How to End a Relationship With Someone You Still Care About

Illustration of a broken heart on a jacket
Stephanie DeAngelis / MyDomaine

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 two relationship experts about moving on (and being fair to the people we care about).

Read on to find out the experts' advice on how to break up with a partner you still love.

Meet the Expert

Relationship expert Sameera Sullivan is the CEO of Lasting Connections. Paulette Sherman is a psychologist and the author of Dating from the Inside Out.

Do Put Yourself in Their Position

If you're struggling to decide when or where to break up, relationship expert Sameera Sullivan, CEO of Lasting Connections, has a few guiding principles. The first step is to 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 says. "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.

If a breakup is inevitable, now is the only right time.

"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. Paulette Sherman, psychologist and author of Dating from the Inside Out, 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, and in case they can 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."

GETTY IMAGES/IJUBAPHOTO
GETTY IMAGES/IJUBAPHOTO

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."

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.

Don't Lie

It's okay 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 them 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 wellbeing. "One thing to keep in mind, before you make their issues [become] 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.

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