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Goodbyes - 6 tips to ensure an amicable ending

Updated: Jan 7, 2022

I had an experience featuring the ending of a relationship. Of course, there are many types of goodbyes which we encounter day to day, some of which are trickier to navigate than others; jobs, friends, relationships, organisations… each of which we invest our life and emotions in, becoming an inextricable part of our own identity.

For the purpose of this blog, I’ll focus on relationships, though I believe these tips are relevant for any interaction. This goodbye was between one person who is emotionally avoidant and the other is an emotional examiner (I’ll let you guess which one is me!). Of course, this is clearly a recipe for disaster since one party wants to part ways with as little ceremony as possible, whereas the other wants to acknowledge the depth and meaning of everything this relationship was and will become in the parting of ways. What I hasten to say is neither of these approaches is ‘wrong’, but I would like to suggest there are some guidelines that either type of person can adhere to ensure the parting of ways is peaceful and satisfying for everyone involved. Here are just six of some of the points you may wish to consider before saying goodbye:

1) Prepare - consider making a list of things you want to say and invite the other person to do the same. Once the conversation starts and you get swept up on the waves of emotion all those talking points you had will magically disappear from your memory so having them written down will help you maintain clarity and avoid regret later. Considering exactly what you want to say beforehand also gives you the opportunity to reflect whether what you want to say is kind? Will your future self be proud of how you handled the situation? How do you want to remember this ending? Setting intentions and even announcing these to each other at the start of the conversation can help steer the conversation and provides context for what you’re saying.

2) Setting – choose a location that is private, where you wont be distracted by people walking past or disturbed. Somewhere where you can hear eachother clearly and are not likely to be disturbed. Switch off your phones/tv/radio. Make sure the other person isn’t in the middle of something else – ask if this is a good time; if this is an uncomfortable conversation it can be tempting to deflect attention onto anything else except the conversation in hand, anticipate this and remove any potential distractions beforehand.

3) It takes two - don’t forget there’s two people in this conversation and compromise may be necessary! My goodbye yesterday went up in smoke because one person assumed the goodbye would be a drawn out, sad process and thought the best way to avoid this was to turn it into a fleeting farewell in the street. The other had envisioned some meaningful time together, recanting some good memories, acknowledging residual affection and parting on good terms. Needless to say, the encounter left a bitter taste for both of us because we hadn’t communicated what we felt most comfortable with beforehand, we had both assumed the other would see things the way we did.

Thankfully, we had time for a second shot at goodbye today and it went much better, primarily because we met each other halfway. After a debrief on yesterday’s disaster, we were able to communicate the feelings that had made us behave the way we did, what we felt about parting ways and our hopes for the future (Non-Violent Communication, NVC, is a superb practice to facilitate this kind of communication, which I will endeavor to write another blog post on ASAP).

4) Let go of regrets and resentment - Mandela famously said ‘resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die’. You are never going to be able to imbue the other person with all the feels you’re feeling; they’re filled up with their own feelings, opinions and point of view. You CAN be honest about how you feel now, but holding onto ill feeling only drains your energy now, it won’t change the activating event. This energy is better spent either working on a solution together or distancing and taking care of yourself. To do this some honest self-reflection is necessary (see ‘preparation’ above), to establish exactly what you’re holding onto and what – if anything – can be done to make it feel better. Often, time and space is the kindest answer for both people. Furthermore, it’s important to let go of the ‘bad-guy’ mentality; maybe your puzzle pieces don’t fit, perhaps it really is bad timing, someone may well have been careless or selfish; this doesn’t mean you have to fall into victim/perpetrator roles.

5) Less is more - I’ll leave that one there, like I said …

6) Be realistic - It can be easy to make up a bunch of stuff to make the other person feel better but short-term gain can lead to long-term pain. For instance, hinting at a reunion in the future when you have every intention of vanishing over the nearest horizon without a trace is simply cruel. Be wary of raising hopes and expectations. On the other hand, if this person is still going to feature in some aspects of your life, for instance if you have mutual friends or live close to one another, burning bridges now could make it awkward and tricky to navigate a peaceful way forward later on.

Finally, I personally like this quote to get me into an optimistic, loving state of mind when preparing to say goodbye:

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

– Dr. Seuss -

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