How to Break Up

Two Parts:Reaching Your DecisionEnding the Relationship

Neil Sedaka once sang that “breaking up is hard to do,” a statement that holds absolutely true for most people. Deciding to break up with your significant other can be stressful and upsetting for both persons. But by taking the time to consider if this is the right step and breaking up with your partner in a rational, respectful, and composed manner, you may minimize the pain and effectively make the split.

Part 1
Reaching Your Decision

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    Avoid making a rash decision. It’s important to consider your decision when you are not emotionally upset and able to think clearly. This can help you avoid making an impulsive decision that you may regret or hurt the other person.[1]
    • It’s more difficult to problem solve when you are emotionally upset, and this may contribute to irrational decisions.[2]
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    Clarify why you want to break up. It’s important to gain clarity as to why you want to break up. This can help you distinguish between the simple road bumps in a relationship and more serious and irreconcilable issues between you and your partner.[3]
    • Only you can define what are irreconcilable issues and those that you can overcome. For example, if your partner doesn’t treat others well or doesn’t want children, these are often factors that cannot be changed. On the other hand, a person’s unwillingness to help around the house may be something they can amend.
    • Every couple has arguments, but if those spats are constant and ugly, it may suggest deeper issues and incompatibility.[4]
    • If you're in an emotionally or physically harmful relationship, this is usually a clear sign to end the partnership. [5]
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    Compose a list of positives and negatives. Consider writing a list of reasons you want to end your relationship. You may also want to include positives and negatives about your partner and the interactions and relationship you share.[6]
    • Seeing the positive parts of your relationship on paper may help you to focus on these instead of the negativity that may come along with the feelings you currently have.[7]
    • A list may also help you avoid ending the relationship based on the feeling “it feels like the right thing to do.”[8]
    • Remember that any type of abuse is a clear reason to end a relationship.[9]
    • Looking at the list and thinking it through, ask yourself if the relationship is more destructive to your life than enhancing it.[10]
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    Decide if change is possible. If you're simply upset with your partner, consider if there is a way to change the dynamic in your relationship. Before making a final decision, you may want to focus on resolving issues, rather than simply ending the relationship as the first solution. If change is an option, see whether or not your partner is willing and able to change.[11]
    • 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.[12]
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    Communicate your frustration. Before you decide to make a final break, discuss your frustrations and considerations with your partner. Give him the chance to make changes for the better. If you eventually decide to end the relationship, this may make it seem less abrupt and soften the blow because you'll have already voiced your frustration.[13]
    • Bottling up your frustration and feelings often leads to blowing up or expressing your emotions in inappropriate ways.[14]
    • Try to respectfully and calmly tell your partner what is bothering you. Avoid shouting, abuse, or blaming.
    • If your partner has cheated on or harmed you in some way, you may consider these irreconcilable differences that don’t deserve communicating your frustration or giving the person a chance to change.
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    Establish a reasonable timetable for change. You want to avoid getting into an endless chain of hoping for your partner to change and then experiencing disappointment. Setting a limit on timing for your partner to change can help make your decision easier in the long run.
    • 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 partners to agree in the short term before going back to the old ways in the near future.
    • Make sure that the ultimatum is helpful. In most cases, ultimatums don’t work. However, it may be necessary for your relationship to remain tenable. For example, you can say “I need to see you make an effort to quit or significantly reduce your smoking habit for this to work.” Issuing ultimatums such as “You need to want to have children” will likely never work and only cause harm and feelings of guilt.[15]
    • For some people, it can take a long time to change long-established behaviors. For example, it can take smokers months or years to quit their habit. Give your partner time to make a concerted effort to change their behavior.
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    Confide in a trusted person. If you are having a difficult time getting any clarity, talk about your feelings with a person you can trust. This can help you talk through your feelings and more effectively clarify where you stand. The trusted individual may also be able to add some perspective to your or your partner’s behavior as well.[16]
    • Your trusted person can be a friend, family member, a counselor, or health professional.
    • Make sure that the person won’t betray your confidence and discuss the issue with any outside parties. You may also want to ensure that he or she doesn’t treat your partner any differently, either.[17]
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    Render your final decision. After you’ve considered the various dynamics of your relationship, discussed them with your partner, and given your relationship a second chance if applicable, make a final decision on the fate of your relationship.[18] This can help you begin to move on and plan for a respectful and honest break up with your partner, or focus on healing your relationship further.[19]
    • Remember that your decision is based on what is best for you—and no else.[20]

