If breaking up with someone were easy, I wouldn’t be writing this article. The question isn’t so much how to break up with someone but how to do it in a way that’s not rife with sadness, awkwardness, and messy miscommunications. Not an easy feat by any stretch.
The truth is, breaking up with someone you love is hard for a variety of reasons: maybe you’ll miss their family members or the love and support you got from them during a certain time in your life, or the sex (which is totally valid). Maybe you’re genuinely worried about hurting someone you care about or maybe you just don’t want to come off looking like a jerk to your mutual friends. The point is, even if you know you need to move on, breakups are never fun.
Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as the “perfect breakup,” but if you’re the one bearing the bad news, there are a number of steps you can take before and during that dreaded conversation to make the experience as healthy as possible for both you and your partner.
1. Make sure you actually want to break up.
Before you break up with your partner, make sure that you actually want to end the relationship. If you’re having doubts and concerns about your relationship, it’s important to share that with your partner before you break up.
Having a well thought out breakup also means that breaking up shouldn’t be a rash decision made in the midst of an argument, or a card you play in an attempt to control your partner (which is passive-aggressive and perhaps even manipulative, and certainly not part of a healthy relationship).
2. Give the conversation some thought.
Once you’ve decided you want to end your relationship, it’s important to give yourself time and space to think about what you want to say before you actually say it. The conversation itself will likely be stressful, and when you’re stressed, you tend to lose access to the logical, rational parts of your brain. Writing down exactly what you want to say and practicing it in advance can help anchor in the message so that when you’re in the heat of the moment, you’re able to effectively communicate your thoughts. Planning in advance can also help you evaluate the tone with which you’re delivering the message.
That said, don’t try to craft the perfect script—it doesn’t exist. It’s natural to want to say all the right things so that your soon-to-be ex-partner doesn’t feel sad. But that’s inevitable.
3. Practice empathy.
As you plan, put yourself in your partner’s shoes. Empathy for the partner’s experience of being broken up with, and the ability to express it, can go a long way to assuaging the inevitable pain.
When you first fall in love, empathizing with your partner is much easier, but by the time you’re ready to end it, it might be tempting to not care how breaking up will impact your partner. But a little empathy can save you trouble down the road.
4. Acknowledge that you won’t be able to control their reaction.
No matter what you say and how you say it, you can’t control how the other person will react. That said, there are many factors that can influence how well the message is received, which is exactly the point of thinking ahead about how you want to have the conversation. For example, if you’re so caught up in ending it that you forget today is their birthday, they’re probably going to be extra pissed.
5. Remind yourself that it’s completely OK to break up.
It doesn’t feel good to break up with a partner—especially if it’s someone that you care deeply about—but it’s also not wrong, so you shouldn’t feel guilty about your decision. Remind yourself that it’s OK to leave a relationship that isn’t working for you. It’s a self-honoring choice that you’re making because you don’t see a future together. And if it’s not a good fit for you, then it’s not a good fit for them, even though they may not be aware of it as much as you are.
Do your mental health a favor and remind yourself that not every relationship is going to be right—that doesn’t make your partner a bad person or necessarily mean they did anything wrong. You owe it to yourself—and them—to speak up when you know the relationship isn’t serving you so that you can both move on to better things.
6. Deliver the news face-to-face.
If you feel safe seeing your soon-to-be-ex in person, you owe it to your partner to have the breakup conversation face-to-face. Yes, it’s uncomfortable and harder than breaking up over the phone but doing so shows that you care for them and that you care for that relationship.
But remember, while their feelings are important, your safety ultimately comes first. If you don’t feel safe enough to meet to break up in person (either because of the pandemic or because you feel threatened by your ex) end it virtually by phone or FaceTime.
7. Pick an appropriate setting.
There’s no one “right” location for this type of conversation, but put yourself in your partner’s shoes to determine where they might prefer to hear the news. Just keep in mind that settings rife with distractions—like a restaurant with loud music, for instance—probably aren’t wise choices.
Again, this only applies if you feel safe. If you feel at all worried about what your partner might do, prioritize your own safety and meet in a public place like a busy park where a friend can wait nearby or end the relationship over the phone.
8. Show up sober.
It may be tempting to knock back a couple of cocktails before you start the breakup conversation—alcohol is a verbal lubricant, after all—but that’s a bad idea. When we’re drinking, we’re not totally present. And during a breakup conversation, it’s important to be present so that you can be honest, kind, and remember the things you want to say.
9. Accept that it’s probably going to be painful.
If you and your partner have a deep relationship and have been together for a while, there’s a high likelihood that whatever you’re going to say is going to cause them pain, even if you both know on some level it’s time to move on. It can help to anticipate this pain while also reminding yourself that it’s not your fault.
Also important: There’s no explanation that you’re going to give that’s going to feel satisfying to them, so don’t go into the conversation with the goal of ending it on a positive note and a to go from being romantic partners to platonic trivia night partners.
10. Use “I” statements.
When communicating your message, deliver it from your point of view without blaming or accusing. It’s you who has decided that the relationship is not a good fit and it’s you that has decided to leave the relationship. So the healthiest way is to take responsibility for your feelings using “I” words versus “You don’t really like my family” or “You don’t like to go out as much as I do.”
11. Don’t delve into the details.
Avoid listing out the Rolodex of reasons why the relationship isn’t a good fit for you. If your partner presses you for specific reasons behind the breakup, you can acknowledge that you totally understand why they’d want more details and perhaps give a reason or two, framing it from the “I” point of view. In general, you should reiterate the overall sentiment that you just don’t think you’re a good fit.
Remember, there’s nothing wrong with breaking up with somebody and while you may feel bad right now, the feeling is temporary. Also, acknowledge the fact that you just did something really hard. Even though you were the one who decided to break up, you’re not in the clear with regards to feelings. As you work through tough emotions, be really gentle with yourself and practice self-care. Do nice things for yourself: go to a movie, take a nap, cook a healthy meal.