Despite being painful, breakups are often the necessary and inevitable outcomes of romantic relationships — for example, when a partner repeatedly crosses your boundaries, the relationship becomes toxic or codependent, or logistics (such as distance) aren’t conducive to a loving and fulfilling relationship.
While many factors may make it challenging to break up with a partner, — such as fear of their response, uncertainty about when or how to do it, and a partner’s pushback or negotiation — there are ways to prepare for a breakup that will make it easier for yourself and your partner.
Here are 17 tips for breaking up with someone you love:
1. Weigh the Pros & Cons of Breaking Up
Being sure that you want to end your relationship is a critical first step in making the decision to break up with your partner. One way to do this is by writing out the pros and cons of breaking up. Ask yourself if the relationship is good for you–does it make you feel connected or do you still feel alone in this relationship? Having these laid out and getting a clearer sense of whether each of the pros and cons are short- or long-term can help you confirm your decision to go through with the breakup.
2. Cope Ahead for What You’ll Say (& What You Won’t)
Research shows that imagining an activity produces the same response in your brain as engaging in the activity itself.1 Before initiating the breakup, it can be helpful to come up with a list of the main points you want to get across (e.g., “I need to prioritize my mental health and that’s not possible in this relationship”) as well as a list of things you want to be sure not to say (e.g., “You’re so selfish!”).
Consider what you want to say if they respond in any number of ways (e.g., “What will I say if they walk away? If they yell? If they sit silently?”). This increases the likelihood that you stick to the language you came up with when you were in a calm and effective state and will also help you feel prepared for a variety of outcomes.
3. Have an Immediate Post-Breakup Plan
Before initiating the breakup, consider how you might feel afterward. Come up with a post-breakup plan — or multiple, based on all the possible ways your partner might respond. Would you benefit from being with a friend? Being alone? Will it be helpful to have your phone on you or go tech-free for a few hours? Do you want to reflect on your ex, or stop thinking about them?
How will you cope with the urge to reach out to your ex? Making a post-breakup plan will help you soothe your future self, and also gives you some direction after the breakup at a time you may be feeling directionless.
4. Be Honest
When breaking up with a partner, it may be tempting to come up with excuses, such as “Work has gotten really busy lately.” However, the more honest you can be about your reason for initiating the breakup, the more self-respect you’ll have and the more likely your partner is to understand your rationale.
Keep in mind there’s a difference between being honest and being hurtful. For example, if reason for the breakup is sex being important to you and your lack of sexual attraction to your partner, you may say “I’ve been struggling with having my sexual needs met” rather than “I’ve just never felt sexually attracted to you.”
5. Be Factual…
Judgments are a critical part of determining whether to break up with a partner, but when it comes to the breakup itself, it can be helpful to stick to communicating just the facts. Rather than saying “You’re awful at taking care of my emotional needs. You can just be so mean,” describe the behavior factually: “When I told you how I was feeling yesterday, you rolled your eyes and walked away.” While your judgments can be valuable, sticking to the facts puts less blame on your partner and more emphasis on the reality that’s led you to your decision.
6. …But Don’t Go Into Every Detail or Problem
It may be tempting to list out everything that led you to your decision to end the relationship — either because you want to make sure your partner understands your rationale or because you feel it’s important to get it all off your chest. For a cleaner breakup, share only the details that are most pertinent to your reason for ending the relationship so that the conversation doesn’t become an argument.
Rather than saying, “You never want to have sex — every night you say you’re too tired — and we don’t agree on how to introduce religion to our future kids. I can’t understand why you would want to force religion onto them when you know how that affected me as a kid,” say, “There are a lot of factors that contribute to this decision, but it ultimately comes down to feeling unfulfilled by our sex life and differences in how we want to introduce religion to our future children.”
7. Express How The Facts Have Made You Feel
Once you’ve been factual about your reasons for breaking up, it often helps to express how those facts make you feel. If the fact is “When I told you how I was feeling yesterday, you rolled your eyes and walked away,” you may then share, “I felt hurt, ignored and unseen.”
Sharing how the facts impacted you emotionally increases the likelihood that your partner will access some compassion for your experience, rather than defaulting to confusion, anger, or another emotion that may contribute to a more contentious breakup.
