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Six tips for a better breakup


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Breakups are always hard, but why make them uglier than they need to be?

Relationship experts are increasingly concerned about the “damaging role” phones and social media are playing in young people’s breakups, as new research launched today shows that 48% of 16-24-year-olds say relationship breakups have had a negative effect on their mental health.

Leading experts representing a range of relationship organisations including Relate and Tavistock Relationships have today launched a guide to better breakups which aims to minimise hurtful and humiliating behaviours online, including ghosting and revenge porn.

The research, commissioned by amongst 1,000 16-24-year-olds, reveals that although 90% of 16-24-year-olds think the best way to end a relationship is face to face, in reality, the temptation to hide behind a screen is too much. As a consequence, 41% have been dumped by text, 33% on social media and 28% have been a victim of ghosting. 

The development of social media over the last 20 years means that young people are also having to deal with an extra layer of issues involving public humiliation and harassment when breaking up with a partner. This can be seen by the concerning results, which showed that:

  • 38% were sent hurtful private messages 
  • 27% were harassed with frequent contact online 
  • 23% had hurtful comments posted or shared about them online 
  • 14% had nude photos/videos shared publicly by ex-partner

Sarah Abell, relationship expert for said, “The way we use our devices is damaging our ability to break up in a healthy way. If you are in the jungle miles away from your partner or if you are wanting to escape an abusive relationship - texting might be a good idea. But in most other instances, it isn't. 

“The golden rule is to treat people like you would want to be treated. Would you like to be dumped on Snapchat? The majority of young people in the survey said they would want to be told face-to-face but sadly their responses show that isn't happening as much as they would like. We need to encourage more young people to be kinder and more courageous and not hide behind their screens.”

The research suggests that young people find breaking up very difficult so it’s no wonder they are looking to avoid awkwardness. In fact, 62% of young people who have been in a relationship have wanted to end a relationship but not felt able to end it. Of particular concern is the fact that nearly half of those who have been in this situation were worried that the person they were breaking up with might hurt themselves. 

Thankfully, have come up with a guide to better breakups:

1. Look for the tell-tale signs that it’s over

Some conflict in a relationship is normal but if you’re arguing more often than not, something may need to change. 

Consider the causes of the conflict – it may be that they’re actually external pressures such as stress from work, studying or pressures from friends and family.

If can’t be yourself with them or don’t trust them to be there for you when you need them it may be time to call it a day.  If you don’t feel safe or if they are abusive, call the police or contact an organisation such as Relate who can connect you with the right support.

Cheating doesn’t always signify the end. Relate counsellor Dee Holmes said, “If your partner has cheated this is often a sign that there are issues in your relationship which need addressing. You may decide you want to end the relationship entirely or if you’re both willing to work at your relationship and have the right support, it’s possible to rebuild trust.”

2. Choose your moment to bring up the subject   

Let them know in advance that you want to talk to avoid it being a shock. Be honest, direct but considerate and kind. Choose a time to talk when you’re both sober, calm and away from distractions and try to avoid blame or loaded language.

You might start the conversation by saying “I’ve noticed we don’t seem to be getting on as well and think we need to work out what to do about it.” or “I am not happy”, or “I am not feeling good about the way we are.” 

Relationship expert for Sarah Abell suggests Think about how you would want to be told if someone broke up with you.” 

3. Let them down gently

Saying “It’s not you, it’s me” risks sounding cliched or insincere but what is behind this commonly used phrase is how you feel. Talking about yourself can avoid sounding critical - so rather than saying “I don’t like you now I’ve got to know you properly” you could say “I’m not feeling enough of a connection between us”.

Couples therapist Kate Thomson from Tavistock Relationships said “Your partner is unlikely to be in the same place emotionally as you. It may take them some time to catch up.  Try to confront difficulties as they occur rather than store them up and finally cause them to explode with frustration or anger. If you can understand and talk about your more vulnerable emotions, it may well make the break-up less stormy.”

4. Talk face to face

There may be situations where you have to end a relationship by text, email, or instant message for example if you haven’t known them for long, they don’t live nearby or you’re escaping an abusive relationship. 

However, texts and messages can often be misunderstood and interpreted wrongly.  Face to face and in private is usually best. 

Sarah Abell said: The golden rule is to treat people like you would want to be treated. Be kind and courageous and don’t hide behind a screen. 

5. Protect yourself from bitterness and online recriminations 

Think very carefully before sharing intimate photos or details with another person and don’t do it if you feel under pressure. Your ex could publish any sexual content online which will be entirely outside of your control. Actions like this are a criminal offence so if you find this has happened, contact the police.

If somebody posts something bitter on social media or humiliates you publicly, avoid retaliating publicly. If you do choose to talk to them about it, take the conversation offline.  

Be aware that posts showing you ‘having fun’ may create more unhappiness for your ex. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have fun but it’s worth being aware of the impact social media posts could have. 

Couple therapist, Kate Thomson from Tavistock Relationships said: Break up in a way that both of you acknowledge the part you had to play in the relationship and how it ended, sharing the loss. That will hopefully eliminate the need for ‘revenge’ acts, the idea that one party was more wronged. If you have been left, the old saying, ‘the best revenge is living well’ may have quite some truth to it – so have fun, rather than sinking to cruel behaviour that you may later feel ashamed of once your life has moved on”.

6. Tread carefully if you want to stay friends 

Giving each other some space and time to heal at first may make it possible to remain friends in the long-run.   Be honest about new relationships and remember to be kind to and about each other. 

Ask yourself, do you need to stay friends? Think about the pros and cons of maintaining contact. It might make you feel less guilty but actually isn’t helpful to them.

Look after yourself - take positive steps like talking to any mutual friends and ask them not to take sides. Accept this is a process that you have to go through and that it will help you to learn about yourself.

Relate counsellor Dee Holmes said “Try to be calm, reasonable and don’t ‘sweat the small stuff’.  If breaking up means splitting belongings, ask yourself if it’s really worth an argument over who keeps a pair of sunglasses.

George Barker from Sexpression:UK adds It is possible to be friends with an ex, but only after both parties are completely over the relationship.”

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