January 23, 2018

The Breakup Exit Strategy Part III: Everybody Should Have One

Courtsey of casinodownloads.com via Google Images

A good friend of mine was in a marital dilemma.  After some thought, he’d come to the decision that he no longer wanted to be in his marriage.  He said, “Kaneicia, do you want to know what my exit strategy is? It’s over, get your stuff and get out.”

I laughed when he told me that. He used the direct dump method; no explanation, no conversation, no miscommunication. It’s a bit on the rude side but considering what he’s been through, it’s understandable.  Some breakups won’t have happy endings. The indirect method just won’t cut it.  In my friend’s case he’d been betrayed by his wife and to him, his marriage was unsalvageable.  He made up in his mind it was over and he wasn’t going to waste another minute of his time.  He didn’t argue, didn’t swear at her, he just ended things.  You ain’t got to go, but you got to get up outta here!

As discussed in The Breakup Exit Strategy Part II, being direct is the best way to exit a relationship.  There are no mixed signals, no nonverbals to interpret, no ambiguity. To clarify though, being direct is not easy.  You walk a thin line between being assertive and aggressive, blunt and belligerent.  When dating, it’s all the more worse because you are constantly walking on eggshells.  You always wonder if what you say may be misconstrued.  My rule of thumb is if you deliver the truth with sincerity then you’ve done right by whomever you’re communicating with.  Case and point:

There was this one guy I dated a few years back.  He was charming, extremely talented and spiritually grounded.  I was sure I was going to be Mrs. So & So within a year.  We both wanted to get married and have kids; we had common goals and were very active in our respective churches.  The wait was over!

But as time would tell, everything was not so perfect.  I found out he had some serious financial issues.  On top of that he didn’t feel comfortable communicating with his ex-wife about me.  He’d planned on bringing the kids up to meet my family for Thanksgiving, but reneged because he didn’t want to ask his ex if he could travel with the kids.  When he told me they weren’t coming, I asked if it he didn’t want to ask his ex and he said yes.  I politely got off the phone, analyzed the situation and the relationship’s growth potential.  I decided the financial situation and his timidity were deal breakers. When I told him I wanted to put things on hold, it turned into the fourth of July.  He was not happy.

I know I hurt his feelings because he didn’t want to break up, but I really thought it would be best for us to be friends until he got his affairs in order.  Initially he didn’t agree but after the dust settled, he admitted he couldn’t afford to be in a long distance relationship.  He told me he knew I was right, he just didn’t want things to end.  For me, there were underlying issues of passivity and financial irresponsibility that I didn’t want to deal with (for the record, I did NOT say it that way).  Presently we have an amicable relationship.  Even though he was a great guy, the timing wasn’t right.  I’m thankful I had the wisdom to recognize that.

I firmly believe that openness and honesty trumps all.  Over time reality sets in and the pain goes away.  When your ex’s head is clear, he or she will be able to see things for what they really are.  They will be able to let go and move on.  And who knows what the future holds?   Issues may resolve themselves or the time apart may create a newfound appreciation for each other.  A friendship could develop or a romance rekindled.  At the very least, you didn’t waste your time or theirs, and you’ll have your self-respect.  What could be more rewarding?

The Breakup Exit Strategy Part II: Everybody Should Have One

Leslie Baxter's Disengagement Strategies

At some point in your romantic life you’ve probably given the, “We need to talk” conversation.  As much as it may hurt to hear on the receiving end, it makes you cringe to think about it.  You’re about to breakup with someone and they might not have a clue.  You’re nervous about the reaction you may get and you don’t want to hurt their feelings.  Do I really want to say what I’m feeling, you ask yourself?  Do we really need to talk?

Fact of the matter is you do need to talk.  If you’ve done your planning and analysis as discussed in The Breakup Exit Strategy Part I, you’ve discovered the relationship is at an impasse.  There is no opportunity for growth and you’ve decided to leave.  Prolonging the inevitable wastes precious time for both parties and if you desire a healthy, long-lasting relationship, you don’t want to waste time on someone you know you have no future with.

There are two ways to communicate a break up: directly and indirectly.  If you look at the illustration above there are 6 direct and 6 indirect breakup or “disengagement” strategies.  Leslie Baxter, PhD., and communications professor at the University of Iowa researched these strategies and also discovered they are unilateral or bilateral, meaning one person or both contribute to dissolving the relationship.

