How to Break Up with Someone

How to Break Up with Someone

Getting dumped is heartbreaking. The 21st century cousin, the ‘flake’, is no easier. We are here to offer some simple communication skills to help soften the blow when you deliver the message. Our guest shrink offers her thoughts, with some help from the dashing Dom Jones.


1. Pick your timing. It is common for dumpings to occur on the spur of the moment during a dispute (and potentially in public). The problem with breaking up amidst a fight is that our emotions are heightened and this can cause us to shout insults, bring up too many issues at once, blame, shame and cover our true feelings with rage. Both people are likely to leave the confrontation more confused and angry than they likely already were. Pick a time to deliver your message when you are alone, in a non-distracting, comfortable environment and preferably on neutral turf, such as a known cafe. This also lessens the likelihood of your spontaneous decapitation.
2. Practice self-awareness. This just means taking a few deep breaths and tuning into what you’re observing, thinking, feeling (emotionally and physically) and wanting. It means reminding yourself of the purpose of the communication: to end a relationship in a direct, clear and supportive way that is likely to lessen the blow to the other person. Some people utilise ‘grounding’ techniques to stay focussed and present when their mind starts to wander, such as focussing on your own breath, the colours and sounds surrounding you, and the feeling of your feet in your shoes. Others just imagine sleeping with the person they’ve started dating on the side.
3. Deliver a whole message. Whole messages are those that incorporate: (a) what you have noticed happening in the relationship; (b) how this has made you feel; and (c) and what you want. In its simplest form the message might sound something like: “I’ve noticed us fighting more and having less fun together…it’s made me really sad…I don’t want us to see each other anymore”. Alternatively it might sound something like “you’ve done everything I could have asked of you and more…it made me very happy…but I can do better.”
4. Do not cloud your message or use clichés. The alternative to a whole message is a partial message, which has something important left out or disguised. Partial messages are confusing and deeply alienating because they contain undercurrents of other emotions in covert form. For example, “I think we’re at different stages in our lives and it’s not working”, is vague enough for the listener to be left assuming they are: (a) immature; (b) unsuccessful; (c) too old; (d) too young; (e) not wealthy enough; (f) prudish; and so on. Partial messages can be identified when said with a tone of voice and body language that is incongruent with the content of the message or the person’s feelings. A better option is…well let’s be honest, lie if you have to.
5. Take the time to check in. Asking the person, “are you okay?” After you’ve broken the news is not the same as taking pity. It is a gentle and supportive way of checking in and showing them that, even though the relationship hasn’t worked out, you still care about them. Even if you…don’t. People that talk about “hating” their exes forget they once liked them enough to go out with them. Even though the relationship might have ended on bad terms it is polite to dignify it with a cordial breakup.
6. Wait a couple of months before going public your new partner. This includes on social media and is especially important if you have mutual friends. Tiger Woods was reportedly advised to wait until his ex started seeing someone before he did. He was helped by the fact he was also the most hated man in the world at the time.
We hope these ideas help if you need to end a relationship. At the seat of the issue is exercising some basic empathy and common sense, which becomes hard when emotions take over.