Say what you will about Goopy girl Gwyneth Paltrow's "conscious uncoupling," but she kind of had a point that we can hang with: When you have a cognitive strategy for breaking up with someone, it can make the emotional horse pill of a breakup easier to swallow. Now, there's a trendy new breakup technique that's about to blow up called, "saying goodbye," and it's the brainchild of Halley Bock, author and founder of Life, Incorporated.
There's a good chance you've used her techniques before — at work or with friends — and just not realized it. In short, you can think of it as the opposite of ghosting, which Bock thinks is really not the move. "Disappearing from a relationship and leaving the person to wonder what happened is cruel and unfair," Bock says. "We all have to have compassion for ourselves and other people, and when we look at breakups, it's easy to paint others as toxic, bad, or evil — and really, we're just trying to make our way through life." When you say "bye" to a relationship, you're letting the person go without any misconceptions and freeing yourself of any emotional baggage that you would otherwise hold on to.
How do you do this? Allow Bock to explain.
Why should we "say goodbye" to our past relationships?
"We all have a tendency to avoid unhealthy relationships for various reasons — which extends to foods and substances that are unhealthy — and with relationships with another person, we want things to work so we're so conflict-averse. We have a backpack and we keep these stones instead of letting them free. Many relationships will have run their course, and setting ourselves free of those can have a positive impact. Saying goodbye frees us up for other relationships and keeps us from plodding through life with a heavy load."
What exactly should you say when you're saying bye?
"Be direct: If you know you're there to end the relationship, don't put pillows around it, and don't add justifications that they could interpret what you're saying as just a pause or break in the relationship. Communicate directly, and keep the focus on yourself and the impact that the relationship is having on you, as opposed to pointing to another person's behavior. That could look like, Mary, after thinking about the dynamic I create with you, I find myself falling short of my own expectations. I need to take a break from this dynamic in order to achieve my goals — no faults of your own, but this is a personal choice. I wish you the best. Or something like that, I find myself having other priorities, and for that reason I will need to end the relationship."
Isn't that kind of mean?
"Go into any conversation expecting any type of reaction, but don't react to their reaction. When someone breaks up with us, we go into a primal place in our brain; the sense of not belonging is huge. If they say you're wrong, that's fine — that's none of your stuff, that's them reacting and processing. They're having their moment, and you would too if someone surprised you. Give them the grace to have a reaction, but don't take it on at all. As soon as you re-engage again, it's an unhealthy dynamic."
Can I just text it?
"You have to figure out whether it's worth it to even have a conversation, because I've seen organizations fire people over text. I encourage us all to have the courage and grace to say goodbye, if not face-to-face, voice-to-voice. Any relationship is no trivial thing, so we owe it to ourselves to show up one last time."
So, no more ghosting?
"There's a Henry David Thoreau quote that I love: 'The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.' I find this so poignant, because in our relationships, we are exchanging an amount of our life for it. We need to be cognizant of what we welcome and maintain in our lives. While we may not be able to put our finger on it, we're expending energy. If I have a relationship out there that I wish I didn't have or is difficult, they open up energy leaks. We can't see what's going on, but there's a drain on the system and stress. Not dealing with it causes more harm than momentary discomfort of making a decision and having a final decision."
Should I go back and tell all my exes goodbye?
"If it's communicated that the relationship is over, I wouldn’t go back to hop on the phone and have a meeting because you don’t want to open up that dynamic. If a relationship ended poorly, there are behaviors that cause feelings, reminders, or pangs of wishing that things had ended differently, you might feel like you need to clean it up. But if you have exchanges again, there will be toxic patterns. Writing a letter can be powerful — even just seeing someone's hand writing. Make it a personal note and say, Hey I was thinking about how things ended. I wish you the best."