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Breaking Up is Hard to Do

August 17, 2014 | by Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

Six tips on how to break up like a mensch.

It happens to almost everyone. You're dating someone and you think things are going well. And then it happens. A phone call, a "we need to talk" over coffee, or a text...and it's over. You've been dumped.

Except for those lucky few who discover that the very first person they go out with is "The One," break-ups are an inevitable aspect of dating. A break-up between two people who both realize they're not for each other might bring mixed feelings of relief and disappointment, but often break-ups are much more painful. The person ending things may agonize over the decision to stop dating and may then struggle over how to break the news. The "dumpee" is sad, hurt, and even heart-broken. Both of them may need time to heal from the many emotions that emerge when a relationship ends.

Unfortunately, the way someone is dropped can exacerbate the pain and disappointment. A break-up message that's unintentionally tactless or insensitive can crush the recipient's sense of self worth and intensify feelings of betrayal, insult, and devastation. Some do's and don'ts for ending a courtship like a "mensch" include:

1. Be sensitive. An abrupt, seemingly out of the blue, "I don't want to see you any more" or "No, I don't want to go out again" can make someone you've been dating for a while feel as though they've been run over by a truck and leave them wondering what went wrong. There are ways to let the other person know that you value them and made an effort to build a relationship. "You have some great qualities, but I don't feel like we're going in the same direction", "I wanted this to work out, but it isn't progressing the way I had hoped", or "We've both been trying to move forward, but I feel as though we're spinning our wheels and not getting anywhere."

2. You don't always need to give a reason. You may believe it's only fair to explain your reasons for breaking up, but while this may make you feel better or less guilty, it may make the other person feel worse. Keep quiet about reasons for the break-up that are beyond their control, such as their looks, family background, or that they remind you of someone you dislike. In that case, it's "safer" to say that you want different things in life or aren't making enough of a connection. If you wish, you can point out what those differences are. If you are ending things because of something they said or did, you can tell them so in a respectful way - "You haven't been honest with me about your smoking, and honesty and smoking are both deal-breakers for me."

3. Be clear that you're ending it. Let the other person know that you don't want to continue dating. If you trying too hard to spare the other person's feelings by not clearly saying that you're breaking up (such as, "I think we need a break", or "I need to take some time to think things through"), your date may not realize the courtship is over. Don't promise to stay friends, or see them around. You can add, "I'm sorry this didn't work out,” or "Thank you for the time we dated."

4. Don't leave your date hanging. If you tend to avoid unpleasant situations, it may be tempting to disappear for a while to avoid telling the person you've been dating that you don't want to go out with them again. Sure, after you haven't called, emailed, or answered their calls or texts for two weeks, they'll get the hint, but they'll also feel used and humiliated. If you're mature enough to go on a date, you have to be mature enough to let someone know when you don't want to continue.

5. Break the news in person or by telephone. You might be inclined to break-up in a way that makes you less uncomfortable, like a text or an email. But that makes your dating partner feel even worse about the situation. Yes, it's hard for you to see or hear the other person's reaction, but this is a part of what happens when a relationship doesn't work out.

6. Keep the reasons for the break-up private. The rest of the world doesn't need to know why you broke up. These stories tend to veer from the truth when they're passed along as gossip. Even though the issues that kept you from moving forward may not be relevant to someone else, a person who's a better match for either of you might be discouraged from dating by disparaging statements you made when you were hurting, or from the half-truths that can be the by-product of gossip.

Breaking up can be hard for both of the people involved. If you do it with sensitivity, you show respect to both yourself and the other person and spare both of you more pain than is necessary.

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