There’s no perfect script to follow for how to say goodbye to a relationship and, consequently, the person with whom you’ve been in a relationship. So how do you navigate the end of a relationship well? It’s too personal and contextual for a one-size-fits-all approach. But are there things you can do to draw your relationships to a close in a healthy way, heal from the loss, and move forward with an open heart?
Lynn Min knows the journey of ending a relationship intimately, not only through her work as a licensed counselor and pastor, but also through her own marriage and divorce. She shared her insights on ending relationships with me in a wide-ranging conversation. As with everything we do on Faithward, connecting with God and tending to your spiritual life were central to this discussion.
There was too much to the topic of ending relationships for just one article to cover. If you’re still discerning whether to end your relationship, you can find Lynn’s guidance on making that decision in part one. This article is focused on how to end a relationship well and move forward after it’s over.
How to approach the “break-up” conversation
Try to enter into a conversation about ending a relationship with honesty, grace, and empathy. Balance the truth about what is prompting this conversation with care for one another’s feelings.
Be prepared for it to take time to process what brought your relationship to this point. Make space for everyone to be heard and ask questions. Then begin working toward a shared understanding of what’s next.
Initially, some people might deny that the relationship is ending or they might want a chance to fix it. You’ll need to decide how open you are to giving the relationship another chance.
“Sometimes bringing the truth about the relationship out into the open does make a difference, says Lynn, “but if you really don’t want the relationship to end, there’s got to be effort on everyone’s part.”
Ultimately, Lynn and her ex-husband’s marriage still didn’t work out. But giving her ex-husband the chance to work on the relationship with her was clarifying: “Each time he didn’t put the effort in, resigned, or withdrew, it became clearer to me that, whether he was ready or not, the relationship needed to end.”
The problem with ghosting
It is almost always kinder and healthier to have an open conversation about ending the relationship than it is to “ghost” someone (to cut off communication with someone without explanation). The conversation can give both of you greater clarity about what happened in your relationship so that you can grow and move forward.
“It may seem easier to just avoid someone than to have the conversation, but we really need to be able to speak truthfully with one another about these things,” says Lynn. “I think it’s a sign of insecurity to ghost someone. If I’m sure about me, then you can have your feelings.”
If you have been ghosted by someone, try not to blame yourself.
“It’s not like you walk into a bathroom, and if it smells like poop you’re like, ‘Is it me?’ But we do that with feelings. Know that not everything is a reflection of you. When ghosting happens, it usually says a lot more about the person ghosting than the person who has been ghosted,” says Lynn.”
Take time to grieve the relationship
When a relationship ends, you don’t just lose what you loved about that relationship. You also lose what you hoped that relationship could be.
Even the most unhealthy and harmful relationships usually carry hope for something better. And even good, deeply needed change involves loss. So, ending any relationship will involve a grieving process. This is true of all types of relationships, including friendships.
“It’s almost like people suffer silently when they lose friendships,” Lynn says. “It’s not family, it’s not a loved one, and there’s no word for it. It almost gets minimized. But it can be a deeply painful experience.”
How do you start the grieving process?
“I think the first thing that you need to do when a relationship ends is to grieve for what is,” says Lynn. “With my ex-husband, I needed to realize, wow, this is who you are. How difficult it must have been for you to live with me, to deal with me pushing you to be things that you’re not. It’s not fair that I hold you to my standards. But also, for me to say the same. This is who he is. It doesn’t make me feel partnered. It doesn’t make me feel loved or beautiful. It’s not what I need.
“I also had to ask, what does it mean for me if I’m a divorced person? It brought to the surface all the ways I had been taught to judge that,” adds Lynn. “I needed to grieve the version of me that was married and that was in the realm of what I used to know—in the box. Now I don’t fit in the box.”
If you’re still trying to change what happened or are afraid to confront the truth about the end of your relationship, that may be a sign you aren’t ready to accept the outcome of the relationship. And you need more time to grieve the loss.
