Whether your relationship is with a spouse, family member, friend, partner, or colleague, it’s completely possible to end relationships with dignity and grace. Key practices in being mindful, intentional, contemplative, and present help you to develop important perspectives, take ownership of your decisions and emerge with peace and closure.
People I care about are going through a divorce. Watching their relationship unravel reminds me of what I went through when my own 18-year marriage ended a few years ago. Whether it’s personal or professional, experiencing the loss of a relationship and rebuilding can be one of the biggest challenges of our lives. Regardless of the circumstances of a split, when relationships end it’s painful because we’re confronted with big fears like failure, abandonment, disillusionment, disappointment, and/or betrayal. These are tough emotions to weather, but it is possible to get through the storm with dignity and grace.
In 2017, as I worked through the breakup and divorce process, there was a lot of sadness and grief. There were also small victories. Using a combination of practices and deep personal commitment to choosing a better way, I was able to navigate through from a place of “conscious completion” and emerge with a relationship that allows my ex-husband and I to co-exist and co-parent from a place of mutual respect, generosity, and goodwill. It was not easy. But it was worth it.
Since then, I’ve had a number of friends, family, and clients ask for guidance and support through relationship changes and challenges. Here are a few ways you can end things from a place of inner strength and high regard for everyone—including some suggestions on how to language a breakup to keep things out of a negative spiral.
Remember, everyone is in a pain in divorce. You, your partner, children if you have them, family on both sides, friends. People act out in all kinds of ways when they’re in pain. The key is to be willing to see beyond the pain and the behavior that goes along with it. It is possible simply by choosing to do so, to see the inherent goodness in the other person even if they have disappointed you or let you down. If you only see their mistakes, you can’t be free of your pain. Seeing another through the lens of unconditional positive regard sets you, and them, free.
Stay in Your Lane.
It’s also helpful to have the mindset that both parties are responsible when a relationship ends. Whether the other party acknowledges, verbalizes, and owns their part in the demise of the relationship is irrelevant. Whether you blame the other party for that same demise is also irrelevant. Your only job is to take full responsibility for your learning and recognize the truth: relationships are a co-creation, each is responsible for their 100 percent. Through the relationships we create in our lives, we are all constantly learning something about ourselves. Sometimes those lessons are painful, but in the longer term, we are always making progress.
Tell kind stories about the relationship and its ending. Ruminating about and replaying all the ways he/she hurt you places you in a disempowered, negative state and reemphasizes all that pain in your own body. It also establishes a dynamic with family and friends where others feel they need to “take sides” in order to love you and show support for you. This is a huge way we hurt ourselves and others in a breakup. Consider choosing differently. Tell family and friends that while you appreciate and need their support, you’d like to complete without any bashing of the other party or dishing about why you broke up. Just because most people create ugliness and get gossipy when relationships fall apart doesn’t mean you have to buy into that—it’s entirely optional. The “why” can be as simple as “it became clear it was time to end” and then choosing to focus on what you want to create going forward with a simple statement like “I’ve learned a lot about me and about relationship through this” and “my hope now is to end well move forward”.
A helpful practice in all relationships, even during divorce, is to stay present and give yourself and everyone a fresh start every day. When we clutter today’s interaction with yesterday’s junk, we don’t allow other people (or ourselves) to be different and finally step free from harmful habits and personality limitations. Let yourself and everyone be brand new each day. You’ll be a more effective communicator and more open to listening, learning, and healing when you do.
Be willing to give up rigid rules for the greater good. For instance, even when there’s an agreement in place with child sharing, things come up, schedules change or maybe life would simply be made easier for the other person with a small offering of flexibility on your part. When we can be flexible with one another during stressful times a lot of goodwill gets created, and that is a win for everyone.
End with Dignity.
How you choose to complete any relationship is entirely up to you. But you can’t end with dignity if you don’t speak with dignity. Below are a few points my clients have found helpful when completing relationships and informing others about a break up (for simplicity I used “we” below, but you can easily use “I” if the other party chooses not to participate):
- Lots of people do divorce in lots of ways.
- Most people choose to blame and talk badly about each other.
- We are just not interested in perpetuating that kind of negativity.
- We get to decide how we do this. We’re choosing a better way; one that respects the time we spent together and allows all parties to experience dignity, compassion, and kindness.
- The truth is, our relationship is not ending as much as it is changing form (perhaps from spouses to co-parents, etc).
- Our goal is to put as much intention into this new form of our relationship.
- Regardless of all that transpired over time, we know we are human beings, doing our best, making mistakes, and involved in a learning process.
- No matter what happened, we learned. So, what happened? Learning happened. That’s it.
- We both have lots of feelings about our marriage ending, including sadness, anger, grief (or whatever is true for you and your partner).
- We need time to process the loss and are focused on healing now.
- Our hope is to treat one another with the highest regard as we work through this.
- Thank you for respecting and supporting our process.
One final note because I do get this question and have worked with clients in this situation: if the relationship ended because of infidelity, breaking up with kindness and grace is still possible and available to you. Completing relationships with dignity is about how you want to show up in the world, regardless of what happened or how others choose to show up. Feel free to reach out directly if you’d like special coaching support through a personal or professional relationship challenge.