There are right ways and there are wrong ways to break an engagement. When my mother heard of a broken engagement, her response was always the same: “Better now than later!” and I agree. There are certainly things you can do to ease the pain — or, at least, to not make it worse than it “has to be.”
Dear Wedding Guru: “For reasons too long to list, I’ve decided to break my engagement to the person I thought I’d spend the rest of my life with. I want to inflict as little pain as possible, and for us to behave properly around our families and friends. How should I do this? Can you help?”
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Dear Valley Ex-bride: If you cared enough for someone that you committed yourself to “forever,” then you ought to have the guts to behave properly and break the new in person! Under no circumstances should an engagement be broken through email, voicemail, or worse — on Facebook or Twitter. There’s simply no excuse for that kind of inconsiderate and selfish behavior,
Decide together what you’re going to say to your circle of friends and family. This should also be done (where possible) in person or by phone. Of course, you’re under no obligation — except perhaps to your very close friends and immediate family — to explain with great detail the reason for the breakup. If you just can’t logistically manage to call each of your friends and family, you can use email, as long as you send an private, personalized email to each person. No e-blasts, please.
If you and your former significant other have received gifts, return them, preferably with a note thanking the person their thoughtfulness. Emily Post suggests that using your gifts before you’re actually married is not a good idea, because it’ll put you in the awkward position of having to either replace the gift with an identical one, or to “refund” the guest with a check. You also must consider your wedding party: If they’ve already spent money on wedding dresses/tuxes or purchased travel tickets, it’s appropriate that you offer to repay them. More often than not, because these people are close family or friends, they may let it slide. But you have to make the offer anyway.
Last, but not least: What happens to the engagement ring and gifts that you and your former fiancé have exchanged? Emily Post is very clear about this one: the ring and gifts must be returned. “It’s not a consolation prize,” says Post. “Why do you want a reminder of something that didn’t work out?”
Of course, breaking an engagement is something no one assumes will happen to them. But, unfortunately, it does. Handling yourself in a thoughtful, appropriate way will make the process less painful, and you’ll feel better about yourselves when the process is done.