So that's it. Whether you saw it coming a mile far, or you've been having that niggling feeling for a little while, or it's just hit you full in the face, this is where the (love) story ends.
Breaking up, as the song goes, is hard to do. As is well known, the complex and as yet unexplained combination of feelings that is known as romantic love, more often than not is precarious and temporary and does not last until death doth the partners part. Human beings fall in and out of love: the 'out' part is called breaking up.
We will not discuss here the reasons for breaking up a relationship of any given nature or kind, whether purely sexual or born out of real attachment. This is meant to be a practical guide to splitting up in the least traumatic way for all parties concerned (as there may be more than two dancers to your tango...). Warning: Partners wishing to inflict emotional pain on their soon-to-be-ex might not have any use for this entry.
Although there is hardly such thing as a 'clean break', it is understood that, whether you are the dumper or the dumpee, you should definitely try and go through the moves with a mind to the dignity and self-esteem of all the above-mentioned participants in the split. Yourself included. Let us, however, move on to the specifics...
Part One - Being the Dumper
Whatever you reasons for calling it a day, remember that being given the proverbial elbow by a partner (no matter how lighthearted the relationship) is often the source of much humiliation for the person who is subject to the action of being broken up with. The person you wish to leave may react to the news with tears, accusations and even threats. So try to deliver the news with as much kindness as possible. (This might be particularly hard if the partner has been behaving in a manner that you consider inappropriate for a relationship). Be human, considerate and civil. A list of dos and don'ts in breaking up a relationship:
Talk face-to-face if given the choice. Breaking up over the phone is only acceptable in the case of very long-distance relationships. In case the partner is away for a short time, wait until their return to break the news.
Tell them that this in no way alters the feelings you had for them at one time, but that was then and this is now.
Return all personal effects that your soon-to-be-ex partner may have left around at your place (this also helps the healing process in the post-breakup period).
Keep your really, really nasty feelings for yourself. You will be glad you did so in retrospect.
Offer your friendship, if possible.
Do a disappearing act: it is not nice to leave people hanging on the phone and/or e-mail.
E-mail your decision (see above).
Act out of revenge: even if your partner has been very nasty to you (especially if they have been very nasty) there is only a very narrow chance that any revenge will teach them a lesson. Breaking up civilly with somebody who has done you wrong more than gets the point across. Boiling their favourite pet or telling everybody that they slept with their best friend's sibling unbeknownst to their best friend is not a very good idea.
Keep anything that they may want to have returned to them for over a week. Should you be unable to return everything at once, tell them where and when you will return their personal effects. If necessary, ask a mutual friend to act as intermediary.
Try to blame them for your decision, especially if it's none of their fault (ie, you simply do not wish to keep seeing them in a sexual and/or romantic way).
Demand that you be friends, that the switch to friendship status take place immediately and thus proceed to tell them all about your new partner and the really kinky things they can do with mayonnaise. Similarly, do not be offended if they do not accept your proposal. Friendship with an ex partner is rare, and is often built over time.
Part Two - Being the Dumpee
Being on the receiving end of the bad news can be a humiliating, heartbreaking, world-shattering experience. In order to pull through it as quickly and painlessly as is humanly possible, here is some advice:
Try not to make a big scene out of it. Being upset is understandable; howling, screaming blue murder and throwing crockery, on the other hand, is not. There is nothing - nothing - you can do or say that will make your partner change their mind if they are determined to break up with you. Should they wish to return to you, it will be entirely their decision.
Do not, under any circumstances, fake a pregnancy. This is serious advice. Telling somebody you are in the family way in order to prevent them from breaking up with you is not only stupid, cruel and pointless; it will also make you look like a total fool when, as predictable, you turn out not to be pregnant.
Do not call, write to, and least of all stalk the dumper. It is absolutely of no use. If they do not wish to see you anymore, stay out of their way as much as possible. Emailing is permitted for urgent messages (such as, you have run over their cat), but try to keep it simple. Avoid lengthy lamentations on how they broke your poor little heart (chances are they already know as much). In short, be dignified. This is also a very smart move in case the other person only wanted a temporary break to clear their head (the chances are slim, but they are there).
Do not exact revenge on them, no matter how hard you have been hit. The reasons for this have already been discussed in Part I.
Only accept their friendship if you feel ready for it. Seeing a former partner socially when you are still harbouring romantic feelings towards them in the hope that they will see the error of their ways is a guaranteed way to have your heart broken over and over and over again. Plus, how would you like to see your ex flirting with the barstaff at the singles club? If possible, try moving in different social circles for a while.
If you have split up with someone from your workplace whom you are forced to see every day, keep your personal issues out of the office. Should it be impossible, start looking for a new job.
Additional Advice for Married and/or Cohabiting Couples
Splitting up your possessions (from your CD collection to the furniture) is a hairy and problematic issue. Try to work it out as civilly as possible. Pettiness does not make for a clean break, and a clean break, as said, is always the best option.