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Archive for Monday, March 11, 2013

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Double Take: Breaking up is hard but necessary

March 11, 2013

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On the air

Want to talk more about healthier ways for teens and adults to end relationships? Dr. Wes joins Steve Kraske on Up to Date at 11 a.m. Friday on 89.3 FM or KCUR.org. They’ll be taking listener calls.

Dr. Wes: Last month we discussed rules for romance, the first of which was to consider dating a process of figuring out who you don’t belong with.

This comes up no less than 10 times a week in my office. It’s a rule that’s obviously true yet hard to follow, and if you’re going to put it to good use, breaking up will become a major part of your search for true love.

This week we’ll discuss tips for calling it off. Here are mine:

  • Never dump anyone you don’t really want to break up with. People use breaking up as a threat, punishment or method of controlling partners. That’s just a way of avoiding real relationship problems. Breaking up should be a final ending, after everything else has been tried.
  • It’s called breaking up for a reason. You’re ending the relationship. Instead, one of the most disturbing trends among young couples in the last 10 years is the double helix of friendship and dating. People like the freedom they get from being out of a relationship but don’t like the loneliness and hurt. So they try to have it both ways — all gain, no pain. Instead, think of breaking up as deleting someone from your life: no hanging out, no post-breakup sex, no late night texts, no Facebook stalking. You’re done. Be friendly in the hall at school or at a party, but do not try to be friends.
  • Don’t take “breaks.” A break is an excuse for a dating couple to get busy with other people. Relationships are not fluid. You’re either in or you’re out. If, instead, you’re kind of halfway sort of breaking up a little, then you’re going to experience full-on hurt for you and your partner. Plus, there’s no better way to create jealousy after the relationship resumes than to rack up some random hook-ups in between.
  • Avoid overprocessing the breakup with your ex. The dumped partner always wants to understand why. That’s worth about a 20- or 30-minute conversation. Instead, it goes on for hours and really amounts to a campaign to wear down the dumper and get back together. Moreover, if the dumped pushes hard enough, the dumper will accidentally slip and say something she means. And I guarantee he won’t like it.

Katie: In February, my high school newspaper staff decided to publish interviews with romantic couples at our school. By the time our deadline hit, two of the four we’d interviewed were no longer together, reminding us of one of the central qualities of teenage relationships — they rarely last forever.

They aren’t supposed to. Young love is about learning and experimenting, so breakups are natural steps in early dating. Here are my suggestions for making them as painless and useful as possible:

  • Take your time to decide, but not too much. Stewing over cracks in a relationship for weeks or months can be as harmful as breaking up at the first signs of a splinter. If you’re ready to part ways, do so before too much tension can grow in the widening gap.
  • As Wes notes, the uncensored truth isn’t always what your partner needs to hear. Then again, the “it’s not you, it’s me” cliché is too predictable to be comforting. Be as honest as you can be without squashing too many feelings or throwing around blame.
  • Seek a friend’s advice, but respect your partner’s privacy. Before sharing any secrets, consider whether you’d want your partner (or ex) speaking similarly about you with friends.
  • Breaking up via text or social media is never acceptable. When the big goodbye comes from the impersonal face of a computer or cellphone, it carries the tacit reminder that the sender doesn’t care enough to end the relationship with respect, and a permanent text memory of the event.
  • Even if a relationship ends smoothly, it might not turn into a friendship. That doesn’t mean the breakup went poorly; it’s just another way of moving on. Instead of fixating on what may have gone wrong, turn toward the future with confidence in your ability to make it right in your next relationship.

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