A Philosopher's Blog

Breaking Up

Posted in Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on December 23, 2009

Like novels relationships have a beginning and an end. While the beginning of a relationship tends to be a bright, happy and beautiful thing the ending tends to be the exact opposite. When a relationship has reached the point that it is ending, the matter of how to break up becomes a matter of concern. This essay examines various methods of breaking up in terms of how to use them and how to spot when they are being used on you. The various pros and cons of each method will be evaluated.

Since there are many ways to break, this essay does not attempt to provide exhaustive coverage of this subject. Instead some common methods will be examined. Unlike some discussions of breaking up, this essay will include some moral evaluation of the methods.

The Slow Drift Apart

Use: You slowly begin to distance yourself from the other person. You call less. You see the other person less. You are less affectionate. Eventually, the contact drops below the level needed to sustain a relationship and you are broken up.

Spotting: Your partner calls less, sees you less, and is less affectionate. When asked if there is a problem, s/he will typically deny there is a problem and provide plausible alternatives such as a busier work schedule, a need to be spend times with friends, or other commitments. Eventually, however, you will find that the relationship has dwindled to nothing.

Alternative Explanation: It is important to keep in mind that there are often alternative reasons for the other person reducing their contact with you that have nothing to do with intent to breakup. People often have busy times that require some of the attention they once paid to you. Also, relationships tend to go through natural phases. For example, in the early stages of a relationship people tend to find each other new and exciting and often cannot get enough of each other. Eventually, however, they do and things tend to settle back somewhat.

Pros/Cons: In terms of advantages, this method provides for a slow and perhaps less painful method of breakup. To use an analogy, it is like wading slowly into cold water-there is time to adjust and grow comfortable with the change. Also, it provides a safety net-if you decide you do not want to break up, and then you can simply step up your contact and restore the relationship. The more abrupt methods usually make it much more difficult to restore a relationship. Finally, it provides the other person with some input-they have the chance to react to your pulling away. If they let it go, then perhaps they want to break up as well. In terms of disadvantages, this method tends to be, by its very nature, slow. Hence, if you are looking for a rapid breakup then another method would be a better choice. Another potential problem is that the method can be like slow torture to the other person. By pulling away from them without explicitly breaking up you can cause them pain and confusion. Sometimes it is best to simply end things quickly-like pulling off a band aid quickly, rather than slowly pulling it off and thus prolonging the unpleasantness.

Friends/Sibling Downgrade

Use: You tell the person that although you care about them, your feelings towards them are more in line with that of a friend or sibling. The classic lines for this are “I think of you as a friend/brother/sister.” This tells the person that you are no longer interested in a sexual relationship.

Spotting: Your partner tells you that their feelings for you have changed to those they would have for a friend or sibling. They do say that they still want to do things with you; only at some point in the future and that these things will most definitely not involve sex.

Alternative Explanation: People sometimes use this method to put the other person “on hold” rather than completely breaking up with them. This might be the result of confusion or uncertainty on their part. Sometimes it is used when they want to try out another person, but want to keep you around as a safety net.

Pros/Cons: In terms of advantages, this method can allow you to keep the person as a friend. If you truly care about them and do really want them as a friend, then this would be an appropriate method to use. People do sometimes make the transition from lovers to friends. In terms of problems, if you really do not want to be friends with the person, then this method cruelly gives them false hope of friendship or even of getting back together again. If you do really want a clean break with the person, then it is best to send a clear message to that effect and avoid confusing them and causing future problems by trying to be “nice” about it. Of course, even if you do want to remain friends and only friends with them, there is always the problem that they might think that you will want them back in the future-thus potentially giving rise to future problems. If you think the person is incapable of making the transition to friendship, then it might be best to make a clean break. Keep in mind, however, that is natural for people to behave a bit oddly after a breakup so it might seem as if they are unable to make the transition when, in fact, they just need some time to make that change.


Use: You mistreat your partner in the hopes that they will decide to initiate the breakup. This mistreatment can be minor-small insults, some coldness, petty arguments and such. It can also be more serious-withholding affection, sleeping on the couch, being insulting or abusive, etc. When the other person is driven away, you are broken up.

