Getting Good At Blameless Breakups

WHOLE-tango-in-red

If you’ve been dating again since your divorce, you’ve hopefully had a couple relationships. (Relationship – def: a monogamous dating experience that lasts more than a few months.) And unless you are still in the relationship you’ve also experienced a few breakups. Let’s look at the fine art of breaking up well.

When you breakup well a few things go differently than you remember in your youth, perhaps.

  • You’re not bitter and angry with the ex-boyfriend.
  • You don’t stalk them virtually or in real life.
  • A text from them does not automatically mean they are looking for a hookup or to give you a piece of their mind.
  • The breakup is more about compatibility than “you done me wrong.”
  • You can walk away from the relationship without an extended recovery period.
  • You might really believe the statement, “I hope we can eventually be friends.”
  • You actually do become cordial with your ex.
  • Their Facebook connection remains in tact and you don’t feel the impulse to check-in on them.

And the ultimate indication that you broke up well,

  • You are happy for them when they find another relationship. I mean really happy, and not the “dang it, why don’t I have another relationship” kind of grimacing happy.

I’ve had exactly two relationships since I my divorce 4.5 years ago. And I can say that I’m “friendly” with both of them. And it’s this ability to break up well, that indicates a good healthy attitude about dating and relationships in general. It’s important that you are okay with dating, checking things out, and not forming a relationship too quickly. It’s part of the territory. If you date you are going to break up. If you break up well, you can go into the next potential relationship with a positive and healthy attitude.

It’s a lot like your divorce. If you’re still spouting vitriol about your ex, you might need to have that looked at before you start courting new women. They are going to pick up on your negative vibe right away. And it’s easy to spot a bitter person a mile away. And dating is the same way. If the drama is high, the bitterness and anger will tend to come out in any “So tell me about your recent relationships” discussion. It’s an essential question and one that you should ask while paying close attention to their answer.

Bitter breakups cause a chain reaction.

  • There is a mistrust from the beginning, because either one of you is afraid of being hurt again.
  • The baggage from the previous relationship (breakup or divorce) still hangs heavy in the mind, and will color the openness and joyful potential.
  • It’s not a long shot to imagine the few terse words for the previous ex will be brought to bear on you should you “do them wrong.”
  • Unfinished anger work comes out in present relationships.

You want to start the next relationship with a clean slate. The new partner is not evil, nor do they possess the ability to fix/heal/transform you into a happy person again. The joy you bring into the next relationship is equal to the joy you have in your life. If you’ve got some of your resources tied up in bad mouthing your ex, or even if you don’t talk about it, but feel it, you’re going to hold back in your next relationship.

Here’s the test.

  • Can you see the new person without any preconceived judgements about their motivations or intentions?
  • Are you able to stay present when they are talking about themselves, or do you keep jumping forward into future “scenarios?”
  • Does your heart genuinely open when you are with the other person? Or are you feeling protective and cautious?

It’s not about getting it right 100% of the time. That’s silly. Finding your next relationship is a matter of trial, error, and breaking up with the ones who don’t work out. And until you find the next “real love” that’s all of them. And if you’re planning on the “date” to NOT be the one, you are going into the new relationship with a defensive attitude, one that will not show you in the best light.

Before entering into the next relationship make sure you are clear of the last one. How healthy are you on a scale of 1 – 100? If you’re anywhere below 90%, take a break. You’ll just do more harm than good by trying to “date” before you’re really clear on what you want. And as you enter a relationship with old baggage you will end it with more baggage. The bad stuff seems to compound unless it’s dealt with.

Here are some ideas for how to breakup well next time. (This list assumes there was no egregious freak out or infidelity on either partner’s part, for that, requires a lot more work when it happens.)

  • Don’t make it personal. Make it easy and simple. “It’s just not working out.”
  • If you care about them, let them know that you do.
  • Give some pause between the statements and let each partner have a say in what they are feeling.
  • If you think you can be their friend tell them that. If you don’t think you can be friends right away, let them know that as well. “I do think we will be friends eventually, but I can’t be around you right now, while I’m processing this.”
  • And then wish them well in both word and in your heart. By giving them the benefit of the doubt and assuming that they are a good person who just needs a slightly different person, you can honestly wish them well.
  • If drama begins to break into the conversation, either find a way to shut it down (“Can we not get into that right now?”) or take a break and try again later. (“I’m sorry, this is too much for me right now. I need to go now and come back to talk about this later.”)

The goal is never to blame the other person for the breakup, even if they were the reason you are breaking up. Always take your responsibility for the miss. And make it about the chemistry, the mix, the overall relationship and not about them or their poor behavior. Remember, you are leaving the relationship, not trying to teach them a lesson or educate them.

If you can execute a blameless breakup you can walk away as friends and hold your head high in search of your next positive experience: starting a relationship and eventually ending it. If your goal is always to end well you can start with the same positive outlook. Who knows, maybe that’s the key to finding your next keeper.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

back to Dating After Divorce

Reference: How to Win a Breakup – the Atlantic

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image: tango in red, zabara alexander, creative commons usage

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  1. Wow
    Well-said.
    I wasn’t clear why I was able to move on to the next journeys positively even though I had a couple of break ups. I thought I became stronger or this is the age thing.
    but by reading your page, I just realized that the break up wasn’t at all any personal issue but it just wasn’t the best match. No drama in the relationships or while the break up processes.
    So weirded that we were into I LOVE YOU texts every day while in the relationships but when we both decided to go different ways one day by misunderstanding each other, in stead of trying to have a talk, it only took us for 10 minutes to breakup and of course it was done through texts…..
    Even though we both needed a reason why this has just happened like this in short minutes, I am sure we both found no particular reason for break up.
    but we just accepted it and moved forward. It hurts me a lot but I was able to wish my bf the best.
    I didn’t understand how Ivwas able to do this way myself but by reading your blog, I felt I finally find the answar I was looking for. I did have a good break up!! That is why I have found the best partner after those two wonderful but didn’t work out relationships.
    Thanks for your amazing blog to share with me and I’ll keep enjoying reading your thoughts.