Breakups with Dignity, Songs...and Good Manners

I had a call this morning from a client which deeply disturbed me.  Because it touched a raw nerve.

The client asked me about the manners of personal breakups.  In 2012 should the conversation be between the two people involved, face to face, or is it appropriate to initiate the breakup by SMS, or email? What about a voice message or a telephone call?
Her husband of 25 years, a well known doctor, had sent her an SMS while she was attending a conference overseas saying that he had fallen in love with someone else and wouldn’t be home when she returned the following day.

I took a few seconds to compose myself before answering her. I very rarely wander into the realms of personal experience when offering advice but I decided to share with her my experience;  and when I had told her my tale she encouraged me to talk about the manners of personal breakups on this blog because the impact of internet communication is having such negative relationship results on so many levels…so here goes.

I had been in love with a man for over five years. He is French and lives in Switzerland It had been a mutual love affair, conducted with what I believed to be honesty and trust, very necessary attributes in any long distance relationship.

Biarritz, France, 2007

 And in Australia that applies particularly now to FIFO or “Fly In Fly Out” workers who are the mainstay of the mining boom and work on rosters which give them two weeks “on”at the mine site, and two weeks “off” at home.  Sometimes the rosters vary, but that is the general situation.

Over the five years my companion and I were together we met a few times a year, usually during my summer for three months when he came to Australia, and then I would have a month or so in Europe and then we would meet somewhere “in between” as well.

Waimea Canyon, Hawaii, 2008

Additionally we had almost daily telephone calls for about one hour at a time, wake up emails for each other, and regular texts; my friends used to laugh at me saying we spoke more than most married couples! We shared the news of our days each evening on the phone, the trials and tribulations, the gossip, recipes, plans for the future and holidays to be organised.

It wasn’t a full time relationship, distance and circumstances precluded that for the time being, but an unconditionally loving one.  We supported, encouraged and nurtured each other as any couple living together would.

                         Shark Bay, Western Australia 2009

Nearly six months ago he came back to Australia, a month after I had been in France with him.  He was due to stay a month, but I asked him to leave after five days.

Yap, Federated States of Micronesia, 2011

As is so often the case these days, the easy communication technology became his curse. 
We had been sharing my computer and iPad. My innocent evening of internet communication while he rested had exposed an enormous betrayal. I had no suspicions and certainly would not have invaded his internet privacy intentionally.

Suwarrow, Northern Cook Islands, 2011

My shock, needless to say, was profound.  Not unlike my client receiving the SMS from her husband. Disbelief is overwhelming.  Her husband had given her no warning of their impending break;  my companion had been making plans with me the day I discovered his “other life” about the year ahead we were going to share.

Singapore 2010

In my client’s case, her husband decided to “move on with his life” after 25 years; her pain at receiving an SMS to end their family life was palpable. In my case my companion had  decided that the distance was becoming difficult to manage;  and so he found someone closer to home. He advised that he would not respond further to any of my questions or communications…in whatever form. After speaking almost daily for five years his only form of communication with me over the reasons for the breakup were three emails.  

But, this is not a post about betrayal and breakups.  Rather it is about the manners, and respect, which should be paramount in a relationship in which both sides have directed an enormous amount of emotional commitment, even if the relationship appears no longer to be working for one of them.

But the question remains about the way in which breakups, in this age of immediate communication, and often public communication via social media, impact on the more traditional standards of relationship etiquette.

The new paradigm of manners is impacting on all generations in our society.  When I speak at schools the most popular questions are about Facebook and Twitter:  can you ask someone out on a first date via social media;  can you break up with them that way;  can you unfriend them once you have broken up or been caught kissing their best friend at the local hamburger hangout?  

And as with my client the same questions are being asked…whether it’s about SMS, email, or  “separated” replacing “married” on the Facebook status.

All these general questions were also relevant decades ago. However, there was usually still a confidence, and kindness shown in at least trying to make the other person more comfortable in a distressing situation, speaking face to face. Admittedly, letters under the front door were often involved and during wartime the infamous “Dear John” letter. There was no choice offered to pose behind a computer, smartphone or iPad  to elaborately construct either a 140 letter based Twitter message, a carefully worded, and edited email, or a brief status update on Facebook.


Perhaps the lesson in all of this is that those of us who are older, and hopefully wiser, should advise our younger family members and friends that it is still appropriate to speak face to face, even in the most difficult  and distressing  situations.

Paris, France, October 2011

It shows dignity to be able to face such emotional trauma with courage. If a relationship has finished, then it has finished…but respect for the other should be paramount. Those worthy of our respect should always be those who, while in our lives, show unselfish good manners and consideration…with everyone with whom they come in contact.

Memories are the result of experiences, they are captured  in our hearts and minds
and in photos 

Life is a flowing process....



  1. Did you know that Gotye is Belgian? He was born in Bruges and his real name is Wouter = Gauthier (in French), hence the phonetic Gotye. The song is fabulous!!! And I do relate to how you feel ... but I won't go into here. But you can say that 'we're in the same boat'. A break-up is always hard to cope with, especially when one is over 50. And although there are still 'fish in the sea', they just don't look as attractive as they used to 25-odd years ago, do they? ;) Martine

  2. Martine, thank you for this lovely, sensitive comment. I hope your "boat" is starting to sail more gently too...Yes, I did know that Gotye he was from Belgium, but not that he was from Bruges. Actually there has been a lot of publicity about him as he has just had this song reach No 1 in the US, something rare for Australian artists. I hope you have a nice weekend, despite the weather! Louise

  3. Really interesting and well structured post, Louise.
    I can't really comment other than to say that your companion took the cowards way out. I also notice that he 'hedged his bets' first!
    Poor manners, in all respects

  4. Gaynor, thank you for commenting, and so kindly. Yes, bad manners occur at all times in our lives...hopefully we can maintain our dignity to get through the hurtful times which throw us off our normal balance.


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