Saturday, April 6, 2013

Dave's 12-Step Guide for How to Dump Your Partner

This morning I asked my peoples, "What is nobody writing about?" I felt the urge to contribute here, but I wasn't sure what to write. I didn't want to write purely for me, I wanted to make sure I was providing value. In addition, because of all the writing I've been doing for school, I just haven't been writing about poly or relationships in general for quite a while, and I'm really missing it. This topic was suggested, sort of, and I liked the idea, so here I am!

This post isn't going to be only for poly people. If I were putting this on my website I would categorize it under my "Relationship" articles vs my "Polyamory" articles, but since we are all about the poly here, I will add additional comments about poly-specific situations. Of course that will make it a longer post, but I've never been afraid of more words. Never use 5 words where 15 will do, right?

Here are "Dave's 12 Steps to Dumping Your 'Poly' Partner"!

Step 1: You admit that you are powerless to repair the relationship - that it has become unmanageable.

I've tried everything I could. I'm done. Stick a fork in me. This step may very well be the longest of any of the steps. If this is a LTR, or simply has intense value for whatever reason, we may stew here perhaps longer than we really ought to.

For poly people with multiple connections it is even more challenging. Not only do we not want to admit defeat, accepting our limitations, that we can't fix it (!), but now we are going to bring some degree of drama into our circles.  Perhaps worst of all for many, we're going to probably be leaning on our other partner/s for a while as we process the break up.

I have heard people object, when I've suggested that perhaps their current connection with a partner was no longer serving them well, that they couldn't break up with them.  Their reason was because they were unable to do so as an independent rock of emotional fortitude, and they were also unwilling to be a drain on the resources of those around them. "If I can't do this without isolating my other connections from the collateral damage, then I'm not going to do it!" Hint: If you are in a toxic relationship, you are already inflicting collateral damage on your other connections, whether you realize it or not.

I'm just sayin'.

Step 2: You believe that there is a course of action that will restore your sanity, and that's dumping their ass.

Some people go from relationship to relationship (serial monogamy is one example), looking for someone to "fix" them. Another example of this behavior would be NRE junkies, always on the look out for the next fix. If you are doing this, do NOT break up with someone else thinking that this will fix things. This will not restore sanity to you, it will just hurt someone or multiple someones whom you love.

The act of breaking up with your partner needs to be specifically about the relationship, that place where the two of you meet. Yes, it might be partially about you, it's rarely ALL one person's doing when a relationship needs to end, but recognize when your issue is purely internal, or when it truly is a "relationship issue". Remember, no matter where you go, there you are.

If you are running from one relationship to the next attempting to avoid dealing with your shit, you are just going to hurt people, yourself included. Stop it. Be single for a while and deal with your shit, if you need to, but you might do well to stop, stay where you are, and deal with it while still in your current relationship. You don't need to be single to enact self-repair. In fact, some issues can only be worked on while IN a relationship. Keep that in mind.

Poly-specific note: Discuss this with your other connections. You do NOT have a solemn responsibility to keep all of this secret from them, quite the contrary. Let them see the process. Let them be sounding boards. Let them in on how this is painful for you and what's not working. You gain huge benefits from this.

First, intimacy! This is why I have relationships, to build intimacy. Second, support. I love providing support for my partners, they will value this (if they don't, something is wrong).  Third, perspective. They will be an excellent fact checker for any possible internal B.S. that you might not be smelling out yourself. Fourth, assuaging their insecurities. If they see you running around willy-nilly dumping partners, how long will it take for them to start wondering if they are next? Not long. By allowing them to observe the process, they will understand how hard you work at maintaining relationships and will feel reassured that you will give them the same opportunity to correct errors within your relationship with them.

Step 3: You have made a decision to turn your will and your life over to... you, not them.

While we certainly want to keep others in mind when making decisions, consider their needs and wants, we need to live our lives for ourselves. My sixth grade teacher once asked me, "Hey Noble, what's your job?" I looked at him, certainly appearing confused, as a 10-year-old doesn't often have gainful employment. He continued, "Take care of #1. Quit stickin' yer nose in other people's business!"

