The sanctuary doors of the church open. Our loved ones are there to celebrate our union. As I begin to walk down the aisle towards the “love of my life,” I feel a terrifying sinking feeling in my gut. I suddenly realize… I cannot marry this man. At this point, I panic, turn, and run away leaving my jilted groom heartbroken at the altar.
The plot of Runaway Bride is a reoccurring dream of mine.
Though this particular dream does not plague me as often now as it did when I was single, it still hijacks my sweet sleep occasionally and it takes on different forms. One time, I was at the church getting ready when I realized I could not get married. Even though I was not walking down the aisle, the sick feeling in my stomach was the same. In another version, I had to walk up a winding staircase to get to the altar. At some point in my climb, I turned around, ran down the stairs, and scoured the streets looking for Eric.
These dreams are slightly different, but the groom is typically the same.
To this day, I have to sometimes stop and remind myself that I did not leave my husband at the altar. (If you dream something enough, it starts to mess with your mind!) Clearly, I was confused as to why I kept reliving this horrible scenario. One explanation could be my love for the movie Runaway Bride, but that did not account for the fact that I was always leaving the same man. The most logical explanation came down to guilt. The way I treated and broke up with this particular man troubled me.
Does Anyone Have a Time Machine?
So many times, I have wished to go back in time and handle my relationships differently. (Some relationships I wish I could bypass altogether.) Do you feel this way also? Throughout my teen years and young adulthood, I made the same mistakes with my “love” life. Although, by the time I turned seventeen, they stopped being mistakes and turned into reckless rebellion.
I know this is not how I should approach this relationship, but I am going to do it anyway.
My breakup style was one of insecurity. I know I should discontinue contact with this person for a myriad of reasons, but what if I lose him and am miserable? So I would sort of break up. When my resolve was high, I would tell my boyfriends I could not date them anymore; but, as my friend, Lauran, used to say, I would always leave an out. I would use such phrases as, “maybe in the future,” or “we can be friends.” It is difficult to end a relationship successfully when nothing changes about your interactions.
We still talk on the phone daily. We still hang out frequently. We still kiss, but… by golly… we are just friends!
For years, I was able to get by with my destructive relationship patterns, but my luck ran out when I met my “dream” groom. It was not until I saw the effects of my carelessness in this man’s face (both in-person and in my dreams) that I realized the depth of my sin. Being haphazard with someone’s heart is no small offense.
After breaking up with him multiple times, hearing a plea from his sister and cousin to change my ways, and seeing his life turn upside down, I began to despise my games. Sixteen years later, I still regret my actions – pulling him in, causing him to be insecure, pushing him away, and then taking him back only to do it all over again. I vividly remember my mom admonishing me, “Heather, he might hate you someday.”
7 Tips on How to Break Up in a Healthy Way
Having been on both the giving and receiving end of some terribly executed splits, I think it is important to share the takeaways I learned through my multiple failures. First and foremost, if you know you should not date a person, do not start the relationship. Had I listened to the still small (sometimes screaming) voice inside my heart which said, “Do not go down this road,” I could have avoided giving and experiencing so much pain. Please do not believe the lie which says: this person may be the last man or woman who wants me – he or she may be my last chance for love.
When you do give a relationship a chance and then later realize you do not have a future with this person, dissolve your connection in a healthy way with these following tips.
- Avoid breaking up if you are not 100% sure you mean it. To some, this step is a no-brainer; whereas, for others, this is necessary to state. Logical, rational temperaments tend to analyze their choices clearly, separating facts and emotions. Though breaking up is still difficult for them, they trust their logical conclusions and believe their well-considered decisions are for the best. For the more emotionally driven among us, it is not uncommon to come to emotionally-charged conclusions and then question our decisions when our feelings change. Before you initiate a breakup, be sure your reasons are sound, prayed through, and well-articulated. If needed, receive counsel, take a few days to be alone and think, and write down your reasons for moving on with your life so you can refer to them if you find your resolve weakening.
- Own it. If you have made the conscious, level-headed, well-considered resolution to break off a relationship, own it for what it is. Do not go to great lengths to make your choice someone else’s fault. Even if your ex hates you for a season, being upfront with your decision is far more respectable than cowardly blaming it on other circumstances. Someone I love experienced two distinctively different breakups. The first split was tough, but my friend’s ex handled the situation with class – he owned it. The second was a train wreck. He broke up with her… but not completely. He would crawl back into her life and then disappear. Regardless of why you are breaking up with someone, make your decision about you and not about the other person. No jilted lover believes such platitudes as, “You deserve someone better than me,” or “You will find someone who makes you so much happier than I can make you.” All they hear is, “I want out of this relationship.”
