If you're in a relationship and breaking up is weighing on your mind, it might be time for the hardest part: telling the person you love something that will inevitably hurt them. But is there a "right" way to end the relationship?
How you should part ways depends on your specific experience with your partner, and no two breakups are the same. It's never easy to say goodbye to someone you love—and sometimes deciding how to break up can be more difficult than dealing with these uncertain feelings to begin with. But when you know the end is inevitable, it's only harder for both people to put it off. So instead of worrying about the things that could go wrong, we asked relationship experts Sameera Sullivan and Dr. Paulette Sherman about moving on (and being fair to the people we care about).
Meet the Expert
Read on to find out the experts' advice on how to break up with a partner you still love.
Signs It’s Time to Break Up
Considering a break up with someone you care about can be a difficult and painful process. While they may be the perfect partner on paper, it's important to come to terms with the fact that they might not be the perfect partner for you. And just because there aren't any major red flags or indiscretions to push your hand, that doesn't mean that two supportive individuals in a healthy relationship can't outgrow one another. Ultimately, if you're looking outwardly for signs to call it quits or not, chances are you won't find the answers you're looking for. Only reaching inward and being truthful with yourself can help guide you through this crossroad.
If you're still struggling with hearing your intuition, there are some questions you can ask yourself. Do you find that you keep fighting over the same things without any growth or resolution? Are you finding it difficult to be your authentic self around your partner? Are you being pulled in different directions in life (career paths, desires to have children, life stages, lifestyle expectations, etc.) and unwilling to compromise? What is still keeping you in this relationship? If your answers seem to point to all the wrong reasons to be with someone (expectations of others, ego, habit, fears of being alone, etc.), then you may want to rethink your position.
Dos and Don’ts of Breaking Up With Someone You Love
If you've decided to end a long-term relationship, it can feel overwhelming. But there a few things you can do (and not do) to ensure the breakup is kind, honest, and respectful.
Do Put Yourself in Their Position
If you're struggling to decide when or where to break up, put yourself in your partner's position: By thinking about how you'll have the talk ahead of time, you can avoid additional pain and plan for uncomfortable situations.
"What would you want or expect?" Sullivan asks. "Be honest! If the answer is an in-person meeting and a candid explanation, do that. If you've only been dating a few weeks, a phone call might be appropriate."
There's no doubt that these conversations can be difficult, but Sullivan points out that avoiding the breakup is just as damaging. Considering how the other person feels—and how they deal with emotional situations—can help you find the best way to approach the topic without making it harder for them.
"Would you want someone to date you that fully intended on breaking up with you? No. So respect the other person," Sullivan says. "You're not only leading them on and wasting their time; you're doing the same to yourself. People do this for years, and wake up single [and] full of regret after they finally find the 'right time.' If a breakup is inevitable, now is the only right time."
Don't Assign Blame
While your desire to end the relationship might be rooted in your partner's poor behavior, the breakup will only be made worse by assigning the blame. Sherman recommends using "I" statements to prevent the other person from feeling attacked.
"You don't need to go into your every reason for the breakup, but if asked, you can choose a general one to explain your decision," Sherman says. "While some daters may find it helpful to know why the other person chose to break up with them (to have closure or possibly learn from it), others may not want specific details. You can take their lead about this."
Shifting the way you phrase issues in the relationship also makes it harder for your partner to refute. "Communicate what wasn't working from your perspective," Sullivan says. "Use statements that start with 'I'—I felt (blank), I couldn't reconcile (blank), I need to (blank). No one can argue with what you're stating to be true for yourself."
Do Put Thought Into the Location
Choosing a location can be difficult, but it's helpful to break up in a place where you both feel you're on mutual ground. You'll also want to consider whether your partner feels secure to react honestly—a public place with plenty of strangers around won't give them the opportunity to express their feelings comfortably.
"Anticipate the conversation. Will it be heated? Sad? Emotional? Will they react aggressively? Wherever you decide to do it, make sure there's some element of privacy," says Sullivan. "Less privacy is better if you want to keep their reaction under control or if the physical connection is so strong that there's a risk you won't follow through with the conversation."
Sherman points out that breaking up with someone in their home might seem like a good idea, but it can make the conversation harder: "The downside is [that] it might take longer, be more uncomfortable, and could take a more dramatic turn where the other person yells—or doesn't want you to leave afterward."
It's OK to cushion the blow, but Sullivan cautions against lying about your motivations for the breakup. "Don't lie, but don't be mean," she says. If your partner asks for an explanation, she recommends giving one or two reasons without being too specific. Try to explain your thoughts gently—acknowledge that you don't want the same things or that you handle emotional situations in different ways.
"Please avoid any rendition of, 'It's not you, it's me,'" Sullivan says, noting that it's unproductive for both parties. Make sure the conversation is helpful for your partner: They won't be able to learn from this relationship if they don't know why you were unhappy together.
Do Set Boundaries
Sherman notes that you should also know what not to do before having the tough conversation. A few common mistakes she discusses are ghosting your partner (without telling them it's over) or saying that you want a break when you actually want to cut ties. Once you've told your S.O. that you want to end the relationship, it's crucial to set boundaries.
Discuss whether you want to be contacted by your new ex in the future. It can be difficult to navigate the days and weeks following the breakup, but Sherman says that physical contact should be avoided: "The biggest mistake you can make during a breakup is to have breakup sex with the [other] person."
If you have shared social events coming up, discuss who will (or won't) attend to ensure both people feel comfortable.
Don't Assume All Responsibility
Feeling hurt is an inevitable part of breaking up, but Sullivan says it's crucial to mentally separate yourself from the situation and gain perspective. "Very often, [people are] convinced that the end of the relationship will somehow cause the other person to spiral out of control," she says. "Maybe it will, and maybe it won't; consider that these issues exist outside of the relationship."
Even when your partner is having a tough time accepting the breakup, you still need to prioritize your own health and well-being. "One thing to keep in mind, before you make their issues your issues, is that you're breaking up for—drumroll—you. You're prioritizing your well-being, mental health, and future."
It's easy to become so worried about a breakup that you put it off indefinitely, but remember what's best for you. By making a plan, considering your partner's feelings, and knowing what you expect moving forward, you can eliminate some of the unknown elements that might make you avoid the conversation. Although it may feel difficult right now, moving on is a way to help yourself—and your partner—start fresh.
Moving on From a Breakup With Someone You Still Love
As if getting over a breakup wasn't hard enough, getting over someone you still care about can prove even more trying. While it may take a bit longer, it's important to note that the same general principles apply and, most importantly, you will be able to move on.
If there are any negative feelings of grief or sadness, don't push them away. This is never effective and will only cause you more distress down the line. Sit in awareness of your emotions and feel all there is to feel, without allowing them to overwhelm you. Seeking the help of a therapist can be very supportive through this process.
Once you're ready, begin rebuilding your life by focusing on yourself and reaching out to friends and family. Focus on creating new experiences that will breathe new excitement and vibrancy into your life. Get curious, try new things, and find new hobbies. Eventually, you'll feel restored, replenished, and ready to love again.