Certainly we should not be callous or indifferent to those we love. Ultimately, however, we need to make choices for ourselves that benefit ourselves, and develop relationships where naturally synergies occur. Do not start living your life for others, maintaining relationships that no longer (or perhaps never did) feed you. Rather, live the most awesome life you can imagine, and then see who wants to come along for the ride. 

When you find that you are in a relationship that no longer serves you, the other person's benefit is NOT a sufficient reason to remain. Live your life. Build relationships with people on parallel courses. You'll all be happier. Fundamentally, this step is all about claiming your power and making a decision. I'm going to do this. All that's left is figuring out the "how".

Step 4: You have made a fearless inventory of what is going wrong in your relationship.

I have taken the time, done the introspection, and I can clearly (as clearly as you can, sometimes this isn't perfect) state what it is that isn't working for me. Do not misunderstand what I'm saying here to mean that you know why it's happening, you may have no clue. The key is that you can isolate how your needs are not being met, how you have requested for those needs to be met, repeatedly (in all but the most egregious cases), and it's just not happening.

This is your due diligence phase. This is the part where you can qualitatively show that you are not going off half-cocked, ripping apart relationships on a whim. This is real. This is something that I can identify. This is something I can communicate.

Also, take a moment and look at your other relationships. Compare and contrast. Is this happening with other connections? Is this a pattern? This could be self-deception if you see it everywhere. Is this something that you are doing and blaming your partner for? Even if it isn't, this might be a picker issue for you. There are lots of nuggets of goodness here that you can find buried amidst the wreckage of your imploding, soon-to-be ex-relationship.

Too harsh?

Step 5: You have admitted to your partner what is not working in your relationship and your part in it.

Ideally this should have happened in Step 1. Repeatedly. However, before actually doing the dumping (remember we still aren't there yet), you need to do this one more time. During this conversation, take what you've learned from the previous 4 steps and share your part in it.

How did you contribute to this dysfunctional situation? How did you participate in the behavior, or set things up poorly. By sharing your hand in it, it is much more clear to your partner that you are not solely blaming them, rather, you are recognize that things aren't working and that a change needs to be made.

There is a rule for Human Resources professionals, I will paraphrase it here. "Being fired should never be a surprise." This rule for business relationships translates directly over to romantic relationships. "Being dumped should never be a surprise."

Sometimes your partner hears this as "I'm dumping you right now." Sometimes this step leads directly to your partner immediately dumping you! Preemptive dumpage!! Regardless of the reason, Step 5 will often actually be the same conversation as Step 6.

Step 6: You are entirely ready to remove this romantic connection from your life.

By the time the conversation in Step 5 happens, you will probably be at the point where, "But, but, let's try one more time! Please!" will have lost it's persuasive force. You've analyzed it, you've felt your feelings, you've shared the details with other partners, and it's not working. Sure, you could take one more ride on the merry-go-round, but that's what Step 1 was, remember? You've done all of this and it's time to pull the trigger.

As I said, Step 5 and Step 6 usually occur consecutively. Be ready for 6 before starting 5. It is possible that something new and previously unaddressed could come up during Step 5. Maybe. You can decide how flexible you want to be here, but tread lightly. This way co-dependency lies. How many times are you going to go back to the same dysfunctional behavior and expect a different outcome? This does NOT mean that your partner is a bad person (necessarily). This does NOT mean that you are a bad person. This does not mean that the relationship can't work, it means that it's not working, it hasn't been working, and things aren't changing together, so now it's time to change apart.

This part sucks. Have back up ready. Plan this. Take care of yourself. Have time scheduled with other partners or friends. Do not withdraw into isolation.  Have support for yourself planned and ready to jump into action. Also, do NOT do this during your lunch break at work. Do NOT do this over electronic media. 

Do this in person, in a private space, and make a commitment (to yourself) around how long it will last. Say what you have to say, allow them to respond if they care to, and then DO NOT RESPOND! Thank them for their time and leave. There will be time to deal with responses and countering their blatant lies later. This is not the time. Do NOT get hooked into further recriminations. Walk away. You're done. You just said you were done, so be done. If you aren't done, why in the hell are you dumping them? You're done, walk away.

Wait, you're not done. Remember, this is a 12-step guide, not a 6-step guide. You're merely halfway there!

