You may think certain words help, but they can do more harm than good.
We put in the effort, gave our time, and invested emotionally in someone. We took a risk that this thing called love would pay off. We hedged that bet and we lost. We realize there is only one option for us.
When you come to a crossroads in your relationship where you realize that no matter what direction you turn results in a dead-end, and you’re left with that lone option, the humane thing to do is end it in a matter that keeps everyone’s dignity intact.
Of course, for most people, a breakup is not our finest moment. It doesn’t matter what side of the table you’re on. Neither feels particularly good.
Having sat on both sides, I feel confident in saying it’s infinitely easier to be the one cutting the cord than the one left holding a piece of rope connected to nothing. It’s a hard reality for the dumpee. The dumper knows this is coming and has a chance to prepare for it. That time spent preparing in a wholehearted manner makes all the difference.
Choosing our words carefully is critical to everyone’s well being. When a relationship has simply run its course and the other person is a generally good person there are words you can avoid saying that seem like they’re niceties but actually do more harm than good.
Don’t offer them a place in the friend zone.
It’s rare that relationships can end and downgrade into the friend zone without residual resentment. Offering to stay friends can work for a short period of time. It allows for weaning yourself off of the relationship. It’s all fun and games, though, until the evitable happens. One of you starts to see someone new. This is crazy-making.
There will be hard feelings. It’s natural. It’s like getting demoted at work, losing your beloved parking spot, and then having to walk by it every day and seeing another car there.
Let’s be honest. Offering to stay friends does nothing for the person being dumped and much for the person doing the dumping. It allows them to feel better about what they're doing by staying longer than is necessary.
If you end up friends after a period of healing has passed, great. At the time of the breakup, feelings are too raw. Don’t offer someone a consolation prize. They’re better off without it.
Don’t shower them with compliments.
Softening the blow of rejections is logical. We want the other person to understand that they have value. It’s still problematic.
Showering your soon-to-be-ex-partner with compliments about how wonderful they are can come off as disingenuous. They’re platitudes. I don’t know anyone who has sat on the opposite side of these words and didn’t wonder to themselves why, if everything that is being said is true, they’re still being kicked to the curb.
Having solid self-worth is our own job to do. A friend of mine spent years doing that good work. She’s an amazing, well-rounded person. Still, when her boyfriend ended it last year and gushed about how great she is, she didn’t feel seen. Quite the opposite.
She felt angry that she had worked so hard on herself, and even though this man acknowledged her value, he didn’t appreciate it. Don’t leave someone in an existential crisis.
Don’t plant a seed for the future
This is a breakup cardinal sin. Sitting with someone you’re letting go of and giving them any kind of hope that someday things might change and you can get back together does little more than hand them the line to a kite they need to let go off and asks them to stand there and hold on.
People need to let go in order to have closure and move on. If that hope is there, their behavior in the next few months will be dictated by that hope. You may be keeping them from going back to dating and finding someone suitable for them because they’re waiting for your return. This isn’t fair.
There is a direct correlation between how much we long for an ex and how content we are with someone new. When longing for the past is present, current and future relationships suffer.
Don’t offer hope. Offer the closure instead. Let them feel a sense of finality. It stings at the moment but helps them in the long run.
Don’t tell them “it’s not you, it’s me.”
Rarely have I know this to hold true. I’ve been on the active side of a breakup a time or two before. It’s never been a “me” problem. I’m not saying this in arrogance. It’s simply that I came to realize that person is not the right person for me. I can’t continue pretending that someone is my person when they’re not. It doesn’t make them a bad person. It just makes them not my person.
If you’re saying this to your partner in an effort to soften the blow, please don't. Not unless you truly mean it and are willing to do the work that you need to do on yourself in order to fix what’s wrong with you that keeps you from being in a healthy relationship with a perfectly great person.
There is nothing more disenfranchising than being dumped when the problem is “not you” only to see your former significant other out somewhere a month later on a date. If you tell someone you’re the problem instead of them, you better be ready to get yourself in a therapist’s office to work through your “you” issues.
We don’t let go of perfectly wonderful people. Wonderful people with whom we have chemistry and compatibility are rare. We invite them to stay and ask for their support while we work through our issues because they’re worth the time and effort to be a good partner to them.
Of course, there are breakups that come as a result of someone’s horrible behavior. They may have cheated or been abusive. I want to be clear that ending a relationship where someone is treating you in a harmful manner is not necessarily the time to focus on kindness and empathy. Your goal should be to do what’s best for your own safety, well-being, and mental stability.
Minus these factors, be a good person. Own what you need to and speak the truth. It liberates everyone and allows for healing. Those wounds will always take time and you can’t change that. What you can hang your hat on was that you handled the breakup in an open and kind manner. Do your part so they can their part: the moving on.