Breaking Up? Here's How To Create The Best Possible Outcome During The Worst Possible Time.

young couple on white background having a dispute

The Dos, Don’ts & Nevers Of Breaking Up

Even in the age of modern love, where most people will find themselves having two to three significant partners during their adult life span, the heartbreak that accompanies an unwanted ending to a relationship can devastate and shatter people to their core.

In fact, there’s even medical evidence supporting what artists, poets and playwrights throught-out the centuries have always known: that people can indeed die of a broken heart.

Navigating an ending, particularly an ending that you would give almost anything to prevent vbfrom happening, is still uncharted territory.

As a therapist, here are basic guidelines and strategies I use with clients to help them wrap their broken heart around this difficult time. My hope is that it will help you to feel empowered, classy, and dignified as you prepare yourself for the grieving process.

Here’s some things that you can do when someone tells you they want to break things off.

  1. Do ask why the other wants to end things and listen to their reasons. 

By engaging in reflective listening, and validating the other’s perspective (only if it seems true and feels authentic to you ) it will actually create a deeper connection between you and your pending ex. One that may make she or he think twice about their decision.

  1. Ask from your heart if the two of you could try to work things out.

Remember, no one ever regrets doing their best, and that includes you.  If you really don’t want to say goodbye, then ask for what you do want. Take the risk, let yourself be vulnerable and let the other see the beauty of your vulnerability. Then just ask.  If the answer is again, “no”, then so be it. At least you won’t have regrets for not speaking up and advocating for yourself.

  1. Ask to uncouple in counseling.

If your partner is agreeable to this, then find a seasoned therapist who specializes in this. it will give the two of you an opportunity to review the course or your relationship and make meaning from the loss. It will also give you both an opportunity to say goodbye in a loving way. This will help mitigate some of the pain you will experience when you start the grieving process.  

  1. Work with a therapist who can help you through the stages of grief.

While many people understand the different stages of grief; denial, bargaining, anger, despair, acceptance, etc,  what most don’t know is that grieving is not a linear process. You will cycle and recycle through these stages as some days you may feel hopeful, and feel like  reaching out to your ex. On other days you may get hijacked by athnger and want to act out, and then on some days you may be overwhelmed by your despair and not want to get out of bed. It’s a delicate process, one that should not be navigated alone.

It’s normal to want to protest this loss and act out, and sometimes people do. it’s just not the best strategy to help you get what you both want (lasting love) and need (someone who will stick around). 

Here are some suggested “don’t” behaviors, that will help you stay on the path of honoring your heart and maintaining your pride. 

  1. Don’t beg someone to stay.

If you have asked for feedback and asked if the two of you could try mend things and the answer is still no, then hear the answer. As much as it pains you and isn’t what you want, it is what it is. 

And yes, it stinks.  But think about it this way; if someone doesn’t want to stay with you, it’s not their path, and it’s not yours either.  There isn’t just one soulmate out there for you (if there was, then we’d all be in trouble). And grieving the loss of the other is the first step for finding your next great love.

  1. Don’t shame the other for their choice.

It’s normal to be furious at the other for wanting to leave.  Especially if they are breaking their marriage vow or commitment promise to you. And again, the impulse to protest is a normal response to your pain. Butt the shame / blame game won’t get you what you want.  Taking some time to center yourself, quiet your pain and asking the other, is the better strategy, even if the answer is still no. 

3.If you have children with this person, don’t use them to emotionally blackmail the other into staying.

Sadly, this happens a lot. Telling the other “you will screw up the kids if you leave” will actually screw them up even more. Your partner may stay, but deep down, she or he will resent doing so.

Children are both sponges and mirrors. They absorb the energy and pain of their parents and reflect that pain back through their behavior. Some kids act out and some internalize that pain. Troubled kids almost always signal a troubled parental relationship. It’s the parents responsibility to contain their own pain, seek help when that’s too hard to do and reassure the kids that no matter what happens, they are always safe and loved. 

What you can do when you don’t want your partner to leave and their are kids who will be affected by this loss is, you guessed it, ask. You can add a twist to your ask by saying something like, “I love you and don’t want you to go. I really would like for us to try to heal our relationship, not only for us, but for the sake of our family. I would at least like to be able to look our children in the eyes and tell them that we did our best. Could we at least try?” 

Again, if the answer is no, then hear it, and seek the support you will need to help you through the grieving process.

Finally, here are some “never” action items that many do and unfortunately cause them or their loved ones great harm.

  1. Never stalk your ex or act out through violence.

It’s normal to get hijacked by rage and feel obsessive when someone leaves you, especially if there’s a betrayal involved. 

Your obsessing and rage is a signal that you are overwhelmed by grief and you need someone to help you through this terrible time. You may even need some medication or neurofeedback ( a non invasive treatment that help that helps sooth a traumatized brain)  to help you through this traumatic loss. And medication, therapy and neurofeedback really do work.

 Violence only begets more violence and in the long run, it won’t bring the other back or help you heal. 

If you do this “never” item, the corrective action you can take is to apologize and then be sure to seek professional help.

  1. Never put your children up to the task of asking the other to stay.

Sadly,  this happens a lot as well.

Whether it’s an explicit ask such as “please ask mom or dad if we can stay a family” or an implicit ask where your children hear you say things like  “ I really wish we could all stay a family” or “ I don’t know what I am going to do without her or him”, it is a terribly unfair burden to place a child. They will then believe it’s their job to keep the family together, which it’s not, and create all kinds of crisis in service of this burden.  

They may act out a lot by getting into trouble or internalize the pain by getting sick or becoming depressed. This happens because they don’t know any other way to do what they’ve been asked to do. And, this burden will damage them deeply. 

As hard as it is, and perhaps unfair as it is, containing your pain during this turbulent time and assuring your children that “we will always be a family, it’s just going to look different”, is the adult and responsible thing to do. Again, being in a process of psychotherapy, where your therapist can hold and sooth your pain, is a must do here.

If you have engaged in this never action item, the corrective action is to simply own it. Tell your children that you didn’t mean to put them in the middle and that know matter what happens, they will always be loved and cared for. Then make sure you get the support you need.

  1. Never malign or alienate your ex from your children.

Yes, you are angry.

Yes you feel betrayed.

 And yes, you are entitled to your feelings and your process of grieving.

But unless your ex is violent, abusive, or poses some kind of safety threat to your children, say through some kind of addiction that’s not being treated, then once again, keep them out of it. The ending of a relationship or marriage and reorganization of a family is never easy on children. They deserve to have two mature, loving parents who put their wellbeing first and not be used as a weapon to hurt the one who chose to leave. 

If you find that you have done that or have gotten feedback from your ex or from loved ones expressing concerns that you are alienating your children from your ex, then the corrective action again is to simply own it what you have done. Tell your children that you didn’t mean to put them in the middle and that your issues with your ex are between you and your ex, not the kids.

Then do get the support you need to help you grieve.

Last but not least, remember Albert Einstein once said, “In the middle of a crisis, lies an opportunity.” 

An unwanted breakup is never the opportunity that  you were looking for. It is however, the opportunity that has been thrown your way.  And good things can come from it.

If you take the time to heal your whole self, mind, body and spirit as you grieve this loss, you will rise from the ashes of despair.  

Not only will you survive your heartbreak, you will learn how to thrive in your life because of it!