“Letting someone know you want to split up is a hard conversation to have, especially when you may still care about them.”

The world of dating and relationships can be difficult to navigate. Ending what was once a promising relationship can be extremely stressful,[1] as it involves significant changes to our social and emotional lives, daily routines, letting go of a shared vision for the future, and even a sense of loss and grief. [2]

No matter how necessary a breakup may be, it’s common to struggle afterward while we readjust to life without our former partner. 

It takes courage to end a relationship we no longer feel is working for us. Conversations may get messy and not go as planned. Fortunately, there are steps we can take to minimize the emotional turmoil that can come with the end of a relationship. 

This article will guide us through breaking up with someone in a manner that shows compassion and minimizes conflict.

Step 1: Be sure about it

You don’t want to make a decision that you’ll regret about ending your relationship. It can be especially hard to make big decisions if you’re also dealing with depression or anxiety, as these can influence your thoughts about yourself (and others) in a negative way. To get an objective view on things, it’s important to talk through the situation with a trusted friend or therapist. 

If you’re open to continuing the relationship, but only on the condition of certain changes from your partner, you should also be honest about that. You don’t want to use a break up as a manipulation tactic to create fear or drama. 

Step 2: Decide on the best time and place

While you don’t want to put it off for too long, it’s important you’re mindful of any upcoming big or stressful events in your or the other person’s life, as these may not be the best time to end things. It’s also a good idea to choose a setting that is both calm and private. 

Unless in a remote or abusive relationship, meeting in person can help to provide the most closure for both people. Breaking up on the phone, through ghosting, or over text can come across as immature or disrespectful. 

Step 3: Ask to have a conversation 

There’s no doubt that the conversation about ending a relationship can be tough. Even asking to have that conversation can be difficult, and it’s common to get nervous in the moment. One way you can handle this is by giving them a heads up that you want to talk about something. For example, saying something like: 

  • “Hi, I would like to talk with you about something important, but I’d prefer to do so in person. Are you free this weekend?”

Step 4: The conversation

The do’s for a healthy break up

Showing respect and kindness will help to lessen some stress that is inherent in having this kind of conversation.

Let the other person know what you appreciated about them

  • A breakup can really hurt someone’s self-esteem. And while parts of your reasoning for the breakup may be about their character, mentioning some of the things you valued about them will help to ease the tension and create less animosity afterward.

Establish boundaries for future interactions

  • If you wish to remain in the person’s life or will still have regular interactions with them (e.g., with overlapping friends, or working in the same building, etc.), you should be specific about keeping in touch or wanting space. “Space” to one person could mean only checking in once a week, and to another it could mean no contact for months. Additionally, it’s OK if you want to stay friends, but only say so if you really mean it.  

Own some of the responsibility for the relationship breakdown (if realistic to do so)

  • Nobody is perfect, and putting all of the responsibility on the other person can make you look less mature or self-aware. Even if you believe they caused the breakup, there may be something you’ve done (or didn’t do) to reflect on for personal  growth. 

Offer to discuss the situation again

  • Depending on the cause for the breakup, when your partner has had more time to process everything, they may have more questions. This can help ensure more closure for everyone. 

The don’ts for a healthy break up

Don’t be unnecessarily harsh, but be honest

  • Although it may feel good in the moment to lash out, it won’t help. Be as honest as is helpful, so as to not leave the other person confused, spiraling from being hurt, or in a place where they cannot work on something for a future partner. 
  • If the breakup may come as a shock to your partner, be prepared for the possibility they will try to bargain. Using precise language can help avoid giving the other person false hope that this isn’t final. This can sound like saying “I’m sorry, but I can no longer be in this relationship” instead of “Maybe we should break up”. 

Don’t argue during the breakup

  • There’s no point in rehashing a disagreement when you’re moving on anyway. You can hear the other person out, agree to disagree, and leave it like that.
  • As the one ending the relationship, you have an advantage of more fully preparing for the conversation. Your partner may not be ready to have the conversation or may react with strong negative emotions. Try to remain calm and not engage in any arguments.

Managing common thoughts after the breakup

I’ll always be alone.

While it will take time and effort, you will find someone else.

I wasted so much time and energy on them.

Focus on what you learned about yourself and what you are looking for in the future.

I won’t be able to manage on my own.

It may be hard at first, but becoming better at managing our mental health independently is an important skill for ourselves and for future relationships.

Keeping up with your mental health post-breakup

Experiencing the end of a relationship can incite feelings of loss and grief. It’s best not to ignore our emotions, and understand that it’s ok to be upset or cry. In an attempt to cope with or distance ourselves from our pain, we can fall into bad habits such as excessive drinking, drug use, and workaholism, so it’s critical to intentionally work through the difficult emotions we might experience. Seeing a therapist can be extremely helpful for this.

In order to help bolster our mental health during stressful times, it’s also important to make sure that we have a strong foundation for living well. See our Tips and Skills section to help ensure we’re getting proper sleep, diet, exercise, and social contact, which will help us handle the stress of breaking up.  

Next Steps:


References:

  1. Oliffe, John L., et al. “Masculinity and Mental Illness in and after Men’s Intimate Partner Relationships.” SSM – Qualitative Research in Health, vol. 2, 2022, p. 100039., https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ssmqr.2022.100039. 
  2. Morris, Craig E. and Christoph Reiber. “Frequency , Intensity and Expression of Post-Relationship Grief.” (2011).

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