Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: A How-To Guide to Ending a Relationship

This is advice for the person who really truly wants to END a relationship, but doesn’t know how. If heeded, it will, hopefully, make the hard work of breaking up, if not easier (it's not gonna be easy, at all), more bearable.

I’m NOT advising anyone to initiate, or finalize, a break up; this is advice for the person who has already decided to do the HARD (spoiler alert: it's gonna be harder than you think) WORK (spoiler alert: a break up requires work, i.e. effort, energy, and attention) of breaking up.

This is not meant to be a break up guide where you follow a few simple steps. Nothing about a relationship, and nothing about breaking up, is simple; breaking up is one of the most complex experiences possible: love mixed with hate; hope mixed with despair; resolution mixed with confusion. Take this advice advisedly; feast on the sections that are most nourishing. It is a general guide, you'll have to apply it individually. Also, what follows are "steps," and they are in order in the sense of, "Do this first, then this, then this, etc." However, that doesn't mean that you will experience them in the order I have them, or that you will go from step 1 to step 2, and never have to worry about step 1 again. Rather, you will have to keep going through ALL the steps EVERYDAY in the process of breaking up. The steps are interconnected: not really 15 separate steps, but one giant step broken down into 15 smaller movements.

Step 1: Ask, "Why Am I Breaking Up?"

Before getting to the how-to break up advice, let’s pause. Before getting to the "how," let's stop to ask, "why?"

Having a good "why (reason for breaking up)" will help immensely when it comes to the "how (following through on a breakup)." 

 Breaking up with someone is a decision that calls for care. After thinking through this step, you may actually decide NOT to break up. Maybe you don't have a solid reason for ending this relationship. Maybe you shouldn't break up, at all? Maybe you should work it out? If so, then this step will help you figure that out, and enable you to reengage the relationship knowing it is something worth keeping.

If you’ve invested a lot of time and love in a relationship, it is often better to work it out. If you are constantly rushing into breaking up, and for flimsy reasons – you do not need to learn how to break up; you need to learn how to grow up. Seeing a couples counselor, or getting some good books on relationships might save your relationship.

Breaking up is, in one sense, is not hard to do. Breaking up, the part where you say, “I’m breaking up with you,” and storm angrily off. That’s ever so easy. The hard part comes after.

 On the other hand, working through this step may reveal to you that you do have good and solid reasons for breaking up. If you have such good and solid reasons, if you have answered the "why" question, then the breaking up part will be so much easier.

Whether you break up, or make up, you need to approach this as a decision that you are responsible for: an important decision which will drastically impact numerous lives, for good, for ill, or for a mix of both. This is a decision you ALONE can make. This is a decision with consequences.

When deciding whether or not to end a relationship, you need to ask questions. Then, you need to think through these questions until you arrive at solid answers.

Question 1. What? What's my reason for breaking up?
Is my reason for breaking up a GOOD reason for breaking up?

What? What's my reason for breaking up?

Infidelity is the only unassailable reason for breaking up with someone. In other words, if he/she didn’t cheat on you, there’s hope for growth in the relationship. If there was cheating, then be assured, you can walk away right now, guilt free. Infidelity is very serious: deadly serious. Infidelity doesn't automatically mean you should break up; it does, however, automatically mean you'd be justified if you did.

Other serious "deal breakers" are things like criminal activity, abusive behavior, or absenteeism (your beloved moved to Alaska, and has no plans of coming back this century, or of trying to make the relationship work.

Outside the serious dealbreakers, many of the reasons people break up amount to trifles, i.e. not a good reason to break up.

Question 2. Why? What is my motive for breaking up?
Am I breaking up because I sincerely care for myself, this person, and others involved?
Or, am I breaking up for a less than pure motive? to be petty? or vengeful? or to get attention?
Question 3. Who? Who is to blame for this relationship going south?
You may need some wise counsel in sorting through this question. You may need to talk this one through with someone objective. But, ask yourself, Who?

On Question 3, there's 3 possible answers:
1. Me
2. He/She
3. We

1. Me

If it's "me," then breaking up won't help; you will just take the problem with you. If a relationship is failing because of my failings, then it stands to reason that, if I correct my failings, the relationship will prosper.

