To many people, break-ups are yucky and heart-wrenching to say the least. Once you’ve decided to break up, you’re likely to be feeling many emotions, but in particular the person being broken up with may be filled with feelings of abandonment, anger, resentment, and sadness. Scientists have looked at the brains of people who have gone through a break up and what they’ve discovered is that when shown a picture of their ex, the parts of the brain that light up are the same parts that light up when they are experiencing pain. So to say it is a painful experience is literally true.
On the flipside, it’s becoming more common for romantic relationships to end with honor, respect, generosity and goodwill, where neither person is left shattered or destroyed by the experience.
Recently Kate Bosworth received media attention for breaking up with husband Michael Polish with so much love, that fans didn’t realize she was announcing a break up until carefully re-examining her post.
Gwyneth Paltrow’s separation from Chris Martin was another respectful break-up. Paltrow even coined the term ‘conscious uncoupling.’ It’s about maturely deciding that a relationship is no longer serving one or both people, taking responsibility for your own actions, learning and growing from the process and doing all of this respectfully.
“It’s very different for every couple but, for me, it meant, more than anything, being accountable for my own part in the dissolution of the relationship,” Paltrow explained. “There existed aspects of myself I was trying to heal through this relationship that I wasn’t honest with myself about. I had been blind, guarded, invulnerable, intolerant. I had to admit that and be brave enough to share it.”
Separating respectfully may be something you want to do, but your ex may not.
So how do you ‘uncouple’ respectfully and what do you do if your ex isn’t on board with the whole ‘conscious uncoupling’ concept? Here are some tips.
Say it with love
When breaking up with your partner, remember the reason for your decision and communicate that with love. The way you do that is to let them know how you’re feeling and why you think the relationship can no longer continue. Don’t blame, call names or point fingers but let them know how you feel and why you need to leave the relationship.
You could be breaking up with someone because you’re in the friend zone now. You can say “I have valued our time together but my heart is telling me that something’s not right and I’m not getting what I need from this relationship. I feel a ‘friend love’ towards you, and to me a relationship needs more.”
Of course every situation will be different, but you get the idea. It’s about talking about yourself, your feelings and your needs. Be present to answer questions but you may need to be prepared for an anger-fueled response. Your partner may feel very hurt and may have been caught off-guard. If things get nasty, stay calm and sensible and know that you are not responsible for your partner’s reaction. They may be hurt, but what they say and do is their responsibility.
You do your part
If parting respectfully and ‘with love’ is something you want, and your ex isn’t on board, you can still do your part. Your ex is responsible for their actions and you need to realize that you can’t and shouldn’t control that.
If they want to feel anger towards you, there’s nothing you can do about that. What you can control are your actions. You don’t have to play at that level. You can be respectful, despite what they say. This can be very hard when insults are being hurled your way. You can defend yourself without reciprocating the sentiment.
If you’ve been true to yourself and to them, and you feel you haven’t done anything wrong, you need to remember that their opinion of you is just that, their opinion. It doesn’t make it real or true. They are seeing you through eyes that are tainted by hurt and anger. If their anger is justified, and you have done something to hurt them, you can admit that.
Separating with respect means admitting your mistakes, and letting them know that you wronged them. But only if you feel that you made a mistake. Be careful not to let others make you feel guilty for being true to yourself.
It’s also a good opportunity to learn about yourself, like Paltrow, and if needed, admit to yourself that you need to work on you. The relationship may have revealed aspects of your personality that you may want to invest in and improve. You may have reacted a certain way due to paradigms that you may want to shift, or maybe you didn’t give enough to the relationship and you now realize you could have.
Either way, it’s about growing through the process, admitting to yourself what you could have done differently and even telling your ex if they are open to it and willing to have a mature and respectful conversation.
It’s ok to love them
Resolving that you can no longer be romantically involved with someone despite loving (or caring about) them takes strength, maturity, and self-awareness. But you don’t have to feel like you’re not progressing just because you have flashbacks of your time with them, and the things you really love about them. You can love someone, or parts of them, and still let go because you know the relationship is not serving you.