Step 7: Humbly accept the part that you played in this, and set an intention to grow from it.

You've paid the price for growth, for the love of all that's good in the world, don't fail to claim your prize. Grow, damn you, grow! This is the time to dig back in with your other connections, to share your experience, and to start to look at the things that you can do better next time.

That might look like working on your picker. That might look like learning to recognize patterns to prevent similar problems from developing in future relationships. There is a lot of ground that you might possibly cover here.

You don't have to do it all at once.  This isn't a race.  This Step is about deciding to begin the process of learning, and to accept that you are responsible for not only what you have done in the past, but in making sure that you do learn from your experiences.

How can you possibly do this? I'm glad you asked!

Step 8: Make a list of all the ways that you personally contributed to this situation, and the harm that it's done both to others around you and to yourself.

"What?! Homework? I'm in emotional pain over here, and you're giving me freakin' homework? Screw you!"

Oh, okay, no big. Just keep being the same train wreck you currently are, and bumble from relationship to relationship reliving the same pain and anguish for the rest of your life. No skin off my nose. It's all good. 

Even if this was all the other person's fault (I believe this to be well nigh impossible, but I can't rule it out in every conceivable case), you chose them. You selected this person. You owe it to your other connections and especially to yourself to learn from this and to help minimize the chances that you will follow down the same path again later. There are so many fabulous and exciting ways to screw up interpersonal relationships, you really should avoid repetition.

If you think that you could never possibly do something this stupid ever again, realize that such thinking, without learning, is a potent form of self-deception. When a river floods, it follows it's banks as far as it can until it spills out onto a flood plain. If no work is done on the surrounding topography it will naturally follow a very similar pattern again during the next rainy season.

Unless you change, you will very predictably exhibit the same behavior given the same stimuli that lead you to where you are now. The current pain will fade, time will pass, the flood waters will recede, and then the cycle will start all over again. You deserve better than that. Your other partners, friends, and family deserve better than that. Your future partners deserve better than that.

You're in pain. Okay, that's fine. Take a break. You don't have to do Step 8 immediately. Take some time to heal. That's absolutely fine. But if you do you need to schedule it.  Often it helps to put some time between the break up and when you really dig in.  Perspective increases, your emotional resilience returns, both of which allow you to be more effective in this process, .

A week, a month, three months, whatever break you need, take it. But write in your calendar/goal list/whatever that you are coming back to this, and you are going to do so with a vigorous commitment to a painful degree of honesty with yourself. If you don't, you are just going to screw things up again in the future the same exact way. I can guarantee it.

Step 9: Make direct amends to everyone you've hurt in this relationship, especially yourself.

"What does that even look like?"

You have probably been leaning on your other connections. They might have felt some collateral damage from the time that your now ex-relationship wasn't working. Feed them. It's not a quid pro quo thing, it's not about "paying them back", it's about honoring and acknowledging the consequences of your decisions, and taking the time to not just tell them, but to show them how much you value their contributions in your life.

This can be over-done. I've had partners start apologizing to me every time we have date time scheduled. Don't go overboard. Rein in your inner drama llama. Take them out on a date and say, "Hey, I'm treating tonight. This is the 'You dealt with my crap from my relationship with my ex' dinner and dancing extravaganza." Just tell them how their support helped you.

When you tell them, be sure to provide an example. Tell them about a time that they were there for you, including details. The more specific, the better. Trust me, you will both get immense value out of this. First, they will really believe you and understand you because you are so specific. Second, they will learn better how you perceive them, what you value about them, and how they can help you in the future. When people know how to help, they are drawn to do it when they see such a situation occur. It's compelling. People want to help those they care for. It's innate.

Well, unless you're dating a sociopath.

Also, when you are going over what you've learned, give yourself credit for trying. When you look at your mistakes, point out how you had good intentions, you just didn't happen to make the best choice. Let yourself off the hook.

When doing deep, meaningful self-reflection, all too often you can fall into a pattern of recognition followed by self-flagellation. Don't do that! Observe through reflection, acknowledge your agency, then accept that what happened is in the past and decide to choose a different course of behavior in the future. That's it. Stop there. No self-blame, no recurring admonitions, no beating yourself up.

