With Love and Gratitude

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35 Ways to Tell If It's Over, and to Tell Your Partner

What to say when it's time to close the door.

When you first met, you thought the two of you had been touched by the same star. Then something happened. Love began to crumble. You made excuses. There was tension when you were together. But you reasoned that it was better than being lonely, because fear of the monster called “Alone” too often leads people to stay in relationships long after a connection has ended, emotionally and physically. 

Even for college students in relatively brief relationships, a break-up can create overwhelming sadness and extreme stress. The University of Georgia Health Center, for example, has an entire page devoted to ending relationships.

The United States Census Bureau reported in 2011 that its latest data (compiled in 2009) indicated that 83 percent of all currently married couples had made it to their fifth anniversary, and that about 55 percent had been married at least 15 years. However, if you look closely at the data, a large share of the couples were in fact separated, although these did not figure into the overall statistics. Also, there was no tally of the "un-divorced"—those no longer wishing to stay married but who, for various (often financial) reasons, remain together.

How can you tell if your relationship is unambiguously over? These 35 questions and thoughts should factor into any decision:

  1. The most important question to ask yourself is: In your heart of hearts, do you believe that he or she is the one and only?
  2. If your answer is, “I’m not sure,” in fact you may be sure (that the person is not), but afraid to be alone. So ask this question instead: “Is this person the one—or just the one for now?
  3. If he or she is maybe just the one for now then consider the following thoughts and decide how to proceed:
  4. Make a promise to yourself that you will wait one week before saying “It’s over” so that you can think about when you began to question the relationship; that is, what pushed you over the edge.
  5. Before saying anything at all, write out the 5 qualities about the other person that helped you to fall in love. Was it kindness, empathy, the ability to listen, generosity of spirit, honesty?
  6. Write out at least 2 experiences that brought the two of you joy. Now ask yourself, “Can we find that place of happiness again?”
  7. Write out the general pros and cons of the relationship.
  8. Reviewing your list using the weighted average: If you've make a list of 10 positive qualities and only one negative, but the negative is something so significant or fundamental to you, it must outweighs the positives.
  9. Review your notes and ask again, “Is it time to say, ‘Good-bye?’”
  10. Now, ask yourself, “If he or she were to be breaking up with me, what are the words that I would want to hear?"
  11. Start to prepare what you might say, from a positive position: “We have shared happy times together.” Then name two or three specifics.
  12. Next, state the reality: “Something is not working between us.”
  13. Express your need: “I need to move on.”
  14. Be willing to listen, calmly, to the other person’s reaction.
  15. Decide in advance not to argue. Do not try to counter angry words. Simply listen and say, “I know this is painful.”
  16. Also acknowledge how difficult is it to say the words, “It is over.” Explain briefly that you have considered your decision carefully.
  17. Be firm: “I am not telling you this so that you can do things differently. I am telling you this because I feel that this is the end of the road for us.”
  18. Decide in advance how to answer the other person if he or she says, “Couldn’t we give it another try?" or, "Could we go to counseling?"
  19. In considering your response to this, realize that "another try" is often dependent upon conditions. First, ask yourself how many times he or she has promised to “make things right” before.
  20. If you think the relationship can be salvaged, you love the other person, and he or she is serious about making that commitment, counseling might be a good idea.
  21. If you can agree to counseling, go into the sessions with an open mind.
  22. If you decide to see a therapist together, avoid turning the sessions into a finger-pointing exercises by airing a laundry list of complaints.
  23. If you seek therapy together, be honest, but kind.
  24. If you have decided in advance that therapy would be out of the question at this point, then in denying that prospect to your partner, repeat that "It's over," maintaining an honest and kind attitude.
  25. If your partner asks if there is someone else—whether the answer is yes or no—consider replying, “This is not about another person, but about us. We are not working.”
  26. Be aware, however, that if there is someone else, then the longer you keep (or have kept) that fact from your partner, the longer it will take for you both to heal.
  27. And if there is someone else, know that infidelity can be either a deal breaker or a wake-up call. Therapists such as Michele Weiner-Davis know the benefits that couples can derive from therapy, even after infidelity, if they've committed to save a relationship.
  28. Know whether your partner is the type who will benefit from you dragging out the good-bye, or from radical surgery—that is, “It’s over. No more discussion.”
  29. Also understand the consequences of a prolonged separation—specifically, that it opens the door for a guilt trip, or manipulation, or for your partner generally entering into “victim” mode: "How can you do this to me?”
  30. Understand the sincere hurt and anger the other person is going through.
  31. At all times, though, remain calm yourself.
  32. Reassure the other person, again, that he or she is someone with whom you have shared a great deal of joy—but that now it is time to move on.
  33. Consider recounting again at least two special moments that you shared together for which you will always be grateful.
  34. If he or she will responds, "Then why can’t we try again?” remain firm.
  35. If you have made up your mind, the answer is simply: “It’s over.” Kiss each other good bye and then cry. Even if ending the relationship is what you wish to do, prepare for an empty feeling inside. Express gratitude for the good times, wish you partner joy, and in time, you will feel the warmth of sunshine again.


Additional Resources

Copyright 2012 Rita Watson/ All Rights Reserved

Rita Watson, MPH, is an Associate Fellow at Yale's Ezra Stiles College and a columnist for The Providence Journal.


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