It might sound wild, but could the corporate practice of an exit interview be applied to a relationship break-up?
When Maria’s* boyfriend of nearly two years broke up with her, she was surprised. She was 27, Josh* was 26. “When he ended things, he just said that maybe we weren’t that compatible.” He wanted to leave it at that – but Maria didn’t. “I was laying in bed at night trying to work out what went wrong.”
So she suggested they meet up for “a sort of exit interview. Josh thought it was a bit weird but he said okay. So we had a drink somewhere quiet, and I asked him a list of questions I’d written down. They were questions about what was good and what wasn’t good in our relationship, what our communication was like, what he considered the downfall of the relationship to be. And also, what qualities of mine did he most like and what qualities of mine were more challenging for him. He looked pretty uncomfortable but he did answer the questions.”
Josh told Maria they had a different conflict style – hers being taking time out to calm down, his being wanting to resolve conflict immediately. “He also said he prefers going out for drinks, whereas I’m more of a homebody. And he said he just wasn’t in love enough to commit at his age. He also said some nice things about me and that I would make someone really happy.”
Maria asked Josh if he wanted to ask her some questions, and he did. When he asked what parts of the relationship didn’t work for her, she talked about feeling he prioritised his friends over her, and said he often didn’t communicate his feelings. She also said he was a fun, charismatic guy whose company and intimacy she had enjoyed. “Afterwards, I had more clarity – and we parted ways in a much warmer fashion than we did originally.”
We’ve all heard of, or done, an exit interview at work. Usually they take place in companies large enough to have an HR manager. The idea is that the person leaving the job can be honest about the upsides and downsides of a boss or the wider organisation.
The end of a relationship definitely isn’t the same as leaving a job, but perhaps there are some comparisons between why a job didn’t work out and why a relationship didn’t work out.
Alexandra English from The Fashion Journal wrote a story called ‘Should You Do A Post-Breakup Exit Interview?’. “You’ve already heard about people who treat first dates like job interviews and dating in general like a second full-time job,” Alexandra writes. She suggests a “post-breakup exit interview. It makes sense: an exit interview exists for the sole purpose of letting both parties air their grievances and offer feedback in a mature conversation.”
“The idea is that both people will leave the conversation, not having pointed fingers, but with greater clarity about the other party’s experience… it can also provide the kind of healthy, clean closure that you and your ex need to be able to move on and thrive in your next relationship.”
Relationship coach Megan Luscombe says that “a post-breakup exit interview is a great opportunity to get feedback on the obstacles or even challenges the other person faced while dating you. [It could uncover] ways they think the relationship went wrong due to personality differences or value misalignments.”
So why not consider having an exit interview after a break-up? I mean, your ex has thoughts – why not capture these now to potentially help you in the future? They might say no to doing this, but don’t ask, don’t get.
· Don’t do this in the hope you’ll get back together, because… false pretences.
· Wait until some time has passed since the break-up allowing emotions to cool somewhat.
· Write a list of questions so you don’t forget any.
· Wait a while after drafting your questions, in case other things pop up in your mind.
· If possible, ask the questions in person – it can help to see facial expressions. Find a time and place when you’re unlikely to be interrupted. (Definitely not at a mutual friend’s birthday party!)
· If ‘in-person’ doesn’t work, have a phonecall. If it’s over email, you’ll lose significant detail and context.
· Some questions could be: what aspects of our relationship did you enjoy the most and the least, were our communication styles and lifestyles compatible, what were the qualities you most liked about me and which were most challenging, did I make you feel supported within the relationship, and can you suggest any changes we could both make before our next relationships?
· Don’t make this a blame game – and ask questions rather than make statements. For instance, you could say ‘when you went out with you friends so often, I didn’t feel like a priority – was this about different expectations?’ rather than “I hated how your friends were more important to you than I was”.
· Prepare to hear things that might be hard to hear.
· Offer your ex the chance to ask you questions. Perhaps they’d like to glean some learnings to take into future relationships.
· If you could never make yourself have a conversation but want answers, consider an email. Depending on the person’s personality (perhaps they’re long-winded or abrupt), or depending on how much detail you can handle, you might want to make the questions very general, really specific, just ask for a Yes or a No, or even use a multi-choice questionnaire.
Yes, in some cases, some things are best left unasked and unsaid. But for some people, like Maria, an exit interview might help banish those lingering thoughts about ‘what went wrong’? “It was definitely worth doing,” she says. “It helped me move on and take insights into my next relationship, and hopefully it did the same for him.”