Part 2
Ending the Relationship

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    Schedule time to have the breakup discussion. It’s best and most respectful to end your relationship in person and discuss your reasoning. Scheduling some time in a quiet place that will allow you and your partner to be alone can help make the process easier and minimize intrusive interruptions.[21].
    • Consider scheduling time that is not during the work or school week so the person can begin to mourn the relationship in private and without having to face others immediately.[22]
    • You may want to signal your partner or significant other about the nature of the conversation so that they can prepare themselves and don’t feel blindsided.[23] For example, you can say something like “I’d like to talk about the status of our relationship in a calm and peaceful manner.”
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    Choose an appropriate location to break up. You may want to have the conversation in private to prevent the risk of embarrassing yourself or the other person. In addition, pick a place that you can leave easily so that you don’t get into a protracted or circuitous conversation.[24]
    • If you feel unsafe with your partner, break up in public or bring a person who can back you up without being confrontational.
    • If you and your significant other live together, breaking up can be particularly problematic and stressful. It is up to you whether or not you want to move out immediately or take your time.
    • If you don't feel safe or would feel uncomfortable staying in the home you share with your partner, make sure to have a place where you can stay. You can move all of your stuff while she is not home and then break up when she comes home, or break up and leave with some of your things, with the intention to come back when things have calmed down.
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    Plan the breakup conversation. Consider what you want to say to the person. Having a basic plan of your conversation can minimize becoming over-emotional and help keep you on track. It may also make it easier for you to not hurt the person any more than necessary.[25]
    • The actual conversation during 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. Many conversations may go around in circles, so consider giving it a time limit.[26]
    • Be honest with the person, but not mean or brutal. You may want to consider telling the person what first attracted you to him or highlight some of his good qualities as you discuss why you no longer want to stay in the relationship.[27]
    • For example, you can say “I was really attracted to your outgoing personality and kindness when we were first together, but I am afraid we have different goals in life that make it difficult to continue as a couple.”
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    Break up in person. Although it may be easier to break up with someone if you don't have to look the person in the eye, ending a relationship by phone, text or email is impersonal and disrespectful. 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, give the person the respect she—and your former relationship—deserves.[28]
    • Breaking up in person can also help the person realize you are serious about ending the relationship.[29]
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    Maintain composure and respect. Sit down with your partner and let him know that you've decided to end the relationship. Approach the break up as calmly and respectfully as you can, with a sense of resolution, which may help make a bad situation seem slightly less negative and devastating.[30]
    • Don’t badmouth the person or say things you may regret. Remember that this can come back and hurt you in the long run.[31] For example, you wouldn’t want to say “I think you’re personal hygiene is terrible and it disgusts me to be with you.” Instead, you can say “I think we just have different styles of living that are not compatible with one another.”
    • Avoid being overly emotional if you can. This can help minimize any feelings of guilt you may have and can also help you stay resolute to your decision.[32]
    • You can say “I think you’re a fine person with many really great qualities that will make someone happy, but they’re just not compatible with what I envision in a relationship.”
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    Focus on the relationship issues, not the person. Talk about what isn't working for you in the relationship, rather than telling the other person what is wrong with him. Talking about him personally can make what is likely a devastating situation even worse.[33]
    • For instance, instead of saying "You're clingy and insecure," try saying "I need a lot of independence and freedom in my relationships."[34]
    • Don’t put the reasons for breaking up on the person, either. For example, saying “You deserve more” gives your partner an opportunity to say that you are perfect for him and that there is no reason to split up.[35] Instead, you can say “I feel like we’re on different paths in life. I want a career in academia that requires a lot of travel and time alone.”
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    Try to avoid creating false hope. Certain open-ended phrases and words can leave false hope with the person about getting back together. Leaving the door open for her can only hurt her and you more.[36]
    • Making statements such as “we’ll talk later” or “I want to be friends/ I want you in my life,” leave the door open for the person to hope that things will work out in the end, even if they won’t in your mind.[37]
    • You’ll need to nicely tell her that you cannot have any contact going forward. You may want to tell her this is the best thing for both of you to heal.[38]
    • In the event that you do want to stay friends, set the parameters for this in your conversation. You may both realize that breaking up is the best thing for your relationship. However, be very clear in your expectations and needs for the friendship.
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    Anticipate your partner's reaction.[39] Prepare yourself to counter your partner's arguments, reactions, and outbursts. This can help you stick to your decisions and may minimize potential manipulation by the person. Prepare for:
    • Questions. Your partner will likely want to know why you don't want to be with him anymore and whether there was anything he could have done to prevent the breakup. Answer the questions as honestly as possible.[40]
    • Crying. Your partner may be very upset and show it. You can offer comfort, but don't allow yourself to be manipulated into changing your decision.[41]
    • Arguing. Your partner 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. If the person tries to argue with you, you can simply say “I’m not going to get involved in an argument and will walk away if you continue.”
    • 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 to truly change now.
    • Lashing out. Your partner may say hurtful things and "push your buttons" as a way of feeling better. For example, if your partner calls you a nasty name, simply acknowledge it and move on. You can say “I can tell you are very angry with me, but I will not tolerate being called nasty names, so maybe we need to end this conversation.” Threats of physical harm or escalations are serious. If this happens, leave immediately.
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    Distance yourself. This is one of the most difficult, but important, parts of a breakup. Try and minimize contact with your ex and his friends to help minimize feelings of guilt or giving them false hope.
    • If you have children with the person, you may not be able to distance yourself altogether. Keep your relationship as civil as possible and put the well-being of your children first.
    • It may help to delete the person’s number from your phone and email from your computer.
    • 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.
    • After a while, you may find you are able to be friends with the person. If this is the case, make sure to set parameters for the friendship and any future relationship.