Breakups are more than just the end of a relationship – they're the end of that version of you.
A few words, and everything changes. Only in the most extremely acrimonious of cases will you not feel a wrench, a sense of something missing. Even if you're calling time on a serial adulterer or a nasty drunk, your life was tied into them for as long as you were together. And now that tie must be cut. Severed. You are leading your heart to the guillotine. But you can survive.
When you read breakup tips, they assume all you need to know is how to say it's over. But "ending it" isn't the end when you live together; it's just the beginning. And there are some things everyone about to find themselves in that boat should consider before they do:
1. You need to make sure you're ready to end it.
2. You should have an exit plan to make things as painless as possible.
3. Being a brute takes more effort than being nice.
Don't be a prick about it, especially if your other half (for the moment) had no inkling this was coming. Save your barbs and your empowered verbal bitchslaps for your internal monologue.
You're breaking up with them, yes, but there's no need to make them feel like shit. "I just have things to get off my chest" won't make you feel as good as you think it will. Tell them why it's over, but saving the hysterics and the blame will lead to a cleaner breakup.
When my ex asked why it was over (and they always ask, they think they want to know), I didn't have much of an answer for him. Really, it was more about me and what I wanted to do than anything he'd done, and I told him that.
Usually, there isn't a big, specific reason or point of no return – it's an accumulation of things. After eight years – a veritable lifetime – I'd decided I wanted to live a different life. Listing my various complaints over the years wasn't going to change anything now, and we were still going to be living in the same house. Why make him feel worse?
Nobody needs to hear that they're useless at that particular moment in time, and it's a waste of energy – and you're really going to need plenty of that if you're going to get through it. Unless it's absolutely impossible to break up without any bad feeling, aim for the good.
4. The breakup can be a nightmare for your friends, too.
Living together means you've more than just shared experiences – it's likely your social circles have merged too, and breakups are a tough time when you've got loads of mutual friends.
When couples break up, friends get weird – they can't help it. They'll desperately want to do the right thing and not take sides. In doing so, they'll probably drive you mad with their neutrality.
My boyfriend and I had known each other as friends before we got together, so had a lot of pals in common. They were, and are, great, but I quickly realised that they had a duty of care to my ex first. I could feel in every text the undertone: "I want to be there for you, but he needs me too." I'd still see our mutual friends, but if I knew my ex was at a loose end, I'd back off and let him be with them.
Whether it's fair or not, your mutual mates are going to be there for the one who got dumped first and foremost – that's just the way it is. At first, I felt left out, but I tried not to let it get to me; I knew I needed to wait things out.
Lying low gave me time to get my head together, hook up with friends that we didn't share, live as an individual again. Sometimes, in a couple, you forget how.
Oh, and don't slag off your ex to your mates if they're still friends with them too. They'll tell. They will. Seriously. For real.
5. Sometimes you need to do the right thing, even if it hurts.
There's a lot to be said for "out of sight, out of mind". In your head, you may have been long over it before you even made the move to split, but that doesn't mean you have to rub your ex's nose in it.
I didn't want to force my friends to make the awkward decision on who to invite and who to leave out, so I'd make it for them. Birthday parties, gatherings – I skipped them. Not because I was bitter and wanted to be conspicuous by my absence, but because I wanted my ex to have a good time without worrying I'd turn up. The better time he had, the easier it would be for him to get over it.
Not long after we broke up, we were supposed to go away for the weekend to a friend's wedding. My ex was the best man. I still planned to go as normal, and had booked accommodation – sharing with my ex because I am an unfeeling lizard who is immune to emotions – shined my shoes, and bought a pocket square, when I stopped to think.
Being best man at his best friend's wedding was probably going to be one of the most amazing days of his life. How would it feel for him, as he gave his speech in a room full of love, to look over at me sitting there "all moved on"? I'd misjudged, and I had to put it right. So I made the call to the bride and withdrew. And when I saw the photos of everyone laughing and having a great time, and my ex in his element giving his speech, I knew I'd done the right thing.
There will be other weddings, other special days – that one belonged to him.
6. You can't carry on acting like a couple, no matter how easy it might seem.
If you can't move out straightaway, aside from paying bills, everything else you did together as a couple needs to stop as soon as you've said that it's over. Asking them when they're going to be home for dinner, making plans with friends, doing their laundry, even nipping to the pub for a swift one in between episodes of Coronation Street on a Monday – nope.
