How to Constructively Handle the Ending of a Relationship

How to Break Up When a Relationship Is Over
Image by Athanasia Nomikou

The question often is, "How can I call it quits with my partner in a constructive way?" First, end a relationship because you are following your inner knowing, not because you’re in the midst of an argument, emotional meltdown, or have specific topics that need resolution.

Communicate what is true for you with kindness, and listen to your partner’s reaction. Remember to listen. You might have to repeat your news several times. Lovingly sidestep any “you” communication. 

To that point, at the end of a relationship, it’s difficult enough to mourn the good. Don’t make matters harder by adding accusations and ambivalence to the mix. Targeting the other person, being uncivil, or engaging in endless hours of circular conversation will only create additional hurt, anger, and fear in you. Just stick to calmly and respectfully repeating what you know deep within.

Talk with two or three friends for support and feedback, rather than trying to enlist everyone you meet to “take your side.” 

Moving Forward When a Relationship Ends

It doesn't matter if it's a marriage, business partnership, friendship, or ?. Usually there are plenty of logistics to handle but often one or both of the folks involved aren't in the mood to divide up responsibilities and possessions in an honoring and loving way.

Why? It's because of the emotional pain we experience when endings occur. So before getting down to the nitty-gritty, it's best to do some inner work first.

Constructively Deal with Your Own Emotions

What emotions are involved? It's often a triple shot: there is anger (pent up and unspoken frustrations), sadness (endings, losses, and wounds), and fear (an unknown future). In order to take the high road when a relationship ends, it's important to acknowledge and express these emotions in a constructive manner. Which emotion is most dominant varies from person to person.


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Freedom comes from facing your loss and crying. Tears are nectar. Crying is healing. It’s the body’s natural reaction to hurts and losses.Acknowledge your loss and cry it out. You can be alone, in therapy, or with a friend or partner.

Voice what you miss and what you appreciated most about the person. Talk about and relive the wonderful memories. Speak about all the qualities you loved, what you won’t experience any more, and all the adventures you had together. After each memory or quality, over and over, say “Thank you” and allow yourself to cry when the tears surface.

You also must say the “dreaded” G word -- good-bye -- to fully acknowledge the ending. Saying “good-bye” can be incredibly hard and usually invites more sadness. With the loss of a partner, say good-bye to your dreams of growing old together and accomplishing fun things. It’s painful but necessary in order to heal.

Say, “I'll miss you. I love you. Good-bye. Good-bye.” After you successfully mourn the old, you will be able to say "hello" to your new life and opportunities.

Physically and constructively express any fear that surfaces. If you feel anxious about the future or about dividing up assets, shake and shiver that fear out of your body while reminding yourself, “We'll work this out together.” "Everything will be okay, no matter what." Shivering out the anxiety (aka fear) is important to do before engaging in any discussions so you can remain clear and present.

Anger will also rear its ugly head, reminding of you how unfair this split is or of all the times you've had to stuff your frustrations. Find a constructive way to pound, push, shout, or stomp out the anger energy – hard, fast, and with abandon -- where no one or nothing of value is destroyed. While moving the anger energy, remind yourself that, “It is the way it is. It’s not the way I think it should be.”

Attending to your emotions frees you up to be able to think constructively about the best way to divide up your possessions and assets, and how to reasonably deal with children and/or pets.

Attending to the Logistics

The goal is to find a win-win for every decision. It’s very important to stay open-minded and loving in your discussions regarding the division of what you share. Remember you are trying to minimize the pain, not magnify it. If you can’t keep this in mind, it may mean you need to do some additional work saying “good-bye” and releasing your emotions.

Start by each person involved make a written list of the things that need attention: children, business, pets, housing, financial assets, personal possessions, etc. Who gets the business or if / how you split it up, how are you going to deal with custody of the children or pets, who will move out of the house, how will the financial assets be divided, and how to divide the personal possessions that were acquired during the relationship. Be specific and detailed.

It's helpful to have a friend or trusted advisor look at your list to help you clarify what needs attention. Prioritize what is essential, what is not, and what’s up for grabs. Brainstorm about possible options for each item, especially those that are contentious.

If it seems impossible for the two of you to have constructive discussions, I suggest you contact a mediator, coach, therapist, or mutually agreed-upon friend to help you navigate the process. 

Getting Down to It

Agree on a time for your initial discussion. It should be when you both are not tired, rushed, or under the sway of your emotions. Set a time limit, knowing that some issues will take time and creativity to find the best, most equitable solution.

With lists in hand, you can scan the items and pinpoint what's most easily agreed-upon by all parties involved. Then, one item at a time, discuss each person's position about the specific topic under consideration. Remember your goal is to honor all involved.

Back and forth, speak about what you want, saying why, and equally listening to the other person's position about that item. This is a time when it's essential that you listen well and abide by the Attitude Reconstruction 4 Rules of Communication:

1) "I"s, talk about yourself;
2) Stay specific;
3) Kindness, that is look for positive and workable solutions; and
4) Listen to understand where the other person is coming from. Be sure to listen fifty percent of the time!

If you find areas of disagreement, this is not the time for finger pointing and accusations ("you-ing" -- telling the other person about them, bringing in what’s happened in the past, or what you imagine in the future). Stick to speaking about what's true for you (Rule 1 - your "I"), about the specific topic under consideration. That is, talk and listen about what you deem to be the solution and why. If you are able to easily agree, great. Write it down (because oftentimes one person can forget what they previously agreed to.)

If you can't find an equitable deal, put that topic on hold and go on to the next thing.

For instance, if you are divorcing and there are children involved, look at your options in terms of what will be best for them. If children are old enough (like teenagers), ask for their preference. If it's important that they stay in the family home, then figure out how the adults can make that work. If you find you can't come up with a mutually satisfying solution, please find a neutral, experienced professional to help.

Together establish ground rules for life going forward. Discuss what to do about future issues such as: vacations and holidays, social activities, parenting rules, dating and introducing new partners to the children. Making agreements now about how to proceed with the same game plan will help derail problems and disagreements.

The Rewards

Taking the time to get clear on how you will divide up what you share will save you both lingering and ongoing conflicts. Persevering, little by little, you will find there are workable solutions for all involved that respect each person. This will allow you both to put your attention to adjusting to the next chapter of your lives and creating a new future, full of endless opportunities.

©2019 by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.
All Rights Reserved.

Book by this Author

Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life
by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.

Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.With practical tools, real-life examples, and everyday solutions for thirty-three destructive attitudes, Attitude Reconstruction can help you stop settling for sadness, anger, and fear, and infuse your life with love, peace, and joy.

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About the Author

Jude BijouJude Bijou is a licensed marriage and family therapist (MFT), an educator in Santa Barbara, California and the author of Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life. In 1982, Jude launched a private psychotherapy practice and started working with individuals, couples, and groups. She also began teaching communication courses through Santa Barbara City College Adult Education. Visit her website at AttitudeReconstruction.com/

Video/Interview with Jude Bijou: How to Experience More Joy, Love and Peace

Video/Presentation with Jude Bijou: Dealing with Emotions & Negative Thoughts

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