What to do when it’s time to break up

Breaking up is hard to do. At the same time, staying in a relationship that doesn’t serve either party is also hard to do. Unfortunately, we are willing to do more of the latter that we are of the former, and that’s a disservice to ourselves and each other. Look, it sucks to break up, but it also sucks to be in an unhappy relationship.

A fair amount of my clients (and emails I receive) ask what they should do to exit their unfulfilling relationships. They’ve read other posts and episodes about listening and building better partnerships with their significant other, but the issues aren’t meant to be improved – they’re signs the relationship isn’t meant to continue any longer.

When you get that gut feeling that, “oh man, this is over –we have to break up,” there are a few things you must do in order to keep a level head and move forward. This episode is a double whammy because I’m discussing the signs you know the relationship is over, and what you need to do next to get you through it.

Breaking up is hard to do, but it’s a necessary cut if you’re not fulfilled in your life and love, my friend. Take a listen and let me know what you think in the comments below. [Subscribe Here]

Show Notes:

Before I met my wife, I was in several fairly long term relationships. I like being in love and I like making my partner happy, so I would often agree to things that weren’t in my best interest, but they looked good from the outside. Sometimes, we find ourselves in relationships that task us with “keeping up appearances” so we look happy and healthy in the eyes of our peers – for a myriad of reasons.

My last relationship before Jami was a little over three years long, and was both rewarding and stressful. We had broken up several times in those three years, but continued to fall back into patterns and habits that kept us together. She is a wonderful woman, but we weren’t right for each other in a lot of ways. There are two main questions I get when I tell my story about her: why did you stay together for three years if you ween’t right, and, what happened to make you finally end it for good?

See the signs…

Breaking up is hard to do - The Sharp GentlemanFirst of all, remember that hindsight is 20/20. Everything is crystal clear looking back now, but in the moment, we are all blinded by emotion and influence. I remember getting this feeling in my gut very early on in our relationship, something telling me to run, but I ignored it and pushed forward. Looking back, I should have listened to my gut. I’m sure we can all say that.

At the time of our relationship, I was completing coaching and hypnotherapy school, so my communication and observation skills were improving exponentially. I was noticing our differences. We wanted different things, valued different things, were motivated by different emotions, and our communication was changing each day. It felt like I was taking too much responsibility in the relationship – it felt like she was dependent on me for validation.

Now, this isn’t meant to be slanderous toward her. In each and every relationship, there’s one person that thrives little more by being independent and observing, and one that likes to be involved and validated by attention. There’s nothing wrong in that equation – I was just discovering my own styles and strengths and didn’t want to take on her discovery as well as my own.

We fought more often, and I felt smothered. She needed me to be available more often. I felt like I couldn’t balance my work life, family time, and time with her without one of those falling apart. We had lies at the core of our relationship as well. When those lies came out, we broke up.

A month later, we’re back together. Six months later, we break up. Two weeks after that, we’re back together. This pattern repeated for three years. So the question is, Why did you keep getting back together if it clearly wasn’t working?

Managed Expectations

That’s the reason we ALL do shit we don’t like for an extended amount of time. This applies to relationships, jobs, tasks, diets, friendships, environments, etc. We are unhappy, but our brains have conditioned us to accept it because it’s predictable and we can manage it.

breaking up is hard to do - The Sharp GentlemanThink about that job you had that sucked. Why did you do it for so long? Because even though you hated it (coworkers, boss, work itself, whatever), you could manage it, so you stayed for a little longer. The same goes with terrible relationships – especially those that are abusive. And, just so we’re clear, abusive relationships don’t have to be physical (it is more often emotional), and they can be abusive to men (not always men abusing women). You might even be in an abusive, manipulative relationship now. I’m going to introduce a few things that might help you get clarity and get out, so stay with me here.

My relationship was manipulative for both of us. She would manipulate me to stay and be the guy she wanted, and I would manipulate her by being passive aggressive about it and making her feel stupid and/or small. We were getting more volatile by the day. I kept coming back because we were comfortable enough to handle. She was a face I knew, a person I felt I could handle, a warm bed, intimacy that was familiar, and a group of friends that all knew us. Even when it was a pain in the ass, it was still familiar and I could manage my expectations.