 2. He/She

If the answer to Who? is the other person, and you are genuinely engaging the relationship in a healthy way, then it's time to stop blaming yourself that things are working out. Some people, no matter how much you love them, are relationship devastaters; sometimes, even if you do all in your power, you still can't salvage a relationship because the other person refuses to work with you. "Don't cast your pearls before swine." That means, there are some destructive people that will chew up and spit out even the sincerest love.

3. We

Often, the honest answer to WHO? is: We.

That is, both of us could do better. It takes two to tango: to make a relationship work; it also often takes two to destroy a relationship. You may find there are things you could do better on YOUR side that might save the relationship. This doesn't mean that you are primarily at fault, or that you should feel an unjust burden for a bad relationship; it just means, wherever possible, you should acknowledge the reality of who did what to who, and who bears what blame.

In this step, I've asked you to THINK about the WHY of breaking up. Go slow on this step. Think seriously. Journal. Get advice from loved ones. Don’t rush into breaking up – don't rush out of a relationship; that said, when you do decide to break up – rush out of it, and get to work right away.

Step 2: Get Ready For Hard Work

When you decide to end a relationship, you may be surprised, at first, how free and light you feel. You'd imagined you couldn't live without this person, but here you are, DAY 1 of  "separateness," and you are feeling high as a kite. There are reasons for this: maybe, the relationship weighed you down, crippled you, and injured you. Now that it's over, you feel a rush of cool wind on your face, and you see sunshine on the horizon.

You feel like a man who just escaped from a prison sell. The person you are leaving behind did you harm; they were bad for you. The healing has begun.

You've never felt better. The song was wrong: Breaking Up... is EASY.

Get ready. A storm is coming into your sunny world.

Ah, my friend, I wish this happy freedom would last. I wish it was easy for the good partner to break scott free from the bad partner -- but, the reality is, this first joy of separateness will not last; you are rejoicing now; you will be weeping in the morning.

So, know, right now, this happy freedom is going to be short-lived. Don't count on it lasting. It will soon depart; of course, it may come back, at times -- eventually, if you take the counsel I'm giving you, it will turn to a settled peace -- but, not before you pass through a coming grief. Right now, you are dancing -- but, keep in mind -- you are on minute 1 (or maybe hour 1, day 1, week 1) of "broke up." You've only just begun your journey. Right now, you are singing; right now, you are shouting with joy; soon, you'll be on the floor, sobbing with sorrow.

Why do I tell you this?
So, when the body shot of "separateness" hits, you'll at least be prepared. The most dangerous punch, and the one likely to knock you out, is the one you don't expect. Why do I tell you this? So you can brace yourself for the upper cut that's about to land square on your jaw? Why am I warning you of the grief to come when you are, at present, happy go lucky? So, when the tidal wave of longing, anger, grief, confusion, sorrow, loneliness and exhaustion crashes on you, you'll be able to stand, and not lose your footing (or lose hope and heart) when the waves threaten to drown you.

Often, when the punch lands, and the tidal wave crashes, the breaker-upper loses heart and strength, and goes running back to the relationship. Then, they get embroiled in the same cycle of miserableness they've been stuck in for (seemingly) ever. That's why, most breakups, even in the most toxic relationship, aren't final at first. It's easy to leave, but hard to stay away. Why? Because the grief of separateness is so great. You want it to end, right now. And, the only way (apparently) to end it is to go back to this person.

How many people do you know who are currently in a relationship, but they've broken up 5-10 times? How many people do you know who seem to break up weekly? How many people do you know who are in a bad relationship, and they know they are in a bad relationship, and they want to end it, and they've tried to end it, but they just can't seem to ever break away, even after they've broken up?

We see this, and we think, "What wrong with that guy/girl? Why can't they just get out of this? Why do they always go back?"

Why? Well, if you are embarking on a break up, you will soon find out:

It's hard to break up; it's easier just to stay together.
It's painful leave; it's comfortable (even if a kind of numbing comfort) to fall back into each other.

