When It's Over: How to Break Up

Luke Friesen | 09.26.16

Breakups are the worst, right? Unless you’re that rare person who marries their first boyfriend/girlfriend, you probably already have been – or will be – part of a breakup. Personally, I’ve been broken up with (ouch), I’ve been the one ending the relationship (doesn’t feel much better), and I’ve been a part of that unicorn of a breakup that felt mutual and healthy. It feels like I’ve covered a lot of the breakup bases, and now I’m glad to be married and never have to worry about breaking up again. But you might have to, so let’s talk about it.

Like we said last Tuesday at the Porch, there are times when it’s clear that a dating relationship needs to end. But we didn’t dig much into the how of ending the relationship – can that even go down in a way that doesn’t hurt so badly? Breakups are usually painful – after all, you’re telling someone that you don’t want to be with them, or can’t see yourself loving them in the future, and that’s a hard thing to say and to hear. But there are some principles from the Bible that you can apply to break up well. You can do this whether you’re the guy or girl in the relationship, since whoever believes the relationship needs to end is the one who should lead out in that conversation.

Be Wise

Never break up alone. I don’t mean that other people need to physically be with you in that conversation (that could be awkward), but you should get plenty of wise counsel from other people as you decide how to end the relationship. Whatever plans you have, they are much more likely to succeed with wise advice. You shouldn’t tell your community group after the fact that you broke up – involve them beforehand. And you should definitely ask God for wisdom and pray a lot before you do anything.

Be Brave

Breaking up takes courage. You’re ending something that you worked hard at. You may be hurting someone that you care about. You’re saying things that are hard to say and hard to hear. You might be single for a long time after this. When you’re afraid, that’s the time to trust God and move forward in faith, since He will direct your paths as you trust Him.

Part of being brave is having the conversation as soon as you know you need to have it. Don’t just put it off until the “right time.” There probably isn’t going to be one. The time I ended a relationship, I avoided the breakup talk for way too long because I was afraid of hurting her feelings, and I didn’t really know what to say. When it came out that I had been thinking about breaking up for a while, that hurt her even more. Be bold. Have the conversation as soon as you can after you know it needs to happen.

Be Considerate

How would you like to be broken up with? The Golden Rule applies to breakups just like it applies to everything else – do it the way you would appreciate having it done to you. Time and place matter. Usually in private is best, in a place where you both can have some space to process. One practical suggestion is don’t drive somewhere together – that would not be a fun ride home.

This also means do it in person. If you’ve been in a relationship with someone, don’t dishonor them by hiding behind a text, social media message, email, phone call, or even worse by ghosting them. Just like you should ask someone out face-to-face, you should do the same when you’re breaking up.

Be Grateful

The other person gave you the gift of their time, and you should thank them for what they invested in the relationship. Even though the relationship is ending, they probably did some things well, and you should affirm them for that and for the positive things you see in them. Don’t just do this to soften the blow; do it because it’s what God would have you do.

Be Honest

Being honest might be one of the hardest things to do in a breakup. You might be tempted to use some tired clichés like these: “I love you, I’m just not in love with you.” “You deserve someone better.” “We’re just better off as friends.” “I need some space.” “It’s for the best.” “God told me we need to break up.” And of course the classic, “It’s not you, it’s me.” Are any of those things really the reason for the breakup? Most of the time they’re smoke screens for something else.

You should speak the truth in a loving way. Don’t use clichés. Don’t over-spiritualize it or just blame God (though if you’re breaking up for a reason specifically found in the Bible, be sure to tell them that). Give them enough information about how you arrived at this decision without being unnecessarily hurtful or crushing them. You should get wise counsel from other Christians on exactly what to share here. Don’t say something that might be true but would not be helpful to the conversation. Even in a breakup, you should look to encourage the other person.

Be Sensitive

Don’t be a jerk when you’re breaking up. The message that things are over is hard enough to hear; you don’t need to add to it by the way you deliver the message. Be gentle. Be kind and compassionate. Be careful. Speak calmly. If emotions rise, deal with them in a mature way. Give the other person the room to respond with anger, sadness, or other tough emotions without getting caught up in those emotions yourself. After all, this conversation was probably more of a surprise to them than it was to you.

Be Clear

If the relationship is over, make sure that you communicate it with crystal clarity. Don’t let being sensitive become people-pleasing, where you tell the other person what you think they want to hear. You’re not just taking a break or giving each other some space. If the relationship is done, don’t create false hope. It may feel good to say that something could change in the future, but if you don’t actually have plans for that, it’s a cruel lie. If something does change in the future, the time to talk about it is then, not now.

Part of being clear in a breakup is being clear after the breakup too, and that means making a clean break in the immediate aftermath. It’s usually helpful to not see or talk to each other for a while. Stand firm in your decision. Lean on your community. Pray a lot. I’ve known some couples who have gotten back together and married after breaking up, but all of them gave each other plenty of healthy space during the time they were broken up.

Moving On

Whether you were the one doing the breaking up, or the one broken up with, you shouldn’t jump right into another relationship to fix the pain of a breakup. Remember that your value and worth is not defined by whether you are dating or single – your identity is in Christ, and God has chosen you as His own. Take some time to heal if that’s what you need. Think about what God taught you through the relationship. Think about the qualities in another person that should matter to you. Evaluate where you need to grow or change, and get some help in those areas. Ask God to direct your steps, whether toward eventually being in another relationship or staying single. Take it a day at a time, focusing on God’s kingdom, and trusting that He will provide what you need when you need it.

Trusting God alongside you,

  • Luke

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