Negotiating the End

Last night, I helped some friends negotiate their breakup.  It was a relationship that’s been struggling for a long time, for numerous reasons.  While I can’t say I’m happy that they’re splitting up, I think they’ve made the right decision.

In the spirit of that, here are some good guidelines for having a civil breakup:

Know what your needs are.

If you are the one initiating the breakup, give some serious thought to what you need to accomplish in the breakup.  I need the relationship to be over, is probably your first need, but it can include things like, I need you to not yell at me during this conversation, and I need to feel like I’m being heard and respected.  What do you need to feel comfortable and safe?  My friend decided that he needed a neutral third party present to negotiate, both to make sure the discussion remained calm and civil, and to help work around certain behaviors his partner used when upset.

Know what you want.

This is both simple and complicated, and can be as detailed as you need it to be.  This is especially important if you’re living together, because if you have a good idea of what you really want to hang on to, and what you don’t mind if your partner keeps.  Remember that it isn’t just about the stuff – do you want to remain roommates?  Are there groups that you’d rather not run into your ex-partner at?  What about the custody of pets or children?  Come up with a few lists, ranging from best-case-scenario to bare minimum.  This will help you identify what is essential, what is important, and what is simply desirable.

Be willing to compromise.

I can’t stress how important this is.  Remember that stuff can be replaced. What is important is your overall mental and emotional health, and making this transition as smooth as possible for everyone concerned.

Don’t be a doormat.

Those two points aren’t actually contradictory.  Be willing to give things up, but don’t give up everything that’s important to you.  Hurricane Isabel is big on possessions, much more than I am, so I gave her almost everything she asked for, with very few regrets.  When she wanted some of the tools that I had bought myself and used in my healing work, I put my foot down.

Set deadlines and stick to them.

This is mostly relevant in a negotiated long-term breakup, where one or the other of you is being given time to find a new place to live or finish something.  Don’t go with vague deadlines, such as As soon as I find a job, unless it’s absolutely necessary – and if it is, negotiate some ground rules for making sure that the event happens as soon as possible.  A person who is not accepting of your decision to end the relationship can turn an undefined deadline into an indefinite one, and in the meantime, you’re stuck with them.

Additionally, don’t be afraid to explore unconventional alternatives, but make sure that your needs are being met, and you feel comfortable and safe.

Some caveats.

Obviously these guidelines are for people in a relationship where both partners can be expected to behave civilly during the breakup process.  I was fortunate in that my abusive ex decided to replace me, and threw me out after a fight.  If your ex-partner is abusive or prone to violence, your safety is a priority. 75% of women who are killed by partners or ex-partners are murdered while attempting or after leaving a relationship.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help leaving from friends or family, or call a domestic violence shelter for support and advice.  Get out, get out quickly, get out safely.


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~ by Amber on December 19, 2010.

2 Responses to “Negotiating the End”

  1. I think in a way a breakup like that teaches you what’s important to you – suddenly you’re letting things go you thought you couldn’t live without, or holding on to surprising things for dear life.

    And sometimes you let go because you don’t know what else to do.

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