Note: while we’ve addressed this article to women, the advice applies equally to men.
You know it’s time for the relationship to end. You’ve closed off from him. You just no longer fancy him, find his presence and his (increasingly) irritating (stupid) habits downright oppressive. (Why did it never really bug you before, the way he’d pick at his toenails while you watched TV?)
So you look for excuses – anything – to be anywhere other than with him, even vaguely near him, to shut him out of your mind and life. Meanwhile, he’s still blissfully living the dream. He believes, knows, you’re the one who’s going to last forever. You’re the big thing in his life that makes him happy. So what do you do?
First off, difficult though it will be, you do need to be strong and to end the relationship. Yes, it will hurt him – there’s no way out of that – but you can’t sacrifice your own life and happiness for him. It’s easy to say, but it’s true: in the long run, breaking up will be better for both of you. Does he want to live out his days with a partner who grows more resentful with each month that passes, who becomes unable not to blame him for all life’s missed opportunities? Of course not. Once you’re sure it’s time to split, all that remains is to pick the day.
There are definite ‘don’ts’ when it comes to breaking up. Don’t simply fall silent, ignore him, spend pretty much all the time out of the house with no real explanation – then roll up one day when you know he won’t be around to clear your stuff out and leave him the ‘Dear John’ note. That goes way beyond cowardice; it’s downright crass.
On the other hand, don’t wait for the big row to happen, that trivial incident which gives you all the excuse you don’t need to explode, storm out, seethe with faked-up hurt and theatrical sentiment, as if it’s all his fault – everything’s suddenly all his fault – and so on. It’s shallow, pathetically immature, and leads to bad feeling all round. He’ll be bewildered. You’ll feel cheap. In your eyes and those of your friends you’ll have acted badly.
Breaking up takes courage, emotional strength and emotional articulacy. And a lot of care.
Decide first how you are going to tell him, what you are going to say, how you are going to explain. Ultimately, you may well feel the true explanation is hardly very obscure or particularly complex. That you don’t fancy him will often cover it. He doesn’t mean as much to you as you do to him. The feeling simply is not there.
But you can’t say that. As a last resort, your reasons for splitting might need to be stated bluntly. If his need to deny what’s happening lasts too long, if he keeps coming back at you trying to claim you as his again, you might need to be very firm in order to leave him in no doubt as to the reality of your feelings. First, though, it’s the kind thing to do to try to soften the blow. Find reasons he’ll be able to think about, which are to do with you and where your life is going, and don’t reflect badly on him. ‘I don’t feel this is right for me.’ ‘I feel my life is heading in a different direction from yours.’ ‘I don’t yet want this close a relationship.’ ‘I feel I need to go off and live on my own, to develop my sense of who I am.’
Clichés? Perhaps. As transparent as the water your life with him is now written on? He may well see straight through them, and yet they help. They at least do something to ease the emotional confusion he’s bound to be suffering. It’s important as well, after giving your reasons, to say you’re sorry. Sorry for the pain he’s feeling. Sorry that you’ve thought about what you’re doing and you’re absolutely sure the break up is necessary. The word ‘sorry’, used this way, has the ring of finality.
He might react in various ways. There might be absolute silence. If so, sit it out. Anything more you say will trigger the row, the tears, those words which will only delay his grasp of what you’ve already said. The silence may well feel horrible, but then that’s the truth of things. The sooner it’s gone through the sooner it’s passed.
Alternatively, he might start accusing you, hurling words (and crockery) at you – yes, it’s that scene – blaming you. ‘How can you do this to me?’ ‘We’re in love!’ ‘Does all that time mean nothing?’ ‘I love you.’ In other words, he’ll say anything other than face that vast, gaping hole in his life which just opened in front of him. Anything other than let you go. (By the way, if it’s the ‘Was it all worth nothing?’ line he takes, your answer is that it has meant a great deal, and you will carry it with you, but now it’s over.)
Once again, stand firm. Don’t kick back. Never say, ‘I love you too.’ You have to let him see that what you’ve said is true and final. Offer what comfort you can, but remember it can be unwise to offer physical comfort, to hold him. That would be to play on his feelings, give him the (false) glimmer of hope that you do love him after all, and it might suck you back in and prevent you doing what you know is right.
However he reacts, look through the words and the behaviour and see what is driving the reaction. Give it a while, then get out and leave him alone – to cry, get drunk, phone a friend, whatever. To get through his first few hours of life without you.
Give him time. If you want to call him and check he’s okay, that can be one way of helping him through it, easing him into the first few ghastly weeks of being freshly single. However, don’t offer any suggestion that this might only be a temporary separation. As they say, sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind. Only call him once.
Remember, your aim is to do what’s right for you in a way that will minimise the pain he’ll inevitably experience. You’ll be called on to share that pain, but don’t feel it’s you that’s inflicting it. There’s no guilt. Nor is he a charity. He was your man.