Building Bridges

Issue # 43 of 43 

David LeClaire
By: David LeClaire

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

In past issues, we've examined being single, becoming more assertive, finding someone to date, and getting to know the character of this new potential lover. Of course this leads to the ultimate decision - are they a keeper, or not?

What happens when you realize what you've found is not what you really had in mind? Now you have to find a way to end it - which can be even more difficult than finding them in the first place!

Thinking back to grade school, most people "broke up" through someone else. Suzy's friend Marcy would tell Don's friend Joey that Suzy wanted to break up with Don. Why? A fear of having to be straight up, uncomfortable with the possibility she'd hurt him, etc. etc. Then as these youngsters "grow up", they find other ways to communicate this without involving friends.

The first primitive technique is what I call The Weenie Way. This is where Suzy just flat out stops calling Don. She doesn't return his calls or email, and hopes he'll just get the idea and give up on her. Or Bill goes out on a few dates with Nancy, then simply never calls her again. Many adults still use the Weenie Way as a form of avoidance rather than being direct and upfront.

Then there's the old Make them hate me routine. If I am cold enough, don't have time for them anymore, and do things that will make them angry enough, they'll stop calling me and I won't have to be the one to break up!

Of course we can't leave out the Drop subtle hints for what seems like forever version of breaking up. If we don't show a lot of enthusiasm, seem to be slowly losing interest, and just kind of hint around, maybe they'll get a clue. Closely related to this is the Maybe I'm just not ready for a relationship technique, suggesting the reason you're thinking about not being in a relationship is you; your lifestyle, your job, your inability to get too involved - it's not them.

All of these approaches reflect a sorry state of immaturity, but still happen everyday around us anyway.

It is my belief that the more direct you are, the more open and honest from the beginning, the easier it is to break up in a manner that leaves a mutual respect and sometimes a friendship intact. When a failed relationship ends in an explosion of hurt, anger, and resentment, it's usually because one partner either adopts one of the above approaches to breaking up or (worse yet ) totally shocks the other person with a sudden, out-of-the-blue, statement that they want to end it.

If a relationship doesn't seem to be heading the way you want it to be going, it's not that unreasonable to communicate your thoughts and feelings as you see it begin to unravel. But when you act like everything is perfect because you're afraid of hurting them, then you drop the bomb, well, that's when people snap!

There is an art to breaking up, just like there is in meeting people. If you become comfortable with honest, firm, but non-assailing communication, you can begin and end relationships without all the turmoil and grief that some experience.

When's the right time to end it? That, of course, is different for everyone. For example, if you aren't really ready to get too serious and be on a timeline to get married, then maybe you'd date someone you'll know you'd never marry for a little longer. But when you feel the other person is getting more involved and wants much more than you and you sense an imbalance occurring, it's time to start communicating how you see things progressing and your thoughts about your future together.

If the relationship starts off on the wrong foot, and you feel it's too much work for the amount of pleasure, I'd end it sooner than later. Too many people are way too patient, and spend years in a series of high maintenance relationships that should have been terminated early on. The timing issue is never a simple one since there are many variables in each relationship. So instead of trying to pinpoint when you should break up, I'd rather leave you with one thought about HOW you do it.

Don't over-communicate from the beginning about every thought and feeling you have about your new relationship. But do keep a dialogue going on a regular basis about what you want, how you see things are going, and what direction you're heading. If and when your new relationhip falters and it's time to end it, it shouldn't be a surprise to either of you.

There's no need to protect this person from the truth that you want out - they can handle it. They may be hurt or disappointed, but you aren't so awesome that they won't be able to live without you. They'll get over it. You owe it to them, and to you, to not let it drag on forever. Don't take the Weenie Way out - tell them how you feel. In the long run they'll respect you more, won't slash your tires, and hopefully find it in their heart to salvage a friendship out of it.

David LeClaire has spent much of his time teaching at community college and private school, and lead communications training for Fortune 500 companies. Now a popular and active Seattle area sommelier, this graduate of Central Michigan University led seminars for a wide variety of organizations. LeClaire is the author of "Bridges To A Passionate Partnership." He can be reached at

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Text © 1998, David LeClaire. Part of the original Sideroad.
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