2 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Break Up

You can't avoid grief, but you can avoid regret.

Posted Feb 27, 2019

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Break-ups are difficult whether they be a long-standing marriage or 6-months of exclusive dating. Even if they seem sudden, the endings usually come from weeks or months or years of accumulating red flags, unsolved problems, and efforts to right the ship. And making the decision doesn’t end the uncoupling process, there are still the dangers of regrets and lingering doubts, as well as worries about whether you’ve handled the whole process well.

Here is a couple of questions to help you successfully reach the closure you need:

1. Am I clear about why we are breaking up?

It sounds simple, but it’s easy to stuck here on several levels: One is about you and not being absolutely clear in your own mind. You are fed up but it’s a ball of anger or frustration, and it’s hard to mentally pin down the “it” that you’re really fed up about. Or your pulling of the plug is an escape from the sheer exhaustion or anxiety you’ve being feeling but again the why gets lost. Or your reasons are clear but many – forgotten birthdays, angry outbursts, critical remarks – a laundry list of hurts too long to delineate.

But even if you are clear about the why, you choke on being clear with your partner – because you don’t want to emotionally crush him, you don’t want to have to deal with her expected off-the-chart meltdown or anger. And so, you get vague, you water it down, you offer some explanation that kinda makes the point but really doesn’t.

Why this question and answer is important: 

You want to be able to pin down for yourself the moral of the story of the relationship. What is it that most bothered me, that pushed my buttons? What did I need most that I wasn’t getting? This is not about birthday gifts or the anger or criticism but how they each made you feel, how it trampled on your vision of how you wanted and expected to be treated in an intimate relationship. You want to be able to discern your top-of-the-list needs and expectations so you can bring this knowledge forward into your next relationship.

This is important for the other guy because he or she can benefit from this knowledge as well. You talk about your emotions, your reactions not to rub the other guy’s nose into his mistakes, but to leave him with a clear understanding of how relationship fell apart, the nuances of what was not working. You don’t want to have him, or you, walk out with too simple explanation that prevents both of you from learning how you both contributed to what didn’t work.

Doing it: 

Figure this out and make a clear statement. Avoid loading on facts about birthdays or arguments in the kitchen or that comment at a party. This is getting into the weeds; the other person will get defensive and miss the point. Instead start with a simple statement: I want to break up because I feel___________; because I need this_________ and I feel I am not getting it.

2. Did I try hard enough?

This one is about you. Thoughts that maybe you didn’t try hard enough are likely to arise not only as you uncouple, but even at times long after you’ve moved on. When these occur, it is about your past rearing its head based on your emotional state in the present – if you having a difficult time a year or two from now, you will naturally start to look back at roads not taken, possible mistakes, regrets.

But here we are talking about asking this question at the front end. Shift through your own values, define your bottom lines, your own criteria for feeling that you’ve done the best you could – that you brought up the problem and were clear many times about what you want; that you were patient and supportive of small changes your partner made; that you gave couple therapy a good shot.

Why this is important:

You ask this question and honestly answer it so that you can leave with minimal regrets, so you are not haunted too quickly and easily by what-ifs. While questions and regrets will be a moving target in the future, you can be clear now, you can define your own standards of best efforts. Define and act.

The grief and emotional pain of break-ups can’t be avoided, but by being clear in your reasons, confident that you did he best you could do, you can walk away solid in your decision, walk away learning important life lessons.

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