This Is How to End a Long-Term Relationship

It can be hard to walk away from a relationship you've been in for years, but sometimes it's for the best.

two men laying down

Unsplash | Design by Jiaqi Zhou

Have you ever had a friend tell you that it’s too hard for them to break up with their partner? It’s often difficult for people to end a long-term relationship, even if they know it's necessary. Our bonds with serious partners can be very different from many other close relationships. When you've been with someone for a large part of your life, it might be hard to imagine your days without them—not to mention the changing dynamics of friendships or support from each other's families. But when your heart tells you it's time, it's okay to decide you're ready for a new chapter in your life.

We’re not going to downplay how hard it can be to part ways, but there’s no good reason to stay in a relationship that just isn't working. In the long run, it’s detrimental to your quest to find a partner you’re compatible with (if that’s your ultimate goal). Plus, being single again doesn't have to be scary: You may even find that exploring your life as an individual can help you get in touch with yourself. So instead of worrying about how to end a long-term relationship, let's put our fears to rest and determine how to break up while being fair to both parties.

Below, read on to learn expert tips on the best ways to break up with someone you've dated for a long time.

Prepare Yourself

Once you're certain that you're ready to have the talk, it's important to prepare yourself for the breakup. You might be concerned about your partner's reaction, or how changing the face of your daily routine will affect your mental health. It's normal to worry about how ending a relationship will take a toll on your life. "In planning to break up with someone, you’ll go through a fair amount of distress yourself. Depending on how long you've anticipated the breakup, you’ll likely experience some form of anxiety or dread as you look ahead to taking unpleasant steps," says psychologist Loren Soeiro, Ph.D., ABPP. Those unpleasant steps might seem impossible at first, but with a little preparation, you can do a lot to make the transition easier for both people.

Start by thinking about what you need to say—and how you'll say it—to get an idea of how the conversation should go. You'll also want to choose a time and place that's conducive to an honest, serious conversation (for example, approaching this talk over a brunch date may not be the best idea).

No matter how nervous you are, breaking up with a long-term partner is likely best in person; ending an important time in your lives can hurt worse if it's done over a phone call or text.

Be Honest

You don’t want to hurt your partner, but you still need to be genuine about why you want to break up. As hard as the truth might be, you'll be helping the other person understand by giving context about why the relationship is no longer working for you. When you're preparing for the conversation, think of a few ways to break the news that explain your reasoning in a gentle way.

"Ideally talk more about you and your feelings, rather than about the other and their behavior," says expert Robert Taibbi, L.C.S.W. "You don’t want to be angry, you don’t want to be blaming. Instead, you want to be as calm as you can, be clear, [and] give a reason that you can state in one or two sentences."

Breakups are already tough, so take care not to make it come across in ways that hurt worse than it has to. Consider how you'd feel in their situation: You'd probably expect honesty and kindness from your S.O. if the table was turned.

Break the News to Friends

Give yourself as much time as you need, but the sooner you confide in close friends and family, the faster it will feel like reality (plus, you’ll have someone to talk to about the situation). This doesn’t mean you should bash your ex, though—especially not with mutual friends.

"Family, friends, and co-workers are naturally going to be asking you what happened. Decide in advance to whom and what you want to share [while considering] those outside your intimate circle," says Taibbi. It’s helpful to know what you'll say ahead of time so you don’t get flustered. Something like “We’re not together anymore—unfortunately, it didn’t work out,” should do the trick.

Exchange Your Things

After the dust has settled, it's a good time to determine how you'll exchange your things. Consider "ripping off the Band-Aid" to get past the worst of it. By removing these reminders from your lives, you'll both be able to leave the pain in the past sooner.

You can choose a method that works for you. If it helps you move on, you might decide to leave each other's things with a mutual friend or send them in the mail. Some people prefer the step of closure, however, so be understanding if your ex would rather meet in person to say goodbye.

Discuss Contact

Some of us don't like to stay friends with our exes, while others find the transition into life as individuals easier when they can still reach out. At first, it might be best to stop contact with each other to give yourself time to adjust to your new life. "Be proactive rather than reactive. Define your own policy on communication, set boundaries—that, for example, you won’t respond to text messages, or will only talk on the phone at certain times," says Taibbi.

Taibbi also notes that if your ex has a hard time accepting the breakup, you'll need to be consistent with your interactions. If you've decided to stop contact, resist the urge to respond when you're lonely so you aren't sending mixed signals.

Be Kind to Yourself

Even if it was your idea to end a long-term relationship, the situation can still be emotionally taxing on both people. When you're having trouble being alone or missing your ex, devise a plan for coping. That might mean finding a new hobby to occupy your thoughts, or focusing on spending time with your friends. Whatever route you choose, it's important to cope with the situation instead of avoiding it.

It's okay to let go of any blame you might place on yourself; all relationships are different, and for most people, it takes a few tries to find what's right. Whether you're embracing the freedom of single life or imagining your dream partner, be sure to keep your own best interest in mind. And when it gets hard, don't feel bad for taking a mental health day with your old pals, Ben & Jerry.

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