4 Don’ts As You Leave A Relationship

Lyte's LillyWritten by Terri Crosby for In Care of Relationships

When splitting with a partner, it is a challenge to remain loving and respectful of yourself — and know you have the right to feel good  — during the separation process. There are triggers everywhere. There are hurt feelings and sore spots. There may be deep disappointments. There are often resentments and regrets.

There is usually unfinished business.

Not long ago, a friend of mine asked me to accompany him to his former residence (where his ex-wife still lived) to pick up an agreed upon final list of small furniture and belongings.  He was sure that if I was present, she wouldn’t try to engage him. He just didn’t want to get into “those old conversations.”  He was done.

I happily agreed to accompany him, because I care about him, and I knew it would be easy for me to ride along, carry a few items from the garage to his truck, and give him the gift of a graceful exit. It was my pleasure to do that for him, and in fact, in my book I considered it to be a service to both people.

Things went really well on that day. My presence helped him relax. He wasn’t on guard, and he wasn’t put in a position where he might react to her. He focused on loading up his things. He could breathe and pay attention to the job at hand. He didn’t need to explain anything. Because I was there, his Ex wasn’t asking questions or niggling him about anything.  (This helped her, too.) He wasn’t required to apologize and besides he had probably already done plenty of that. And finally, he didn’t need to defend himself.  No discussion needed – they both had the agreed upon list in their hands.

This acronym – R.E.A.D. or D.E.A.R – can help you stay on track. Don’t react, explain, apologize or defend.  Instead, Relax, Exhale, Attend (to yourself), and Do.

In another typical “end of relationship” scene, let’s say the couple has separated, but things are not final yet. One partner is still living at the former joint residence — the stayer. The other partner has moved out  — the leaver.Pink Azaleas 1

The leaver comes back to get some personal belongings.  The stayer notices the array of items all heading for the car and says, “Gee, you’re taking a lot of stuff.”

The stayer might  be uncomfortable or in fear about the future of the relationship.  But even so, the stayer made an observation, and no response is  required from the leaver.

It is OK to let other people experience their emotions.

So the leaver resists the urge to defend or explain, and therefore adds no fuel to the fire.

(Good job, leaver!)

But… the stayer isn’t satisfied with the silence.

The stayer continues. “Why are you taking so many things? I thought we were working on the relationship. Are you moving out for good? Are you trying to tell me something?”  

The leaver can’t handle the discomfort, the accusation, the questioning.  So the leaver speaks  quickly in hopes of stopping the conversation and therefore the discomfort.

“Well, I need some different clothes. I’m just grabbing what I need. Sorry, I’ll be out of your way soon.”

There you go. All in one moment, the leaver reacted (spoke quickly, couldn’t stand the discomfort), explained (I need some clothes), defended (I’m just grabbing what I need), and apologized (sorry, I’ll be out of your way soon.)

This response, while short and to the point, adds fuel to the fire.

floating pink flower trimmed

  • First, take a deep breath. Slow down your response.  Pause.  Stop the presses.  This is not an emergency, even though it may feel like one.
  • I’ve been on both sides of this equation (you, too?) and neither side is a piece of cake.  Go easy on yourself.  Take your time.  Be kind, especially to yourself.
  • Maybe you turn the conversation back to the stayer and say, “Are you feeling afraid?”  Talk a little.  Listen a lot.  But only if you’re up for that.
  • Make another time to talk. “We can talk about this. I’ll call you later today and we can figure out a time.”
  • Don’t make yourself wrong, even slightly. You’re not wrong. You’re doing what you need and want to do. You’re giving yourself room to breathe and time to think, or you’re slowly moving out, moving on, moving forward – whatever.
  • Coming to get your things is nothing to apologize for. So don’t.
  • Just because someone is accusing, attacking, questioning, or probing, a defense from you is not required.  Maybe your clear action just yanked their chain. It’s their chain.  Leave it alone.
  • Try not defending, explaining or justifying yourself during a neutral conversation with your friend, child, or at work.  Make a conscious practice of not defending or explaining yourself and you’ll notice how often we do it.  Get some practice in an easy situation.
  • If your partner is starting a fire, don’t add fuel. Don’t throw another log on and wonder why things get so out of control so fast — that’s the nature of fire.  Don’t engage. If your partner is looking for a fight, don’t help.  One method: find a way to agree in spirit.   Say, “You know, I can see how you could think that way” (or come to that conclusion, or decide that.)  Or simply, “I understand.” Then be silent.   See what happens next.
  • Don’t kick the can down the road. You’ll just have to deal with the can again when you get there. Don’t pretend.  Don’t promise something you never intend to do, just to placate. Don’t say “I’ll call you when I can” if you don’t mean it. Don’t say you will go to therapy, read a book, listen to self-help recording, or work on the relationship unless you mean it.  If you’re done, be honest about that and take matching action.
  • Your unnecessary apology won’t make anything better. Sometimes we try to make the situation better by apologizing – as in “I’ll apologize, feel bad, and pay the fine” for making that “mistake.”   The mentality is if I pay, then I have the right to leave because — hey, I’ve paid!  Don’t keep apologizing in hopes of smoothing the way.
  • Say less.  Keep things true and simple.


For more information about In Care of Relationships, click here.

About Terri Crosby — I live in the Blue Ridge Mountains with Eric, my partner of 14 years, two cats and a dog, and as many flowers and vegetables as I can plant.  I love really good food, good friends, good relationships!

divorce, In Care of Relationships, leaving a relationship, relationship, separating, separation, Terri Crosby

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