Being broken up with is painful, but initiating the breakup isn’t exactly a party either. Not only is there the pain of ending a relationship, but the anticipation of telling someone it’s over can be brutal. If you’re on the verge of doing so yourself and in need of ways to reduce anxiety before breaking up with someone, that’s totally understandable. After all, ending a relationship with someone can be really hard, since there are so many complex feelings involved, as Anita Chlipala, licensed marriage, and family therapist and author of First Comes Us: The Busy Couple’s Guide to Lasting Love, tells Elite Daily. "People don’t want to hurt their partner’s feelings. I’ve worked with people before who have stayed in a relationship that they knew wasn’t working for them because they couldn’t handle the thought of hurting their partner," she explains. "They also may think, ‘I’m never going to find anyone else’ and ‘I’m going to be alone forever.’ These kinds of catastrophic and fatalistic thoughts can keep anxiety alive."
Despite the difficulty of actually breaking up with someone, if the relationship has come to end, the only way to move on is to push through it. "One of the great rules of human existence is that we often get very comfortable in our lives to the point where the idea of change causes us great anxiety," Dr. Gary Brown, a prominent couples therapist in Los Angeles, tells Elite Daily. "If the breakup turns out to be the best decision in the end, then it will be worth it to go through a normal amount of anticipatory anxiety up to and at the time of the breakup."
Just because you know it’s the right thing to do, that doesn’t necessarily make it easy. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to help reduce your feelings of anxiety and dread when calling it quits with a partner for good.
Be clear about your reasons for the breakup.
One major cause of anxiety is indecision, or being unclear about your feelings or motivations. Fortunately, Dr. Brown says this source of dread can be mitigated by taking the opportunity to be clear with yourself about why you’re making this decision. His advice is to write down all the reasons why you’re choosing to end the relationship so you can see them spelled out in black and white.
Chlipala concurs, adding that a list is helpful after the breakup as well, since it can serve to reassure you should you question your decision in the future. “Reread it as often as possible,” she advises. “This list is a reminder of why you’re doing the right thing, even if your emotions immediately following the breakup tell you otherwise. People can be swayed by emotions and assign meaning that doesn’t exist. It’s natural to miss your ex, you have a void now. Your list will reinforce that you are making the best decision.”
Control your breathing.
There’s a reason why people say to take a deep breath when you’re nervous: It does have a calming effect. If you’re experiencing anxiety, Dr. Brown says to pay attention to your breathing patterns. “If you find yourself feeling tight and constricted, it’s quite likely that you’re holding on to physical tension related to your anxiety. This is very typical. Focus more on deeply exhaling as that is an effective way of reducing the tension associated with anxiety,” he advises. If you do feel this way, try slowly inhaling through your nose, holding your breath, and then exhaling through your open mouth with a relaxed jaw, says Dr. Brown. “This is a deeper form of exhale breathing that helps to reduce tension.”
Get your support system ready beforehand.
Feeling overwhelmed by anxiety can make you feel very isolated, which is why Dr. Brown suggests not only having your support system in mind for after the breakup, but rallying the troops to support you as you prepare for the breakup as well. “Talk to a couple of trusted people and let them know what you’re about to do,” he says. This way, they’re on call for when you’re going to need to lean them after you split up, but it will also help you feel less alone as you go through the breakup itself.
Make a plan and prepare for questions.
Feeling prepared is a very effective way to reduce some of your anxiety. Consider each scenario for how they might take the news and think through how you’ll respond beforehand. You may not know exactly how it will all play out, but you also won’t be caught off guard. It can also be helpful to write your plan down so you’ve got things straight in your head, says Dr. Chlipala. “Write down things you want to say and how you want to say them. Revise if necessary. Practice what you want to say so you feel prepared and will be clear with them about why you’re breaking up with them,” she suggests.
Your preparation should also include how to answer their questions, adds Dr. Brown — particularly if this breakup is seemingly coming from out of the blue. His advice is to answer their questions as honestly as you can. “You want to be authentic, but you don’t want to be cruel,” he says..
Be as confident (as possible) in your decision.
One of the most challenging parts of breaking up with someone can often be that you simply aren’t confident in your decision. Your gut may be saying one thing while your heart is saying another. These mixed signals are a perfect recipe for anxiety. This is why Chlipala says it can be really helpful to take the time and identify why you’re feeling ambivalent about the breakup. “Often it’s because of feelings – you miss them, and take that as a sign that you made a mistake. Feelings are not always good indicators of what action a person is to take,” she says.
At the end of the day, though, you might just have to embrace a certain degree of uncertainty and accept that it’s OK to feel a little conflicted. “It turns out that there are no guarantees in life,” says Dr. Brown. “Sometimes we make decisions that work out the way we planned. Sometimes not. It may be that after you break up you have more than a few second thoughts about your decision.” But if ending the relationship is ultimately the right choice, Dr. Brown says you shouldn’t hold you back. “Even if the contemplated change is for the better, we can still experience some anxiety because a major life change such as a breakup is likely to cause us some fear, as we are going to be well outside of our comfort zones,” he explains.
While breakup anxiety might not be avoidable altogether, Chlipala offers one last bit of advice that can help soothe your nerves: Sometimes a breakup is the kindest thing you can do, and staying with someone simply to avoid the anxiety of going through with a breakup can be very selfish. “If you’re avoiding the breakup conversation because you don’t want to hurt your partner’s feelings, consider the longer-term damage this action may be creating. You are preventing them from meeting someone who’s a better fit. You are, in essence, wasting their time if you know they’re not a long-term partner for you,” she explains. “Look beyond the short-term to the long-term effects that not breaking up can cause for them.” Just take a few deep breaths and take the plunge. You’ve got this.
Dr. Gary Brown, a prominent couples therapist in Los Angeles
Anita Chlipala, licensed marriage and family therapist and author of First Comes Us: The Busy Couple’s Guide to Lasting Love
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