Ending a Long Term Relationship
Top Ten Etiquette Tips

When we first fell in love, we were not thinking about how to end the relationship, but the truth is, sometimes ending a long-term relationship is necessary. If the relationship is no longer healthy or happy, or if you feel you have just moved on, it may be necessary to break up, and you may be wondering how to end a relationship that may have meant the world to you before.

The truth is that you can end a relationship with grace and kindness. You can even do this if your partner has done things you find unacceptable. Ending a relationship by taking the high road is one of the best things you can do for yourself and for your future. There is nothing to be gained by hurting each other any more than is already happening due to the process of separation.

Congratulations to you if you are the kind of person who wants to end a relationship with as much dignity, humanity and kindness as possible. Let’s face it, there is already enough pain going on if you are thinking about ending a long-term relationship. You can at least make it better, or at least not make it worse, by following these Top Ten Break-Up Etiquette Tips.

Ending A Long Term Relationship - Etiquette Tip # 1 – Break Up in Person, Face–to-Face

Nobody likes breaking up. Nobody likes being broken up with. It is difficult for either person. The more sensitive the person, the harder the process. But no matter how hard it is, you need to have the courage to break-up in person, face to face. Choose your time and your place as best you can. Make it a safe or private place, not in the middle of his or her sister’s wedding! Don’t do it on Christmas Eve. If you have reason to be concerned about violence, bring a friend and make it a public place, but not some place where the other person feels unsafe or exposed, such as a work place. Do not break-up on voice mail, text message or e-mail. That is unkind and unfair.

Ending A Long Term Relationship - Etiquette Tip # 2 – Take the High Road

Even if your partner is behaving badly, remember it is because he or she is hurting and doesn’t feel  they are going to get their needs met. The cause of most bad behavior and upset is when a person feels scared that they will not get some basic perceived need met. This may cause them to act badly, to be mean or hurtful.

Understanding what is driving this bad behavior can help you to not reciprocate with equally mean behavior. You do not need to sink to a low level even if your partner has already done so. Taking the high road, which means being honest, kind and considerate, pays off in terms of your own self-esteem. It frees you if you act your best instead of your worst, which can create guilt. Guilt ties you to the other person. Acting in good conscience, even if you are the only one behaving well, frees you to go on with your life with a clear mind.

Ending A Long Term Relationship - Etiquette Tip # 3 – Be Generous

If you were living together and have shared possessions or property, be generous. Don’t be petty with stuff, it’s just stuff, it is replaceable. Better to get through this part of the process as quickly as possible, by agreeing on the larger, high priority items sooner rather than later. Don’t get attached to stuff,  and turn this into a war over smaller items. Focus on your priority, which is getting out and moving on, and don’t let objects stand in the way of your freedom and sanity.

Ending A Long Term Relationship - Etiquette Tip # 4 – Agree on How to Let Friends and Family Know

Both of you should discuss your feelings about letting important people know about the break-up. Come to an agreement on the timing of when to tell others. If possible, be together when you tell important friends and family. If that isn’t possible, at least agree on what the “official story” will be for why you are breaking up.

Decide and agree together on what the “elevator explanation” will be.

Keep it simple and non-blaming , starting with a “we” sentence such as “We just felt we needed to move in different directions,” or “We just felt we weren’t making each other happy any more.” These non-judgmental statements keep gossip to a minimum, and also help reduce embarrassment for the person who is being left.

Ending A Long Term Relationship –Etiquette Tip # 5 – No Blame Zone

No matter how angry, and even justified you feel, blaming your partner is a waste of time and energy. Blame is a game that nobody wins. It keeps you both stuck in your current reality. The truth is that it doesn’t matter who is right or wrong.

What matters is how to move forward. Blame sets you back and keeps you locked in the past. Forgiving, allowing the other person their version of reality, will set you free. It may feel like a “cheap thrill” to blame the other person, but it only perpetuates the “story.” The story is the dynamic that you were living .

Talking about it keeps you a prisoner of the past. Resist the temptation to play the blame game, and you will be free to live your own life and create a better new reality soon enough!

