No one likes to be the one to break up a relationship. How can you know if you’re making the right choice? Figuring out when, where, and how to break up can be stressful enough to avoid it altogether. But ending a bad romance can create new opportunities, freeing you from a source of stress and tension in your life, allowing you to move on to greener pastures. Follow a few simple steps after the jump to learn to break up quickly, cleanly, and kindly.
Deciding to Break Up
Define your deal breakers. You need to distinguish between the simple road bumps in a relationship that you can overcome and more serious unchangeable issues between you and your partner that “break the deal.” A deal breaker is anything that you’ll be unable to accept about your relationship should it go unchanged.
Only you can define what breaks the deal. If you don’t like to way your partner brags to buddies or condescends to waiters, it’s up to you to decide whether or not this is just a quirk or a “deal breaker.” If you don’t want to be with your partner if they don’t change, it should be considered a deal breaker.
Arguments aren’t necessarily deal breakers. Every couple has spats, but if those spats are constant and ugly, it may suggest deeper issues and incompatibility. If arguments always turn personal and become about more than whatever sparked the fight, like doing the dishes, you might consider this a deal breaker.
Any physical fight should be considered a deal breaker. If you’re in an emotionally or physically harmful relationship, you need to end it quickly.
Decide if undesirable behaviors can be changed. If you’re simply upset with your partner, consider talking about what upset you so much first. It’s important to focus on resolving it, rather than ending the relationship as the first solution. If change is an option, decide whether or not your partner is willing to change and able to change.
If the issue in question has already been discussed without experiencing any changes for the better, and you keep feeling unsatisfied, hurt, or betrayed, then breaking up might be the only way to end the pattern.
Communicate your frustration. Before you decide to have “the talk,” you need to let your partner know what’s bothering you and give them the opportunity to make changes for the better. If you eventually decide to end the relationship, it will seem less abrupt because you’ll have already voiced your frustration, and you’ll have given your partner the opportunity to change for the better.
If your partner has cheated on you or harmed you in some way, you may decide to skip this step and move straight to breaking up.
Give yourself a timetable for changes to happen. You want to avoid getting into an endless chain of hoping for your partner to change and being disappointed. If you want your partner to stop being uncommunicative and partying with friends instead of spending time with you, set a limit on it. If your partner does it again in a week or two, you may decide to break up.
You may or may not tell your partner about your timetable. Issuing “ultimatums” by saying “If you quit smoking by next month we can stay together” can lead manipulative partners to agree in the short term before going back to the old ways in the near future. What happens if your partner starts smoking again next year? You’re the only one who can decide.
Plan out the breakup conversation itself. If you eventually decide to end your relationship, decide when, where, and for how long the conversation will take place. If you’ve made the decision to break up, it’s in your best interest to make it happen as quickly as possible, and as painlessly as possible.
The actual conversation in which you break up with this person can last a lot longer than it should, especially if your partner is devastated or completely surprised by your decision and tries to keep you talking, hoping to “change your mind.” Stick to your guns. Give the conversation a time limit.
You can expect to spend at least an hour breaking up, and longer if the relationship lasted a year or more. You may even want to arrange an appointment with a friend in a neutral location so that you can say “I’m supposed to meet John/Jane/James at the restaurant in fifteen minutes, so I have to go now.” Family obligations are another good out for you to use to get away.
Choose an appropriate location to have the conversation. Typically, you’ll want to have the conversation in private to avoid embarrassing displays of emotion in front of others. Pick a place you’ll be able to leave easily, like your partner’s place, rather than your own. That way, you can be the one to decide when to leave.
If you’re feeling unsafe with your partner, you need to break up in public or bring back-up. Don’t try and do it in private to avoid embarrassing your partner if you’re scared of physical harm.
If you live together, breaking up will be particularly problematic and stressful. Make sure to have a place where you can stay until the person you’ve broken up with digests the big change. You can either move all of your stuff while they’re not home and then break up when they come home, or break up and leave with some of your things, with the intention to come back when things have calmed down. Either way, start the process of moving out immediately.
Break up in person. It’s easier to break up with someone if you don’t have to look the person in the eye, but breaking up by phone, text or email is impersonal and rude. Unless you’re a long distance away and choose not to wait until you see the person again, or you’re afraid of the other person, don’t break up by phone, email, or through an instant messenger system.
Break up calmly. If you say the dreaded words “We need to talk,” your partner will immediately know what’s going on, and that’s not a bad thing. You don’t want to blurt out “We need to break up” out of the blue, or worse, when you’re in an argument. Approach the break up calmly and peacefully, with a sense of resolution. Sit down with your partner and let him or her know that you’ve decided to end the relationship.
Focus on the relationship, not the person. Talk about what isn’t working for you in the relationship, rather than telling the other person what is wrong with them. They will be hurting and vulnerable and you can do a lot of damage to them by saying things that attack them personally.
For instance, instead of saying “You’re clingy and insecure,” try saying “I need a lot of independence and freedom in my relationships.”
Instead of saying “You are insecure” or even “I am detached,” just focus on “I need more independence than I’ve had in our relationship.” If this is true, it doesn’t matter who is at fault.
