Breaking Up is Hard to Do

By Sandra Duffy

man woman hands holding broken heartSeveral years back, there was a great episode of Seinfeld where Elaine was dating a man who kept getting physically assaulted by women everywhere they went.  She came to find out he was a “bad breaker-upper.”

Rarely does a relationship, or even a casual dating situation, end with the drama we see on television and in the movies—the hero or heroine walking into the bedroom to find their significant other in bed with another person.  Violence and tears erupt.  Someone inevitably is chased out of the bedroom naked.  Most relationships, however, simply fizzle out.  But why are we so bad at breaking up?

I have been on both the receiving and giving ends of break-ups.  While some ended maturely with a face-to-face talk about how the relationship wasn’t working for various reasons, many ended with either drama or avoidance.

In the dramatic break-ups one party very often cheats on the other as an excuse to get out of the relationship.  I had one former boyfriend cheat on me with a one-night stand, move clear across the country, and then let me find out about his indiscretion once he was 2000 miles away. Obviously I was much better off without someone who displayed such an act of cowardice, but almost twenty years later I still remember how confused and hurt I was.

I know that I have been guilty of what is probably the most popular break up tactic, the “avoidance break up”.  This entails not returning phone calls and consistently making myself unavailable until the other party finally gets the hint that I am no longer interested–not a very mature way of handling a break up and certainly not something I am proud of.

I finally learned how to have a mature break-up.  It involves face-to-face contact and complete honesty.  Wouldn’t we all prefer to know for sure that the relationship is over and the reasons why, so that we can move on and not constantly wonder what went wrong?

Ironically, the men with whom I have shared mature break-ups are still in my life, at least peripherally.  One offered his support when my husband was diagnosed with cancer and another has used his contacts to help me publicize a chartable cause that is close to my heart.

In the end, a mature break-up is a win-win for everyone involved.

In a Bad Break-Up…

  • One of you lies to the other as to why you must move on.
  • One of you is angry, probably over some small incident. And it usually has nothing to do with the real issues tearing you apart.
  • Both of you are resentful—and show it in how you treat each other, and what you say to others about what has happened.
  • The chance to say “I’m sorry it didn’t work out” is never reached, because the break-up wasn’t based on honesty in the first place

In a Good Break-Up…

  • You talk honestly, and with respect, to your partner as to why you feel it isn’t working.
  • You let your partner have his say, too—without getting mad or defensive.
  • You acknowledge what you’ll miss about the relationship, and say it to him. That might at least salvage the friendship.
  • You treat him, his possessions, and his friends and family with the same respect you anticipate in return.

More SMW Relationship Advice

Executive Suite Hearts: Having an Office Affair—without Risking Your Job

Yes, He is an Abuser! How to Leave Him

Why You’re NOT Having Sex—and 12 Things You Can Do About It

Should You Rebound to Your Ex? When the Answer is Yes–and When It’s No

Sandi Duffy works as a freelance writer and educator.  She hosts a blog entitled A Widow for One Year where she shares her journey as a recently widowed single mother of two young children and is working on a memoir entitled Young Widow…One Woman’s Journey Through the First Year and Beyond.  Ms. Duffy is also involved in raising funds for pancreatic cancer research through the Lustgarten Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research.