How to end a romantic relationship

by Kalen Darling

All romantic relationships end sometime: maybe it lasts till death do you part, maybe it doesn’t last until Spring Break.

“It’s normal for romantic relationships to end. We should know how to do it in a way that is respectful to the other person. What seems easy may hurt other people,” said Alan Mikkelson, an Associate Professor of Communication Studies at Whitworth. “People need to know how to end relationships properly because they can sometimes lead the other person on.”

Learning how to end a relationship may be just as important as learning how to be together.

Just avoiding your relationship partner leaves both people without closure. If you want to continue to be friends after breaking up, avoidance is the most ineffective way to end a relationship. Both people involved lose a sense of their personal identity when a break-up takes this route.

Problems particularly occur when the person being dumped is caught by surprise and is not aware that the relationship is ending.

“She just left me hanging and when I tried to confront her about it, she would avoid the question, not answer my phone calls. I found out from someone else that she had already started dating,” said senior David Dennis.

Mikkelson said such approaches can be hurtful.

“Avoiding someone in an effort to break-up with them is the most hurtful and the easiest way to end a relationship. When people avoid their relationship partner in a break-up, they are being immature and creating an awful situation,” Mikkelson said.

Here are some approaches to ending a relationship:

The Direct Dump: Mikkelson said direct communication is the most common strategy used to end a relationship. All you have to do is simply tell your partner that the relationship is over. This approach is an open and honest, but the other partner is left with little chance to respond.

Justification: Explain to your partner why the relationship is coming to an end and why you are dissatisfied. You can also list changes that have occurred in the relationship or the partner. Using justification is a better idea than the direct dump because some rationale is given and may save face for both partners.

Positive Tone:
Try to make the other person feel better about the breakup, but be sincere and not condescending. “If I stayed in this relationship it wouldn’t be fair to you. You deserve someone who loves you the way you deserve to be loved.” Apologies and compliments to the other partner can make the breakup seem less harsh. Although ending a relationship using a positive approach can be thoughtful, you may be leading the other person on with hope that the relationship somehow might rebound. Emphasize that the break up is permanent.

Mikkelson will teach an advanced course in interpersonal communication this spring. He uses the book, “Close Encounters: Communication in Relationships” by Laura K. Guerrero, Peter A. Anderson, and Walid A. Afifi.

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