Ending a relationship and carrying on living together, it's hard enough to move to the next level as it is. You can start this process by beginning to operate as separate units. At first, I carried on like nothing had happened, cooking dinner as before, texting to see when he was going to be home. I realised I was stopping the healing process from getting underway. I was putting out some confusing messages – why act like we were still together when I'd just told him that's what I didn't want?
I didn't have the same rights I did as when we were together – I didn't get to talk to them the same way, he didn't have to fix me a drink, pick my shit up, or even care what I thought. And I needed to respect that.
So, yes, this does mean you're going to have to pick those towels up off the bathroom floor.
7. There's no point arguing over who owns what.
8. The silliest of things will cause you pain.
9. Nostalgia sex is never a good idea.
When you break up with someone you live with, there's every chance you'll need to go on sharing a bed for a while. You two may have decided it's over, but mortgage payments or greedy landlords don't tend to give two hoots, so extricating yourself from your living arrangements may take longer than anticipated.
So you're lying in bed next to each other, heads spinning from all the feels and, in some cases, still genuine affection between you. One more bang won't hurt, right? You all have needs.
Step AWAY from this. Just don't go back there. It isn't fair on your ex, who may still have feelings for you, and you're doing yourself a huge disservice. It might cloud your judgment and make you think you want to get back together. There's more to a relationship than just screwing though. (Apparently. I read it in a book once.)
Mercifully, I didn't do this when I ended my relationship – I never retrace my steps – but I know friends who climbed back into the sack with their live-in ex when they really should've been climbing into a taxi and starting a new life, alone. Sex with an ex can create a temporary emotional bond, but in most cases, it only holds you back. It's a bungee rope at full stretch – and boy, is that twang going to hurt when it comes.
10. Don't date until you've moved out.
So you're both being really grown up about it and are pretty pleased with how you're both moving on, right? So maybe you can start dating again! What harm could it do? Just a few swipes on Tinder or a profile on a dating site will be fine, right?
Um. Best not.
You're both in this weird state of flux: It's over, but it ain't over yet. It might seem like an expressway to moving on, starting the dating process, but doing this while you're still together is going to hurt.
Even if you're totally ready to move on – and if you've ended the relationship, then nobody could blame you for believing that – dating while you're still living with your ex is going to make things even more complicated.
I did this. I suggested we go on a dating website. We'd been together so long, I wanted to prove we would be better off apart – that there were plenty of guys out there interested in us. This was, frankly, a shitty thing to do. And woefully myopic. We weren't ready. I wasn't ready. You can't try to move things on if they won't budge.
It's even easier than ABC: Before you head out looking for the next D, you need to be away from the X.
11. The person you break up with probably won't move on as fast as you.
During my breakup, it was important to me that my ex and I remained friends – he was one of my best pals after all – and I was pretty insensitive in not realising it might take him a little longer to get there. I'd email and text him as normal through the working day, ask what time he was going to be home. Unfair.
Finally, a friend took me for a bottle of wine in the park. She listened to my jeremiad of breakup woes and how I hoped my ex and I could just move on and get on with the next stage of our relationship.
Then, she took the longest drag of her cigarette and told me: "Thing is, you can't make that happen. And you're being pretty selfish just expecting it. You and he are not in the same place; it's going to take time. You have to stop rushing it through just because it's more convenient for you. You have to live with this one, I'm afraid. And stay the hell out of his face."
And she was right. You don't get to dictate how long it takes someone to get over something.
12. You're not a bad person for ending it.
It is super-tempting, when you've broken up with somebody, to paint yourself as the bad guy. Everyone else is thinking it, you tell yourself, so you might as well hate yourself too, right?
This is magnified times, like, a billion when it comes to ending a relationship with someone you live with. You're changing everything, taking away their security, and turning everything they thought they knew on its head. Like a magician whipping away the cloth from under a table full of crockery – unless you're very skilled, plates are gonna break.
It would be easy to beat yourself up over this. I spent many an afternoon at work locked in the toilet, crying and panicking that I was ruining my ex's life and that he would hate me for all eternity. I told myself I was selfish, a piece of shit, that I was destroying his happiness for no reason other than I wanted to "try something different".
These outbursts were all part of the process, of course, but I was wrong. I was doing the best thing for both of us, and time has proven me right. And while it was difficult, he didn't hate me forever.
Who knows how things would've deteriorated had we laboured on, ignored the signs, and stayed together? He probably would've hated me by now.
He met someone else and is very happy, and we're still close friends. And it was what I did that got us to this place. I wouldn't have it any other way.
Like I say, it doesn't have to be the end. The main thing I learned? It can be even better.