There's a scene in Sex and the City where, after Carrie breaks up with Big for the first time, a photo of her appears in the newspaper. In the photo, she's wearing a new dress and she's on a date with a famous baseball player. The women all talk about how it's a coup for Carrie. "Big is going to see this and die," Samantha says.
The idea that, post-breakup, each party tries to get one over on the other is a sentiment many people who've ever ended a relationship are familiar with. To "win" the breakup is to prove that you've moved on faster, thus cementing your status as the person who cares less.
But guess what? Playing the comparison game isn't the way to "win" your breakup. In fact, it's the opposite. "You win a breakup if you exit the situation with mutual respect," says Megan Stubbs, a certified sexologist. "If you're able to exit on good terms, without throwing hurtful phrases at one another, that's the best situation."
According to Stubbs, counting your wins against your former partner's perceived losses is an unconscious way of hanging on to the relationship. "You're stuck in this loop where the relationship is still on your mind," she says. "But that's unhealthy."
The way you break up has a lot to do with avoiding that loop. "If a relationship seems to be running into trouble, you want to get together with your partner and see if there's anything that can be done to save it," says Rachel Sussman, LCSW, a New York-based relationship therapist. "If you can't, then you both can agree it's time for the relationship to end."
Sussman also says it might not be a bad idea to figure out with your partner what you'll say to the people around you. "A lot of the feelings of failure have to do with how the outside world views your relationship," she says. "People will ask, 'Who broke up with whom?' So a well-crafted breakup mission statement can actually be a good thing." It might seem silly, but it's a good way to ensure you're both on the same page.
It's also important to reframe the ending of your relationship in your own mind — not in the minds of others. "I hate it when clients say 'I got dumped,'" Sussman says. "You're not dumped. You're not garbage. Your partner may have decided to end the relationship before you were ready." She says it's important to take the knowledge of why they wanted out — or why you didn't — and work through that yourself. "Ask yourself why you weren't ready for the breakup," she says. "That can inform why you're feeling the way you are, as well as help you move on in a constructive way."
And remember that just because something ends doesn't mean it was necessarily bad. "A breakup doesn't mean what proceeded it was garbage," Stubbs says. "I loved the show Nip/Tuck, and it ended, but I don't go around dissing the show." In other words, don't let the ending cloud the rest of the relationship. You win by being happy with yourself — before, during, and after a breakup. Most people's rebound dates won't make the news, anyway, so there's another flaw in the SATC strategy.