Deciphering Break-Up Lines

As the words to the old song say so well; "Breaking up is hard to do." Apart from the pain felt by the partner being rejected is the fear on the part of their soon to be ex of inflicting harm and then having to deal with the inevitable fallout that will follow. This fear too often leads to reluctance to communicate feelings and intentions in a direct and clear manner, which results in half-truths, white lies and a lot of confusion, uncertainty and guilt.

Gentle honesty is the only way to "let them down easily." It is not necessary to offer every negative thought, resurrect every bad memory or detail a list of all your partner's imperfections and how impossible they are to co-exist with. However, clearly stating your desire to end the relationship and laying out a sketch of what is not working for you, and your perception of why, is a good start. From there, the discussion can move to an expression of feelings, the answering of questions, and a clarification of what if any relationship will follow after, all of which help both people to find closure.

Unfortunately, the great majority of break-ups are not handled in this manner. Too often they end with one partner creating greater and greater emotional and physical distance through use of a myriad of excuses employed to delay and soften the blow; or the partner vanishes with no explanation, leaving their ex feeling as though it must have been something they said or did or did not say or do correctly.

For those of you who are going through this kind of break-up, or attempting to recover from one that has already occurred--the following are classic break-up lines that I am going to decipher and interpret in order to help you get to the real message behind the message you were left with. Follow along with me as I do this, and you should pick up some useful tips for decoding any relationship messages that leave you wondering how and why.

* It's not you, it's me."

This is a real oldie, and one that is probably used most often. When someone says this, they are trying to let you down easily. It's a good bet that they believe it is you, or the two of you together that are the problem. A good response from you would be something like; "I believe you think it is me or us together, but are uncomfortable hurting my feelings. If I'm correct, you need to know that it is more hurtful for me to not hear the truth from you and have the opportunity to talk about this, and decide the next step together." By giving voice to their real feelings, you will help diffuse the situation and lower their defenses--which will allow them to be more open and vulnerable.

* "You deserve someone better."

This classic line has only one interpretation. "I am going to make this easier and less difficult for both of us by trying to get you to break up with me." The partner who wants out believes that their significant other will come to believe this is true and decide to leave, which removes the intended leaver from the bad guy role. Of course, it is a tactic that usually leads their (better) partner into the role of cheerleader and supporter, as they try to show their confidence in them and prove to them that they are good enough and then some. In other words, it usually backfires, and the person then has to decide to come clean with their real feelings or up the ante by taking on negative behaviors to prove they are not worthy.

* "I need some time to experiment, experience life alone, and figure out who I am and what I want."

This is when he/she is just not that into you. When a partner proclaims this it is because they are not getting their needs met in the relationship, and are restless and looking outward to something or someone new. In a healthy and mutually satisfying relationship, partners are able to spread their wings, chart new directions and pursue their individual goals. All it takes is support and some adjustment on the part of their partner who is there to cheer them on and make the journey a less lonely one.

* "I am under so much pressure at work right now. I just don't have time and energy for a relationship."

Anyone who has ever been truly in like or love knows that they always find time for their relationship. We make the time for the things that matter, period. This line is an excuse that can be interpreted as, "Our relationship is dragging me down and not meeting my needs. I need to stop spending my energy on something that is not giving me anything back."

* "MY family (friends, others) need me right now. I just don't have enough to give to them and you."

The heart can never be too full. When we are in the midst of a crisis at work, with extended family, or friends--a healthy partnership helps us to deal with the painful feelings, manage our time and anxiety, and gives us someone to go to where we know we will get our important intimacy needs met. Good partnerships help get us through the good times, not the other way around. When your partner tells you he/she can't be with you because it makes their burden heavier, they are really saying that you add to, not lighten their needs.

* "I think we should date other people so we can be sure of what we want and if what we have is right for both of us."

When your partner says this, they are saying the relationship isn't working for them. They are looking for more or better or just different. This line is often accompanied by a suggestion that you have an "open" relationship, where you continue to see each other while seeing new people as well. This can be tempting as it provides a safety net for potential loneliness and/or a failure to find anything better. If you agree to this, you can find yourself alone when your sort of partner finds someone more to their liking. If you do decide to go back to an exclusive relationship (a rare outcome); you may find yourself waiting for the next shoe or new love interest to drop between you. The bottom line is that if the relationship is a good fit, we usually know this pretty quickly and with a fair degree of certainty.

* "She's just a good friend who I care a lot for. There is nothing going on between us."

Okay, if there is nothing going on, then your partner should be open to putting your relationship first by including you in get-togethers with his "friend," agreeing to a transparency about where he is, what he is doing, and how often he talks with or gets together with her. If your gut tells you something is off it probably is. If he becomes evasive, less emotionally or physically available or defensive- it's time to talk. No one can break you up if your relationship is strong and works for both of you.

If you have been handed other break up lines by an ex, try deciphering them as I have with the ones above. Read between the lines for hidden meanings, themes or masked deceptions. Also give some thought to how he or she said them. Non-verbal expression speaks louder than words and should always be included in any good interpretation.


Toni Coleman, LCSW
Phone: 703-847-1768


Copyright 2008 Antoinette Coleman. All rights reserved.

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