Break up commentary

Abby and Euan having a serious discussion in the car, viewed from outside the vehicle front-on.

 

Summary

  • This scene is really about respecting boundaries, managing emotions and getting support in a relationship crisis.
  • This scene shows two paths: one where Euan gets violent, and another where he reins in his emotions after being asked to calm down.
  • Both paths end with a break-up, but the first path ends up in abuse, and the second path ends with resignation and understanding.
  • Strictly speaking, if one person wants to leave a relationship, the other person can’t stop them, and they are not entitled to an explanation.
  • No matter how upsetting an argument or break-up gets, everyone needs to manage their emotions and channel them towards a respectful path of action.
  • If you’re struggling, it can help to reach out to someone for emotional support.

 

What are the main decisions?

  • Keep going in this relationship?
  • Tell me who he is?
  • Stay in the car?

 

The Field Model diagram for the decision 'Keep going in this relationship?'; Abby is a No, Euan is a Yes.

 

The Field Model diagram for the decision 'Tell me who he is?'; Abby is a No, Euan is a Yes.

 

The Field Model diagram for the decision 'Stay in the car?'; Abby is a No, and Euan is a Yes while moving the line trying to override Abby's No.

 

How do they do with Stop Ask Listen?

Split-frame image of Euan actively listening, and Abby speaking.

 

  • Stop Ask Listen is about getting insight into another person, building empathy and understanding.
  • But it’s hard if people in the relationship are not answering straightforwardly or honestly, because it leaves others having to interpret and guess at what is really being said or meant.
  • On the other hand, if someone is being evasive it could also be a sign they’re not comfortable and the most respectful option might be to leave them alone.
  • In this scene, Abby and Euan communicate pretty well, both talking about what they are thinking and feeling, but there are problems.
  • Abby wants to break up, but says she wants to “take a break”, which opens the door to Euan asking about the nature of the break, which Abby doesn’t want to talk about because she actually doesn’t want to get back together.
  • Euan wants an explanation (probably because he feels blindsided), but Abby doesn’t want to give it to him (for all sorts of possible reasons: she doesn’t want to hurt his feelings, wants to avoid an argument, feels guilty—could be all of these at the same time).

 

Euan looking at Abby; Abby looking away.

 

  • Euan tries to get info and Abby tries to answer without answering, which in this case feeds into Euan’s distress and anger.
  • Abby is not obliged to give Euan any explanation at all.
  • Although Abby is evasive at first, as the conversation goes on, she makes it clear (through body language and tone) that she’s trying to set a boundary—she doesn’t want to talk in detail about her reasons for wanting to break up. Euan ignores her—he assumes he has the right to an explanation, and to keep her there until he gets one, and he doesn’t have that right at all.

 

How do they do with Yes No I Don’t Know?

  • A break-up is one of those situations where you need to frame the decision in the right way.
  • In a break-up, the decision is not, “Do you want to break up?”, it’s “Do you want to keep going in this relationship?”
  • This is because somebody can’t be trapped in a relationship against their will. If the question is, “Do you want to break up?” then if someone says no, the person who wants to leave is trapped.
  • Instead, we need to see that an intimate relationship is a long series of yesses, and in a break-up someone is saying, “I’ve changed my mind, now I’m a no.”
  • So, on “Do you want to keep going in this relationship?”, Euan is yes and Abby is no.
  • Strictly speaking, as soon as Abby says no to the relationship, that’s the end of it—she can walk away, and Euan has to respect her decision.
  • Emotional reality is more complicated. Euan is shocked and upset, and Abby tries to let him down gently—but it doesn’t work, Euan still gets upset.

 

Split-frame of Euan yelling angrily, and Abby scared asking him to calm down.

 

  • In the Field Model, one of the big rules is managing emotions, especially around hearing a no. No’s can be upsetting, and a break-up is the ultimate no.
  • So, on the first path, Euan does a bad job of managing his anger and distress, which then leads him to move the line on “Tell me who he is?” (Abby says no, Euan insists she tell him) and “Stay in the car?” (Abby says no, Euan insists she stay).
  • When we rewind, and Euan goes down the second path, he takes a breath, calms down, and treats Abby respectfully—trying to persuade her, but not trapping her, talking over her, or punishing her.
  • You could argue that Euan’s still breaking the rules by trying to persuade her and not just accepting her decision, saying bye and driving off to get a kebab. The issue is when persuasion turns into pressure, coercion or abuse—and in the second path Abby at least seems to think that Euan is staying on the right side of that line (although Euan has already caused a lot of distress before choosing to back off).

 

What do they do well?

  • Abby is clear that she’s not happy in the relationship and wants time apart.
  • Euan, at times, Stops Asks and Listens respectfully.
  • In the second path, Euan gets his emotions under control.
  • Once Abby leaves, Euan reaches out to a friend for support.

 

Euan in the car on the phone.

 

What could they have done better?

The first path where Euan becomes violent is clearly bad, so in that path everything could be better.

  • Euan goes from being upset to being aggressive when he thinks Abby’s involved with someone else.
  • Sexual jealousy and possessiveness is a key cause of violence in relationships, but it’s never an excuse—if you’re jealous, it’s your responsibility to get on top of your emotions, not punish your partner or their real/imagined lovers.

 

View from the back seat of the discussion taking place between Abby and Euan.

 

Assuming the second path is the “real” path in this story, then what could they have done better on that path?

  • Euan only gets in control of his emotions after Abby yells “Calm down!”, but he could have done better by not letting it get to that point. It’s important to notice risky emotions like anger or frustration and find a productive and respectful way to respond.
  • You could say Euan should have accepted Abby’s decision immediately and not pushed for more information. But it’s difficult: if people have been in a relationship for a couple of years, are heavily emotionally invested, planning to move in etc, then it’s hard to imagine someone not wanting an explanation for a break-up.
  • For Abby’s part, she could have done better by saying she wanted to break up at the start, so that she didn’t leave the open-ended idea of “a break”, with Euan trying to figure out what that means.
  • If Abby did want to give Euan an explanation, then in an ideal world, Abby should have felt safe to say, “I’ve met someone else,” knowing that even though he’d be hurt, Euan would ultimately manage his emotions without taking it out on her.