Figuring out how to break up with someone can be difficult – especially when it’s with a person you still love and respect. Nobody likes hard conversations or hurting people, but there are ways to approach this conversation that are kind and compassionate while still being clear and definitive.
1. Get clear on your decision.
Ending a relationship is so much easier when you know why you’re doing it. When you know what wasn’t working for you in the relationship or what you’re seeking outside of it, you can more clearly convey your feelings to your soon-to-be ex. Even if the reasons aren’t concrete — perhaps you just have a gut feeling it’s not meant to be — identifying the more conceptual issues can even help. From there, you can try to narrow down some specifics if you can.
"Preparing can help you feel more grounded and less anxious,” psychotherapist Babita Spinelli recently told mindbodygreen. “It also can help you feel more clear on your reasons and how you want to articulate it to your partner.”
People often wonder what to say when you break up with someone, but the answer to that question ultimately depends on your specific relationship and your specific reasons for ending it. Doing some soul-searching before the conversation will help you figure out what you need to tell your partner.
2. Avoid a surprise break up when possible.
Break ups are particularly painful when they feel like they came out of nowhere. While you’re contemplating breaking up with your partner, don’t continue to act like everything is fine in the relationship. Continuing to spend fun, romantic, connective time together only to suddenly break up can leave your partner feeling confused and bamboozled.
Instead, bring up the issues and confusion you’re having with the relationship to your partner. This way they know what you’ve been thinking about. These conversations will help them understand where you’re at so they’re not caught off guard if you do decide to break up later. If you’re still on the fence about how to move forward, this can also help initiate conversations with your partner about potential options and solutions.
3. Do it in person.
Don’t break up with someone over text or the phone if you can avoid it. Breaking up in person shows you respect the person and the relationship enough to have a full, formal conversation about ending it. Spinelli recommends setting aside a specific time to meet in a private, comfortable setting and letting them know in advance to expect a serious conversation. This way you won’t surprise them, and they can mentally prepare a bit better before entering the conversation.
4. Be direct.
Once you’ve decided that you want to break up, make sure to fully rip off the band-aid. Tell your partner directly that you are ending the relationship. Don’t beat around the bush with ambiguous phrases like I’m not sure if this is working, or I think we need some time apart. Be very clear and explicit that you’re breaking up with them, and that the decision has already been made.
“It’s important to be firm about it, and not do this push/pull with your partner and make them think that there’s hope when there’s not,” Niloo Dardashti, a psychologist and relationship coach, told The Cut. “The most important part is the conviction of knowing that the issue is more important than your momentary feelings of affection and adoration.”
Closing the door completely may feel harsh in the moment, but it is kinder and healthier for your ex in the long run. If your ex partner is holding on to false hope, it can make their healing process longer and more difficult. They may not be as ready and willing to move on if the door is left open just a crack.
5. Be honest and clear about why you’re ending things.
While you can’t avoid hurting your partner as break ups almost always hurt, you can help make it easier for them to move on. You can do this by giving them all the information they need about why you’re making the decision so they aren’t walking away wondering, questioning, and feeling confused.
“Giving obvious excuses or lies when breaking up, even if you’re trying to make the other person feel better, only adds insult to injury,” relationship coach Jonathan Bennett told Bustle. “Clichés and lies (e.g. 'It’s not you; it’s me') are just going to make the situation worse.”
Walk them through how you got to your decision, the issues you’ve seen in your relationship, and why you believe this is the best path for you going forward. You’ll want to avoid blaming them for the break up or criticizing them, but it’s okay to give them your honest truth about what was working and not working for you in the relationship.
6. Answer their questions.
Engage with them by continuing the conversation as your partner will probably have plenty of questions about what went wrong. Giving them direct answers will help protect them from ruminating for weeks or months on end after the break up. This is about giving your partner a feeling of closure and clarity.
“If someone’s breaking up with you and they’re not giving you adequate feedback about why, that’s going to leave you feeling confused and hurt and possibly angry,” Dardashti told The Cut.
7. Listen and sit with their feelings, if you can.
Your partner will probably be hurt. They might have a lot they want to say, whether because they want you to understand how they feel or because they simply need to process their feelings about the break up. Either way, if you do have the capacity to offer them support, simply being there for them and allowing them to talk openly about what they’re feeling can be cathartic and meaningful for them.
That said, if your partner becomes angry, aggressive, or otherwise seems unable to have a constructive conversation, you may need to set a boundary and end the conversation, whether or not they’re ready. No matter how much you might care about someone, your well-being has to come first. Perhaps allow your ex partner some time to cool down and offer to revisit the conversation at a later date when things feel less heated.
8. Give them space afterwards.
“After a break up, it’s important to cut all communication with your ex — at least for a while,” dating coach Tennesha Wood recently told Well+Good. “Continuing to communicate blurs the lines while emotions are still very fragile.”
Once the conversation is over and you go your separate ways, give your now ex-partner space to truly internalize that the relationship is over. Avoid texting them unnecessarily or seeing them if you don’t have to. Don’t give them false hope by continuing to interact with their social media, texting them inside jokes, or telling them you miss them. Make peace with the fact that you won’t be the one who’s able to care for them through this heartache.
On the other side of the coin, avoiding posting photos of yourself partying or cozying up to new partners immediately after the break up can save your ex from unnecessary hurt in this particularly difficult time. Give them time to heal.
9. Let yourself grieve.
Just because you’re the one who ended things doesn’t mean you’re automatically going to be 100 percent okay after it’s over. You may still need to process and heal after breaking up with someone, because you’re still losing a relationship, too, just like they are.
“You’re allowed to be hurt, sad, unsure, angry or upset,” Wood told Well+Good. “Give yourself time to grieve the relationship and the grace to laugh, cry, and display the range of emotions you’re feeling.”
The bottom line
Breaking up with someone you love is never easy, but it’s important to be resolute in your decision so both you and your ex can find closure in the relationship’s ending. You can help your ex move on by being patient, compassionate, and direct in the actual break up conversation and then giving them space to heal in the aftermath.