It's not you, it's me: How not to break up with someone

Is a phone call or a text ever an appropriate way to end things?

What’s the best way to dump someone? Before my boyfriend starts to panic, I ask not out of necessity but curiosity.

Of course, there are plenty of bad ways to break up with someone, as demonstrated by Steve Ladner, a BBC radio DJ, who apparently broke up with his girlfriend, MP Tracey Crouch, via text while she waited to take part in a House of Commons debate. Tracey was said to be sobbing in the lobby after her boyfriend of two years sent her a text saying: “When you get back, I will have packed my bags and left.” It’s thought Steve ditched Tracey in favour of his wife, moving out of the house they shared. (Tracey, hun, he’s not worth it.)

Unfortunately, Steve isn’t the first person to handle a break-up with all the sensitivity of a raging bull picking out china patterns.

I have a friend who was dumped by her boyfriend of seven years 12 hours before he got on a flight to San Francisco. Needless to say, they haven’t seen each other since. Another friend broke up with his girlfriend six months into a 12 month tenancy and had to spend the rest of the year living in a tent in the living room. Even my secondary school boyfriend took the cowardly way out, asking his best friend to dump me with the immortal words: “Sorry, he fancies your sister instead.” 

Of course, the initial gut-wrenching split is going to be raw, painful, and peppered with expletives, but surely there’s a way to make the whole thing a little more bearable without resorting to texts, tweets and terrified best mates?

“The worst way to hear it is from somebody else,” says Andrew G Marshall, marital therapist and author of Heal and Move On: Seven steps to recovering from a break-up, who has seen his fair share of messy break-ups.

“I’ve known people send texts saying “I’m going to break up with her” but accidentally send the message to their girlfriend!”

Remote dumping is not a new thing. Sex and the City protagonist Carrie Bradshaw was famously dumped on a Post-It which read, “I’m sorry, I can’t, don’t hate me”, and musician Phil Collins allegedly told his wife of 12 years he wanted a divorce by way of a fax.

“Men in particular are not very good with women’s anger,” says Marshall. “To actually see how much they’ve hurt someone is extremely painful and upsetting. A lot of men don’t have the words to explain why they want to split up.”

A recent study by Pew Research Center, however, found that although both sexes are guilty of breaking up with someone online, women are actually more likely to resort to sending a text.

“It depends on the duration of the relationship as to whether it can be a phone call or a text,” says Christine Northam a Relate counsellor. “It’s bad manners to do it on social media though. Try to imagine what the other person will feel and then make sure the way you present it is as kind as it can be.”

But even if you do pluck up the courage to talk to your partner face to face, is there ever an appropriate time to drop the bombshell? Statistics compiled from Facebook status updates show that two weeks before Christmas is the most popular time to dump someone, closely followed by the days just after Valentine’s Day.

The sensible way to end a relationship, according to Marshall, is to talk things through in a calm, rational manner.

“Ending a relationship takes time,” he says. “You think that once you shoot the firing gun, that’s it, but that’s not the case. It’s the beginning of a process.”

Maybe someone should mention that to our friend Steve.

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