What do you do when you know you’re in a relationship that needs to end but you don’t know how to end it?
I’ll admit—not being able to answer this question has kept me in dead-end relationships long after I knew they should end. Breaking up can be really difficult and most definitely awkward.
We’ve become famous for “ghosting” people. Let’s be honest—it’s just more convenient to ignore a person instead of simply telling someone you’re no longer interested in them. I used to be that guy.
I hated breaking up with girls. I still feel bad telling someone I don’t want to go on a second date. I believe in God, and I try to do the right thing, but I once even stayed in a relationship for six extra months. Instead of being real, I slowly waiting for the other person to break up with me.
I just didn’t know how to do it—we had a history together. We had a future planned. I knew in my gut I needed to do it, but ending things was the scariest thing God had asked me to do. Before I could make the choice, she ended it first. Why did it take me so long to realize that things would be better for everyone if I could just man up?
I learned you can’t stay with someone because you’re too afraid to end the relationship—no matter what history you have with them.
After that, I started talking with mentors, friends and praying to find better ways to end relationships without being a total jerk. If you’re dating and ready to end it, here’s how to break up gracefully.
Step 1: Do it quickly.
Step 2: Be intentional.
Step 3: Be humble.
Step 4: Actually let go.
If you find yourself in an abusive relationship where ending it might put you in danger then ignore these steps. Confide in someone you trust, get support and leave however you can safely.
DO IT QUICKLY
The quicker you can break up with someone the better. Lebron James became infamous for leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers the first time because of the way he did it. He hosted an hour-long show called “The Decision” on ESPN before finally breaking the hearts of his hometown fans in the final minute of the show. The next time he chose to leave a team he learned from his previous mistake and wrote a simple letter instead of hosting a TV show about it.
Nobody wants a long drawn out break up, so if you’re going to do it then it’s best to say what you feel right away. A lot of times we wait until the perfect moment in someone’s life to say what needs to be said. We don’t want to deliver bad news when someone is having a great day because you’ll ruin it, but we also don’t want to say it during a bad day either. There will be no perfect day or time to do it. Pick a day and time and stick to it. The quicker you do—the better you will feel, and the quicker you can both move on.
If you’re thinking about ending a relationship then make sure you say what you really mean. Stuff like, “I just need some time to myself right now,” or “I think we should go on a break,” leaves the door open for a possible return. Be real about why you want the relationship to end. Don’t plant false hope that prompts them to come back in a few months asking if you’re ready to try again. It’s scary to be honest, but it’s way more honoring. Clarity is better for both of you.
The day my ex told me she wanted to break up and move out, her car wasn’t working. I knew she didn’t want to stay with me and I didn’t want someone in my life because they felt forced to be there and the last thing I wanted to do was help someone I was so angry with. While I was debating about what to do, I remembered this verse in the Bible that gave me clarity.
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18.
I felt God challenging me to put this part of the Bible into practice—so I chose to humble myself and allow her to leave in my car. Fortunately, her car was able to get fixed within a few days allowing us to exchange cars and move on. Responding humbly could be as simple as returning the comfy hoodie you borrowed or as hard as giving up the dog you own together. Choosing to fight after a break up seems normal, but if you want to end things gracefully then choose to be humble instead.
The worst is if they cry or seem devastated—but you have to let go. If you’re dumping someone, your ability to help them has ended. Whatever you believe about God, he’s the only one who can save people. Ask him to give you the right words and then trust him to take care of them after you’re gone.
The sooner you end a relationship you don’t believe you’re meant to be in, the sooner something better can begin. Since my ex ended our relationship I have been in a few more relationships and I used these steps to end things in a graceful way. I realized that my “wait for the other person to dump you” approach was dishonest and not respectful to whoever I was dating. In an attempt to change my behavior in relationships I looked to the Bible and found a great example.
In Genesis 21:8-21, there is a love triangle between three Bible characters that would put the Twilight series to shame. Abraham and Sarah are married but together they chose to let Abraham have a child with Sarah’s servant, Hagar, because Sarah was barren. Hagar conceived a son then God miraculously helped Sarah have a son by Abraham too. Years later Hagar and her son are caught mocking Sarah’s son. In anger, Sarah tells Abraham to get rid of them. Naturally, Abraham is torn on what to do, so he prays to God and God tells him to listen to his wife. The next day Abraham rises early in the morning to tell Hagar their son and her need to leave. However, then Abraham sends them off by strapping a bag filled with food and water to her back. Abraham’s example in this story showed me how to break up with someone gracefully. Abraham did it quickly first thing in the morning, he was intentional by telling Hagar she had to leave, he was humble sending her off with food and water, and then he let her go.
Who would’ve guessed that a 2,000-year-old book could have relationship drama and a great picture of how to break up with someone gracefully?
If you know you don’t want your relationship to continue moving forward, then be ready to call it quits. Honor the other person, humble yourself, and make the crazy cycle of dating a little less difficult for all of us.
Process, journal or discuss the themes of this article - here's a few questions to get the ball rolling...
What strikes you most about Cam’s article? Why?
Dating is hard. What if everyone tried to honor each other more in the process? How would that make everyone’s lives easier?
Which one of these tips do you wish an ex had done better with you? Which of have you broken the most? Why do they matter?
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(This stuff helps us figure out how many fruitcakes to make come December)
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