BREAKING up can be a truly brutal emotional experience. Depending on how long the relationship lasted, the depth of your emotional connection and how enmeshed you are in each other’s social lives, splitting up can feel like your whole life has changed drastically without warning.
But a lot of the talk about how difficult breakups are focuses on how hard it is for the person on the receiving end. While that’s incredibly valid, sometimes the experiences of the person ending things get overlooked.
Some might think that since you had the final say in the decision, you’re relatively OK, and while that may be the case for some people, it’s far from a universal experience.
Breaking up isn’t easy for either party involved. As a result, people often stay in relationships longer than they should, try to provoke their partner into being the one who ends things or even begin to cheat in order to fulfill unmet desires rather than simply ending things.
As daunting as ending a relationship can feel, if you’re truly not happy and you’ve exhausted the other options available to you in terms of improving the relationship, you owe it to everyone involved to end things sooner, rather than later. It’s best to begin the process of healing and just move on.
If that sounds like the situation you’re in right now (or feel like the end is imminent), here’s what you should know about breaking up with someone as nicely as possible:
1. Signs It’s Time to Break Up
Before you get into the ins and outs of how to break up, you first need to be sure that you need to break up.
Depending on your age, emotional maturity and level of relationship experience, it’s possible for minor conflicts or resolvable issues to feel insurmountable.
You might feel like you have no idea how to deal with a given relationship problem and decide to break things off without talking to your partner about it at all ... but that’s probably not a good idea.
The real signs that you need to break up with the person you’re with, according to dating and relationship experts, are those that are long-lasting, difficult or impossible to fix, and severe.
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For Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., psychotherapist and author of “Dr. Romance’s Guide to Finding Love Today,” that can mean a cruel partner, first and foremost.
“If you or your children are subjected to violence, verbal abuse or sexual abuse, it's important for you to get safety for yourself and your children,” says Tessina. “Report the abuse, get a restraining order, and get out of the relationship.”
Dating coach Connell Barrett notes that their bad treatment doesn’t need to extend to full-blown abuse in order to be a deal-breaker.
“It's a huge, waving red flag if the other person consistently treats you with contempt,” he says, such as “criticizing you, blaming you for problems in the relationship, or asking you to compromise your values.”
Tessina also highlights the caustic nature of a partner battling demons they can’t control that negatively impact your well-being as well.
It’s a bad sign, she says, if “your partner is struggling with compulsive behavior: either a sexual compulsion to keep having affairs, spending money on porn, or other compulsive behaviors such as gambling, drugs, alcohol or losing money on the stock market.
If you've caught your spouse out of bounds before, and he or she keeps repeating the behavior, it's an addiction that's out of control.”
According to Barrett, if your partner’s not fulfilling your sexual needs, that’s a big deal, too. “There's more to life than sex, but if the two of you rarely or never have it, there's a problem — and it may be time to end things,” he suggests.
“A relationship without physical and emotional intimacy is not a romantic relationship. It's just a friendship.”
Along with a dried-up sex drive, an unhappy relationship might also be sapping your self-esteem.
What’s a sign that your relationship is draining you rather than boosting you up? “You stop putting energy into your appearance (ie: shaving, working out, being nice), not because you feel comfortable, but because you don't care,” says Laurel House, a dating expert and host of the “Man Whisperer” podcast.
“[Or] you find yourself putting effort into yourself (i.e. shaving, working out, dressing well), not because you want her to notice and find you attractive, but because you want someone else to notice and find you attractive.”
If you find yourself worrying that this applies to you, Barrett suggests a little thought experiment to help you understand your own priorities.
“To help you decide whether or not to end things, do what's called ‘future pacing,’” he says. “Imagine your future self, say, five years into the future, enjoying a life that feels fulfilling, happy, content.
Is your current partner part of that picture? If they're not, you no longer see them in your life for the long term. It’s wiser and better for both of you to sever things now, so that you can both find people to build a life with.”
2. Dos for Breaking Up With Someone
So how do you pull off the perfect breakup? Well, there’s not really any such thing. You have to be conscious that feelings will be hurt, and that you’ll both probably be sad for the next little while (if not longer).
That said, there are definitely ways you can make the process less difficult and painful for both people.
Do Have a Pre-Breakup Conversation
If you’re in the process of thinking about breaking up, House suggests having a pre-breakup conversation where you simply address what your needs are — and how you feel they’re not being met.
“Once you figure those out, then you need to sit down and have a real, honest, calm, loving, but direct conversation about your relationship needs and gently, but honestly and again directly express which are not being fulfilled,” she says.
“This isn’t the breakup conversation … yet. It’s the preparation. Say something to the effect of:
After that, you can hit on the points of how your wants and needs are being passed over. “Come up with a plan together on how they can work on fulfilling them,” she adds. “If improvement hasn’t happened over about a month, then you need to have another conversation, that will likely end with a goodbye.”
Do the Breaking Up in Person
If you have that difficult conversation about your needs and you find that you’re still unhappy, it’s best to break up face-to-face.
“Don’t end it over text or by phone,” says Barrett. “Meet up with them in-person. It's the right thing to do, and it also gives your partner a chance to better ‘experience’ the breakup. They can see your eyes, hear your voice, and take you in. This helps expedite the process of closure.”
If you really can’t stomach an in-person meeting — or for some reason physically meeting up isn’t an option — Tessina suggests a phone call rather than a text or email.
“Be nice about it, do it in person or on the phone,” she says. “Your heart has to be in it, too. Don't ghost this partner or string anyone along, not answering calls, etc. That's mean.”
As for where to do the deed, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. However, Barrett suggests against doing it in public.
