It’s hard to find a gentle way to talk about break up. The very language we use to discuss ending a dating relationship, or even to discuss the choice not to have a second date with someone, often sounds harsh.
“Kick to the curb.”
Saying things along these lines might be fine when you’re telling an unconcerned third party about ending things with the person you’ve been seeing.
But most of us are more than aware that you just can’t be that harsh when you go about actually breaking things off.
We all know that rejection hurts. Even a lot of non-Catholics recognize that it’s a good idea to try and spare the other person’s feelings as much as possible.
But what does a holy approach to breaking up with someone actually look like?
Here are three things to consider when you’re faced with the confusing task of finding a way to be charitable while breaking things off with someone.
1. The good old golden rule
You might remember it as one of the first things you ever learned in Sunday school. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This phrase is often called the golden rule.
At first glance, it feels almost useless here. You don’t want someone you like to break up with you at all. You’d probably rather no one ever did to you what you need to do to this person.
But if you are sure that there isn’t a possibility of a good relationship here, then keep in mind that you are actually treating them with charity by breaking things off.
Read more: 5 Mistakes People Make When Breaking Up
Even if you know that they’ll be hurt and disappointed, leading them on when you know the relationship can’t go anywhere long-term will only cause more pain for them in the long run.
You most likely would want them to do the same for you if the roles were reversed, even if the breakup caused you some pain in the here and now.
Beyond this knowledge of what’s ultimately best for the both of you, you can take the golden rule a little farther and think of things in terms of how you’d prefer to be broken up with, yourself.
So right away, you know you should avoid placing any blame on them and should do the actual breaking up in a respectful way.
2. Face the task head-on
Concretely speaking, breaking up with someone in a respectful way often means to face the unpleasant task directly. No shirking, no pretenses, no hiding behind text if at all possible.
It seems like, these days, thanks to technology, a lot of breakups happen via text message.
It makes sense. Who wants to see someone’s disappointed face while delivering the bad news? It’s much easier to hide behind a screen and break their heart from a distance.
But if you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a text-breakup, or if you’ve talked to someone who has, you probably know that it’s kind of a double blow.
It feels like the person didn’t even think you were worthwhile enough to take the trouble to breakup in person.
As Catholics, we know that everyone is worthy of respect. We’re all created in the image and likeness of God.
Don’t fall into the temptation to take the easy way out, when it means you’re not showing the person as much respect as they deserve.
3. Be clear and intentional
As a faithful Catholic, the idea that you need to be as charitable and respectful as possible when breaking things off with someone are probably not foreign. We should be treating everyone with as much charity as possible all the time, after all.
But there’s another trap that’s a little sneakier, and harder for us in particular to avoid. On the surface, it feels like kindness and gentleness.
It’s not actually kind at all. At its core, it is the exact opposite.
This trap I’m talking about is being unclear when you breakup with someone, leaving room for hope where there is none.
It might feel kinder and gentler in the moment to use language like, “right now…” or even, “maybe in the future…” when you know full well that the two of you are just plain incompatible.
Don’t string them on in this way. Don’t be vague in what you’re actually saying. Don’t give them reason to hope that, maybe when some time has passed, the two of you could give it another try.
Being unclear about how sure you are that the two of you aren’t right for each other is not charity. It will only make it harder for them to move on and might in fact make them feel like they shouldn’t move on.
If you want to treat someone in the most virtuous and charitable way possible, you’ll try your best to find a way to break up that is kind, direct, and unmistakably clear.