Uncoupling means uncoupling
So we’ve established that it’s physically painful to break up with someone. It’s almost like you’re mourning what could have been. That dream that you had in your head will never come true, and it’s hard to let go. It’s not just letting go of the person, the dreams and what could have been, but it’s also a change in your routine.
You can no longer wake up and check your phone to see a message from them that brightens your day. You need to stop going to the places you used to go together, because the memories that come flooding back are too painful. There’s a lot of change, lots of feelings and emotions, probably misunderstandings, and aching hearts.
You need to know that time will heal, and that it’s ok to cry and go through all of those feelings. Don’t push them aside but feel them. Because if you push them down, they’ll emerge eventually anyway.
Feeling emotions doesn’t mean going back to your ex just because it makes you feel good in that moment. If your aim is to uncouple respectfully, respect them enough to let it be. Don’t forget to remind yourself of all the reasons you ended it. You may be tempted to make the pain go away by going back to them but it’ll hurt you and them even more in the long-run.
It’s also helpful to analyse your thoughts without emotions. Critically analyse what you’re thinking and come up with alternatives to your thoughts. If you are presuming things that are bringing you down, but in reality, you’re not sure that this is the case, think of alternatives to your thoughts that could disprove the negative thought. You may be thinking the worst and this may be bringing you down.
If you want to remain friends with your ex, it’s something you both have to agree to. Your ex may not want to remain friends, even if you do. But remaining friends while it’s fresh is not a good idea unless you share children. To really get over your feelings, you need to stop all contact. A friendship down the track could be something you both want and that’s great. But being friends straight after a break up may be too hard for one or both of you while you’re in the break-up bubble.
Monitor what the quest for closure is costing you
If your ex is using feelings of anger and hatred to get over you, you need to just let them be. It’s easy to want to fix them and their hurt. But it’s not your responsibility. If you’ve told them your side of the story once, that’s enough. If they don’t want to believe you or see your side of it, that’s their choice.
It’s up to you what you let in and keep out. Keep out what doesn’t serve you and always remember that the effort you put into trying to clear the air and get closure so that you both separate ‘with love’, will cost you. Spending energy trying to reach out to someone who is angry and doesn’t want to talk to you will have a negative affect on your mental health. It will take you away from other important things in your life and bring you down.
You are not responsible for how others feel and what they think of you. Before you make an effort to re-invest into smoothing things over with your ex who doesn’t want to come to the party, ask yourself, are you prepared to pay the cost?
Spend time with people who care about you
Being in the break-up bubble can really mess with your head. You may start to believe that you didn’t do enough, or blame yourself for how your ex is feeling. Your friends can talk sense into you and bring you back to reality. When someone you care about is hurting because of your actions, it’s easy to get pulled in and feel guilty. But you need to be reminded of the reason you made the decision to break up, and trust yourself enough to see it through. Being alone can be hard because your mind tends to wonder to those happy moments with your ex. Keep busy, and keep your friends and family close.
Look after yourself
Even if you may be doing all the right things, and you separated for good reason, separating from someone you loved, or still love can take a toll on your health. There’s never been a better time to look after yourself than while you’re in pain. Self-care is extremely important and the first place to start is by looking at the different aspects of your life that you need to pay more attention to.
The Self-Care Wheel is great for this. Once you figure out which area of your life you need to invest in or balance, take action to make it happen. Self-care Sundays are a great way to invest in yourself when you have a busy life. It’s dedicating a day, or a few hours a week to doing what feeds your soul and makes you feel good.
Wishing you all the best with your break-up girl. It’s not easy, but stay positive and true to yourself. By separating respectfully, you’ll be proud of the maturity you show in a highly emotional situation, you’ll be treating your hurting ex with kindness, and you’re less likely to have regrets later.