It's easier to stay together, in the short term, than it is to break up. You have lived life with this person for a long time; you know there habits, their idiosyncrasies; you depend on them, and vice versa. It's easier (again, short term) to stay in a bad relationship than to end a bad relationship. It's easy to leave; it's hard to stay gone; even harder to walk home, alone.

So, get ready for the tears. Again, here's why it's important to know this: when the first joy of separateness passes most people are unprepared; they are not ready, and they are not willing, and they don't even think they are able to end it. Well, if they had approached it, from the start, knowing it was gonna be a long hard road, they'd have been better prepared for the longness and the hardness of the road. They thought they were hiking a mile, downhill, on a lovely day. Turns out, they are hiking Everest, in the dead of winter, and they didn't even pack a lunch.

Pack a lunch. For that matter, pack a week of lunch, a poncho, a tent, hiking gear, and a first aid kit.

It turns out the classic break up song, "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do," is the classic truth of breaking up. It was a hit when it was released, and it has grown into a classic, because it states a simple classic truth. Breaking up is HARD (not easy, no vacation) to DO (do = follow through, finish the job, complete the work).

Get ready; this break up is going to take focus; it's gonna be a big job; at times, this breakup will so strain your strength, and so distract you from everything, that you will feel like it IS your full time job. 

Step 3: Resolve

Be 100 percent clear to yourself that you are actually breaking up; there’s no going back. This ends now. The reason why you keep taking her back is simple: you want to. No one can make you do anything; if you want it to end, it will end. The reason it hasn’t already ended is also simple: you don’t really want it to.

Think of your dying relationship like a patient on life support; you are the doctor instructed to stop life-giving care to this patient; the patient’s life is in your hands. If a part of your heart still wants the patient to live then you will – when no one is looking – feed and nurture the dying body before you. If, however, you are resolved to let this patient die, then they will die.

Or, think of this relationship like an opposing boxer. You must step into the ring, and knock this dude out. No mercy. As one fighter, a man named Connor Mcgregor, once put it,

"I don't have anything bad to say about my opponent. It's pretty plain and simple. His time is up. It's done. There's somebody ruthless coming to get him. There's somebody cold coming to get him. I can look at him dead in the eye and say, 'It's done. You're over now.'
If you are sincere about this breakup, then you must decide in the recesses of your heart to let the relationship die. Decide to let it die, then look away, and ignore the screams for mercy. You must decide to knock this relationship to the mat, again and again, until you hear a 10 count, and a bell ring.

Step 4: Consider Possibility

When you start to think...

"I just can't do this."
"I can't live without them."
 "I have to pick up the phone and call them."
"I must to go over to there house."
"I can't help but by such and such a place where I know they will be."

... think again. Realize, all these statements have something in common: impossibility. Can't. Must. Have to. All these statements are you telling yourself, "It's impossible to do this."

The simple truth is: It's not. It's not impossible.

Please know: Though it seems impossible, you can break away if you know how to. Also, please know: as hard as this seems right now, if handled correctly, this break up can be one of the best things that ever happened to you. Don’t view breaking up as a stop sign in your life wherein everything good ends; view it as a yellow flashing light – speed through, and just ahead, there’s new road ahead, with new health and adventures.

So, when you are tempted to text "her" at 3:00 am and say, "I can't live without you..."

Check yourself. Put down the phone. Actually, yes, you can live without her. You lived before you met her; you are still breathing, even if with sobs; tears are running down your face, but you are, in fact, alive. It is possible. 

Step 5. Remember Why

When it gets tough, when you feel like you can't help but call Pat, you need to REMEMBER. Remember why you broke up.

Here, you are not just going back to Step 1, and asking, Why? Yes, you are doing that, but something else along with it. You are remembering WHY you LEFT so that you will NOT GO BACK.

So, remember... Why did you want to break up with her? Be specific. Make a list of the things that you hate about her so that – when you are tempted to love her again – you’ll be able to withstand the temptation.

The best you can, nurture your disgust over the wrong she has done you. I’m not advising you to turn into a bitter and cruel person; rather, I’m advising you to embrace the reality of why this needs to end.

Resist the temptation to let the fire of devotion toward her keep burning. Put it out by recalling exactly why she doesn’t deserve such devotion.

