How to End a Relationship    

Posted by Michael Dale Kimmel in Columns 27 Jan 2019

One thing I’m often asked, as a psychotherapist: “Should I stay in this relationship or should I go?” If the person decides to go, the next question – inevitably is – “How do I end it in the best way possible?” I’d like to break this (big) question down into a four key (smaller) questions that I often discuss with my clients:

How do you calmly and rationally divide up joint assets?

I strongly recommend, when you are dealing with financial assets, that you consult a professional in the financial and/or legal arenas. The emotional piece of dividing up assets is something I can help with. If you consciously address the emotions of the relationship ending – sadness, hurt, anger, numbness, regret, guilt – they’re less likely to “bleed” into legal/financial challenges. Many divorces are expensive, drawn-out legal affairs because they didn’t deal with the emotional stuff, so it all got played out in court. Only the lawyers benefit when you ignore your emotions.

How do you not deep dive into anger, blame and remorse?

This is a big challenge: most of us need to express our thoughts/feelings about something major, like a break-up. It’s very tempting to demonize your soon-to-be-ex. I hear it a lot: “He did this (awful thing)” or “She did that to me, can you believe it?” However, you probably need to vent, especially if you are not the one who wants to end the relationship. If it’s your idea, it’s easier to be gracious and kind. If you were broadsided by her/his decision to leave you, a period of sadness/anger/blame is normal and healthy. But, try to contain it. Don’t spread it all over town: pick someone you trust (like a therapist or trusted friend)- who can keep confidentiality – and tell them everything you’re feeling. Let it all out, but to all others, contain it, to the best of your ability.

Can you still be friends?

Eventually, maybe. Immediately, not usually. I’ve had lots of clients argue this one with me; they want to be great friends with their ex because, often, their ex is one of their closest friends. Ah, if only it worked that way: usually the old romantic relationship has to “die” before a new friendship can be born. Many people have tried to prove me wrong on this – and I wish they had – but, so far, I haven’t known any splitting-up couple who has easily and quickly transitioned to friends. There’s usually too much emotion left floating around from the romantic phase to let a great friendship instantly sprout. Happily, given some time and space, many couples remain friends.

What do you tell people?

After confiding in only your closest BFFs, tell the world “in general” a very brief version of what happened; for example, “We are breaking up and it’s hard for me, so I’d rather not say any more about it right now.” People that know and love you will respect your wishes, but people who want the dirt may probe and prod: don’t give in to them. It’s always fun to hear the dirt about other people, but, when the dirt’s about you, that’s another story. The only way to control public opinion is to tell the public only what you want them to know. Movie stars and politicians do this all the time, learn their technique: control the conversation by only sharing what you want people to know. Sure, people may make up stuff, but it’s none of their business why you dumped her or why he ended it with you. The most civilized splits happen when neither party publicly trash-talks the other…that only leaves conjecture and rumor, and those die much faster than a juicy story based on something your ex did that you told everyone (after you’d had a few too many drinks). A nasty (true) story never dies…it just keeps getting repeated over-and-over. Don’t go there.

Ending a relationship, whether it was your idea or not, is really hard for most of us. Stay classy, be discreet and as civilized as possible, and you’ll have no regrets (and little gossip) to worry about. Be as kind to yourself (and your soon-to-be-ex) as possible and, I promise you: you won’t regret it.