Two events happened that caused me to change:

1 – She had a ladies brunch with her family, and had to drive into an unfamiliar area of Chicago (near the airport). It wasn’t a bad area, just unfamiliar. She wanted me to go and drive because she felt should would get lost. I declined because it’s a ladies brunch and didn’t want to go. After arguing about it, she left, got lost, and called me repeatedly to blame me for her getting lost because I didn’t want to go.  This was the moment I knew it was time to get out.

I began planning my exit strategy immediately.

2 – A couple of months later at work, there was a birthday party for one of the staff, and cupcakes were involved (as they often are in corporate environments). Mingling with everyone as we explored the table of goodies, I learned that one set of cupcakes was “gluten-free,” and without even realizing it, I said,

“Oh, really? My ex eats gluten-free.” Not realizing, I had just referred to my girlfriend as my ex.

Breaking up is hard to do - The Sharp GentlemanIt was in that moment I knew it was time to finally end the relationship and walk away. I went home that night and began the three day process of breaking up. The first night I slept in another room. The second day, I moved nearly all of my things out. The third day, we had a moment of clarity and I left when that window opened.

Whatever it is for you, there are signs you can see that tell you your relationship is over. Sometimes good communication and discovery can help resolve these issues, but sometimes they can’t. And that’s okay – it just means your relationship has expired and it’s time to move on. Here’s a short list of signs:

  • Lack of physical intimacy
  • Lack of togetherness (you aren’t partners)
  • Mistrust / Dishonesty
  • You can’t be yourself
  • You feel manipulated
  • You don’t share the same life goals
  • You don’t share the same values
  • You’ve lost respect
  • Infidelity / Cheating
  • Imbalance of power (freeloader)

Part II – Staying Broken Up

Now, having a history of getting back together after we break up, I knew my challenge was to get out and stay out. I had to stay distracted, and I had to have a support system that would help me hold onto the clarity I needed to stay away.

After the incident with her getting lost, I knew I had to put a plan in place to get out. I called my mother and told her I was moving back home in the near future, but just for a couple of months while I rebuild and get another place of my own. We worked together to create a space for me at the house without telling anyone. I spoke with my coach about my plan and we worked to develop more clarity so I would remain confident in my decision once I declared it aloud.

All the little plans under the radar helped me feel like I was supported and could “get away with it” when the time came. As much as breakups hurt, there can often be a sense of relief and adventure when you’re finally getting out and on with your life. (It doesn’t apply to all breakups, but most of you have been there at least once.) Here’s what I needed to stay strong afterwards:

1 – Clarity [know WHY you’re better off apart]

Look, you didn’t break up for one small reason – you broke up for a lot of things all piled on top of each other. You broke up because you were not fulfilled in the relationship. As much as you may find yourself apologizing for hurting her –especially while you’re in the process of breaking up– make sure you are clear and confident in why you cannot be together.

We all want to look back and remember the good times, but immediately following a breakup, find strength and comfort in remembering the not-so-good times. Remember all the bullshit. Remember the fights, the pettiness, the stupid things said and done that only makes staying together worse for both of you – remember it all. Use that negativity as fuel to keep you head up, and your clarity in full view. You can be calm later – right now, you need to stay angry or focused on why you’re better off apart.

2 – CLEAN BREAK [No, you can’t be friends]

The idea that you can break up with someone you care about and immediately be just friends is bologna 90% of the time. Yes, some relationships can move right to friendship, but most of the time those relationships weren’t that intense or intimate to begin with. Pay attention to the rules, not the exceptions, my friend.

Breaking up and then being her date (just as friends) to her sister’s wedding is a terrible idea. You know it, I know it. Don’t do it. Breaking up and then going to a baseball game together… again, NO. Knock it off. You need a clean break from each other. No friendship, no friends-with-benefits, no contact.