Don’t leave false hope. Plan to avoid using any phrases that leave a whiff of hope. Don’t say things like “maybe we can meet up again next year” or “maybe we can try again some time when my head’s back to normal.” Wriggling out of the awkward difficulty of breaking up means that you haven’t really broken up. Either you mean it about breaking up, or you don’t. You can’t leave the door open.
Anticipate your partner’s reaction. If you’re the one who decides to break up, you need to prepare for your partner’s arguments, reactions, and outbursts to make sure that you stick to your guns and aren’t manipulated by a person you don’t want to be with anymore. Prepare for:
Questioning – Your partner will want to know why you don’t want to be with them any more, and whether there was anything they could have done to prevent the breakup. Answer the questions as honestly as possible.
Crying – The other person will likely be upset and will show it. You can offer comfort, but don’t allow yourself to be manipulated into changing your decision.
Arguing – He or she may dispute anything you’ve said during the break up, including dissecting examples you used in your reasons for breaking up. Don’t get dragged into a fight about petty details that don’t matter to the bigger picture. Let your partner know that arguing isn’t going to change your decision.
Bargaining or begging – Your partner may offer to change, or to do things differently in order to preserve the relationship. If the person didn’t change when you’ve discussed your problems in the past, it’s too late to expect him or her to truly change now.
Lashing out – Your partner may say hurtful things and “push your buttons” as a way of feeling better. This immature response should be prepared for and ignored. Threats of physical harm or escalations are serious, however. Get up and leave.
After the Break Up
Distance yourself. It will be difficult, but don’t call them and don’t go to places you know they frequent. Most of all, make yourself scarce. Your ex may try to get in touch, but wait several months before resuming contact, if at all. You felt close to this person at one point in your life, and you will probably always have a soft spot for him or her, but when it’s time for both of you to move on, move on.
If you live together, move as quickly as possible. If you can’t move permanently, find somewhere to keep your stuff and somewhere to stay. Prolonging the entanglements of “stuff” can make the process too complicated. Get it over with. Get rid of your partner’s stuff and get your stuff back from them. Don’t wait.
Talk about it. Talk to your friends, talk to your parents, talk to older siblings or cousins who’ve been through tough relationships before. Reason through your decisions and rationale and discuss the break up with people who you can depend on. You may not solve any problems, but it helps to communicate your feelings rather than bottle them up and risk making poor decisions or becoming depressed.
Prepare for soft spots to emerge. In the first few days and weeks of a break-up, you can have a lot of mixed feelings and may consider going back to your ex. It’s common to only remember the good things that you miss–the physical intimacy and emotional intimacy or a close relationship.
Write down the reasons you broke up and focus on the negatives to remember why you broke up in the first place. Be social and meet new people to avoid dwelling on your old relationship.
Avoid, at all costs, the casual hook up with your ex. Eventually, your hormones can get the best of you and you’ll take steps backward. Don’t let this happen, or you risk becoming entangled into an emotionally complicated and ugly situation.
Focus on new opportunities. Take the time to reflect on your situation and learn more about yourself. Do all the things you’ve always wanted to do and especially those things that you wouldn’t have done if you were still with this person.
Be social. Go out with your friends or go on vacation. Meet people and make connections. Have fun and forget about your old partner for a while.
Get away. Visit somewhere you’ve always wanted to go or consider exploring new parts of the city you live in. Avoid usual haunts and expand your territory. If you know your ex always hangs out at the same places, avoid those places even if you enjoy them. Find new places.
Start dating new people only when you’re ready. It can be tempting to either avoid dating altogether or to jump directly into a new relationship as a way of recapturing the good parts of being in a close relationship with someone, but you need to learn to recognize when you’re ready for this.
If you can meet people without immediately comparing them to your ex, you may be ready to start a new relationship.
Don’t be afraid to tell people you may be interested in that you’re interested, but not ready to start a relationship right now. Being honest will help you distinguish between vultures who prey on vulnerable recent breakups and real prospective partners.
Remind yourself that breakups are normal. Sometimes you’ll be the dumper and sometimes you might be the dumped, but we all experience heartbreak. It hurts, but we all survive it, and you and your ex will too.
If you’re sure you want to break up with somebody, it’s best done sooner rather than later. However, if your partner has had a particularly bad day already, you may want to consider waiting for a better moment. Breaking up with them when they’re already down will make the breakup much harder for both of you.
While honesty is the best policy, focus on the fundamental issues destroying the relationship and don’t nitpick on the little annoyances that drive you mad. Those annoyances are usually symptoms of the underlying problems – we’re far more likely to get annoyed, irritable, and frustrated when we know the relationship isn’t working out.
Never threaten that you will break up with your partner. If you have problems or concerns, work through them or break up. Threats will only make a relationship worse and their impact tends to diminish with repeated use.
Never break up in the heat of the moment. If the relationship is already broken beyond repair, that won’t change once the argument is over and the anger has passed. Break up when you’re both calm and can talk it over peacefully. That’s when you have the best chance of closure.
Physical threats and violent relationships should always be ended as quickly and safely as possible. Contact the authorities and get out.