Now that you have a choice of strategies, which one should you choose?  You could put yourself on the receiving end for an answer.  Would you want your mate to avoid or withdraw from you?  Would you want them to have a third-party tell you they are unhappy?  Better yet would you like them to say, “let’s spend some time apart”, or be mean and obnoxious so you will break up with them?  Probably not.  Unfortunately though, these strategies are the most common.  According to Baxter, 76% of people choose to breakup indirectly.

When you look at the indirect methods, all six have one common theme: avoidance.  People fear using direct communication break up strategies for three main reasons.   They either don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings, they don’t want confrontation, or they don’t want to explain themselves.   They’ve decided to avoid the whole situation by resorting to the aforementioned methods.

To implement a breakup exit strategy effectively, the first hurdle isn’t choosing a communication style or breakup method, but getting over yourself.  That’s right; you are in your own way!  The tendency to avoid breakups and other types of conflicts stem from…drum roll please…passivity and submissiveness.  Communications Coach Joshua Uerbergang says we become passive communicators because we want to please people, avoid being uncomfortable, dodge responsibility, and be accepted.  He also says passive people receive the benefit of praise for being submissive.  Early in life we learn being selfless earns compliments.  We receive kudos for sacrificing for the good of someone else or “taking one for the team.” We learn to stifle what we say to people because we don’t want to say potentially hurtful things.  We in turn hope they remember our sacrifice and don’t say hurtful things to us.  In reality this behavior is not about them.   It’s about us and how we want to be viewed.  We secretly do this because we are preserving our own self-image.  We are actually sparing our own feelings, not theirs.

You don’t want to be the bad guy or girl, and I empathize.  You want things to end amicably and you want to feel good about yourself.  If you really want to feel good about yourself, be direct.  Indirect communication sends mixed signals.  You’ll leave the other party with more questions than answers.  True praise will come from honest, sincere, direct communication.  At the very least, you may earn their respect.  If you’re interested in seeing a direct breakup strategy executed, subscribe so you can be notified about The Breakup Exit Strategy Part III: Everybody Should Have One.

The Breakup Exit Strategy Part I: Everybody Should Have One

Normally we enter relationships based off attraction and chemistry.  Rarely do we plan.  Everything goes great for the first few weeks, months, heck even the first few years…then the fantasy fades.  The rose-colored glasses come off and we’re like um, what did I see in this person?  Since we never plan our approach into relationships, we’re terribly unprepared to get out of them.  Our brains go into panic mode for reasons to break things off.  Hence the patronizing break up lines, “It’s not you, it’s me”, and “I need some time to figure things out.”  Better yet, how about picking arguments, being extra busy or just pulling a disappearing act?  Not too classy I know, but it’s better than hurting someone’s feelings, right?

Let’s face it, sometimes it really IS them and we just don’t want to say it.  Sometimes we love them, but are not in love with them, or we learn that they have a few screws loose.  In any event, we want to end things on a good note without being the villan or awakening the sleeping pit bull inside of them.  We need a plan!

It dawned on me one day that relationships are similar to starting your own business.  And like startups, relationships could benefit from business planning.  One interesting component of a business plan is the exit strategy.  After a few years of operation, if the business owner wants to leave, they’ll use their exit strategy to do so in a professional manner.  Breakups could be conducted the same way.

You’re probably asking yourself, how can a business exit strategy be used for a breakup?  The answer is simple: you would take the same principles from the exit strategy and use them to end your relationship in an amicable matter.  A breakup exit strategy is a plan that, like in the business world, you derive before you invest your time and resources so that you are prepared for whatever decisions you may need to make down the road.  In business you assess the product market.  You then do a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats).  Upon completing your analysis, you estimate your sales growth for roughly 5 years out and plan how to grow your business during that time frame.  If after year 5 you decide to continue on or leave, you either plan your way out or plan for long-term growth.

A relationship can be planned the same way.  First you should assess your dating market.  Then conduct a SWOT analysis by measuring your prospective mate’s strengths and weaknesses.  Next, analyze the upside and downside of being with that person.   After you’ve counted the costs, estimate the growth opportunity of the relationship and how long you believe it should take to achieve that growth.  Once the estimated time period has expired, reevaluate the relationship and decide if you want to stay or go.  The time period is critical because you have to allow time for some of the nuances and awkwardness in the beginning stages to play themselves out.  Five years is a bit long for relationship planning, so use your own judgement here.

Are you interested in what a breakup exit strategy looks like?  If so, stay tuned to read The Breakup Exit Strategy Part II: Everybody Should Have One!