The Angry Therapist: How To Break Up With Someone
Ending a relationship is one of the most difficult things we can do. You're going to hurt someone you care about. Many, including myself, would rather be on the receiving end. But for whatever reason, if you know in your heart that the relationship is not going to work out, terminating it is the responsible thing to do. The sooner the better.
There is no “right” way to do this. But there is a healthy, responsible way to end a relationship and an unhealthy irresponsible way. I believe if you hit these key points, you are terminating in a healthy, responsible way.
1. Do it in person.
Listen: You’re the one who will have to carry how you ended it. Not them. All breakups are difficult, but you want to leave with the least residue as possible. You want to like yourself afterwards and not have any regrets, including how you ended things.
So, unless you’re in a long distance situation and there’s no way to do it in person, all breakups should be done in person. You owe it to them but also yourself. Email, text, phone, and even Skype are not acceptable. Don’t be a coward. They don’t deserve that.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve been dating this person for three weeks or three years, sit down and do it face-to-face. This is someone you care about, remember?
If you allow yourself to terminate a relationship via text, phone, or email, then most likely you will do it again. Stop yourself from forming this habit. Flip it and ask yourself how you'd like it if someone ended things with you this way?
The only exception to this rule is if the other person is unstable and explosive and breaking up in person could be dangerous.
2. Be honest.
Don’t open the “you deserve someone better” door. That’s bullshit. You entered through the front door. Leave that way. That means use “I” statements. Take responsibility by owning your feelings. Tell them how you feel and why you are ending this. This isn’t about blaming, which will just turn it into an argument. You're past that. You want out. So tell them. And that’s how you start: I have made a decision to end this relationship. It has to be that cut-and-dry. There’s no candy coating it.
The more you soften, the harder the blow. They want you to be completely honest. They deserve that. I understand it’s hard for you. But don’t make this about you. Being completely honest is the cleanest break you can give someone. If it helps, write it as a letter then read it in person. For many, fear kicks in and they can’t say the words.
3. One you've made the decision, it should happen soon after.
Timing is something I struggle with. You probably don’t want to break up with someone on her birthday, your guys’ anniversary, Christmas, you get my drift... But don’t use timing as a excuse to postpone. I think once you’ve made the decision and you’re sure about it, it should happen relatively quick. Of ourse, terminating a marriage involves a lot more than ending a three-week dating deal. If you’re honest with yourself, you will know when you're letting yourself drag.
4. Don’t dissect the relationship.
A breakup isn’t about why things didn’t work. If you open that can, you're giving someone a false sense of hope. You're saying you may want to work on this. Many people do this because they think it’s justification. You should give them an explanation but you don’t need to justify it. Assuming the feeling isn’t mutual, they'll try to investigate why you want this.
You do have an obligation to say why but after that, stay on your decision. Don’t get into the relationship. If you can be convinced, then this conversation is premature. Focus on executing the termination, knowing that ultimately it will be the least painful way to do this, even if it doesn’t feel that way in the moment. If your doctor has to re-break your wrist after you’ve just broken it to set it back into place, how fast and focused do you want him to be? That’s the mindset.
5. Don’t let it linger.
You can’t break up with someone then ask them if they want to hang out as friends that weekend. Again, you are giving them hope. If you end it, end it. This means detach. Completely. Unfriend or unfollow on all social media. If they continue to follow you, that’s on them. Give them space by distancing yourself. Many feel bad so they want to be there for them during this transition.
Don’t. That's emotionally torturing them. They may not have the strength to push you away, so you have to do it for them. Not only for them but also for you.
6. Don’t take pictures down and change your Facebook status to "single" within the week.
Do I really need to expand or explain? Remember: the way you handle the breakup says a lot about who you are. Give it some time. Let it be a transition. Just because you have the “talk” doesn’t mean you’re suddenly free to go crazy. Respect the relationship. The key is to be firm enough with your decision but also sensitive to the other party. Be strong but considerate. I believe if you hit all these key points, it’s a healthy, responsible breakup.
John Kim, LMFT, is an author, speaker, and a licensed marriage and family therapist who goes by the moniker The Angry Therapist. He runs a practice that redefines “therapy” in the traditional sense. Kim became known as an unconventional therapist who worked out of the box by seeing clients at coffee shops, on hikes, in a CrossFit box. He also believes that the internet can act as a therapeutic tool with an online community as the main space for growth and healing. He lives in Los Angeles.