- Be clear and kind. Be as gentle as possible, but leave no room for misinterpretation. When I was sixteen, my boyfriend told me, “We need to slow down and become better friends.” Perhaps it was my youth and naivety, but I thought he meant, “We need to slow down and become better friends.” A date or two later, I reached for his hand and his body stiffened. It was then we realized we were on two separate pages. I thought we were slowing our roll towards becoming serious. He thought he had successfully broken up with me and was simply being my friend. Though I have fully forgiven him now, I felt humiliated at the time. He was doing his best to let me down gently – and he did it so gently that he did not deliver his message in full.
- Be careful not to leave an out. No one, and I mean no one, was better at leaving the relationship door cracked than teenager Heather. I would break up 85% of the way, always leaving some possible way back into the relationship. Clean breaks made me nervous. There are people in this world who split up, get back together, get married, and go on to lead happy lives. They are not the majority, but they do exist. Whether you and your soon-to-be ex have a future together is not the issue now. Close the door to any future hope. If it opens later after much growth, maturity, and healing, so be it; but, at this point, for your protection (and your ex’s), the relationship door needs to be closed and locked.
- Do not attempt to be the Breaker and the Healer. In addition to leaving an out, teenage Heather also tried to play the role of healer. I did not want the people I hurt to be mad at me, and I hated that I caused them pain. If I broke their hearts and then tried to help them through the pain, that made me a not so mean person, right? Wrong! It kept me in their life. It blurred lines. Does she still care about me? Does she not? She says we are just friends, but she does not treat me much differently than she did when we were dating. Am I in the twilight zone? Am I dreaming this? Am I losing my mind? When someone experiences a broken heart, he or she needs other friends and buddies to help ease the pain. If you did the dumping, you cannot also be the friend who eases the pain. Such an arrangement only leads to more pain.
- Leave your Ex alone. One of my ex-boyfriends officially broke up with me on Saint Patrick’s Day. Before that lucky day, he initiated several random breakups which did not stick. ~smile~ Perhaps I learned my crazy breakup strategies from him. For years – years – after we broke up, he called me, hung out with me, bummed rides from me, and drew me into his subsequent relationship drama. We were the unhealthiest “just friends” on the planet – and I kept going back for more. The years of blurry “friendship” which followed our dating relationship were more destructive to my heart than the negativity of our actual “romance.” Let your ex-sweetie have a chance to heal without having to interact with you frequently.
- Keep your mouth shut. After an ex-boyfriend and I went our separate ways (he ended the relationship), his uncle told me, “He won’t say anything bad about you.” I appreciated that he wasn’t talking poorly about me. I consider a person a man of honor (or a woman of grace) who will break up with someone and then refuse to badmouth that person in any way.
Surely, I could fill a book with the mistakes I have made throughout my journey. My parents, friends, grandmothers, mentors, and extended family got front row seats for my failures; but, thankfully, they kept right on loving me and praying for me. I did not deserve it and I am grateful.
Are you wondering whatever happened to the groom from my reoccurring dreams? Well, I am thrilled to say that he is doing well, married to a wonderful woman, and the father of some terrific, bright, godly children. God has used this man to show me a picture of His grace.
After several years of nightmares and guilt-laden memories, God gave me the opportunity to reconnect with that ex-boyfriend and ask him for his forgiveness. His response was, “I forgave you a long time ago.” Considering I still struggle to let go of lesser hurts, I am humbled to receive his forgiveness; and, not only to receive it, but to know he gave it to me before I ever requested it. If that is not a picture of God’s love and grace in someone’s life, I do not know what is.
If you are on the verge of ending your current relationship, or have not yet begun to date, keep these recommendations in mind. Avoid entering relationships simply for the sake of your momentary pleasure. When you break up with someone, be completely sure of your decision and own it. Be clear about your intentions and do not leave breadcrumbs for your ex to find his or her way back to you. Let the hurt heal on its own and do not attempt to ease his or her pain. The combination of ex and best friend is an unhealthy dual relationship. Leave him or her alone and do not gossip, no matter how badly you feel the need to explain your decision to others.
Have you ever been involved in an immature breakup? Do you wish you had handled the situation with more class? Do you wish an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend had approached your split with more clarity, grace, or wisdom? What lessons have you learned from your past relationships? Can you pass your education down to someone who is on the brink of making similar mistakes?
To quote the title of an old Neil Sedaka song, Breaking Up is Hard to Do… and that is an understatement. Thirteen, seventeen, and even twenty years later, I can still feel the powerful emotions which were present when I ended relationships. Whether you are on the giving or receiving end, breakups are tough; but, they can be, nonetheless, necessary. A difficult separation before marriage with a fiancé/fiancée is not as gut-wrenching as divorce. As terrible as it may seem at the time, you can handle your departure in a classy, mature fashion. And, as with everything else in life… this too shall pass.
What elements do you think should be present in a mature breakup?