Accepting the outcome of the relationship
“You want to work toward being able to accept ‘what is’ without needing an explanation or to try to change it,” says Lynn. “When I try to change, I’m in denial of what is, and I’m throwing a tantrum about it because it doesn’t align with something else that I need.
“For example, I had this vision growing up of a family who would have the table ready for me. But I was always afraid that if I didn’t call in my parents for the holidays, nothing would happen. I grew up saying, ‘No, I have to have that,’ and I worked to create it. I kept up what I did because I wanted Thanksgiving with my mommy and my brother and my sister. I wanted that family.
“This Thanksgiving, I didn’t offer to cook the turkey and open up my place and do it all. And lo and behold, nobody did anything.
“What I feared was true. And it’s hard for me to accept that. But I’m not holding onto fake pearls. Now my prayer is, ‘God, you said you’d set a table for me. And I don’t have it. So where’s my experiential evidence of your truth?’
“Grief breaks you open and leaves you surrendered. And when you’re surrendered, God can fill your hands up with something new.”
Moving forward with grief
Don’t expect the grieving progress to be a neat and tidy progression.
“The five stages of grief are not just this linear line of grade 1, grade 2, grade 3. Sometimes you get mad, and then you get depressed, and then you start bargaining with God,” says Lynn.
But with time, you’ll come to a place of acceptance in your grief. You’ll be ready for something new again.
“I still see my ex-husband because of my kids, but we don’t create a life together,” says Lynn. “Every time I see him, there’s this layer of it could have been, or I’m so glad I’m out of there. But it actually gives me a little bit of closure because I am so at peace with it. I think that’s the closure that we look for at the end of a relationship: peace with what happened.”
Be true to yourself and kind to yourself
“Be true to you,” says Lynn. “Nobody else is going to do that part. Only you can live your life.”
Others may want you to give of yourself in ways that you can’t right now. Especially when you’re in a time of acute grieving, Lynn’s advice is to be “self-full.”
“Be self-full so that you can give of yourself from the overflow of yourself. You can’t give what you don’t have,” she says.
Being kind to yourself doesn’t mean ignoring your faults. Recognize your shortcomings and learn from them if you can. But Lynn also says it’s important to deal with yourself with grace and give yourself permission to make mistakes. Allow yourself to tap into the mercy and grace of God.
You won’t please everyone. And there may be some people who disagree with how you’ve handled your relationship or don’t understand your choices. You may feel misunderstood.
“The world says I’m a ‘divorced’ person,” Lynn reflects. “The world thinks, how could she do that to such a nice guy? With three kids! There’s all the judgments that come with that, all the assumptions that come with that.
“If you’ve internalized everybody around you who criticizes you, you can get away from them, but you can’t get away from you. That’s where you need to show up for yourself. You need to embody the incarnated Jesus Christ for yourself. You have to find God within you.”
Set healthy boundaries
You don’t have to explain yourself to everyone or be emotionally vulnerable when you don’t feel safe.
“Protect yourself,” Lynn advises. “It’s a privilege for people to walk with you. Not everybody deserves to hear how you’re doing or where you’re going, or to have that ability to speak into it.”
You can set boundaries in your relationships without severing the connection you have to people who are important to you.
For example, Lynn’s parents have had a hard time coming to terms with her divorce.
“My mom would sit me down and say, ‘I’m worried about your salvation,’” she recalls. “When it’s that in my face, when it’s my own mother, I find a need to set some good boundaries. I navigated it by giving myself some space from my parents.
“Now, with my mom, I can say, ‘I get that you’re worried. But I’m certain about my salvation. I’m living my salvation. And it doesn’t need to fit your narrative. I’m also certain that you still love me, even if you don’t fully understand me.’ It comes from a space of having self-full grace.”
Think about what boundaries you need to have in place for your wellbeing. Who do you need space from? Where do you need to take a step back to heal?
