Conscious Uncoupling: How to Break-Up Like an Adult
Breakups. They aren’t fun, they aren’t pretty and they bring up all your shit, and because of that, they aren’t talked about a whole lot.
Being that I’m the type of person that wants to make the world a better place I figured why not do it by talking about breaking up and how to do it better. Maybe I’m a masochist or maybe I’m just looking for a place to process my own, very fresh breakup, but whatever the reason may be, I hope that sharing what I’ve learned helps take some of the drama out of breaking up.
During a breakup, especially if we’re the one being broken up with, there is a desire to inflict pain equal to our own. We want to lash out, unleash our fury and destroy all that was good. I’ve done the big, ugly, dramatic breakup thing many times before (I have received and given the emotional scars to prove it) but this time around, when my partner of two years came home one day and said he was done, I wanted to do things differently.
Of course there was a lot of crying at first, definitely some anger and a little bit of pleading but after the raw emotions had passed, I sat back and looked at our relationship. I remembered the good times we’d experienced and the love I still had for him and decided I wanted to leave with grace and respect what we had shared.
So I googled “how to breakup”.
Sidebar: I’m not a psychologist (although I do love reading psychology books) nor am I a relationship expert, so take my advice with a grain of salt.
There is a TON of information out there about how to be IN a relationship but I found very little useful information about how to END a relationship. A few articles on “conscious uncoupling” popped up (I later found out there’s a whole book about it). My interest was peaked so I charged ahead on my quest to be the best breaker-upper I could be and started reading about this intriguing idea.
Here’s what I learned.
It’s all about you and how you want to show up in a breakup. Remember, it ALWAYS takes two to tango. All of the arguments you ever had come right to the surface when things are ending. It can paint a resentful picture. But if you choose to look at your contribution to the conflict, the emotional wound that you may have responded from and you take responsibility for it, then you can begin to heal.
Here’s the key, it DOES NOT matter who is leaving who or what the other person did or didn’t do to you. If you want to breakup like an adult, YOU have to choose to be an adult. And you will have to choose this over and over and over again, regardless of what your soon-to-be-ex partner is doing or saying. It is truly one of the greatest tests of “choosing the high road”.
This doesn’t mean that you allow them to walk all over you, take everything you own, bad mouth you around town etc. (We’ll get to setting up boundaries.) It means you are deciding how you want to handle an emotional situation and committing to choosing actions that you can be proud of.
Your actions are an invitation. They invite you to grow from pain, to make space for something greater and most importantly, to move forward. Your actions will invite your partner to do the same. Though they won’t always accept the invitation, but that’s not your responsibility.
So what does this actually look like?
1. Take a breath.
I’ll repeat that…TAKE. A. BREATH.
Breathe every time you feel your emotions rising. They said something passive aggressive, they didn’t respond to your text, they’re choosing to be a raging 2 year old in a full on tantrum –– pause for a moment and take a few deep breaths. Feel that emotion without reacting. Name it: I’m sad, angry, scared, etc. And take a few more deep breaths. When you do this, the emotion doesn’t take over and you are able to decide with a clearer head how you would like to proceed.
Notice I’m not telling you what the “right” way to proceed is? That’s because you have to decide for yourself what action you would be proud of.
2. Boundaries. Boundaries. Boundaries.
I struggled with this word for a long time until my mentor, Kelleen, changed my language around it. She explained boundaries are fences as opposed to brick walls. Fences have gates that you can choose to open and close, they are not impenetrable fortresses built to keep everyone and everything out. Your fence posts are the lines you draw in the sand so to speak. In the context of a breakup a fence could look like this…
“I need no contact between the two of us until January 30th.”
January 30th is a fence post, a clear marker. We build our fences out of wood, not stone, so you may feel differently about this no contact thing in a few months or you may want to open the gate briefly. I set up this fence with my partner after we’d figured out all the logistics of me moving out of our apartment, and literally the next day I learned some information unrelated to our relationship that would have a significant impact on him if I didn’t tell him. When I called I said “I’m opening my gate for you for a few minutes because I need to share some information with you.” When the conversation was over I said “And now I’m closing my gate again.”
Doesn’t that take the edge off! When I think “fence” I envision this old, farm-style fence surrounding a beautiful pasture of wildflowers that I’m frolicking around in. I get to choose when I invite people in to share in the beauty of my meadow and when I need the space to myself. You can’t really be mad at someone who is frolicking.
This goes the other way too. If your partner builds a fence, honor it. I know I’ve had nights when the smallest thing reminds me of my ex and this desire to call him consumes me, but I refrain because I wouldn’t be honoring the boundary we agreed on and we built those fences as containers for healing.
3. Choose love + kindness (as cheesy as that sounds).
Just because your relationship is ending doesn’t mean the love does. It’s just changing and evolving. Every time I chose to act out of love vs. anger, I felt better in the end. For me this looked like letting my ex know what he meant to me, being incredibly vulnerable in our final conversation and not trash talking him to all of my friends. You have to decide what choosing love + kindness means to you and what that looks like.
Remember to show yourself love + kindness during this time as well. You might forget to take a breath, walk right through your exes fence, be sad, happy and angry all in one hour and do things that you’re less than proud of. It’s ok. Just come back to your intention to be the best breaker upper you can be and take responsibility for your part.
This isn’t a magic formula for a drama-free breakup. Your partner may choose a very different way of dealing with the situation, but this isn’t about them it’s about you and who you want to be. Choosing the high road is never easy, but I must say the view is stunning.