How to Leave a Relationship

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Linda: When the time comes for letting go of a relationship, most people don’t do it very well.

It’s rare for both people to conclude simultaneously that the relationship must end. In most cases, one partner wants to leave and the other wants the relationship to continue. No matter what side you may be on, the leaver or the left, the challenge is the same: Sever the tie with as much dignity as possible.

Because the pain of the separation is so great, feelings are running high. Some combination of feelings of failure, rejection, anger, hurt, fear, guilt and shame are flooding the nervous system with such intensity that it’s hard to think straight.

Absorbed in the pain that comes from feeling abandoned, we may conclude that we are a failure and unlovable. The suffering is so primitive and intense that the tendency to strike out may be overpowering. Feeling abandoned can dominate our experience prompting the tendency to lash out at the other or self.

Then the person who feels hurt is likely to want to retaliate. Managing the impulse to get revenge may be difficult.

Vindictiveness is never a good idea.

Character assassination is never a good idea.

Hit-and-run is never a good idea.

Listing the other person’s sins is never a good idea.

Drive-by-shootings are never a good idea.

Yet strong feelings that will inevitably erupt do need an outlet. It is a much more skillful choice to find a confidant, a trusted family member, a close friend, or a counselor to express whatever feelings are plaguing you. But do not indulge in spewing back venom on the person that you have cared for, and in all likelihood still care for. And do your best to be kind and compassionate to yourself in these extremely challenging circumstances.

These guidelines are meant for both the person being left and for the one leaving. The one who has decided to sever the tie may be feeling guilt around disappointing and hurting the one they are leaving. In an attempt to justify their decision, there can be a strong impulse to list their partner’s sins to prove that they are right in their choice. Going over their partner’s flaws, inadequacies, and failures is not a helpful method of getting complete.

Of course, some explanation is required, so there isn’t the pain of leaving without any closure. How can this be done in the kindest way? It is worthwhile to be careful and makes plans to find an explanation for the core reason for the separation. The reason for the separation can be revealed in a responsible way without blame. “We are no longer a good match. The relationship is not working for me.” And a sincere thank you for the part of the relationship that was fulfilling during the time that is was working is salve on the burns.

Separation is such a crucial time. When one partner moves out, if the severance of the tie was done with loving kindness, there can be a change of heart. The dissatisfaction and unhappiness that they were associating with the partnership may look different to them once they are alone. They may discover that there are internal issues that need to be addressed, and that actually their dissatisfaction isn’t as closely related to the relationship as was first assumed. If the breakup was conducted with loving kindness, the chances of this perceptual shift to take place are enhanced and reconciliation may even be possible.

Leaving a partnership with ugly accusations is especially unskillful when young children are involved. The parents of these children are going to be involved during the years co-parenting. They need to establish the most respectful, cooperative alliance that they possibly can at the first possible moment that they can accomplish that.

When severing the tie, making sure that there is a clean cut rather than allowing there to be jagged edges. Going back and forth, in an on-again-off-again relationship is crazy-making. The clean cut allows for a quicker and more efficient healing to take place. Months and years down the line, after some recovery has taken place, and you have gone on with you lives, each member of the former couple can look back at the demanding time around the breakup and feel a sense of pride at how they handled letting go. By choosing self-discipline to not indulge in blame and judgment or issuing a curse, you can take pride in conducting yourself as a mature responsible adult.

Even though most people don’t handle separations well, you don’t have to be among that group. You can be someone who leaves the relationship with loving kindness. Taking responsibility for the part you played in the demise will empower you to make wiser choices in your next relationship. Following your highest standard for leaving with kindness places you in a position to eventually find that lasting love you are longing for. May it be true and may it be soon.

Letting go with loving kindness.
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