Spotting: Your partner starts mistreating you. They insult you, withhold affection, sleep on the sofa, or are cold and distant. They might even resort to more serious physical or emotional abuse.

Alternative: Minor provocations are, of course, natural parts of relations. People are not angels or saints and will do small things to annoy and provoke you even when they have no plans of breaking up. In many cases they are not even aware they are annoying you. More serious provocations, such as withholding affection, are signs of serious problems-but still might not be evidence of the intent to break up. Under stress people tend to behave badly-so your partner’s cold behavior and lack of interest in sex might be do to stress at work or school and have nothing to do with you. Very serious provocations such as emotional or physical abuse might not indicate an intent to break up but do show serious problems that might stem from severe psychological problems. In such cases it is usually best to get away from the abusive person and encourage them to seek help if you think they can be helped.

Pros/Cons: The main advantage of this method is that it tends to be effective. While some people will cling to an abuser, most people get sick of it quickly and leave on their own. I have also been told that this method is sometimes necessary-after all other possibilities have been exhausted in ending a relationship sometimes this is the only thing that works. There are two main problems with this method. First, it is an evil and manipulative method to use that will make you a worse person and will also cause the other person a great deal of pain, suffering and confusion. This method can cause a great deal of harm and is hence immoral to use-with one exception. In some rare cases the only way to drive away someone who is making your life miserable is to make them go away by using this method. However, this method should be employed with great caution and only as a last resort. Second, people often respond to abuse with abuse of their own. Because of this, this method runs the risk of creating an escalating situation that can end in violence.

It’s Not You, Its Me

Use: You break up with the person by telling them that it is not their fault but your fault.

Spotting: Your partner breaks up with you by telling you it is their fault. Common variations include that they are not ready for a serious relationship yet, that they do not think they are good enough for you, or that they are still not over their last relationship.

Alternative: Usually none, but can sometimes indicate some confusion and indecision on their part.

Pros/Cons: On the face of it, this seems like a nice way to break up-you accept the blame and they are the innocent party. They can feel good about themselves and this can cushion the pain of the breakup. If your stated reason is true, then this might be fine. On the downside, the person might decide that they can help you solve the problem that lead to the breakup. For example, they might think they can help you accept a serious relationship or get over your last relationship. In this case, the break up method can backfire. One problem with this method or its application is that people who use it are often lying-people rarely breakup because of some defect they see in themselves. They usually break up because of some flaw they perceive in the other person. Lying, even to make an attempt to spare another’s feelings, is generally not a good thing. In most cases honesty will be the better approach-not only morally but also practically.


Use: You send an email or text message to the person informing them of the breakup.

Spotting: You receive an email or text message from your partner, such as “imbrkinupwitu”, that informs you of the breakup.

Alternative: Unless someone hacked their account or they have a sick sense of humor, there usually isn’t one. Of course, it could be some sort of crazy test.

Pros/Cons: The main advantage of this method is that it gives you distance and a lack of interaction with the person-thus avoiding an emotional scene. If the person is someone who might respond in a dangerous way to a break up, this method can be acceptable. The main problem with this method is that it is cold and impersonal. If you care about the person or even cared about them and they are not prone to violence, then you owe them the courtesy of a face to face breakup. Handling a break up with maturity and respect is part of being a proper human being. Breaking up with a decent person through email is the emotional equivalent of a sniper shot-it is wicked and cowardly.

Phone Breakup

Use: You call your partner and break up over the phone or by voicemail/answering machine.

Spotting: Your partner calls you or leaves a message that they are breaking up with you.

Alternative: Unless someone is impersonating your partner, usually none.

Pros/Cons: The main advantage of this method is that you are at a distance from your partner and can control the interaction by hanging up. In the case of physical distance, this can be acceptable. For example, if you are a student doing a year in Europe, flying back to America to break up might not be a viable option. In the case of legitimate fears, such as a potentially violent partner, this can also be a viable option. The main downside of this method is that it is not a particularly respectful way to handle things. If you cared about the person, you owe them a face to face breakup (assuming it is possible and safe).

