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Is It Possible to Break Up Well?

If you’re reading this and you’ve found yourself single for longer than you thought, chances are you’ve gone through a breakup. Whether it was a few dates and then the “slow fade” or whether you had looked at rings and the next day suddenly found yourself with a very different view of the future, it still means the end of a relationship. And even when you date in a way that honors God, and in the best-case scenario you both feel like it’s not the right match, breaking up can still be tricky. And when a breakup happens in the context of Christian community, well, things can get even trickier.

But if we invite God into our dating relationships, we should also invite Him into our breakups. And when we do, it means that we treat each other as fellow believers, as part of the body of Christ, with respect and integrity. It definitely isn’t easy, and most often it’s not something we can do in our own strength. But with God’s help, I really do think it’s possible to break up well. Here are a few things I’ve learned:

1. Don’t talk badly about your ex. Ever. Breakups can involve a lot of hurt, pain and confusion, and the natural way to deal with this is to talk about that person to friends and family. Ever heard someone make a snide comment about their ex-boyfriend? Not attractive, is it? Instead, try venting about it in your journal or talking with a counselor. But not to other people in your social circle who know your ex.

Girls, if a guy from your small group has the courage to ask you out, don’t ruin his reputation with every other girl in the group by bashing him. And guys, if you date the girl in your economics class, don’t share the personal details she entrusted to you with everyone else in the class. Not talking badly about an ex, no matter how painful the breakup, is good training for not talking badly about your spouse once you’re married.

2. Allow your ex to grieve, even if it’s different than how you grieve. When you make space in your life and heart for someone, you get used to having them there. But a breakup means adjusting to the new normal, and all the space your significant other used to take up is now empty. That’s a hard adjustment, and everyone deals with it differently. Your ex might want to maintain some sort of friendship, but you just want to move on. One of you might be angry, while the other is sad. There’s a wide range of emotions and a wide range of how to deal with them. Give your ex space, and don’t try to force something that might not be helpful in the long run.

3. Clearly communicate the end, whether you’re the one initiating or the one responding. A few years ago I was set up with a guy who lived out of state, so our initial contact was via the phone. When we finally met and went on a date, it just wasn’t a fit. Our phone conversations didn’t translate into a face-to-face relationship. We both felt the same way, but he still sent me a quick email letting me know he wouldn’t be pursuing me any longer. It wasn’t a breakup, but it still left me feeling respected and cared for because he was willing to be upfront and clearly communicate his intentions, even when it was hard or awkward.

Guys, if you know you want to break up with your girlfriend or you don’t want to keep pursuing the girl you’ve been getting to know, it’s nice when you communicate that to her. Girls, if you know the guy you’re dating isn’t someone you could marry, or you aren’t interested in going out with a guy after your last date, be honest and let him know. It doesn’t have to be a list of five reasons why you aren’t interested, but when emotions are involved, clear communication of a relationship ending is usually best. It’s easier to just stop emailing or texting or calling, but that’s not helpful to either person because it lacks clarity and a definitive end.

These suggestions assume you both are committed Christians, and there isn’t any abuse, violence or serious spiritual issues that would need to be addressed by a counselor or pastor. If that’s the case, then with maturity, much prayer, and the intent to extend respect and kindness to your ex, it can be possible to break up well.

How do you think Christians can break up well?

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