If you’ve ever ended a serious relationship, you know how tough it is. You lose a partner, a best friend, extended friends, security, and a life built together. If you live together, you might even lose your home. It’s so tough that some people choose not to do it—to make excuses or to ignore their problems because breaking up is just too hard to imagine. If you ever find yourself in the position of ending a relationship, I sympathize with you. But I also want you to know that you CAN do it.
I’ve done it. I’ve ended a serious relationship with the person I thought I was going to marry, buy a house with, have the average two and a half kids with, and live happy ever after with. It wasn’t for a lack of trying—we just reached the point where it wasn’t working anymore. If I had my way, it wouldn’t have been that way. I didn’t want things to end. We lived together, furnished our apartment together, and split the bills. We shared everything. Some more serious relationships share property, children, and bank accounts. I didn’t go through a divorce, and there were no other human beings involved—just one super bummed out dog—but it still radically changed my life and my routine.
When you’re in a failing relationship, there’s a lot of pressure to stay together, to work it out, to keep fighting. To be the younger, happier couple you were when you met and fell in love. Ending the serious relationship reads like you gave up on it. “Fixing it” is romanticized as the right thing to do, the obvious answer, but it isn’t the magic glue for everyone. The truth is, there will always be a reason to stay together but sometimes it’s better to struggle on your own for a bit than it is to stay in a relationship that will never make you happy.
And then there are the trivial things that keep you from ending the serious relationship: the insanely high cost of breaking your lease, the painful process of dividing up your shared possessions, everybody finding out when you change your Facebook relationship status. These might sound lame and banal, but they are real factors that keep couples thinking, “On second thought, maybe things aren’t so bad between us. We can probably figure this out.” Don’t get me wrong—they’re painful things to deal with. But these are the parts of the breakup that are temporary. There are other places to live and other Keurig machines to buy. People will forget about your breakup and move on to the next story in their newsfeed. The trivial parts seem impossible at the time, but they shouldn’t stop you from listening to your heart and making a decision you believe is right. Plus, you’re allowed to end serious relationships, because you’re an adult.
Ending my serious relationship was such a hard (not to mention expensive) decision to make. But ultimately, the right decision outweighed the easy one, and I’m glad I did it. I’m glad it ended for obvious reasons, like how I moved on and met a new man—a man who is my everything. But I’m glad it ended for less obvious reasons too. I’m not a masochist, but there is something nice about knowing you can live through the worst and come out alive and better for it on the other side.
In talking with friends and family about the breakup, one word kept coming up over and over: brave. “You’re so brave,” they would say. “I really admire your decision.” At the time, I had no earthly idea what they were talking about. Brave? I sure didn’t feel brave for ending a relationship. Instead, I felt sad and embarrassed and exhausted. I wished they wouldn’t praise me, because it felt more like they were patronizing me. It felt like a misplaced accolade. But in time, I grew to understand what they meant.
I didn’t feel fearless or heroic at the time. But the more I think about it, making that big of a decision is brave in itself. Walking away from a sure thing in exchange for the unknown takes a certain amount of guts. Knowing that you’re leaving behind a life you built with somebody, and a future you had planned, isn’t easy.
Ending a relationship is hard, and yes, it’s brave. The bravery doesn’t come from the act itself, but the understanding that it’s the right thing to do. Being brave means having the realization that it isn’t going to work out, and then choosing to face it head-on. Being brave is knowing it’s going to be hard, it’s going to be so hard, but accepting that it’s better than the alternative: a life lived with the wrong person.
Yes, it seemed impossible at the time. It seemed beyond impossible, and not worth the giant mess it would cause. But once the mess was made and tears were shed and the possessions were divided, do you know what happened? I cleaned up the mess and got on with my life. And should you find yourself faced with ending a relationship, you will, too.
I can’t tell you to break up, and I can’t tell you to stay together. The best advice I can give you around ending a relationship is to trust your gut. And, remember that no matter what happens you will be okay. All of the bad stuff is temporary, and will pass. You’re a lot stronger than you think you are, and if you’re put in a position to scramble and figure something out, you WILL succeed.