Ending A Long Term Relationship –Etiquette Tip # 6 – Discuss and Respect the New Communication Terms

Even though you are breaking up you want to come to an agreement about how you are going to interact in the future, whether it is through unplanned or deliberate contact. If you have lives that are entwined, this becomes even more important to discuss, and agree on terms of communication (or lack of) before it becomes an issue. Respect your partner’s desire for no-contact, minimal contact, or agreed upon forms of contact.

For example, you might agree to a cooling off period – thirty days with no face or voice contact. You might decide that major issues can be handled through e-mail or texting, but limit them to something like three a week. There is no one-size-fits-all formula for what kind of contact or non-contact is the right amount for you and your partner. Chances are, less is more, if you don’t have children or mutual business, as part of the partnership. If you have children, or a business together, you are going to need to work out how contact can be handled with respect and efficiency.

Ending A Long Term Relationship –Etiquette Tip # 7 – Don’t Air Your Dirty Laundry

Just as in how to end a relationship etiquette Tip # 5, we suggested you avoid blaming each other to each other.

It is also extremely important that you don’t bad-mouth your partner to other people. Friends, family, co-workers and neighbors do not need to hear a laundry list of horrors. If you need to purge your story, find a therapist, chaplain, or one trusted friend who will allow you to spill, without him repeating what you have said. Being broken up with is painful enough, without hearing stories when you least expect it from others. Make a promise to keep your personal life – well -- personal.

Ending A Long Term Relationship –Etiquette Tip # 8 – Put Your Mask on First

On the airplane, in the event of loss of cabin pressure, they advise you to put your mask on first, because if you are not breathing, you can’t be of help to anyone else. So, while you should be as kind as you can be without hurting yourself, you do need to make sure you protect yourself physically, emotionally and spiritually. This means paying attention to your boundaries. How much contact with your wounded ex can you handle? You may have your own pain around ending the relationship, and you need to take care of yourself before you can extend yourself to your ex. This is often a balancing act, because he or she may be pulling on you for comfort, and you have to manage your own ability to disconnect without being unnecessarily rough on him or her.

Ending A Long Term Relationship –Etiquette Tip # 9 – Don’t Isolate

While you don’t want to spread the dirty laundry all over the world, you also don’t want to become a hermit. You are in a process of separation, which is more than just physically leaving. There are layers of leaving. Perhaps you have left physically, but there are stages of disconnecting, and you need to respect this multi-layered process you are in, as well as what your ex is experiencing. As best you can, surround yourself with friends and loved ones who care about you. But try not to jump into another intimate relationship too soon.

You need to separate on all levels before your heart is really ready to connect to a new partner.

Ending A Long Term Relationship –Etiquette Tip # 10 – Take Time to Heal

Some people already have their new relationship lined up before they are even out of their current relationship. If this is your situation, so be it. But if possible, try not to jump into a new relationship before you have had a chance to heal from your current relationship. Jumping too quickly into a new partnership means that you are likely to repeat old patterns, and you may soon find that you are in the same relationship that you were in before, just with a new face.

There is no absolute formula for how long you should wait before starting a new relationship. Some people who are ending a long term relationship need a year or more, others don’t need this much time. But if you are jumping into a new intense partnership in less than 90 days, you probably haven’t done the healing you needed to do. It is important to look at your pattern and history with break-ups. If you are someone who doesn’t take time between important relationships, then this might be something you promise yourself that you will do this time. If you are someone who stays out of the game for years after a big break-up, you might want to push yourself to get back in the game sooner. The right time for a new relationship is when you have healed from the last one!

For advice on improving your self esteem go to this great article on improving your self esteem at Rise With Me.com.

Break-Up Etiquette…new game…new rules

This is just the beginning of our ideas on how to have humane, decent break-ups that lead to life-long friendships. Ending a long term relationship is challenging! You will need to form your own rules. This is just a place to start. When in doubt about what to do or how to behave, ask yourself: “Is this the most loving choice I can make?”

Remember, the Golden Rule applies to break-ups too!


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