How to Handle a Broken Engagement

In the world of relationships, few things are as painful as a broken engagement. Unfortunately, the practical implications of a breakup must be dealt with before you can truly move on. There are no set rules for ending a dating relationship, and many rules for ending a marriage. But how do you navigate the rules of engagement when it is over?

Knowing how to survive a broken engagement successfully is key. Regardless of whether the wedding had been planned, some things will need to be taken care of. It's difficult to be practical at a time like this, and you will probably feel like avoiding anything related to the broken engagement. Regardless, anyone suffering a broken engagement must deal with several major issues-and it helps to know how to make them as painless as possible.

The Engagement Ring
Although traditional etiquette dictates that engagement rings be returned when an engagement is broken, modern-day couples do not necessarily follow that advice. Generally, a man sees the engagement ring as an investment in the relationship and asks that it be given back. This becomes a problem when the woman views the engagement ring as a gift and refuses to return it.

According to CNN, tussles over engagement rings are common enough that many states have legal precedents regarding them. Whether or not the ring must be given back depends on two main issues-the circumstances under which it was given and the state in which you live. Many states view the engagement ring as a conditional gift and require that it be given back if the engagement is broken, regardless of fault. These states include Iowa, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin (see detailed listing of state laws regarding broken engagements here). Other states, such as California, have ruled that the engagement ring must be returned only if the woman breaks off the engagement. States such as Kansas and Montana see it as an unconditional gift of the relationship and do not require its return at all. Also, if an engagement ring was given on a birthday or holiday, most states agree that it is simply a gift.

Breaking the News
Breaking the news to friends and family is one of the most difficult and humbling aspects of a broken engagement. How difficult it will be depends on how far the engagement had progressed. If engagement announcements were mailed, then the circle of people who knew about your engagement could extend beyond your immediate friends and family. Many people with broken engagements choose not to tell anyone beyond their immediate family and simply hope that the news will spread. This often works, but if it doesn't, it can lead to awkward questions later on.

If a wedding was planned out or is set to happen soon, then advising everyone who needs to know will require more courage, humility and tact. If possible, deposits placed on catering, flowers and ceremony location will need to be returned to whoever paid them. Again, close friends or family members can be immensely helpful with this type of "damage control." You might also want to consider sending out "anti-announcements." An example of "anti-announcement" wording could be, for example:

"We regret to inform you that the wedding of John X and Jane Y set to occur July 17, 2008, at the Hulman Conservatory in Indianapolis, Ind., has been cancelled. We apologize for any inconvenience and thank you for your love and support."

If the wedding is close enough that guests have made travel plans, then you should contact them personally. A play-by-play of the breakup isn't necessary, but you do need to apologize for the inconvenience and explain that the wedding has been cancelled. If they begin to pry or become angry (because they spent $300 on an airline ticket), then quickly excuse yourself and end the call. You might suggest they check with the airline to see if the ticket can be refunded or exchanged. Don't allow them to further upset you. While you do need to personally notify them, you don't need to take abuse from anyone.

Dividing Your Stuff
Exchanging respective belongings with your ex-fiance should be done as soon as possible. If the two of you have not, in Hollywood terms, "remained the best of friends," it is helpful to have a third party handle the actual exchange. A trusted friend or family member usually works well. Resist the temptation to run over his MP3 player with your car or mark each page of her favorite book with choice words. If there's a dispute over who owns a particular item, ask yourself if it's really worth the fight. Sometimes, it's better to let the small things go.

In many instances, breaking up really is hard to do, as more and more couples live together before tying the knot. If you share an apartment where you're both on the lease and neither of you can afford it alone, talk with your landlord. A lease is a contract and legally binding, so you can't just walk away without risking a hefty lawsuit. This type of situation is common, and your landlord may suggest a solution you wouldn't think of on your own. Many couples bite the bullet and continue to split the rent, regardless of who is living there, until the lease expires.

In the midst of canceling your plans and swallowing your pride, remember that it is always better to cancel a wedding than file for divorce later on. Many people choose to ignore obvious problems and marry in spite of their doubts before finally recognizing that a relationship won't work. Having the courage to walk away from a bad relationship before getting married is something to be proud of. Forgive yourself for problems in the relationship you may have overlooked. Remember that someday, you'll find the person you were meant to marry. And when that happens, you won't need to cancel a thing.

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