If you find that you can't stop that behavior, the self-critical, "shoulding" on yourself, aggressively seek out help. That might look like counseling. That might look like adding habits to short circuit the process. Install a "phone-a-friend" system. Have a partner or friend who agrees to let you call them when you find yourself doing this. You don't even need to talk to them, they can let it go to voice mail, or heck, use text, that part doesn't matter.

Reach out and say, "Hey. I'm thinking about my stuff again and started to spiral. I thought of you, and decided that I deserve better. Not going to do it. Talk to you soon."

Feel free to cut and paste that. Feel free to obliterate it and pick your own words. The specific words don't matter. What matters is the mutual acknowledgement between yourself and someone else (or multiple people) that you are NOT going to allow yourself to wallow in self-recrimination, building up toxic feelings that are self-destructive, and someone is there to hold you accountable for that.

Step 10: Review your lists from Step 4 & Step 8, and reflect.

"Wait, I already did all that, why do I have to do it again?"

Because you might have missed things. Now, with further time and distance, you can go back and find some fruit that might still be worth harvesting. Was there any part of this that you were previously mistaken about? Was self-deception hiding a key part, or perhaps misattributing some cause or effect?

Sometimes at this point you will find something that jumps out at you that you simply couldn't see previously. Don't feel dumb, that's normal. In fact, if it didn't happen, I would be surprised. Step 4 & Step 8 are important and necessary, but very rarely are they exhaustive.

This isn't a monthly thing. This might be a yearly thing. The frequency is entirely up to you. I strongly suggest doing this when you are feeling good, resourced, and vibrant. "Wait," you say, "won't that just harsh my mellow? Why would I jump into a heaping pile of past pain when things are going so well? That sucks! I feel happy, I want to stay happy." Fair point. The thing is, the times when you are feeling the most emotional resilience are the times when you will be strong enough to look at things with the greatest accuracy and resolve.

There is a great deal of our mind that is outside of our direct observation. It used to be called the "subconscious" mind, but that term has fallen out of favor as it really has no meaning. Now there is the "conscious" mind, or what you are aware of thinking, and the "unconscious" mind, where other stuff is happening. We can't really call that other stuff "thoughts", as thoughts are conscious, but something, and it's a whole lot of something, is going on in our unconscious mind, off stage as it were, all the time.

A part of our unconscious mind acts like a stage manager, directing traffic toward or away from our conscious mind. Depending on our current mental state, it will lead various ideas out onto the stage, in front of the spotlight, ready to be examined. If you try to consider painful issues when you aren't well resourced, often the unconscious will block certain things from you, recognizing that now isn't the best time. You will be completely blind to things that otherwise might be completely obvious, and might even be obvious to those around you.

When you are in a happy, emotionally resilient place, it is much more likely that your stage manager is going to allow the big stuff to come up. Yes, this can harsh your mellow. Yes, it can mean that you will go from cheerful to a weeping puddle in no time flat. Hey, do you want to grow or not?

Actually, that's an important question. Sometimes the answer might be, "no". I think that's okay. But sometimes, the answer probably ought to be, "yes". Remember, you get to make that decision.

Step 11: You have sought through introspection and careful consideration to understand who you really are, how you work, and considered who you want to be.

"Wait a second, I thought this was supposed to be how to dump your partner, and now you're going all self-help, personal growth on us!"

Yep, busted. I actually would like to see a future where people grow from every single healthy relationship they are in, and where people grow from every single unhealthy relationship that they exit. I like growth. Call me a fan.

This post isn't just about the technique of how to break up with your partner, which should have been obvious to you, gentle reader, well before now, but it's also about how to help derive meaning and value from the experience. I remember recognizing that I needed to break up with someone and not doing it because of the feeling I experienced after having this thought.

"I don't want it to have all been for nothing."

That crushed me. I didn't see how I was a better person, as I prepared to exit the relationship, than I was when I went in. If anything, I felt as though I were less than, not more than. I hadn't "grown", I'd regressed. That wasn't true, but that's what it looked and felt like form my current perspective at the time.

So, what is the point of Step 11?

Congruency with self, removing inner conflict. Don't be your own enemy. Self-knowledge, to better negotiate and manage current and future relationships, including your relationship with yourself. A sense of confidence and growing self-esteem from competence, effectiveness, and mastery in your intrapersonal and interpersonal life.

