1. Be certain.
Before ending a relationship, especially if it is with a family member or long-term friend, it is important to be certain the healthiest solution is to end the relationship. Have all potential solutions to remedy the problem been attempted? Will ending this relationship cause other relationships to be disturbed? Is there any foreseeable change coming in the future that may make it possible to resume the relationship? All of these questions need to be carefully examined before ending the relationship.
2. Consider an informal ending.
Friends tend to drift away from each other as personal circumstances change. Moving, marriages, divorces, children, job and lifestyle changes can all cause two people to have less contact with each other. Healthy relationships require fuel to continue and without fuel they will simply wither away. For example, if a relationship is fueled by frequent telephone calls and those calls become less frequent, the relationship will naturally fade.
The advantage of an informal ending is that it is easy. There are several important disadvantages to consider. First, the ending lacks clarity. The other person in the relationship may not realize the relationship is ending and may make efforts to save the relationship. Also, if the relationship is unhealthy and prohibiting personal growth, those problems can continue as the relationship slowly fades away. An informal ending can also be unkind. Simply not returning someone’s calls is cold and does not foster a peaceful and healthy separation. Reducing contact in a kind and considerate way may include responding to calls with text or email, initiating contact only on special occasions such as birthdays, or agreeing to contact at a certain time.
3. Prepare before attempting a formal ending.
If a more formal ending seems appropriate, proper preparation can make a big difference. First, identify where and when the ending should occur. A neutral location such as a coffee house or a park is recommended so that neither party feels they are on the other person’s territory. Timing is important because the discussion may take longer than expected. Give yourself more time than you think you need. Also be keenly aware of circumstances. Having the "formal ending" discussion a week before the family holiday dinner or the day after a funeral may not be the best choice of timing.
Prepare by practicing what you want to communicate. Listen to yourself say the words. Imagine how the other person will respond. Think about how you will take responsibility for any mistakes you have made. How do you want the relationship to look in the future? Practice describing that. Are there any conditions under which you would be willing to resume the relationship? Make a list of those conditions. How will you respond to begging, tears, cursing, or indignation? By preparing with a response ahead of time, you can reduce the likelihood of reacting in a way you will later regret.
4. Be gracious.
The purpose of ending an unhealthy relationship is to allow both parties to move forward and live emotionally healthy lives. Being gracious can help that happen in multiple ways. By summarizing the good points of the relationship and the good qualities of the other person, self-esteem is supported and the positive memories are preserved. Taking the time to meet with someone in person shows they are valued. An email or telephone ending should only be considered if safety is a concern or distance requires it.
While it may be necessary to list events that are contributing to the ending, it is not necessary to argue about them. Agree to disagree and move on. Allow the other person to express themselves with minimal interruption. This reduces the likelihood they will contact you in the future to express themselves. It also gives you the opportunity to hear the other side.
Commit to only thinking and saying positive things about the person in the future. It can be tempting to gossip about the other person after the relationship has ended. Gossip keeps you trapped in the old relationship, can get back to the person and cause more problems, and keeps you from focusing on the new relationships you are attempting to build.
5. Work on building new healthy relationships.
One of the best ways to move forward after ending an unhealthy relationship is by developing new relationships with the wisdom you have gained from the relationship that has ended. New relationships do not have to be the same type of relationship to be helpful. For example, if someone ends a relationship with a girlfriend, finding another girlfriend may not be the answer. Instead, consider volunteering as mentor, strengthening your relationship with your distant cousins, or getting to know your shy co-worker.
The ending of an unhealthy relationship can catalyze the development of beautiful and healthy relationships. With preparation and consideration of the other person’s feelings, one can create a situation where both people are able to walk away from an unhealthy relationship and begin healing.