“It can be very hard to feel the eyes of others on you if you're hurting and feeling emotionally raw and vulnerable,” he says. “And don't break up at your place, because you’ll feel trapped, unable to leave.
Instead, do it at their home. This lets them not have to deal with the logistics of how to get home after the breakup. And you can extricate yourself from the scene if things get intense. You can't escape a rough, raw scene if you're at your home.”
Do Plan Ahead
Ideally, you should try to break up with your partner as soon as you’re 100 percent certain you’re going to end things so there’s no pretending in the interim.
Tessina suggests using that time to do some basic planning for the immediate aftermath, particularly if you live together.
“[If your partner] has tons of your stuff, you'll need to find a new place to live anyway, so get that all lined up before the big announcement,” she says. “If you've just been leaving stuff at [their] place, start removing it before the breakup.”
And what about your stuff post-breakup? She suggests bringing friends when you go to pick it up so you’ll have some emotional support, and there’s less chance of your ex trying to do anything violent or cruel.
But if there aren’t any precious possessions involved, you might want to skip the whole thing.
“If it's just your toothbrush and some toiletries, forget it,” she says, “unless there’s an offer to give it back. Stuff is not worth creating drama.”
Do Be Direct
It can be very hard to know what path to take during a breakup conversation, particularly if you feel emotionally exhausted from having to initiate it.
The one thing you should aim for is clarity and directness so your point gets across in a way that clearly communicates that the relationship is over.
“When you are ready to have the actual breakup talk, be focused, loving and honest, but to the point,” says House.
“Don't make small talk or beat around the bush. Don't be curt or too long winded. If you cry, that's OK. Tell them that you care so deeply about them, but that it's just not working for you because xyz. Tell them that you're sorry but you have to go.”
At that point, remember that that’s it. Don’t drag it on. “Do not call, text, email, or stalk them after,” she adds.
“You both have to detox. If you drag it on, if you see each other again ‘just one last time,’ if you call to hear their voice … you're just prolonging the pain and putting off the happiness that you will have again — with someone else.”
Do Say Yes to a Closure Conversation
If they’re totally blindsided, it might take another conversation at a future date to help tie things up. Since you were the one who initiated the breakup, Barrett says that you owe them at least that much.
“It's OK to let the other person know that you're available for another conversation — just one! — if they have more questions about the end of the relationship,” he says.
“Give them this lifeline to let them know you want to give them more clarity if they need it. They may need a day or two to process everything, and may have more questions.”
Do Cut Ties on Social Media
However, that doesn’t mean you should keep all the lines of communication open.
“Block them on Instagram, Facebook, and other platforms,” says Barrett. “You can tell them in advance that you think this is the smart thing to do for both of you.
Neither of you needs to be reminded of each other by reading posts, or stalking each other on social media.”
Tessina agrees that blocking is a necessity, particularly if your ex has treated you badly. However, if you still care about each other, she notes that you might want to have one last social media hurrah as you go out.
“If they want to, you can make a mutual announcement on both your sites about how you really care about each other, but have decided just to be friends.”
That might not be your style, but it could save you time and energy when it comes to having to announce it to friends down the road.
3. Don’ts for Breaking Up With Someone
As with the right moves, there are also some definite no-nos when it comes to breakups. By saying the wrong thing, initiating it at the wrong time or handling the aftermath the wrong way, you could be setting both you and your ex up for plenty of negative emotions — sadness, regret, confusion, anger. Here’s what not to do during a breakup:
Don’t Make It Sudden
One surefire way to make bad news worse is for it to come completely out of the blue. When someone can see the warning signs, a breakup probably seem as painful as when it’s completely unexpected.
Your instinct might be to try to pretend everything’s fine until the last possible moment, but that’s unwise.
“In order to make your breakup as drama free as possible, don't make it sudden,” suggests House. “Especially if this is a serious relationship, even though it's likely coming to an end, this person who you once cared so much for deserves some notice that you are unhappy, as well as the opportunity to try to change.”
Meaning, if you’ve been holding in your unhappiness and you think your partner has no idea about it, don’t just end things; at least open up about your feelings first.
“After the time and love you have shared, your relationship deserves the respect of a conversation,” she adds.
“Instead of doing a knee-jerk breakup that you might regret, take a beat and take a physical break to think about the real issues at hand and if you truly do want to break up, or you just needed time to reset.”
Don’t Be Too Nice or Vague
Similarly, you might want to soften the blow by lying or hiding the reasons for the breakup, your real feelings, or some other thing. According to Barrett, that’s a strategy that’ll likely backfire.
“Don't dangle the possibility of getting back together, or calling it ‘a break,’” he says. “Make it crystal clear by using simple, definitive language.
Phrases like, ‘This has to end today’ or ‘We have to end our relationship’ aren't harsh. They're bracing in their clarity. It hurts, yes, but you're giving the other person the gift of clarity — and doing it without casting blame.
It's much crueler to tell someone what's wrong with them, and how maybe down the road you can get back together. Don't say those things, even if those things are true. Rip off that band-aid.”
Don’t Be Cruel
The flip-side is that you can also deeply scar the other person by pointing out what you perceive as their flaws, failings and shortcomings. Barrett says that when explaining why things didn’t work out, you should avoid putting the blame on them.
“As for choosing the right words, look for that sweet spot that combines truth and gentleness,” he says.
“Share why you're no longer happy and satisfied with the relationship. Take shared responsibility for problems or issues you've had. And avoid casting blame. Make it ‘we’ problems, not ‘you’ problems.”
Don’t Jump Into a Rebound Relationship
One last thing? Don’t compound the hurt that your ex is experiencing after the breakup by jumping right back into dating mode — whether that’s finding yourself in a new relationship a week later or simply downloading Tinder as soon as the breakup conversation has ended.