Step 6. Get Perspective

It’s hard to be objective during a bad relationship; you can’t see the other person’s poor qualities, and sometimes this means you hang around way too long. Even after you’ve decided to end it, objectivity is hard to obtain. Does she really deserve to lose me? Is what she did that bad? What if I’m wrong about her? What if I just misunderstood her? What if her faults were really my fault?

One way to quiet these questions is seeking outside help. Pick a family member or friend that you trust, and tell them about why you have decided to break up. Honestly detail your reasoning to them (resist the temptation to exaggerate her flaws, or your own innocence), and see if they agree with you. If they do, this will strengthen your perspective and resolve. It would help even more if this person has knowledge of you/her and the relationship, and can confirm that some unhealthy things were going on.

If objective voices agree with your decision to break things off, and tell you this person was bad for you, then it will be much easier to believe your own instinct that this needs to end.

I remember once struggling to break it off with a girl for 2 straight weeks. I just couldn't seem to get out of "it." I knew (deep down) she wasn't a good person, and only in the relationship for selfish ends. I doubted I could trust her. I doubted the health of the relationship, and sensed it was not good for me – but I could never pull the trigger.

Then, my brother came by to hang out one day, and casually said, “She is a user who just wants to get something from you.” His casual comment set me free. My struggle stopped right there. It was one thing for me to think this relationship was bad – another thing, entirely, for a person who loves me to agree with my conclusion.

My brother added, “Consider this girl a tax write off. This is going to be expensive if you stay in this.”

He was saying: I know you’ve invested a lot in this girl, and you feel like you are losing a lot – and in a way you are. But hanging in this relationship will cost you way more in the long run. Count your losses; consider her a tax write off, and be glad you didn’t lose more.

Step 7. Shut the Door


Don’t leave an opening for it to start back up – not even the tiniest opening. Not closing every reentry point to the relationship will make you vulnerable to the relationship restarting on a whim. Then, you will have to go through the painful ordeal of breaking it off again. Break it off utterly and completely and totally, with extreme prejudice. Delete contact info. Try to avoid social situations that would put you together. Throw out her stuff. If necessary, throw out stuff that reminds you of her.

The best you can, close down the lines of communication. Often, it's not as simple as, "Don't call me anymore." You may have to block his/her phone number and email address. If the person is really persistent, you may have to change emails or phone numbers. Mr. Number is a wonderful app that enables you to block someone from directly texting, but still keep their text messages stored. This is a good option if you need to stay in contact, but don't want him/her to have direct access to you.

Cutting off avenues of contact (phone; online chat; email; meet-ups) is the first major step in the process of breaking up. After all, if he/she can’t communicate with you, or you with her, it will be impossible for the two of you to get back together. On the other hand, if you leave lines of communication open, you are essentially – no matter what you say – leaving the door to the relationship open.

The point is: do whatever it takes to make sure the break is clean.

You are going to have to be pro-active. Staying in the relationship will require little effort; you/she have a routine of life together. It’s the natural thing to lean on her. So, if you want it to end, you must take positive tangible action to make sure this relationship doesn’t live another day. You going to have to go against what’s natural for you.

Remember Lot’s wife – flee, and don’t look back.

"Cutting off all contact seems cruel, but it’s a case of "cruel to be kind.” No response = no point in continuing this. Any response = keep trying. The quicker and cleaner your message is received, the sooner s/he will move on to someone else, and you will be free of a potentially explosive situation. The more little tidbits of contact you drop back into your ex’s court, the more frustrating it will become for your ex when you continue to resist further efforts. The more frustrated s/he becomes, the more his/her anger and rage become inflamed. No matter how difficult it is, no matter what tender feelings you still have, do not express any of that to your ex. It won’t help. It will just make the breakup more difficult for both of you."

STEP 8. Face It: It’s Gonna End Badly

Remember the line from the movie Cocktail, "Of course it ended badly. Everything that ends, ends badly, or else it wouldn’t end.”

This is breaking up – not making up – so it is not going to be pleasant and friendly. You’re probably not going to ride off into the sunset, together, on two different horses, as friends; you’re probably going to ride off into the sunset all by yourself with her galloping close behind, calling you names. Keep riding kimosabe; don’t stop for pleasantries cause there’s no pleasantry to be found here.
Having said this, you can still strive to leave well.