8. Use “I” Statements
As in the example above, use “I” statements to communicate how your partner’s behavior has led to your emotional experience. Instead of “You make me feel so undesirable,” say “I feel undesirable and insecure, which are feelings I really don’t want to experience in a relationship.” “I” statements focus the attention on you and your needs, taking blame out of the breakup and decreasing the likelihood that your partner will respond with defensiveness or hostility.
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9. Make it Clear You Are Ending the Relationship
Clearly stating that you’re ending the relationship tends to be one of the hardest parts of breaking up with a partner. As tempting as it may be to use phrases like, “This isn’t working for me,” and “I don’t think I can do this anymore,” it’s important to clearly state that you are ending the relationship (for example, “I can’t be in this relationship anymore. It’s time for us to go our separate ways.”). This ensures there’s no misunderstanding or false hope that the relationship will continue.
10. Explain What You Will Get Out of the Breakup
Breakups happen because one or both partners’ needs aren’t getting met. Breakups often go smoother when the one breaking up explains what they are going to get out of ending the relationship. While it may be uncomfortable to share, this can help your partner understand the significance of your decision.
For example: “Us breaking up will allow me to find the sense of security I’ve been looking for,” or “Breaking up will give me the time to reflect on what it is I’m looking for in a relationship.”
11. Have the Conversation in Person
When possible and safe, it’s ideal to break up with your partner in person, both so that nothing gets lost in translation over phone or text and also so that you demonstrate your care for your partner and the relationship. Pick a place that feels best for you — consider how you feel about being in a private versus public place, and how comfortable and able you will be leaving the location if the breakup turns sour.
For a smoother breakup, give your partner space to express how they’re feeling and what they’re thinking. Keep in mind that many people put up defenses to protect themselves from experiencing unwanted emotions.2 In the face of a breakup, some may get angry, defend themselves, or ask questions, and while you can’t control how your partner responds, you can control whether you listen.
Consider what your limits are for listening to your partner’s response — for example, will you tolerate listening to name calling or yelling? — and set a boundary (such as leaving) if these behaviors arise.
13. Validate Their Emotions
Even though you may not like or understand your partner’s feelings or thoughts, the breakup will be smoother if you’re able to find something about their emotional experience to validate. “I know this must be hard to hear,” and “I understand how you feel blindsided right now,” are two examples of validating statements.
Remember, it’s possible to validate an emotion without validating a behavior. To do this, add the word “and” to the sentence: “I see how upset this makes you, and I’m not going to continue this conversation if you keep yelling at me.”
14. Tell Them How Much You’ve Valued Your Time With Them
If relevant, it can be meaningful to share with your partner what they (or the relationship) taught you, what you’ve appreciated, and what your takeaways are. Albeit bittersweet, taking the time to honor the parts of the relationship that were loving, happy, and supportive can help bring both partners a sense of peace during and after the breakup.
15. Be a Broken Record, If Needed
There may come a point in the conversation where your partner asks questions, pushes back, derails the conversation, or tries to negotiate with you. It can be helpful at this point to pick a phrase or phrases that you’ll repeat rather than getting into the weeds of a deeper conversation. For example, if your partner continuously tries to get you to change your mind, repeat to them, “I’ve made my decision and the relationship is over.”
16. Match Your Body Language to the Message
Alongside verbal communication, body language (a form of nonverbal communication) is also important to consider during a breakup. Be mindful that your body language during the breakup doesn’t indicate intimacy or closeness.
For example, rather than sitting on a bench with your arm around your partner, consider sitting inches or feet apart. Further, while it may be tempting to kiss goodbye or have “breakup sex,” doing so may confuse your partner (and you!).
17. Take Time to Reflect, Heal, & Grieve
In the days, weeks, and months following the breakup, follow the post-breakup plan you created and engage in self-care however feels helpful. You may find it helpful to practice self-love, self-soothing, and self-compassion. Remind yourself that recovering from a breakup takes time and it makes sense for certain emotions to come and go.
When to Seek Professional Help
It may be helpful to speak with a therapist if you feel you need additional emotional support, your partner doesn’t respond well to the breakup, you are contacted by your partner after the breakup and aren’t sure what to do, or if you’ve been in an abusive relationship. If you need professional help, consider finding a therapist via an online therapist directory.
Final Thoughts on Breaking Up
Deciding to end a relationship can be incredibly painful and difficult. Remember that you — and your ex — will eventually heal, and that by breaking up you’re one step closer to finding a partner who meets your needs.