Dear Thomas,
My boyfriend and I have been together for a year. Lately, I've been feeling like the relationship has stagnated. I am not as excited about our future as I once was, and I really want a relationship that will lead to marriage and the next chapter in my life. My question isn't whether we should break up--it's how we should break up. What's the gentlest way to end a relationship if the reason for ending it is simply, "I don't love you?"
--Not in Love

Dear Not in Love,
Being a “gentle” person myself, which is sometimes good and sometimes bad, I can appreciate your wish to end your relationship gently. You are probably already good at being gentle. Your challenge might be to prepare yourself for the not-so-gentle work you have to do. Here are some rules for you:

1. Don’t forget that ending is not a nice thing. Own up to the shadow aspects of this important job. Be prepared to be the “bad guy” and discover that there can be joy in that role.

2. Before you have the ending conversation, get it clear in your mind. You want and need to end this now. Set aside complexity for a while and go for simple.

3. You don’t have to give reasons. You know that the reason is that you don’t love this person now. Don’t be led into the tangle and trap of looking for valid reasons. Love is not a reasonable thing.

4. Be gentle, but also be firm and clear. You can be one part firm to two parts gentle, but no more gentle than that.

5. You have already ended it in your mind, so after the conversation let it be. No regurgitation. No tying up loose ends. Do the main job of ending and let all the details take care of themselves. End of discussion.

6. In spite of rule #5, know that closure is only an ideal. You may always wonder about and even regret this ending. You may dream of this person all your life. Deep down in your soul, endings are only commas, not periods. They aren’t as final as they seem to be in the moment. Allow yourself a lot of contradictory feelings, but don’t let them interfere with the achievement of a good, clear ending. Sharp and neat makes gentle possible.
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