There may be 50 ways to leave your lover, but some are better than others. Learn the dos and don'ts of ending a romantic relationship.
By Denise Mann
It's not you, it's me ... or is it?
Just about all of us have heard -- or even said -- this line as a way of ending a romantic relationship. The problem is that it often leaves the dumpee thinking the exact opposite.
But is there really a way to make a clean and honest break? Is it ever OK to lie when ending a romantic relationship? Can you IM him or her that it's over, or do you have to do it in person? Is it really possible to be friends with your ex after a breakup?
All Relationships Are Not Created Equal
"The nature of how to handle a breakup has to do with how you experience a relationship," says New York City-based psychoanalyst and psychotherapist Janice Lieberman, PhD, who specializes in relationship issues.
For starters, she says, not every relationship deserves a dramatic breakup. There are no hard and fast rules about what constitutes a relationship. "There are people who think they have a relationship with two dates and people who don't think they are in a relationship after 20 dates," she says. "If you have gone on one or two or three dates, not calling is breaking up, but after some kind of romantic and sexual encounters, it is a courtesy to call," Lieberman tells WebMD.
"Sometimes it's easier not to call, and there are people who will just run away," she admits.
The explosion of Internet dating has also muddied the waters in terms of when an actual breakup is necessary, she says.
"People have Internet relations for a long time and then elevate to phone calls. Sometimes it takes a long time for a face-to-face encounter. This can be problematic, because people get very involved with each other and then when they finally meet, there are so many other cues that indicate they're not suited for one another," she says.
The warning signs that a breakup is imminent have also changed thanks to Internet dating, Lieberman says.
"People will go out with someone they met on Jdate.com or match.com, and then you can see if they are surfing the Net and looking for someone else," she says. This is far less subtle than, say, acting cold on a date or not calling when you said you would.
Don't Break Up Over Email
The tabloids widely reported that pop star Britney Spears broke up with her now-ex-husband Kevin Federline via a text message. But text messages, emails, or other high-tech message delivery systems are not the best medium for ending a romantic relationship.
Social networking sites, including MySpace and Facebook, allow users to post comments on one another's pages, but they should never be used to end a romantic relationship. Nor should web sites like Breakup Butler, which delivers several types of prerecorded breakup messages ranging from let-them-down-easy to downright mean.
"If it's a casual encounter, a text message is OK. But to my mind, it's better to call and speak or go out to dinner," Lieberman says.
"The news of a breakup should never be broken over text or email," says Alison Arnold, PhD, a therapist in Phoenix who is also known as 'Doc Ali,' the life coach on the VH1 series Scott Baio Is 45 ... and Single. "Texting a breakup is the coward's way out," she says.
Stick to the Relationship Facts
"Face-to-face or phone contact is a must," Arnold says. "It's important to give the person with whom you are ending the relationship the chance to ask questions and feel the sentiment underneath the words."
Be as direct and honest as you can, she advises. "Don't engage in tit-for-tat arguments. Stick to the facts: 'It's not working, it's no one's fault, we need to make a change.'"
Can You Be Friends With Your Ex?
Whether or not two people can remain friends after a breakup depends on the two people and their feelings about the end of the relationship.
"If someone is very much in love -- and [then] broken up with-- and forever trying to get back with that person, then having a platonic relationship does not work," Lieberman says. "If you are still in love with the person and want them back, the best thing to do is go cold turkey."
While many a jilted lover claims to seek closure by going back just one more time after a breakup, such closure is a "fantasy or a hope," Lieberman says.
"If in your heart of hearts you really want to get back together, the best thing to do if the other person is not into it is to get out of it," she says.
Arnold agrees. "Do take at least eight weeks with no contact. No phone. No 'let's get together for coffee.' No nothing," she says. "You need time to detox and get in touch with yourself again."
Talking every day as "friends" is also a no-no. "That just keeps the wounds and hope open and working," Arnold says. "Don't keep calling to 'check in,' hear how his or her day was, or if the dog ate his dinner. Cut the cord in all ways."
Another no-no? Breakup sex, she says.
Prescription for Healing After the Relationship Ends
"Do learn from each relationship," Arnold says. "Write down five things you appreciated about this relationship that you would like to have in the next one, and five things you would not like to create next time."
Instead of stalking your ex or making up excuses to call or see him or her, "keep yourself busy with new activities, old friends, and healthy distractions," Arnold says.
"Don't get right into a new relationship, she advises. "Don't medicate your sadness with a new person. It isn't fair to either of you."