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by Lucy McCarraher & Annabel Shaw


How to end a relationship

Our intimate relationships are said by most of us to be the most important aspect of our lives. For many people, getting the relationship with their partner right is The Real Secret to a happy life. We've talked about how to tell if your relationship will last the distance, but if you have decided that yours can no longer be sustained, the way you choose to finish it can make all the difference between a rancorous and an amicable separation.

If you are the one initiating the break up (three-quarters of divorces are initiated by women), the way you tell your partner will have a big effect on the way they react,behave towards you and deal with the situation.

The Shock Factor
First, it's important to assess realistically whether they will have seen this coming. If you're not happy, it's reasonable to assume your partner is also dissatisfied with the relationship, but will the fact that you want to separate or divorce come as a shock? The more surprised they are, the longer it takes someone to accept the end of a relationship.

Psychological Advantage
If you are the person who wants to leave the relationship, recognise that you are probably in a stronger position psychologically, and in your social circle. You may have discussed your decision with close friends or family and got their support, whilst your partner, as the left person, will feel rejected and wounded - possibly made a fool of. The harder you make your "leave-taking" statement, the worse their wound will be; the worse the wound, the more likely they are to behave in "wounded-animal" ways. This is why you need to think carefully about how to tell them.

When, Where and How to Tell
Break the news during the daytime; morning is best. Choose a time when the two of you will have some uninterrupted time. Turn off the phones and make sure the children are elsewhere and secure. Consider breaking the news in a public place with some privacy -- an uncrowded beach, street or restaurant - if the setting will encourage your partner to respond in a more restrained and rational fashion.  Do it when neither of you have been drinking. Be confident. Walk firmly. Be physically as much at eye-level as possible. Speak calmly. Try to make your statement neutral and non accusative, but decisive. Talk about your own position and feelings, not their shortcomings as a partner. 

Be Prepared
It would be easiest if your partner just accepted your statement and went away to consider the ramifications, returning with a calm, accepting response - but the reality is you should be prepared for a long discussion, or a series of discussions; for attempts to get you to change your mind, for anger (more anger the greater the shock) and accusations. You should expect all sorts of guilt to be laid on you (bad wife or husband, bad father or mother, unfaithful, cruel, selfish, etc.), and for verbal abuse.

Prepare to respond calmly. Do not defend yourself. Know what you will say.

However unfair or hurtful the other person's response may be, try to avoid responding in the same way. Say any kind things you honestly can to bolster their self esteem; their anger is a mask for deep hurt and probably fear. If you have tried empathic listening before, now is a good time to use it (if not, read Step Eight of The Real Secret in advance). Allow your partner to talk and yourself to listen without interrupting. It could help you to summarise the other person's position at regular intervals, but that doesn't mean you should listen to abuse. If it becomes too unpleasant, say you'd like to talk again when you're both calmer; leave or hang up. Remember to take slow, deep breaths during  difficult conversations to help you relax.

If you fear a physical response, have somewhere that you can stay, temporarily, organised in advance. You may have to just leave, and perhaps not let your partner know where you are until they have come to terms with your separation.

What To Expect
You can expect a rejected partner to make promises to change. This is a fear response which, even if made with good intention, they may not be able to carry out. Do not expect alcoholism or drug abuse to change, despite promises. Evidence shows that once you say you are going to leave, your partner's problems with alcohol or drug abuse will become even worse. Sometimes they become temporarily better, but without therapy or other interventions  they usually become worse fairly soon.     

If you have children, reassure your partner that they are still their parents and this will always be important to you. Talk right away about telling the children together, calmly. This is important for the children.

Don't Debate

It's highly unlikely that you will come to an agreement about the history of your relationship, but it's important to acknowledge that both of you have contributed to the present situation. Repeat your belief that you don't believe it can be repaired and separation or divorce is the only alternative you can see. Refuse to debate who is to blame for the past; insist only on talking about how to move into a future that is better for both of you, and, if children are involved, your whole family.

The Real Secret has instructions for Negotiating, Empathic Listening, Breathing, and other tools for managing anxiety and stress through difficult times such as relationship breakup. It will also support you with rebuilding a new life after a separation. The Real Secret is available in paperback or kindle on and

Posted by Lucy

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