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Despite all of our best efforts, sometimes relationships break up and end. Even when we are rewarding, sometimes gratitude does not grow into renewed commitment. Even when we are motivating, sometimes problems cannot be solved. Even when we do our best to meet the needs of a partner and ourselves, sometimes we still have to go our separate ways.
While it is always difficult when a relationship needs to end, research indicates that some ways of breaking up are better than others. In fact, it is possible to learn how to break up with someone compassionately and effectively. Such an approach helps to minimize pain and confusion for both partners, and sometimes even preserves a friendship.
Research on How to End a Relationship
Baxter and associates conducted exploratory research in the 1980s to identify the strategies people use to end intimate relationships (Baxter, 1982; Wilmot, Carbaugh, & Baxter, 1985). Across several studies, they asked individuals to describe the behaviors and processes that they personally used to end a relationship. The researchers identified 40 strategies from those responses, which were further classified into four distinct breakup factors:
As you might expect by the descriptions of these factors, subsequent research showed that all breakup strategies were not equally effective—or pleasant. Specifically, research by Sprecher and colleagues noted that strategies primarily focused on using a positive tone and open communication were among the most compassionate and effective (Sprecher, Zimmerman, & Abrahams, 2010; Sprecher, Zimmerman, & Fehr, 2014). Across several studies, the team found that participants reported certain strategies to be among the best:
Additional research has also supported the efficacy of such positive and open communication breakup techniques. For example, Collins and Gillath (2012) found that the use of these direct strategies eased the breakup process, reduced negative feelings all around, and even resulted in a higher likelihood that the pair would remain friends after the breakup.
If you have to end a relationship, doing so in a positive and open way appears to be best.
How to Break Up with Someone Effectively
The results of the research above offer some clear strategies for ending a romantic relationship with minimal hurt, pain, and drama. Using them together will give you an even better chance. Therefore, although nothing can completely eliminate some uncomfortable break up moments, following the steps below may help give you a happier ending:
Ending a romantic relationship is never easy. Nevertheless, an open, direct, positive, and compassionate approach can help it go as smoothly as possible. If you are faced with the difficult task of breaking up with a partner, do so face-to-face in an honest conversation. Avoid blaming them, or focusing on negative feelings, by staying calm, logical, and positive. Focus on the positive aspects of your time together. Try to find ways to end the relationship that meet both your needs and the needs of your partner. If you can do that, then you will give yourself (and your ex-partner) the best chance of avoiding bitter emotions, moving forward in a healthy way, and perhaps even staying friends.
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© 2015 by Jeremy S. Nicholson, M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D. All rights reserved.