How Do I End This Relationship?

There’s no way around the fact that ending a long-term relationship, or even many short-term ones, is a task that’s filled with emotion and stress. Even if it’s the right thing to do, it’s often traumatic enough to put off as long as possible.

We’re likely to search high and low for ways to do it without personal confrontation or without hurting the feelings of someone we think should be an ex. There’s quite a distance between what we might have decided we should do and the actual implementation of the severing process.

We tend, then, to put it off until we’re desperate. There are often good or bad reasons for that.

It might be that we’d like to “make it work.” We don’t want to be one of those people who seem emotionally unable to be committed. And we probably did, after all, go into the relationship intending and hoping that this would be that lasting one for which we were looking.

For that reason alone, even if we should end it, it’s going to be hard. Likely to arise are feelings of disappointment, loss, and dashed expectations of what was supposed to be, if not failure.

We might have put off the end because we’re afraid this was our last or only chance to be in a partnership. We might be holding back because it’s happened so many times in our past and we are taking it quite personally. Is there something wrong with me?

Here we are dealing with our own issues around singlehood and self-worth. This means that it’s time to explore and deepen our lives further by finding someone to talk with – therapist or wise friend.

To decide to dig deeper with wise counsel and good listening is to value our lives and our futures even if we think we’re too old for such things, or old enough to know better. Frankly, most of our country could benefit from some good therapy including regular therapeutic tune-ups.

No one’s too old, and no one’s life is not valuable enough to keep the growing and healing progressing. It’s to spend our money, should we choose to do it, on ourselves and our health.

But when we do decide to take on the task of telling someone we are ending it, we can count on feelings to arise, no matter how right the move is.

So, let’s face the facts. If we are in touch with our feelings about ending a relationship:

(1) It will be hard to do, especially, as we should – face to face. It is a loving act to say good-bye face-to-face, not by email or phone.

(2) We will do it with doubt that we are doing the right thing, even if it is the right thing. We can pay attention to these feelings, but we don’t have to think, act, or decide based on them.

(3) We will have to face the fact that it is likely to feel as if it is hurting the other person. It’s not, even if they feel as if it hurts. They are not being hurt; they are feeling hurt.

For the other person, it’s actually giving them a chance to reflect and do the emotional and psychological work they need to do to grow in their life. They can choose to do this or they can choose not to do it. But it is important that that be their business, not ours.

(4) It will not be the end of the relationship with that other person. It will actually be a change in the nature of that relationship. It could become a friendship, an aquaintantship, or something else.

But there is never a need to hide what feelings remain, to wish them gone, or to kick yourself for still having thoughts and feelings. One can have feelings of all sorts for an ex but decide not to act on them.

(5) We might feel we are responsible for their reactions, but we are not. They are. We are also not responsible for their understanding of our reasons either. We are only obligated to set our boundaries clearly.

We are responsible for our lives and for doing what we have concluded – even against inevitable questioning – is in our best interests. Ultimately that will be in their best interest as well.

But there is no way to make ending a relationship a pleasant experience – and no words from friends that tell us that in the long run we’ll realize that this is the best thing we’ve done, will help us while we’re in the midst of it. It’s only later that we’ll find that those words, which were meant to help us then, were really true.

Contributed by

Bob Minor

University of Kansas
Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies
A national resource for information on gender issues and gay/straight relationships for organizations, businesses, educational institutions, and media outlets such as NBC and USA Today, Bob Minor, Ph.D. …

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