"It's not you, it's me." "I hope we can still be friends". Have you ever used these lines while breaking up with someone? If you were the dumpee did it make you feel better or worse? I'm guessing worse.
Recently I was interviewed me for a Chicago Tribune story called How To End A Relationship by Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz. The interview got me thinking a bit more about common break-up moves when the timing or compatibility just isn't right. The really rude ones are obvious - disappearing with no explanation, e-mail, text message and Facebook ditching, being mean or passive-aggressive until your partner breaks up with you etc.
But sometimes you think you're being humane and you're not. Some break-up lines are dressed in compassionate clothing and leave the dumpee feeling worse or clinging to false hopes. You use them because you really don't want to hurt someone else's feelings - but also to help you feel less guilty when you feel responsible for someone's else's pain. Sometimes you use them to leave a door open.
No matter what you say when you're not ready to commit and your partner wants to continue, he or she will be hurt. No getting around that. The challenge is how to get your message across humanely without sugar-coating the truth, using platitudes or stringing them along.
When To Be Specific
Opening with "It's not you, it's me" is just going put your partner on the defensive from the start. Skip the line and get right to explaining specifically and succinctly what it is about YOU that makes this relationship a mismatch. Instead of just saying "You deserve better", name what it is you aren't ready or wanting to give that your partner needs. For example: "I thought I was ready to be with one person exclusively when we got together but I'm not. I haven't lied or cheated and I don't want to, so I need to make a clean break or I'm afraid I'll really mess things up. I'm sorry I've led you to believe I could be more committed. I can't". (If you have cheated on your partner, whether to confess it or not when you have already decided to break up is a tough call with lots of ramifications so will be the subject of a future post.)
When Not To Be Specific
Sometimes people use the "It's not you, it's me" line because the truth makes them feel shallow and embarrassed. You can't stand that she bites her nails. You found out her "C" cup is really a padded "A". He has love handles you didn't notice until he got naked. He has a collection of action figures. It's still kindest to out yourself - but in this case without being specific about the "flaw", since if you were ready for a well-rounded relationship it wouldn't be a fatal flaw and will unnecessarily hurt your partner's feelings to name it. For example: "I'm finding myself nitpicking and putting you under a microscope, which is making me more and more distant. That's not fair to you and tells me I'm just not ready for a serious relationship."
If you think you are such a catch that you are leaving so you can find someone who is as perfect as you believe you are, go ahead and say something like "I'm a total perfectionist and someday that may come back to bite me but I want to keep looking."
The point is, all of these revised lines will give the person being dumped a chance to see why he or she is better off without you too - which does wonders for helping them move on.
Don't Try to Hedge Your Bets
"I think we need some space for awhile" really means you want to break up but would also like to hedge your bets in case you realize you made a mistake or want him or her back later. Drop the "we" and call it a break-up. Even if you have been best friends, do not become the support person to help your ex through the pain. It will not help and will stall your partner's recovery. If down the road you realize you've changed or grown in some way that is more compatible with your partner, the risk that he or she will be long gone is the price you pay for doing the right thing. And it's worth it.
If you've been ditched by someone who wasn't ready to commit when you were, what did your partner say or do that helped or hurt?
Copyright © 2010, Linda R. Young, Ph.D. All rights reserved.