We’ve all been through situations in which we’ve wished someone handled an ending of a relationship more effectively. Whether it’s an intimate relationship or one with your boss at work, people often don’t know how to end relationships. When done well, endings can help people leave relationships with a sense of well-being, closure, and self-respect.
There are so many ways people can cope with not wanting to be in relationship with someone anymore. For example, when someone doesn’t want to be in a marriage anymore, they may end up having an affair as they don’t want to confront their spouse with the truth. Or at work, an employer may identify good reasons to part ways over time, but ultimately eschew direct communication for an abrupt, unexplained termination. These are common reactions to challenging circumstances that come with high interpersonal costs over the long term. When these situations happen, it may leave both sides with unfinished business, and can result in anger, frustration, and lingering feelings.
What makes it so hard for people to navigate through endings with grace and kindness, acting like their best selves?
When people feel uncomfortable about leaning into difficult emotions, they may try to avoid them and take shortcuts to escape pain. It is very challenging to tolerate feelings like disappointment, sadness, and anger, and can be a daunting risk to make yourself vulnerable and communicate them. Sometimes shame can take over and prevent openness – and this can lead to avoidance and not disclosing emotions. Leaning in and becoming vulnerable by embracing transparency takes tremendous courage.
Here are some questions to consider if you are making the decision around ending a relationship.
Try to approach difficult feelings
How can you be open to experiencing the difficult feelings that come up for you? How can you set intentions around endings to result in greater fulfillment? How can you be with your emotional discomfort and still express what you want to say?
Identify your values
How do you want people to remember you? How will you feel about how you acted a year from now? How would you want to be treated in this situation? What are your values when it comes to authenticity? If you came in contact with this person again, how would you want them to perceive you?
Accept/own your part
Rather than just seeing the other person as the problem, how could you have done things differently in the relationship to create a different outcome? What could you learn from the other person? How could you express curiosity with the other person to understand your part in the dynamic?
Appreciate the long road
How could you create a story you’d want to have about this relationship? When you look back on your life, how do you want to reflect on this? How could you create a positive relationship history for yourself and the other person? In some cases, you may want to think about how your children would feel if you ended it a particular way.
You can reach the same goal of making a wise decision around an ending while preserving your self-respect and honoring your values. This can lead to you being able to create a relationship history that works for you, that ultimately feels like it’s in integrity with who you want to be. By opening up to feelings, being willing to have them, and expressing vulnerabilities, you can move forward in ways that enhance your own sense of yourself.