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How to break up with someone when you feel obligated to stay in the relationship

Posted May 1
Updated May 2

 (Deseret Photo)

I have a dear friend who went on several dates with a guy she liked. On one date, a traumatic accident happened, putting him into the hospital. Even though she wasn’t at fault, she felt obligated to remain in the relationship because she was there during the accident. That obligation left her feeling guilty for wanting to end their relationship.

Eventually they broke up and went on to marry other people. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Some people spend years in these guilt ridden or obligatory relationships.

Maybe you were going to break up with him, then found out he lost his job. Or perhaps she bought you an expensive gift the night you were going to end things. Maybe you've lost your romantic spark, but your family adores her — is that reason enough to stay together?

These and other scenarios can keep you in an unwanted relationship, especially if you are worried about a person’s emotional stability. But you shouldn't feel obligated to stay in a relationship; you can still be supportive even if you aren't dating.

Here are different ways to break up (and the pros and cons of each):

Rip off the band aid

It's hard, but it’s usually the kindest way. Even if things are falling apart in their lives, dragging out a relationship just makes it all worse. When you use this technique, come prepared to explain the reasons for the breakup and be kind, but don’t feel guilty about ending things.

Part of being kind with this technique is being thoughtful for when you decide to break up. If someone has died, wait until after the funeral. Avoid breaking up on holidays or birthdays.

Ghosting

Slowly disappearing out of a significant other’s life is the coward's way of dealing with a breakup. You cause them pain by walking out of their life only to make matters worse by reappearing to break up with them.

The only good thing about this technique is the other person probably expects the breakup to happen, but don't think that rationalizes it. It may seem like the easy way out, but it causes more harm than good.

Ominous texts

“We need to talk.” Well, your partner will have a pretty good idea about what is coming next. He or she could quietly accept it, or this conversation will end in an argument about whose fault the failed relationship is.

A little warning is nice, but with this technique, they will have more time to prepare for the pain...sometimes it is better to be blindsided.

The letter

This is a good idea if you are afraid you can't say what you want in person, or if you are in a long distance relationship. But if you are close enough to break up in person, do it. The breakup will already hurt the person, so don't back out by just writing a letter. If you are worried you are going to mess in person, write a letter explaining your feelings, tell your lover you are breakup with him or her, hand them the letter and leave.

Trick them

You don’t want to feel guilty about breaking your partner’s heart, so you do things that will push them to breakup with you first. This is just avoiding the problem. You are already breaking their heart by "forgetting" a birthday, breaking promises and not being there for them. Don’t be a coward; just rip the band aid off yourself. Don’t slowly pull it up with the goal of hurting them just enough so they rip the rest of the bandage off themselves.

It’s all me

The infamous line, “It’s not you, it’s me” always backfires, though the sentiment behind it is important. It’s a good idea to recognize that you have a role in the breakup, but it’s also important to explain why you it's just not working. Every good breakup should include a discussion. This will help the other person know exactly what happened in your relationship on your part and theirs.

There will never be a good time for you to breakup with someone, so all you can do is to pick the best day possible (not a holiday, funeral or special occasion). Be kind, honest and succinct and address the problems head on and in person. Though the other options seem more gentle at times, they will just cause the pain to linger.

Stacie Simpson is a journalism student. She loves listening to, gathering and sharing stories and advice to help others improve their quality of life. She spends most of her free time with her husband, ballroom dancing, reading and writing.

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