NOTE: This article was written 13 years ago when I was the relationship columnist for Phenominalwomen.com. I found it in my files when I was organizing things. While I might write it a bit differently now, may it offer some helpful ideas for a difficult time.
When YOU end a relationship: It’s compassionate to act responsibly (Part 1 of 2)
By Cathryn Bond Doyle.
Generally the focus of my articles is about how to help relationships become closer and happier but for the next two months the topic will be about how to behave and handle yourself when a relationship ends or is ended for you. Whoever makes the decision to leave or even if the decision is mutual, the emotions can still be raw, intense and sometimes overwhelming. A sad and unnecessary component of a relationship ending is when one or both of the people involved act in hateful, wounding ways. The anger is not always mutual. Sometimes one person feels angry, the other one sad. Sometimes one leaves and the other is left wondering, “What happened?”
No matter the circumstances, when a loving relationship ends there are kind and respectful ways to end it AND there are angry, reactive, vindictive and hurtful ways to interact. Some people do NOT care about their impact on others or they don’t care as much about their impact as they do about being “done.” This is very adolescent-like behavior. Often the strategy is to “get out” of a relationship by creating an angry or abrupt ending. When this kind of thing happens, it adds to the stress and grief that already exists. The purpose of this article is to offer some insights and options for moving out of a once loving relationship with everyone’s dignity intact. Part 2, “When a Loving Relationship Ends.” offers ideas and support for people who are left by, or betrayed by and then leave, someone they love.
Imagine how helpful and healing it would be if we could end a once loving relationship without destroying each other with additional barbs and daggers?
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if someone could decide that it was time for the relationship to end WITHOUT having to make anyone bad or wrong?
What if people, who once loved each other, could help each other move through this change?
When people have the courage and the maturity to act in this responsible way, it shortens the healing time, minimizes the additional pain that’s often created by intentionally cruel verbal banter and leaves both parties with a sense of “moving on” as opposed to being “hit and run.”
When someone is the victim of a “hit and run” car accident, they rarely know the person who hit them and they recognize it wasn’t on purpose or personal. Yet when someone ends a relationship with no explanation, spews anger with the intent to hurt another or cuts off any or all contact without explaining, it feels worse than being involved with a “hit and run” because… IT IS PERSONAL!!!
Why do some people “Hit and Run” to end their relationships?
The short answer…because it’s easier, hurts them less because they can stay angry and numb any pain, feels more powerful, requires no courage and creates an escape route that avoids having to take responsibility for cleaning up the mess caused by leaving. It’s just plain mean and hurtful and can indicate a lack of emotional skills. Children will sometimes create an argument just before they have to leave someone they love. Parents of divorce may notice that an argument can break out, just as the kids are leaving to go to the other parent. In anticipation of missing someone they love, kids will get angry about anything/nothing because being angry feels more powerful (in control) and less painful (out of control) than missing someone whom they have no choice but to leave. It’s a survival strategy. It helps them numb the pain. It makes sense. As children, they don’t have the skills to deal with the pain. As adults, we can use more advanced skills and we can find the courage to face the one we leave.
Clearly relationships end for a bevy of reasons.
These comments are not about whether the decision to leave is right or wrong but about HOW the decision is relayed and implemented. Relationships do change as people go through life and grow. Needs for each other can get out of balance or become different. Goals and values can change. Irrevocable conflict can arise. Personal boundaries get crossed, trust does get shattered and promises are broken. Relationships fail for many valid reasons. That’s life. It happens. It’s not always a bad thing, in hindsight. However, it’s not necessary to destroy someone else to justify a decision to leave. There are many ways for people to create a clean break that can help both people, “move on” with their dignity and self-esteem in tact. The key question, “are you willing to make the effort, take the high road and do the right thing or not?” If you’re not willing to own the impact of your decisions or you don’t have the courage to be responsible for your actions, the rest of this article is going to make you angry, defensive or sound like hogwash. So be it. However, if you do care about your impact and are just looking for new options to end a relationship with grace and maturity so you can hold up for head, avoid guilt and honor the past love you shared, here are some ideas for you to consider before taking any action.
