A few days ago I wrote a piece on how to break up with someone. But on consideration I have realized that it is incomplete. So here are my further thoughts on the subject which will probably also not be the final word on this important topic.
The tone of a breakup or even the ability itself to be able to break up with someone is set from the very first moment that you begin a relationship. In every relationship there is a power dynamic. As Rollo states, the person who needs the other the least has the most power.
This principle isn’t so much about ‘power’ as it is about control. This might sound like semantics, but it makes a difference. It’s very easy to slip into binary arguments and think that what I mean by the cardinal rule of relationships is that one participant must absolutely rule over the other – a domineering dominate to a doormat submissive. Control in a healthy relationship passes back and forth as desire and need dictate for each partner. In an unhealthy realationship you have an unbalanced manipulation of this control by a partner. Although control is never in complete balance, it becomes manipulation when one partner, in essence blackmails, the other with what would otherwise be a reinforcer for the manipulated under a healthy circumstance. This happens for a plethora differenet reasons, but the condition comes about by two ways – the submissive participant becomes conditioned to allow the manipulation to occur and/or the dominate initiates the manipulation. In either case the rule still holds true – the one who needs the other the least has the most control. Nowhere is this more evident than in interpersonal relationships.
Okay, so let’s take this and consider the final act of a relationship; the breaking up part. It should come as no surprise that the person who has the greater power in the relationship will be far better positioned to not only initiate a breakup but to head one off if they are at risk of being dumped themselves.
I am presently counseling a young man who is trying to leave his girlfriend who he has been with for a couple of years. He already attempted to end it once but it didn’t stick and now they are back together again, much to his dismay. His problem is that the girlfriend holds the balance of power. She has manipulated him with emotional blackmail and even dramatic acts of contrived medical dramas throughout their time together, (usually fainting spells). As such we are having to plan his extraction from this unhealthy dynamic very carefully. I am trying to keep it as simple and as straightforward as possible for him, simply because her ability to manipulate him is so extraordinary that anything even slightly complicated will result in inevitable failure on his part.
While talking this through with him something quite important came to me in a flash:
Never instigate a relationship with someone if you are incapable of ending that same relationship.
In other words, don’t start something that you can’t get yourself out of. It sounds obvious but it goes to the heart of the issue. You set the tone for your relationship from the very beginning, and as such you also set the tone for its conclusion. If you spend the relationship reacting to the other person, failing their shit tests, and constantly explaining and justifying your behavior, then don’t be surprised if you are unable to end it. You haven’t had any power during the relationship; what makes you think that you’ll magically find some right at the end?
There is no more a superior confidence for a man than one with the self-understanding that he will not compromise himself for the recognized manipulations of a woman, and the fortitude to walk away knowing he can and will find a better prospect than her.
Not only is this true but the ability to be able to walk away in the first place depends entirely on this sort of healthy frame on your part. If you are in a relationship where you have continually failed a long series of shit tests and have essentially ceded your personal power to your partner then the only way you are getting out of it is if she finds a better option than you.
She gets to decide because she has the power. You ceded it by continually attempting to placate her and by not standing up for yourself. The short term gain of conflict avoidance has the hideous long term consequences of rendering you helpless as to your own future agency. That very first time that she demanded that you explain and justify your actions and you gave in helped set the tone for all that was to come.
Your ability to end a relationship depends on how you began it. Start it the wrong way and you will discover that things go downhill very fast indeed, effectively trapping you in a situation where you have little to no ability to escape. In such a circumstance it is often best to utilize the help of a close friend or confident. You will need support to remain clear headed and focused.
And once you’re out of it, don’t make the same mistake again.