaking up only means an end to what was. You always have a choice in what you wish to create next.
Once you’ve decided to end a relationship, you’ll probably experience a range of emotions as mapped out in the Five-Stage Kubler Ross Curve of Change: Shock, Anxiety, Overwhelm, Struggle (to find meaning) and finally… Moving on.
The best breakups happen when you have a clear set of action steps to take you through the process so let’s take a look at a simple 10-step process you can use to end any relationship.
10 Simple Steps to End a Relationship:
1. Meet the problem head-on. Stop denying there’s a problem.
The first step is to see the relationship for what it is. Ditch all judgement and hopes about what you want to happen and take a clear-eyed view of what is going on that is not supporting you. This is the time to take off the rose-coloured glasses and place your emotions to the side. You want to assess as clearly as possible the events that have led to the breakup.
Hint: If you find it hard to let go of the “If only’s…” then imagine your best friend describing the situation to you. What would you suggest they do?
2. Write it out!
Take 5-15 minutes to list the emotions you’re feeling. Don’t get caught up in reasons, simply write them down so you see them clearly.
This is expressive writing and will help you get everything out on paper where you can see it. It’ll also help you keep emotions out of the later discussion which will result in clearer communication on your part.
3. Support yourself
Let a few key friends know what you’re planning and make a date to meet up after the talk (if possible). Alternately, make a plan to go somewhere afterwards that feels quiet and supportive to you–maybe a walk in a park or near a river. Perhaps meeting a friend for a beverage or a movie. Whatever you choose, make a firm plan to check-in with a friend who will hold you to your plan.
4. Arrange a time to talk
Set up a time that works for you and the other person. State simply that you want to sit down with them for a conversation. Say that it will take about 45-minutes and you want to be able to give each person space to talk. Do not get sucked into a discussion beforehand. You want to give both of you time to settle and you’re not trying to catch the other person off-guard. Make sure the time and location are quiet and you both feel safe and can speak freely.
Hint: You want to approach the set-up with as much kindness and respect as you would want for yourself.
5. Meet in person
Explain that you’ve given it a lot of thought and recognize that the relationship has come to an end. Avoid blaming anyone. Express your thoughts and accept your part in how the relationship has shifted. Be kind and very clear that it is over.
6. Allow responses
Remember you’re the one bringing this out into the open. Allow the other person some time to respond. There may be surprise, tears, anger or other emotions from the other person. Listen and hold firm to your decision. If possible, allow yourself to feel gratitude and respect for the other person, this may be difficult for both parties and when we view the other person through empathic eyes, it’s easier to hold our own decisions with compassion.
7. Allow questions
Allow the other person to ask whatever questions they need to. Answer whatever you can calmly and compassionately. Do not defend or explain your actions. You can respond to 99% of questions by stating why the relationship no longer is a good fit for you without laying blame on anyone. Hold firm to the 45-minute timeframe for the conversation and don’t fall into arguing or justifying your position. It won’t help and can complicate the discussion.
8. Follow through
Give the other person time to digest the information, if necessary, schedule a follow-up conversation to discuss practicalities at a specific time. Know that there may need to be follow-up conversations to organize the logistics of projects.
9. Final words
Be clear that the relationship is ending and that you will not be in contact for a period of at least 30 days. (Frankly, I recommend three months of zero contact unless you need to connect for logistics around work, projects, pets or kids). You want to give both parties time to fully absorb the changes and find their way forward.
Do not poke, ping, prod or “like” someone’s posts on social media. Do not text or otherwise connect with them for at least 30 days. If you find this difficult then remove them from your phone, unfriend them and/or unfollow them. You’re not being “kind” by continuing to connect after you have broken up. The same goes for a work relationship. You might really love the project or the team you just left, but let them have time to get over your departure before you try to reconnect on new terms.
10. Don’t chase the tiger’s tail
Once you have ended a relationship, take some time and reflect on it in writing. Allow yourself to celebrate any sweetness or positive aspects as well as lament any negative ones. Write out (in longhand if possible), what you see now that you didn’t see or didn’t want to see earlier in the relationship. By reflecting upon the whole, you allow yourself to appreciate what worked and what didn’t, so you don’t repeat the pattern.
As you move into future relationships whether work or personal, don’t chase the tiger’s tail. By this I mean, don’t aim to solve what went wrong with the last relationship, in the new one.
It’s super easy to fall into this trap and we’ve all done it! We have a boss who yells so we take a job with a boss who is soft-spoken. We ended a romance with someone who went along with everything we said, only to start up with someone who challenges us. In each case, we were trying to solve the problem from the past inside of the present. Not only is this impossible, but it sets us up for continual failure since we’re never paying attention to what is happening in the present.
In your next relationship, whatever that may be, pay attention to what you feel and who you are being in it. If something’s not working, have a talk about it as soon as you see it. If you don’t like who you are being in the relationship, now you have all the steps to leave thoughtfully laid out for you.