Come on, now, tell me that doesn't sound good. Of course it sounds good! It sounds great! So, how do you do that? Well, that's been what I've been talking about, but I certainly haven't covered everything.

There are other relationships where you share yourself, deeply and fully. Those can be friendships. Those can be family members. Those can be mentors, or a counselor, a teacher, or you can learn, grow, and discover more about yourself from being a teacher, mentor, or a parent.

There are also solitary pursuits. Meditation, prayer, a spiritual tradition, a hobby that you are passionate about. Sometimes when I am writing, I will find some nugget of self-wisdom, some insight, that I was absolutely not expecting. When you are in "flow", you accomplish some amazing things, and some of that can be these sorts of inner discoveries.

Step 12: Since you are in a better place, having pulled your head out of your ass and dumped your partner, pay it forward.

I touched on this in Step 11, you can benefit greatly from being that teacher or mentor. Continue to learn, gain satisfaction and self-esteem, and generally make the world a better place. Don't always do it because of what you're going to get. Focus on that last part, making the world a better place.

Sure, there are arguments to be made for enlightened self-interest. Some theories of ethics argue that there really is nothing else, when you scrape off the clutter on the surface, but I don't care whether you believe that there is some form of pure altruism or not. The truth is, the world will be a better place, your life will be better, and the lives of those around you will be better when you contribute.  Plug in, step up to the plate, engage in meaningful ways, share what you know with people in appropriate ways, when they are ready to hear it.

Give because it follows a spiritual principle that you hold dear. Give because you see how you will benefit, both immediately and in the future. Give because you are under an injunction from an authority you respect. The "why" doesn't matter.




Just give. Give of your time when you have it to give. Give of your knowledge when a situation arises that you recognize. Give of your compassion when someone is hurting. Sometimes the best thing to give is to simply be present and hold space for another. Mouth shut, eyes and ears open, sit still and listen. Take it in. Allow them to be seen and heard. Bear witness to their experience, as sloppy, messy, and sometimes completely wrong as it might be.  Validate their experience, if not their choices.

Speaking of other people being "wrong", don't always jump in to correct or teach. Remember the end of the paragraph a bit earlier, "... when they are ready to hear it." Wait to be asked. Offer, maybe, but don't push. There is a saying that I don't endorse in every situation, but it continues coming up as relevant, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear." You might actually have all the answers. You could know the right thing to say. You might be in the right place at the right time to help. All of that can be meaningless if another person isn't in a place to accept the "gift" that you are offering.

You CAN'T fix their problem. Only they can. Read that again. Heck, I'll make it easy for you, I'll write it again. You can't fix their problem. Only they can. Telling them the truth won't fix their problem. Knowledge is very rarely sufficient to address a personal challenge of this sort. The individual needs to recognize the issue, accept that it is an issue, and then set about to change it.

Remember the Steps we just covered? They have to do all of this for themselves. Learning when to say something and when to hold your tongue is a life-long endeavor, it seems to me. My rule of thumb is to offer, and then drop it. But please, do offer. Let people know that you're available. Be willing to give. Do what you can to make the world, your world, a better place.


The Buddhist Slut said...

I enjoyed this. Useful advice for any relationship status, as our intimate relationships often affect our support network regardless - unless you are a hermit.
Thanks :)

Unknown said...

Very well said! all the bases are covered with the (often overlooked) emphasis of one's self.

I've got to admit this way I broke-up with my wife of 15 years before I ever ventured into polyamory.

Unknown said...

Very well said! all the bases are covered with the (often overlooked) emphasis of one's self.

I've got to admit this way I broke-up with my wife of 15 years before I ever ventured into polyamory.

Anonymous said...

This post has served as the kick-in-the-arse I just needed.

Breaking up sucks, but remembering that you're not the only one who's ever gone through/going through it is immensely helpful.

Words. Lots of them. Thank you for your insight.

Dave said...

Thank you for the kind words everyone. I appreciate the responses.

I feel as though each of these points could be a chapter in a book, as was suggested to me by a certain dashing fellow. I might add that to my list of books to write.

It's a fun, if imperfect way to look at the subject.

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