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The Perfect Breakup?

The Perfect Breakup?

The Perfect Breakup?

    Someone on our Skribit page (that’s the little widget on the right-hand side of Lifehack’s pages where you can make requests, which I or other Lifehack writers look at for ideas) requested a post on how to act when you break up with someone. While it’s never easy to break up with someone (assuming it’s someone you actually do like), I feel like I’ve been through enough breakups to have learned a bit about how to make it as painless as it can be for everyone involved.

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    First, some history: I’ve been in four relationships that mattered, three of which lasted for 2 years or longer. I didn’t “date” much at all in my 20s, but have dated quite a bit in my 30s. Not counting situations where I went out with someone only once or a few times and nothing came of it, I’d estimate I’ve seen about 30 women or so that haven’t turned into long-term relationships. So that’s about 35 endings where the other person mattered to me in some way (beyond just being a human worthy of some basic decency and respect). Which is a lot by some standards, not many by others, but which I think has given me at least some perspective on breaking up.

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    Except in the rare case where both partners realize that their relationship isn’t working at the exact same time and are able to easily and honestly acknowledge that, all breakups are hard. No matter how inappropriate someone might be for us (or us for them, if we’re honest), there is almost always a sense of personal rejection whenever someone tells us, or we tell them, that it’s over.

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    There are a few things we can do to ease the pain we feel or we inflict. Some of these apply when you’re the dumper, some when you’re the dumpee. And then there are a few for after the break-up, and those apply either way. Let’s start with some tips for when you’re the one breaking it off.

    When you break up with someone…

    1. Know why. Before you act, do a little self-reflection. It’s easy to say “It’s not you, it’s me” but a lot harder to mean it if you don’t know what about you “it” is. You don’t have to tell your soon-to-be-ex everything, but you should at least understand for yourself.
    2. Be honest. While you don’t have to unleash a torrent of insults on the person you’re breaking up with, at least be clear about the main reasons things aren’t working for you. And don’t lie about remaining friends if you have no interest in this person as a friend. It just drags out the inevitable.
    3. Don’t drag it out. It can be scary to tell someone you’re not interested in seeing them any more. So scary, in fact, that you don’t – you just act colder and colder, find excuses not to see them, start picking at their weaknesses, putting them through the wringer while you build up the courage to do what you need to do. You’ll both be happier if you make a clean break sooner rather than later.
    4. Be gentle but firm. There’s no reason to be hurtful, no matter how bad things are going. But do be clear that this is not an ultimatum, an invitation to improvement, or just another argument – this is The End.

    When someone breaks up with you…

    1. Dignity first. Easier said than done, especially if you thought things were going well. But no matter how surprised you are, try to act in a way your parents (or clergy, or some other person you respect) would be proud of. Don’t threaten, attack, list their shortcomings back at them, scream, faint, say you’ll kill yourself, beg, or do anything else – the best that can happen is you’ll feel awful later, the worst is that they won’t break up with you and now you’re stuck with someone who wants out.
    2. Get to a safe place. Find a friend, a family member, a clergy member, or anyone you can count on and let them support you. Getting dumped is hard work – you’re going to need a little while to process it.
    3. It really isn’t you, it’s them. Don’t be too hard on yourself – they dumped you for reasons that have to do with who they are, not who you are. Seriously, when we’re really in love, we’re in love with a person’s faults as well as their best features; the bottom line is, if you have faults that drove someone away, it’s because they didn’t accept and love them, and therefore didn’t accept and love you. That’s not an excuse to be awful, it’s just the truth – the worst murderers and rapists and dirtbags in the world still manage to be loved by someone.
    4. But don’t let yourself off the hook, either. The person that just dumped you had their own reasons, but that doesn’t mean you’re perfect. Consider what you want from a relationship, and why you weren’t getting it from the one that just ended (and you weren’t, I promise). And learn from that.

    After the break-up…

    1. No take-backs. Seriously. No booty calls, no pre-existing commitments, no getting together just to talk. Not for a good while, anyway – I realize that people can change and make things work, but that doesn’t happen overnight. More often what happens overnight is you get lonely, or you can’t find anyone better, or you get horny. Getting back together can only prolong something that’s pretty much doomed. I know you think you’ll be the exception, but you won’t. Not until one or both of you make some real changes.
    2. Let hate happen. Being angry at an ex is natural. It might be stupid, unproductive, even awkward, but it’s totally natural – let it happen. Don’t act out towards them or anything, but don’t try to force yourself to process all that emotion out of the way too soon. It takes time – both to deal with your anger over whatever they did or said or were, and to get over your anger at yourself. And you will be angry at yourself: for getting involved with someone who was wrong for you, for being suckered, for letting someone good get away, or for any of a host of reasons. Let it happen.
    3. You don’t have to be friends. Especially if your now ex-relationship lasted a long time, this can be hard to swallow. Yes, your ex probably does know you better than anyone else. And you probably have a lot of the same interests. Maybe you will eventually be friends, down the road, but for now, you have to be faithful to yourself first – you really can’t put yourself out there for your ex the way a friend should. And if you never get to be friends again, well, that’s sad, but it’s not the worst thing ever. Don’t force it.
    4. Don’t get even. If you were hurt badly, your instinct might be to hurt them back. Not a good idea. Seriously, as hard as it is, you have to let it go. It’s not a game with winners and losers – the pain you’re feeling is the pain of having invested yourself in a situation that was wrong for you. Going for revenge will only hurt you more (you’re still investing in that bad relationship), and may hurt others around you (like the person you sleep with to get back at a cheating ex).
    5. Don’t stalk. This should be self-explanatory, but apparently it’s not. Think of breaking up like going to jail – you’re allowed one phone call. (And it should be about the stuff they left at your place, and that’s it!) Don’t call them to ask “why?!?!”, don’t check their email or voicemail with the password they forgot they gave you, don’t hang around their work, and definitely don’t visit them at home. Here’s the thing: psychologically, there’s a threshold beyond which you lose control of what seem at first like harmless issues, and you become obsessed. Stalking really is a sickness; fortunately it’s preventable by simply denying yourself the satisfaction of trying to find out about your now-ex.Here’s the other thing: yes, they’re seeing someone. Yes, they’re flirting with that new assistant at work. Yes, they’re working as an exotic dancer now. Yes, they’re into all sorts of kinky stuff they would never do with you. Yes, they took that trip to Asia you planned together. Yes, they got a better job. Yes, they went back to their spouse. Yes, they got a dog. Yes, yes, yes – everything you’re afraid of is true. Stop worrying about their life and start living your own!
    6. If you’re being stalked, don’t respond. Stalking is a simple positive reinforcement mechanism: the stalker does something, and are rewarded when you respond. When the phone rings 50 times and you finally pick up and tell them never to call you again, they get their reward – and they learn that they have to let the phone ring 50 times to get it again. Same with email, ringing the doorbell, visiting you at work, etc. Pay no attention, at all. If things get too out of hand, appoint someone  — a security person at work, a family member at home, or whoever you can trust – to block all contact. Send their calls automatically to voice mail, set up a forwarding rule in your email program to send their emails to someone else to review (in case they turn threatening) – generally erase the person from your life. Eventually, the pleasure circuit will run out of ways to get that stimulus and your stalker will start to heal.

    When my last major relationship ended, a friend gave me some really good advice. In fact, she had me write it in dry-erase marker on my mirror (lipstick would have done the job as well, but I don’t keep any around…). The advice was this: “There wasn’t anything you could have done differently.” You’re you, and you acted in what you thought was the right way at every point. You have to accept that, and the rest comes easier once you do.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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