STEP 9. Leave Well

There are many things involved in doing your best to leave well.

-Say your sorry for where you wronged her.
-Try to be fair to her. You will be tempted to exaggerate her flaws, or cast the failure of the relationship as totally her fault. Avoid this temptation.
- Avoid angry arguments with her. These will only lead to more hurt feelings. It’s over; there’s nothing more to fight about.
-Resist the temptation to slander her, or speak negatively about her (unless, of course, in the context of warning someone about destructive behavior).
After you’ve tried to end it well, you may still find there’s lots of discord and disharmony. So be it.
Do your best to end things well, but know that this is going to be sloppy no matter what. Try to leave well – then, leave well enough alone.

 "Please believe that your attempts to leave on good terms will most likely not pan out."

STEP 10. Grow From This

What good can come from a breakup? Surprisingly, a lot. There are things you needed to learn that you could have learned no other way. There are lessons from this failed relationship you can apply in other areas of your life, and in future relationships. In fact, this breakup might spare you a future break up. This breakup could very well spring one of the more productive periods of your life. Some plants grow in marshes that cannot grow in sunshine.

Reflect on yourself. What led you into a situation where you ended up with the wrong girl? How/why did you put yourself in this situation? Are you too trusting? Do you rush into love? Do you always go for the bad girl? Is their a character flaw in you that attracts bad relationships? Use this break up as a chance to take a long hard look at yourself: especially, as a chance to become a better man. Most men would rather have a good car than a good life; most men spend more time working on their cars than their hearts. Surely, a good life is way more important. Here’s your chance to not be like most men.
One very good thing that can come from a relationship/break up is self-evaluation. You can learn about yourself from this experience: your strengths and weaknesses. You can also learn something about women. You can also learn something about relationships: what is healthy/unhealthy; what makes relationships last; what leads to their demise.

This break up can be one of the best things that ever happened to you if you make this most of this opportunity. Lean all you can from this crash to make yourself a better pilot and prevent a future crash.

"Admit your weakness. Many times, though your partner is controlling and/or manipulative (which is wrong), that partner is exploiting your own weaknesses (which enables the controlling/manipulative behaviors). Though both of you are in the wrong, if you are to avoid the same problems in the future, you will need to address your own insecurities about abandonment, loneliness, and/or your tendencies to wish to "rescue” or by virtue of your love alone, “repair” whatever damage you perceive in others. However, no matter who is most responsible, this situation needs to end. Work out your issues on your own, after separating from this relationship."

STEP 11. Stay Positive

Try and cast your past relationship in a good light. Sure, it needed to end – but that doesn’t mean the whole thing was a waste of time.

This may seem to contradict Step 5 (Remember Why), but it's actually a companion. To be able to end it, you do need remember why the relationship needed to end; but, now that it is ended, you also need to battle a bitter and thankless attitude.

Spend some time reflecting on the positives that came from the relationship. Resist the temptation to view the relationship as an utter failure that was only broken. Surely, there were some benefits from this time spent with this person. Surely, you enriched her life in some way. Surely, also, she has enriched your life in some way.

Casting the relationship as an utter catastrophe with no redeeming qualities will not – as some think – make it easier to leave it behind. Casting the relationship as an utter catastrophe will only mean that you wallow in regret over wasted time, and fall into despair. Ironically, such despair may lead you back to the relationship for comfort. You can see how this becomes a cycle. Despair not! It’s true: every cloud has a silver lining.

"Look at the problem from a completely new angle; look at the positive side. See if you can identify 10 positive outcomes of this experience.”

 STEP 12. Take Precautions

"Best safety lies in fear." -Shakespeare

This doesn’t so much have to do with following through on the break up. Rather, this step pertains to keeping you and your personal well being safe during/after the breakup. It’s hard to keep your head in emotional tumult; so, plan ahead, and take precautions whenever possible to ensure this break up does not come back to haunt you.

For example, if there is ever any legal issue that arises from your break up, you’re going to need evidence and documentation. Ex’s have been known to sue, harass, slander, get former lovers fired from jobs, and intrude on future relationships with lies.

