How to have a healthy relationship break-up (part one)

July 6, 2009

break upOver the next couple of weeks,  I’m going to talk about the subject which seems to be everyone’s favourite – relationships.

Right now, it’s beginning to feel like almost everyone I know is going through some kind of relationship breakdown or crisis. Relationships seem to be falling like dominos – every week there’s another break-up. And the ones who haven’t broken up are going through such major issues that in many cases separating seems to be the inevitable conclusion.

Many of these people have been turning to me for an empathic ear and a bit of advice so I thought I would summarise some of the main points here for reference. I will talk about how to have a healthy relationship break-up,  and  how to break the pattern of  negative relationships and attract  a more positive one into your life.

How to have a healthy relationship break-up

Part One: The leaver

Relationship break-ups are never easy, whether you’re the ‘leaver’ or ‘the ‘left’. Usually it’s the one left who is thought to be the most hurt by a separation, but I’ve known people stay in relationships well past their sell-by date simply because they couldn’t bear the pain of hurting someone they once loved, and are most probably still fond of, despite no longer wanting an intimate relationship with them.

Generally, people end relationships for one of two reasons. Either your partner’s behaviour towards you is no longer acceptable or you have some pressing need which cannot be fulfilled within the context of that relationship. This article (in two parts) describes some examples of relationship break-ups, both healthy and unhealthy, seen from the perspective of the leaver and the left, with advice on how to survive the process with your self-respect intact.

The Leaver

Lynn has been married for some years and has three young children with her partner, Lee. At Lee’s suggestion, they decided to move to a new area to improve their quality of life. Lynn moved first with the children whilst Lee stayed in the old place for a few months to tie up loose ends. Unfortunately, Lee took the opportunity to exploit his temporary ‘freedom’ and behave like a single man, including indulging in a number of flirtations and an ongoing sexual liaison. He confessed to this behaviour on one of his visits to Lynn, but his sole purpose for doing so seemed to be to relieve his guilty conscience, and he quickly became angry and impatient when Lynn did not instantly forgive him and continued to be upset, with an understandable need to discuss what had occurred.

Initially Lynn’s reaction was to try to save the marriage. However Lee’s continuing selfish behaviour and evident lack of respect for her feelings became intolerable to her. Lynn decided to make the most of a week away from the children – who were spending some time with Lee – and took herself off on a pamper/relaxation break (at hubby’s expense, of course). With time alone to consider her situation, she decided that she valued herself far too much to continue to be treated this way  – plus she had already proved to herself that she could cope just fine as a single parent. She decided to break off the relationship and wrote Lee a long letter explaining why for her, the marriage was over. Lynn is proud of the strength she has shown through this harrowing time and relieved to finally have some peace of mind, and even though she is faced with one of the biggest changes of her life so far, she feels very positive about her future. In her own words, “Life is good… and I hope I can offer strength to others in the same situation.”

If, like Lynn, you’ve decided to break up with your partner, here are a few dos and don’ts:

Don’t break up with someone if you don’t mean it. For some people, a relationship break-up is just another part of the elaborate and manipulative game which their relationship has become. If you’re on the receiving end of this kind of game – i.e. someone breaks up with you one week then wants you back the next, only to break up with you again in a fortnight’s time, I would advise you to bring the game to a very swift end by breaking it off yourself. And if you and your partner seem to both thrive on this kind of stress-inducing behaviour, then you may want to examine why you need such high drama and tension within a relationship to keep it interesting.

If you are breaking up with someone because you feel the relationship just isn’t working for you anymore, then be cruel to be kind and make it a clean break. Don’t stay friends – at least, not straightaway – as you will only give the other person hope. And perhaps you should ask yourself – are your motives for staying friends entirely altruistic? After all, even though you no longer want an intimate relationship with this person, there will still probably be aspects of your association you will miss. If you keep the break-up reasonably amicable and you are both decent people, when the dust has finally settled a few months (or possibly years) down the line, there is every chance that you could become good friends. My ex-husband and I were terrible partners and fought like cat and dog, but because we still basically liked each other and dealt with the break up in a mature fashion, fifteen years on we are still great pals.

If you are breaking up with your partner because you feel they have  treated you badly and you want to vent your feelings, do it once (perhaps write it down in a letter, like Lynn did, as that way you can be sure you’ve expressed everything you feel) then move on. Don’t get caught up in revenge and resentment as the only person this hurts ultimately is you.

Don’t play the victim either. The fact that you have broken off the relationship shows strength. Allow yourself time to grieve – even if you’re just mourning the unfulfilled promise which all relationships start out with – but don’t wallow or drive your friends away by continuing to do nothing but weep and wail about your terrible relationship months down the line. Move forward with your head held high, and like Lynn, be proud of yourself for dealing with a negative situation in such a positive and assertive manner, and for respecting yourself enough to give yourself the good life you deserve.

If your former partner was abusive in any way, break off all contact. If you have children, keep contact to the minimum required to deal with any issues relating to the children. Refuse to enter discussions about your former relationship otherwise you are simply prolonging the agony. A clean break and no contact is the only way to send a clear message that for you the relationship is over. If your ex continues to harass you, stalks you, or exhibits any other menacing or violent behaviour in an attempt to goad you into retaliating or worse, to intimidate you into going back, then again, refuse to become involved in any kind of confrontation. When an ex of mine sent me threatening messages telling me to move away from the area ‘or else’, I immediately contacted the police to make sure they had a record of these threats for future reference. It turned out that my ex had a history of this kind of behaviour, so the police paid him a visit. When my ex realised that I was not going to enter this kind of game playing, the threats soon stopped.

Equally, don’t allow yourself to be guilt-tripped into taking someone back when you know in your heart of hearts that the relationship is dead in the water. Seeing someone you once loved sobbing and pleading with you to come back can be very difficult to take, particularly if you are a sensitive and caring person, but if you do return the relationship will continue as it did before,  only this time tinged with resentment on your part due to your partner’s emotional blackmail. Again, no contact is the only answer. Don’t answer the door to them, get caller display and don’t pick up the phone when their number (or for a while, number withheld) comes up,  don’t respond to texts or e-mails  and definitely don’t agree to meet up for a friendly drink – in other words, don’t allow yourself to get engaged in any kind of personal interaction with them. If you refuse to respond, your ex will eventually get the message and give up trying. If they don’t, then this constitutes harassment and you will be justified in taking appropriate measures to stop this. Don’t be swayed by the tears – if they are refusing to respect your wishes then however much they protest, they actually don’t give a damn about you – this kind of behaviour is all about their feelings, not yours. And I’ll talk about this more  in part two – The Left.



  1. Hi Sharon,

    What a delight to have stumbled upon your beautiful site and pristine thoughts! There is much serenity embedded in your words 🙂

    I look forward to breathing in more…

    I resonate with so much here. And, in the interest of “bringing something to the party”, here’s a sister-link:


    Brightest Blessings to you and your readers.

  2. Thank you so much for the kind words and for the link, Erica 🙂

    Your blog is wonderful and I’ve added a link to this and your fabulous site ‘Joyful Work for Sensitive People’ as I feel they will be of great benefit to my readers.

    Warmest wishes


  3. […] you’ve read part one, then you’re probably thinking that an appropriate alternative title for this article would be […]

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