Your saboteur (that voice in your head that tries to talk you out of things you want by telling you how much you suck), wants predictability and routine. He will try to get you back into your dating pattern because it’s manageable and familiar. You need a clean break and you need to fight that voice in your head.

3 – Get your people involved [combine and conquer]

Breaking up with someone you care about can often feel like you’re cutting off a piece of yourself. This is especially true if you’ve been with her a long time. You don’t know what life looks like without her anymore! Well, it’s time to learn. Get your friends and family involved in your breakup. No, don’t have an intervention style breakup where everyone sits around and reads letters they wrote to you about your terrible relationship – although that would certainly work to break up just about any couple.

After your break up, join your friends in their shenanigans to help you stay strong and distracted. Spend some quality time with family and let them share love and support with you. Talk with a coach, a mentor, maybe even a therapist to get some talking time with someone that can help explore perspectives with you.

Recently, a friend of mine left her marriage. She and her husband had grown apart over the years and even after counseling and therapy, it just wasn’t working out. Because they had reached a point where communication wasn’t constructive anymore, she got her friends and family on board, found an apartment for herself, and told him she was out. With the help of her people, she has remained strong and confident in her decision.

Without a support system, your loneliness can become unmanageable. Your brain will tell you that you should get back with her. You’ll think your heart is telling you to get back together, but it’s just the loneliness and fear talking. Your people can help you recover and rebuild yourself. Reach out and ask them for help!

4 – Recognize you cannot change them

This is a big one for many of you. It was a big one for me too. We all want to be happy in our relationships, and we want our partners to be awesome and happy too. After the honeymoon phase wears off, you discover each other’s differences and idiosyncrasies. Often, we instinctively try to change the person to meet our needs. When it doesn’t work, we can often find their faults too much to handle and it creates a divide.

After a breakup, you may hear things like, “I can do better, I can change, we can do this together, we can make it, don’t give up on us,” etc. You may even be the one saying it. Here’s the hard truth: these are false statements meant to pull at your heart-strings. If this person could change, they would have done it already. If you could make it, you wouldn’t be breaking up right now, would you?

You have to make yourself a priority. You have to be selfish and think about yourself when breaking up. Sure, there are certainly exceptions in which one person is being exceptionally selfish and that’s the entire reason for the break up, but again, let’s focus on the majority here. You can’t rescue the other person from the pain of a breakup, while also being the one breaking up with them. You have to see them for who they are, NOT who they could be if only…

Honest Truth

Breaking up is hard to do. I’ve said this several times now, but it’s the truth. There are a few silver linings about it though, and most of you know them. First of all, every man desires freedom. After a breakup, you will have moments where you feel free and single and unburdened. That’s a nice feeling and one you can hold onto as long as you like. The second silver lining is new chemistry.

The single greatest element on earth (to men) is “new woman.” After a breakup, a new love interest can completely change your world in a matter of minutes. You can launch from heartache to head-over-heels in record time with a rebound relationship. There are, of course, risks and rewards with a rebound, but that’s a different episode altogether.

The bottom line is you deserve relationships that fulfill you. You deserve to be happy and honored and valued. You deserve to be in relationships that give you the freedom to honor, value, and appreciate others. If you are in one that feels exhaustive and detrimental to your wellbeing, it’s time to start talking about it. If you can’t remedy and rebuild it together, it’s time to see the signs, setup your exit strategy, and say goodbye for good.

I’ve done this enough to know, and I’ve helped hundreds of couples navigate the uncertainty. If you would like any help, ideas, or insight, don’t hesitate to reach out.

What piece of advice helped you get through your own terrible breakup?
Are there any you think I missed – any wisdom you want to share?
Leave a comment below so we can connect!



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The Author

Blake Hammerton

Blake Hammerton

Blake Hammerton is the founder and coach at The Sharp Gentleman, and helps men earn more respect while gaining confidence in who they are. He is a certified relationship coach and loves writing about men's fashion, style, character-building, relationships, travel, adventure, and more.