When and How to Break Off an Engagement

Contemplative Woman

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Calling off an engagement is not easy. You can be 100 percent sure the wedding should not go ahead and still be scared of hurting your partner or disappointing family and friends. And then there are the logistical challenges of canceling a wedding, not to mention the reality of wasting so much time and money. Still, if you are sure this relationship isn't right, you should move forward with calling off the engagement as quickly as possible. It's the kind and the brave thing to do.

To help you know when and how to call off an engagement we talked to Erika Kaplan, a matchmaker with Three Day Rule who has seen many couples not only come together but go their separate ways. She talked us through reasons why you should call off an engagement as well as tips for canceling the wedding and informing loved ones. The most important thing to remember is you are not alone.

Meet the Expert

Erika Kaplan is a matchmaker with Three Day Rule who specializes in helping couples find happiness with the right person.

Signs You Should Break Off an Engagement

It's natural to doubt your decision for breaking off an engagement. You might be wondering if your reasons are valid or make sense. Here are a few signs that your partner is not the right one for you in the long term, and you should not go ahead with the wedding.

You have poor communication skills.

"Planning a wedding together can tell you a lot about how you two communicate as a couple. This may be one of the first milestones together where you have to truly cooperate and compromise to create an event that represents you two individually and as a couple," says Kaplan. "If compromise isn’t in your couple's vocabulary, you’ll certainly see it when you plan your wedding. If you or your partner are dismissive of each other’s opinions, it can be a red flag."

You have different financial goals and values.

You might learn things about your partner during your engagement that show you are not on the same page about finances, reveals Kaplan. "Shopping for wedding venues and vendors may give you a very clear picture of if you are on the same page when it comes to money. Do you spend or save? What do you splurge on versus what do you dial it back on?" she explains. "It’s perfectly normal for a couple to have different spending habits, but ultimately, if the finances of wedding planning cause major rifts between you two, it’s worth evaluating where you stand." Money is one of the main reasons couples fight, and if you aren't compatible in this realm, you are probably in for a bumpy road ahead.

You aren't on the same page with family.

"Family values can make or break a relationship," admits Kaplan.  "It’s important that you and your partner are respectful and supportive of each other’s relationship with family, whether close or strained." If family dynamics cause regular or fierce fights or disagreements, you might want to reconsider your decision to get married.

How to End an Engagement

Ending an engagement is a daunting task, and it is one that is highly emotional. Here is how to do it with compassion and ease.

Show compassion to your ex-partner.

Remember that you've thought long and hard about this decision. Your ex, on the other hand, might be taken by surprise. Break the news gently and in person. Don't put your ex down or go on and on about all their flaws. Focus on your feelings and the concrete reasons why you don't think this marriage will last.

Kaplan recommends giving your former partner time and resources to get their life in order. "Give your ex access and space to bring closure to things like your shared home or your mutual friends."

Tell your family and friends.

If you are in a solid emotional place with your partner it might be nice to break the news to your inner circles together, says Kaplan. "Because your intention was to spend your life together it’s likely that you two have already built a life together with people important to the both of you. If you are amicable, it might be cathartic to share the news with important people together."

You can explain the news to family and friends by calling them or visiting them in person if convenient.

If your relationship is contentious, however, it's also acceptable (and understandable!) to share the news individually. "If the break-up is anything but amicable or collaborative, you two can each share the news with the people important to you," Kaplan adds.

For your larger network, there is no need to tell people individually, she assures: "You can send a joint announcement in the mail simply stating a change of plans, signed with both of your names."

And whether you are talking to your mom or your work colleague, you only need to share what you want. "Remember that if you don’t feel like sharing the details, you don’t owe anyone your story," she says. "The specifics are nobody’s business but your own, but it’s good to have a support system of those you both trust too."

How to Return the Ring

"The general rule of thumb is the recipient returns the ring if the wedding doesn’t actually happen," explains Kaplan. "The thing about rules, though, is that they leave no room for context. Relationship dynamics have shifted and evolved and ultimately there are no rules—each couple can make their own depending on their specific situation."

If you can't decide or if it becomes a contentious issue, you can follow the general rule that the ring should be returned to the purchaser.

How to Cancel the Wedding

Canceling a wedding is not easy. Kaplan recommends starting with the most expensive vendors like the venue and the band and working your way down to smaller suppliers.

Don't be afraid to ask for help, says Kaplan. "Recruit those closest to you, as in your family, your Maid of Honor or Best Man, or those in your wedding party. Remember, you likely chose those people to stand by your side on your happiest day because they’d also stand by your side on your hardest day. Avoid the overwhelming and daunting task of taking on the cancellation calls on your own and reach out for help."

You can also work with your ex on this task. "If you are amicable with your ex-fiancé, work together to figure out who you can each delegate to," offers Kaplan. "This way, you two can work to heal and reflect with less of the logistical headache on your plate."

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