Accept what you can’t control
There are some things that you can control when your relationship ends. But there’s also “so many other things that are beyond your control,” says Lynn. “For those things, we need a new skill. We need the skill of surrender and trust.
“What does it look like for you to surrender … power and control, knowing that, in your heart, you’re going to be okay? [What does it look like] to be at peace, [trusting] that all the eternal stuff is already taken care of?
“Let’s take this example of my parents who are still not ready to accept what I’ve done with my relationship,” says Lynn. “How do I navigate that, knowing that I cannot change them? I can’t change them, and they’re going to still be in my life. The best that I can do is show up without a need to prove myself.”
Seek supportive community
“There’s three or four people that I can go to that will hold God’s love for me—God’s view and vision for me—no matter what I do or don’t do,” says Lynn. “Those people have been really crucial for me. I think that group of people you trust to have your back is really important to have.”
If you don’t have the support you need, Lynn recommends that you go out and find a community that you can trust.
But it’s okay if your church isn’t the place where you find your supportive community. Lynn admits church wasn’t a place where she felt comfortable in the aftermath of her divorce. Instead, she joined an improv team.
“I joined people who accepted me without the need for an explanation, without everyone asking, ‘You’re a pastor? And you’re divorced?’” she says. “At improv, it was just, ‘Hi, I’m Lynn.’ The improv community allowed me to be known in other ways and be spoken into by a group.”
One valuable source of trust and support you can seek out is a good therapist. Having a professional therapist to help you process the end of your relationship and move forward well can go a long way.
It can be intimidating to put yourself out there. But Lynn encourages you to persevere.
“You only need two or more to make a community,” she notes. “You just need to have at least one person you trust. Even if you’re scared, however you can, create that community.”
Reframe the narrative about what ending a relationship means
Many people avoid talking about when relationships end. It may feel like ending a relationship means it was a failure or mistake, something to be ashamed of or to hide. But “happily ever after” isn’t always the ending in real life. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“I think of the moment when Jesus is about to die, and Peter isn’t having it,” Lynn says. “Peter’s saying, ‘I’m going to protect you. You’re not dying on my watch. You’re going to take over Rome.’ He has this stark idea of what it means for the kingdom of God to arrive. Death isn’t part of the plan. But Jesus tells him, ‘Stand behind me. Let this happen. Let things die.’ Sometimes that is the will of God.”
Even when a relationship ends differently than you would have chosen, you have a say in the meaning that you make of it. And you may realize there’s good in what it means.
“For example, I made a lot of friends when I was younger thinking that I had to please people,” Lynn says. “I was super nice and didn’t say anything that could make people uncomfortable because I wanted to keep them around. But as I got older, I became bolder.
“I realized I don’t have to be desperate for people to like me because I have the King of the Universe backing me up. So I have opinions, and you’re going to hear them. Those old relationships, where I was seen but not heard, don’t work anymore because I changed. And I can grieve that. But I can also have hope because I have faith God has something new and better.”
Honor the past and embrace God’s future for you
“Grief is proof that you have loved,” says Lynn. “And so people who love others and people who have loved their lives will have a lot to grieve. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Grief expands you to love more. It’s this breaking-up-and-causing-your-hands-to-open kind of a moment.”
This relationship will always be part of your story. And the way it impacted you won’t disappear.
“You can honor what was beautiful about friendships and other relationships that you’ve had in the past without holding onto them like clothes that don’t fit you anymore,” Lynn says. “I bless friends from my past in their new lives. Like, Hey, we used to speak every day, but now we barely speak. I bless you. Maybe we’ll cross paths again. Maybe not. And I bless you.”
At the same time, the end of this relationship may make way for new beginnings.
“Sometimes breaks in your relationships are just the surface-level results of the ways that God has been trying to evolve you for something new,” says Lynn. “It won’t be the same, but have faith there will be something coming that’s more aligned to the fullest version of you now.”