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Relationships

You’ve Decided to Break Up With Your Partner. Now What?

Jan. 4, 2018

Advice from Dr. Ruth Westheimer

If you’ve decided to leave your current relationship, your next step is to figure out exactly how you’re going to proceed. If you don’t live together, then accomplishing the breakup can be easier; however, if you share space, an acrimonious parting is a recipe for extra pain. If you’re leaving because your partner is verbally or physically abusive or has cheated, in other words you have irrefutable reasons and leaving will leave you little remorse, you don’t have to make it all that complicated. You do have to prepare carefully. You want to be the one who is doing the blindsiding and not the other way around. If your financial affairs are in any way intertwined or if you’ve signed any documents together such as a lease, then consult with an attorney. Why? You may be able to get this soon-to-be-ex-partner to agree to certain things if you’re still on good terms, but after you’ve said goodbye, if your partner feels that you’ve been unfair and wants to take revenge, then you’ll be more vulnerable. An attorney can guide you through this minefield and help you to come out with the least amount of damage.

After you part, is there anything you’re still legally or financially responsible for? An important question can be timing. If you leave without any sort of agreement, you could be giving up rights. Sometimes it’s better to stick it out for a little while longer to save yourself a lot of grief in later battles. Splitting up is very painful — not just for you but also for your partner. People react differently when under that type of stress, so I suggest you prepare for the worst-case scenario while hoping for the best. You should stop and consider: How is my partner likely to react when getting this news? When you tell your partner you’re leaving, you may also have the desire to get some things off your chest. If you’re the one who’s making the first move, you’re speaking volumes by taking that step. You also don’t have to justify yourself. Will venting your feelings make you feel better? Perhaps, but it may also lead to one last fight that will make you feel worse. Take satisfaction in being the decision-maker and don’t stretch the process out any longer than necessary.

From a psychological point, the most important mental tool you have is your resolve. Appearing to waver when you make your big announcement will change the entire tenor of the conversation. Your partner will sense a “stay or go” opening to try to win you back, which will make closure difficult. And closure is important because you don’t want to be deluged with texts, e-mails, and voice mails from your partner asking you to let him or her back into your life. Maybe you can’t stop those plaintive missives from being sent, but at least you have to try. Do everything you can to make the point that the relationship is over. To do so successfully, you have to believe it 100% and you have to convince your partner of your belief. If you leave any wiggle room, you’ll regret it. The time for wiggle room is before you say goodbye. Give this important person in your life every opportunity to make the relationship work. You owe that to both of you. But you also can’t allow the process to continue forever. So, after you’ve made your decision, stick to it.

Now I’m going to contradict myself a bit, but humans are complex, so one size doesn’t fit all. More than likely you’ve been annoyed by labor strikes of one sort or another. You say to yourself, they’re going to settle it eventually so why do they have to bother the rest of us by striking? The answer is that brinksmanship is a part of human nature. At times, everyone needs to be pushed to the edge to make a compromise. When a couple separates, the partner who wouldn’t compromise might take a second look at the situation and make a counteroffer. Then you must decide whether you want to enter a new phase of negotiations, which means answering some questions. The first of these questions: Is this an honest offer?

When an offer is made under duress (and saying that you’re going to leave is a form of duress), then your partner might be crossing his or her fingers behind his or her back. The offer might not be a serious one, at least not in the long run. Because you’ve been lovers and know this person well, you can make that judgment call. If your now ex is someone you can’t trust, then you keep on walking. But if you feel this compromise is one that he or she will live up to, then you have a decision to make.

Another vital question: Do you really want back into this relationship? Maybe making this decision to leave lifted a great weight off your shoulders. Maybe you can’t wait to go off on your own. You might feel badly rejecting the offer being made in response to your revelation, but, in the end, you know it’s the correct decision. In that case, you just have to stick to your guns. If you want to put an end to the discussion, and assuming you have your exit strategy planned, ask for some time to think about it, even if you know you’re not going to change your mind. Stop and consider if you are 100% sure you want to leave. On the other hand, if you were secretly hoping that saying you were leaving was going to get your partner to beg you to stay, then fine, latch onto the offer. If later your initial decision to leave was the correct one, then you can still carry out that plan. At least after giving the relationship a second chance, you’ll have more confidence in leaving the next time, if you do.

Excerpted from Stay or Go: Dr. Ruth’s Rules for Real Relationships with permission of Amazon Publishing. Text copyright ©2018 by Dr. Ruth K. Westheimer and Pierre A. Lehu. All rights reserved.