Take measures in the present to prevent such future problems. If the two of you have any legal issue to resolve, or monetary issue to sort through, make sure to get something in writing that will pass muster in a court of law. Get the professional help of a lawyer if you even think there’s a chance you might need such help. Sure, it will cost you a few hundred bucks – not getting good legal advice might cost you a lot more.

Do NOT -- I repeat -- do not depend on the goodwill of this person. Did they write you a nasty threatening letter? And, now, they are asking you to throw it away because they are ever so sorry? Don't count on it. Did they say, "Oh, go ahead and keep the TV. I know I bought it, but I want you to have it." Sure, now they do, but in a month when the police arrive saying you "stole" the TV, you'll want some documentation.

In short, don’t take it for granted that you will work out the future details peacefully; the way to work  those out peacefully is by working them out properly right now.

Hang on to any documentation that may come in handy. Keep those threatening texts, the rental agreement where she agreed to pay half the rent, the list of things that she agreed to let you take when you left, and the note you found that proves she was cheating the whole time. In short, don’t trust that she will do the right thing by you. Take measures to ensure that the right thing will be done. It hurts to think that someone you loved so dearly might betray you, and harm you socially, legally, or financially – but it hurts more to find yourself in a place where they can actually harm you; it hurts most when they actually do harm you.

“Don’t delete text messages or voice mails from your ex, but don’t respond to them, either. When you respond, it’s a minor win, and continues to feed the notion that a bigger win is in the offing. However, should your ex become stalker-ish, these text messages can provide valuable evidence to the police if you want to get a restraining order. Consider buying a digital recorder, and saving voice messages to a CD, a jump drive, or whatever, that you keep in a safe place for if and when the time is necessary.”

STEP 12. Stay Connected

Don’t try to do this by yourself. In fact, being alone leads to being lonely which leads to starting the relationship back up.

When will you be tempted to call her? When you are lonely, and just want someone to talk to. So, find someone to talk to before such a situation arises: have a friend in the dock waiting on the emergency, “I’m losing my mind,” call.

Also, don’t just wait until the last minute to make sure you are connected with friends – especially on the weekends. Plan ahead as much as possible so you don’t find yourself in the dangerous situation of being all alone on your couch on a Saturday night.

“Get your support network back. Go to the friends and family you will inevitably have been disconnected from by your controller, fall on your sword, and ask them to take you back. Without trash-talking (or letting others do it, either), you can say, "The bottom line is, you were right, the relationship was toxic, and once I realized it, I got out.”

Step 13. Stay Busy

Idleness is the failed relationship’s play thing. When will you be tempted to text her? When you are bored, at home alone, with nothing else to do. So, don’t put yourself in that situation. Some time for quiet reflection is good, but blank evenings of boredom are a different matter altogether. Try and plan ahead so that your week has a good and consistent schedule.

Step 14. Stay Invested

Stay invested in living your life. This means engaging in life activities. This means eating, even though, since the breakup, you haven't had an appetite. This means showing up at the Christmas party even though you feel miserable since its your first Christmas without him/her. This means going to the gym, and passing up the temptation to sit on the couch and flip through all the pictures of your time with him/her. This means committing to LIVE even when you feel lifeless.

Stay invested. This means trying to improve you even as you feel the break up is killing you. Take on some new challenges of personal and social development: take a dance class; learn karate; take a night class at the local college; starting working out; learn to play an instrument.

This break up has left a hole in your heart – sure, but on the bright side, it's also left a hole in your calendar. See this "hole" as an opportunity to do all the things you never had time for before.

Remember how you used to say, "I wish I didn't have to hang out with Pat tonight, I really wanted to..."

Remember what that "thing" was you wanted to do, and DO IT.

 STEP 15. Embrace The Process

You probably won’t be able to make your break in one swift clean move. You’ll probably break away in fits and starts. You’ll probably mess up and send her a woe-is-me text at 1 am. Don’t despair. This is part of the process. The important thing is the DIRECTION, not the PERFECTION, of the break up; you want to keep moving farther and farther away from her: in the direction away from her.

Progress means, not that you never stumble, but that you keep going, even after stumbling.