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How to End a Relationship the Right Way

7 steps to minimize the pain of breaking up with someone

"I'm sorry; I don't think this is working! It's not you, it's me; I'm just not ready to be in a relationship at the moment!"

The response was explosive! "But you told me you loved me," he screamed, "...that we had a future together!"

I wasn't so much eavesdropping as being involuntarily catapulted into the centre of someone else's relationship Armageddon. For one thing, I couldn't believe she'd chosen a (very) public café to break the news. And as someone with an interest in communication, I wasn't overly impressed by the way she was doing it, either. Then the needless "for your own good, I'm telling you straight" (and kicking you when you're down) insults started!

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"It's just that you can be so spineless!" Now he just looked crestfallen. "I need a proper man - I mean, I don't mean that, but... well, in some ways you're not that clever, not in the way I am." (I couldn't believe what I was hearing! Not a proper man, lacking in the brains department, anything else? Ah, here we go!) "And (stage whisper for her café audience) sex has never been that great..."

I won't go on, not like her. After mumbling something about "still being friends" - in the way, perhaps, John F. Kennedy may have been "friends" with Lee Harvey Oswald had he survived - she burst into tears and fled the café.

His eyes fleetingly locked with mine as awareness of where he was flooded back. I resisted the urge to offer a meaningless platitude such as "you'll be better off..." and instead pretended to be captivated by the drinks menu.

Okay, maybe she had to end their relationship, but I think it could have been handled a little better. Maybe I'm being harsh; breaking up with someone is difficult and we all say things we don't mean sometimes (now maybe I'm being too generous). Anyway, if you're thinking of ending it with someone, then read on.

Ending a Relationship - Cruel to Be Kind?

To end a relationship is a big decision, worsened by that heart-sinking feeling of knowing you have to tell them. The actual thought of breaking the news to your soon-to-be-ex can make you feel anxious, even terrified. Sometimes it seems easier to continue with what isn't working than to 'upset the applecart'. But if the relationship isn't right for you, then, ultimately, it's not right for them either, and the longer an unfulfilling relationship continues, the less chance we have of finding better, happier relationships.

I don't think the café assassin meant to be cruel. I think she panicked and it all went wrong. At least her partner heard it from her first. Instant messaging, texts, and those newfangled telephones make keeping secrets harder than in previous centuries. So tell no one (or a very few trusted people) before you break the news. Hearing it on the grapevine from a third party is pretty gruesome.

It may seem impossible to end the relationship and keep your partner's dignity intact, but it isn't. First, here are some practical do's and don'ts. Then we'll talk about how to handle your emotions during the break-up.

How to End a Relationship in Style

Ending a relationship is never going to be pain-free, but here are some very practical ways to lessen the pain:

Step 1: Tell your partner you need to talk to them

Don't let them think that you are planning a nice intimate afternoon, only for them to be hit by a bombshell. ("Fancy going to the café?"!) Do this as close to the actual date and time as possible. It's unfair to leave them stewing for longer than necessary.

Always end the relationship in person. Phone calls, texts, emails, or getting other people to tell them are unkind and cowardly ways of breaking up, unless you fear violence from your partner.

Step 2: Make sure you will not be disturbed by interruptions by arranging to break the news in private

If they do become emotional, it can be embarrassing to have any strangers around, even if it's in a quiet park. (I for one don't want to hear someone else breaking up again.)

Choose a neutral place rather than somewhere you share; perhaps a friend's apartment when they are out. Avoid breaking up with them in a place that has past romantic associations for the two of you.

Step 3: Avoid ending the relationship during a row or when highly emotional

This just sends the signal that it was said "in the heat of the moment" and perhaps you didn't mean it.

By ending the relationship calmly and clearly, you convey you're serious, that it's definitely over.

Step 4: Don't be swayed by their emotional response

If they become upset it may be tempting to try to comfort them or even tell them that you didn't mean it just to stop them from hurting. Don't send mixed messages. This will make it more painful in the long-term.

Step 5: Avoid blaming your partner or criticizing them

Talk about the relationship as if it is an object outside of you both. "It has stopped working" is better than "you have stopped bothering with me" or "you never say anything nice!" Keep language as non-emotional as possible. Keep the word "you" out of it as much as possible. Express regret that things didn't work out. And remember, if things are wrong for you, then they too could actually have a better relationship if released from this one.

Step 6: Avoid clichés

No one wants to hear: "It's not you, it's me!" or "You're really nice, but..." or "We can still be friends" (you may be, but now is not the time to discuss that). Nor does anyone want platitudes like: "You're bound to meet someone really special who is more right for you than I am..." Just stick to the facts of the matter.

Step 7: Prepare your emotions

Now the above steps are all good and well, but if you are so overwhelmed with anxiety when actually ending the relationship that sensible advice flies out the window, then something else needs to happen. You need to prepare your emotions, to be calm and clear. Being too emotional "swamps" the thinking brain, making it harder to talk and think clearly.

If you were going to do a play, you wouldn't expect not to rehearse! Likewise, the more you rehearse in your mind, whilst very relaxed, telling your partner it's over, the easier it's going to be to find yourself naturally feeling calm when you actually do it.

Find yourself a quiet space, perhaps in the bath or some other place you naturally relax. Close your eyes. Focus on your breathing slowing down. And when you are nice and relaxed...just begin to imagine watching yourself from the outside looking composed and poised as you calmly tell your partner that it's over. The more strongly you do this, the more you'll prime your mind and emotions to feel the right way about doing the right thing. Some of our relationship hypnosis sessions may help.

And lastly, remember: tough decisions now will make for a better life in the future.

Get more help ending a relationship

If you would like extra help to end a relationship the right way, try a hypnosis session:

10 Steps to Overcome Insecurity in Relationships

10 Steps to Overcome Insecurity in Relationships course

Despite how much you love your partner, are you worried you're driving them away?...

Read more about the course

Published by Mark Tyrrell - in Relationship Help