New Year's means resolutions, new calendars and, if Facebook data is accurate, the beginning of "Breakup Season".
The site keeps track of how many people change their relationship status over the year, and does content analysis of status updates. It's found that from now until late spring is when couples are most likely to split. There is usually a big spike leading up to the holidays, but the numbers take a precipitous drop around Christmas and then steadily climb for the next few months.
No matter when lovers decide to part ways, it's challenging. We are generally not given training in healthy break ups.
Americans barely get sexuality education at all, much less guidance in communication about feelings or appropriate boundary setting. But stepping back doesn't have to be dramatic or hurtful and, if done correctly, can even foster a solid long-term relationship between the former lovers.
First: Why are you doing it?
Healthy breakups are built on the foundation of honesty and respect established during the relationship. If a situation is lacking either of those critical pieces: just exit quickly and safely.
There's a big difference between realizing that someone isn't a good match and a needing to escape a toxic or abusive situation. If you value your partner but see that you're not meant for the long haul, the conversation is more about expressing how your needs are incompatible and gently separating.
Be your best self / Speak to theirs
Once you've made the decision: tell them. Stalling only wastes time and increases the potential for resentment. Give the real reason you need to step back – it's fair and prevents false hopes.
If you're leaving for someone else: own up to it. They'll find out eventually through some other channel and feel duped, on top of feeling dumped.
Vengeance can look a lot like justice through the drunken lens of hurt feelings. So unless safety is an issue, err on the side of kindness, being vulnerable, and coming from a place of love.
The medium is the message
How you have the conversation conveys a great deal. Unless a relationship was super brief, texting is too cold. Writing a letter or email allows you to get your thoughts in order, but is entirely one-sided. Speaking in person can allow for greater depth of discussion, including non-verbal cues. Going to your former flame for this conversation is much kinder than asking them to travel to you. Both parties should have the freedom to exit at any time. Unless safety is a concern, avoid hashing it out in public.
In 1996 a phone call would have felt like a cop out, but in 2016 they are a fairly intimate and formal way to interact. Phone calls can also be more appropriate for long distances and allow someone to instantly end the conversation if they so choose.
Blame is useless, save feedback for later
When articulating why you want to step back, own your feelings and stifle the impulse to announce what is wrong with them.
Blame will turn the conversation into a protracted series of insults and grievances. Fighting is actually a way of staying in the relationship, so if what you want is out: don't engage in a volley of "yeah, well you always…." Even if you're done because of their rude behavior, there are healthy ways of addressing it.
"We've talked about how it hurts me when you flirt with other people, but it continues to happen. It makes me feel like we're not equally invested in the relationship and that my needs aren't a priority. It looks like we don't share the same ideas about this."
If you're on the receiving end of a laundry list of complaints: listen calmly, but it's not necessary to address or internalize every accusation. Consider your own role in the relationship and its devolution. Be open to self-examination so that you can learn for the future.
Vent to friends over coffee, not social media
You're going to have a lot of feelings. Even if the split was mutual and polite, change is incredibly painful. This is amplified if someone feels blindsided or betrayed. These emotions need to be addressed and a strong support system is necessary. It's a good idea to call up a friend, cry to a roommate or journal your thoughts. Turning to Facebook, however vaguely, will almost certainly lead to more drama, though.
To your corners: Distance and boundaries
You can be friends with someone after being partners, but there has to be time and distance.
If you live, work or parent together, total avoidance won't be immediately possible so manage your boundaries realistically. Surround yourself with friends and interests that occupy your time but save space for being sad: allow yourself to genuinely grieve. Rebounds are a fantastic option for speeding up recovery, but be honest with new people about where your head is.
Know that some days will be harder than others and this happens in cycles. Be kind to yourself and to your ex. You are the author of your life story, so rather than living in reaction, bravely make the choices that lead you to the outcome you desire and the person you want to be.
For more about all kinds of breakups, check out How to Break Up with Anyone by Jamye Waxman, a new book that features a chapter from yours truly.
Dr. Timaree Schmit earned her Ph.D. in Human Sexuality from Widener University, where she now trains future sexologists and clinicians. Her passion is bringing rational, empirically-based, sex-positive information to the world, empowering others to celebrate their bodies, build intimacy and experience pleasure.