One Way Breakup

Use: You break up with the person. The decision is yours and yours alone. They are not permitted any input and there is no discussion.

Spotting: Your partner unilaterally breaks up with you. S/he refuses to discuss things and might not even explain why you are breaking up.

Alternative: Typically none, unless it is some sort of crazy test.

Pros/Cons: The main advantage is that it is quite an ego trip-you are in charge, you make the decision and they have no say in the matter. This method is often used by people who either are arrogant (and hence normally act this way) or indecisive (and hence hope to avoid being persuaded to not break up). There are cases in which this method is necessary-for example, when a person simply cannot go on in the relationship and knows they are too weak to hold out against discussion. On the downside, this method is rather arrogant and treats the other person with disrespect. After all, they are treated as if they do not matter, do not count and have no say in things. In general, this is a bad method to use.

True Dicussion

Use: You discuss the situation with the other person in an open and honest manner. You allow them the opportunity to discuss how they feel, what they think and what they want. You work on the breakup together and agree to end the relationship. They die from shock.

Spotting: Your partner discussions the situation with you in an honest and open manner. You are given the opportunity to discuss your feelings, thoughts, and what you want. You work together and come to a consensus about ending the relationship. You die from shock.

Alternative: Usually none-anyone with the maturity to use this method knows what they want and is open about it. However, some people merely pretend to use this method and are not really interested in a discussion at all-they merely want to appear mature.

Pros/Cons: This is the ideal method to use. It allows input from both parties, permits the chance to discuss things and work out how things will end. While all break ups are painful, the pain tends to be reduced because both partners participate as mature adults and come to a mutually acceptable agreement. The main downside of this method is that it is extremely unlikely that it can be used. Couples who can work together well enough to make the method work will probably be able to work together well enough to make their relationship work.

Test Break Up

Use: You break up with the person, but you are actually testing them. You might want to see if they really love you, to see how they will react to breaking up, or for some other reason. You might be testing yourself to see how you really feel or how you will react to their absence.

Spotting: This is almost impossible to spot since the person will break up with you while secretly intending to test you in some way. Obviously, they are not going to tell you it is a test. You might be able to get some evidence from what they have said about past relationships or from their friends or relatives. This method is apparently used more by women than men.

Pros/Cons: The main advantage of this method is that this can reveal a great deal about the other person. Further, you will learn about how they react to a breakup and their behavior can tell you a lot about them. Great stress, such as a breakup, can reveal a great deal about a person’s real character. However, there are many problems with this method. First, doing this to another human being to learn about them is morally on par with torture and involuntary human experimentation. In other words, it is evil. Second, stress often brings out the worst in a person-so you might not learn about their real character at all-only how they behave when in pain and confusion. Third, they are likely to take the break up seriously and move on to another relationship-thus leaving you alone (as you probably deserve). Overall, this is an evil and callous thing to do to a person. If you want to know another person, spend time with them. Life will present plenty of opportunities to learn what they are like without resorting to such cruel tactics.

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4 Responses

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  1. bwinwnbwi said, on December 27, 2009 at 8:58 am

    As a young man corrupted with philosophic proclivities, I went through my share of broken relationships. Mired in the soul searching that pain and suffering demands, I grew more cautious and less vulnerable and, as a result, avoided involvement with the opposite sex. After five years of no relationship whatsoever (I thought of myself as a Buddhist in my early thirties), I threw caution to wind and, at age 37, I married to a woman that I didn’t even know (a long story). Food, paying bills, and watching movies together became the glue that kept us together. But, somehow we raised two children (a dysfunctional family that didn’t let itself get torn apart)and now, in old age, I guess you could say that it was worth it. Perhaps this Rx is not for everybody but for some of us– what at first appears impossible becomes possible. Take care.

  2. Getting An Ex Back said, on May 13, 2010 at 6:24 pm

    Excellent study, I just passed this onto a colleague who was doing just a little research on that. And he actually bought me lunch simply because I discovered it for him smile So let me rephrase that: Thanks for lunch!

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