If you want to end things and leave:
1. Recognize and process your feelings with someone ELSE. People tend to deal with the understandable anger and grief that comes with any ending in one of two ways. They stay focused on the anger, because feeling the pain is too scary OR, they live in the grief because they’re not comfortable with expressing anger. Both emotions are going to be present. It’s part of our humanness. How we handle these feelings is where we have so many choices…IF we are willing to take action. Deal with the anger and the hurt whenever they come up in healthy ways, so that whenever you express your feelings, it will be with the intention of informing instead of trying to punish.
2. Own your part in the ending of this relationship. As the saying goes, ”There are 3 sides to every relationship story, your side, my side and what actually happened.” Blaming, lying, sarcasm, gossiping to others or spewing previously unshared angers as weapons for departure are just mean things to do. The fact is we all play some role in our relationships changing.
3. Be courageous enough to be honest about this difficult decision and have this conversation in person.
4. Take responsibility for the timing of your announcement. The night before a big event or holiday, on the cell phone or just before company arrives is just plain rude and thoughtless. Create a space of time that will be uninterrupted and convenient for both of you.
5. Have compassion. A Story: Let’s say you found a dog with a broken leg and in the process of trying to help him, the dog bit you. Although he may have hurt you, most animal lovers would not be angry or attack back. You would understand the animal was reacting out of pain and fear. You would not react to this behavior because you would know this was just a reaction to pain or fear- NOT a planned attack on you. If you can apply this understanding to people who are in pain, it will avoid a lot of unnecessary arguing, pain and stress for all. SO…with this said, sit with the one you once loved and give them the chance to react to your decision. This is very hard and extremely healing. If you’ve ever sat with someone or been someone who has been surprised by a loved one’s exit, you know the feelings of pain, betrayal, anger and loss. This is not about arguing. It is giving them the attention and a voice in a decision that is out of their control and that has major impact on them. By giving someone the chance to react and talk about the decision, it honors their feelings and demonstrates that you respect them enough to listen to their feelings.
6. If appropriate, “stick around” to make sure the one you leave is going to be OK. (Please note I am not talking about abusive or criminal situations.) Find out what they need, help them with any legal or logistic issues. How you can help them adjust to the news? When you speak with them, overlook the verbal darts and be civil and as helpful and responsive as possible. Resist the urge to counter-attack. Why? Because, in the long run (and usually the short run) it feels better to do the right thing. You’ll feel better about yourself, you’ll allow yourself to keep the memories of the joy and love you once shared alive, instead of stuffing them somewhere, as if they never happened or creating nightmares for your future memory.
7. Keep your word. If you agree to certain things or promise to do specific tasks, follow through because it’s also the right thing to do. The game-playing, the “I gotcha’s”, the withholding, not returning calls or not responding with information and other passive aggressive moves are just not going to help anyone move through or move on, they just keep you engaged with each other and deepen the wounds already raw.
If you’re the one who is left..
Please recognize you may be in emotional shock and seek support at personal and professional levels. Isolation in these situations creates a playground for negative self-talk and self-punishing behavior. Self-care, self-comfort, compassion and kindness for yourself is very important. Take some time to get yourself “together” before making any life-changing or critical decisions. Resist the urge to react and use trusted friends/family as sounding boards. In Part 2 of this article, we’ll focus on how you can best support yourself through this change in your life.
If the decision to end the relationship is mutual, help each other behave like mature adults. Take care of the issues involved in ending the relationship you will save yourselves a lot of unnecessary anguish, energy and time. No one has to be wrong for the relationship to not be right for someone. Remember the love that you once shared. Allow the pleasant memories to remain intact. Give mutual friends the gift of not having to choose (or lose) either of you.
In summary, there are as many situations out there as there are people. When you have loved someone and that love ends, it can be easier to be angry and harder to be sad. It can feel powerful to blame and very vulnerable to admit being betrayed or betraying another. As you can slow down the feelings, own your part and decide to act responsibly many options for actions will become evident to you. Take the high road. Be the person you want to look back upon and feel proud of. You can do this when you are willing to be courageous and responsible for your impact.
©2002 Cathryn Bond Doyle. All rights reserved.