When you first met, things were fun.
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You laughed at each other’s jokes, finished each other’s sentences and ate pasta “Lady and the Tramp” style at every Italian restaurant in town. But the weeks/months/years have passed and it’s clear — the honeymoon phase is over and it’s not going to work. When it’s time to break up, is it possible to leave all of the drama behind and end things positively? Behavioral health therapist Anjali Kala, LISW, says it is as long as you’re clear, establish boundaries and stick to them.
Don’t ignore red flags
Endless arguments about dirty clothes on the floor. Avoiding texts or calls from each other. Always feeling annoyed when you’re together. These are obvious signs that things should probably end. But if you’re also having gut feelings that it’s just not going to work, don’t ignore them.
“When thoughts creep into your head like, ‘Is this somebody who I want to be with long-term? Are there some personality traits that are rubbing me the wrong way? Are we just not seeing each other eye-to-eye?’ those are some of the red flags that you might start to think about,” Kala says.
She adds that it’s natural to ignore those gut feelings because you want things to work out. However, checking in with yourself often can help you avoid staying in a red flag-filled relationship for longer than you should.
“Pay attention to those gut feelings. Sure, we want relationships to work out. It’s human nature. So, we tend to push those feelings aside. On the other hand, you don’t have to dismiss the person right away, but keep those feelings in mind,” Kala says.
Don’t use therapy as a last-ditch attempt to save your relationship
There’s nothing wrong with trying to salvage what you have if you’re on good terms. The problem is, people tend to reach out for help when a relationship is well beyond repair. While therapists can work wonders, they aren’t magicians. They can’t make issues disappear and better relationships appear. Instead, get help when you first notice problems and don’t rely on a therapist to unravel months or years of complications.
“If you start to notice things earlier on and say, ‘Let’s go to therapy’ or ‘Let’s find some mode in which we can communicate better,’ then you’re nipping it in the bud. You’re also learning things about yourself, as well as who you both are as a couple. Pay attention to those things and give it a chance to work,” Kala advises.
But what tends to happen is that couples, especially married couples, try using therapy as a last-ditch attempt to save their relationships.
“Some couples I that I work with are ready to get divorced/break up and they’ve been through a lot. Then, they’ll come to me and say, ‘Can you fix this?’
Kala stresses that even if you go through therapy and still split up, both of you will feel better knowing that you tried. If you just walk away without attempting to fix things, you both might regret it down the road.
How to break up with someone nicely
Should you do it on a boat? Should you do it on a Post-it® Note? Is it better to boast or should you just ghost? While people have found many interesting ways to cut ties, Kala believes that it’s best to be direct and civil when the time comes.
Focus on the positives
“The goal is to try to preserve what was good about that relationship rather than focus on all of the horrible things. When we end relationships, sometimes the negative things override all of the positive memories that we have, especially if things end badly through a lot of arguing or more extreme behavior like cheating or accusations,” Kala says.
Be up front and honest about why you want to end things instead of creating a big scene. And be able to explain why things won’t work without blaming your partner.
“I often encourage people to use ‘I’ statements instead of saying, ‘Well you did this,’ or ‘You were terrible.’ Own it and express how you might not feel secure in the relationship. That gives you ownership and empowers you to do what’s best.”
Don’t drag friends or family into it
A breakup is not a team sport. To keep the peace, your mom, cousin, bestie and everyone else needs to stay out of your business. It’s not their job to interrogate your partner. They also don’t need to deliver the news that you want to end things. Don’t be messy by pulling a lot of people into the situation. Just leave things between you and your partner.
But what if your friends/family like to be messy?
Kala suggests setting firm boundaries. It might be hard for your loved ones to stay out of things, especially if they liked your partner. But if they truly want what’s best for you, they need to respect your wishes.
“You can always try saying, ‘I appreciate your sentiments, but I have made a very firm decision for myself. This is what’s best for me. So I would appreciate either supportive words or if you can’t offer those, I’d prefer if you would not say anything about that person at all. So, I expect your support or if you can’t support me, let’s not talk about it,’” Kala suggests.
Don’t break up at a bar — and don’t break up by text
Wondering how to break up with someone by text or if doing it over drinks will make the process easier? Don’t go there. Kala says breaking up sober in private is the best way to go. If you think your partner will go from zero to flipping tables, go to a public place and bring a friend who can help keep things civil.
“Do it in a private place because a lot of feelings might be involved. The other person might be angry, they might cry — it’s an intimate situation except if there’s any concern for physical safety. In that case, do it semi-publicly but still, not in the middle of a restaurant or a bar,” says Kala.
She adds that video chat is also a good solution if you don’t feel comfortable meeting in person. But ghosting or texting your goodbye won’t provide the closure you both need.
Be clear and create strong boundaries
Once you talk, your partner will either accept it or they might not think that it’s over. If your partner has a hard time letting go, be firm. Let them know that calls, texts or random visits are off limits. And if they still refuse to respect your boundaries, don’t be afraid to block their messages and ignore invites to gatherings with mutual friends.
If you’ve made yourself clear and your ex continues ignoring your requests, Kala says don’t be afraid to take legal action, especially if they become very aggressive or threatening.
Do some people just like to break up?
It’s easy for some to pick fights or head for the hills as soon as they sense any weirdness in a relationship. Kala says this might be a trauma response.
“Because of trauma from past relationships, some people are comfortable in that spot of high drama and conflict. This is more of an individual issue where therapy could help them map out why they’re repeating this pattern of behavior,” she says.
Some people just live for the thrill of making up.
“They might be attracted to breaking up, getting back together, the makeup sex or all the drama that can come with everything. For most people, I would say that’s a red flag.”
Are you addicted to drama? Kala suggests figuring out why you keep going down the same road — and finding a healthier way to get what you’re craving. The same can be said if you’re the one who keeps going back to someone who’s broken it off numerous times.
She adds that this could stem from early childhood experiences and what we might have seen parents or guardians do.
“This includes if there was a divorce with a lot of drama and arguing, maybe even domestic violence or an absent parent. These individuals might not have been used to seeing a good model for a committed relationship. Their comfort and expectations are different from someone who’s had a good role model for a committed relationship and they are looking to replicate what they know,” notes Kala.
And if you decide to get back together, get some additional support
So, your breakup is now a make up and you both want to give your relationships another try. Great! So, how are you going to avoid bringing up old squabbles or deal with unresolved trust issues? Kala suggests staring over with support from a professional. In these situations, she’ll work with couples to help them discover how to communicate better and avoid the behaviors that led to the first breakup.
“By getting external support from a therapist, you’re both saying, ‘If we’re going to do this, let’s put the energy into doing it right this time. Then, let’s invest in this relationship by having some guidance and structure for what we want to do differently.’”