No matter how you dice them, breakups are rough. This is true even if things are ending on relatively good terms.
One of the hardest parts of breaking up is simply figuring out how to do it. Should you explain your reasoning or spare them the details? What if there’s the added complexity of living together?
Read on for tips that can help ease the process across different scenarios.
Sometimes, you might have to break up with someone you still love. This can be incredibly difficult, but there are things you can do to make it a bit easier for everyone involved.
Prepare for strong emotions on both sides
It’s easy to get wrapped up in focusing on how to minimize the other person’s pain during a breakup, especially if you still love them.
It’s just as important to consider how you’ll feel afterward. There might be an element of relief once it’s over, but you might also feel sadness or grief. Give close friends and family a heads up that you might need some extra support in the coming days.
Have a plan to make space
It might seem natural to stay close to someone you still love, even after a breakup. But it’s generally best to create some distance, at least temporarily. This can help you both come to terms with the end of the relationship, work through difficult emotions, and begin the healing process.
Katherine Parker, LMFTA, recommends setting a no-contact time frame. “I recommend 1 to 3 months,” she says. “This gives each person involved time to sort through their own feelings, focus on themselves, and not get caught in the cycle of responding to the other person’s feelings about the breakup.”
If children are involved, you may have to communicate occasionally, but stick to child-related topics only.
Set clear boundaries
Once you break up, set boundaries and make sure you both understand them.
The boundaries will depend on your situation, but might include things like agreeing to:
- not call or text each other
- hang out in large groups of mutual friends, but not one on one
- not comment on each other’s social media posts
Avoid the temptation to break these boundaries, even if it seems harmless. Going back and forth will only prolong the process and make it more painful.
Breaking up with a live-in partner brings its own set of challenges.
Have a moving plan ready
Once you know you want to break up, take some time to decide where you’ll go in the immediate aftermath to give you partner space to process.
Consider reaching out to friends and family or booking a hotel room, at least for the next few nights.
Who gets to stay?
This can get tricky. Ideally, you both move on to new spaces where you can start fresh, but this isn’t always possible.
If you and your partner signed a lease for your house or apartment together, you’ll need to talk to your leasing agent to find out your next steps. One of you may need to take over the lease.
Otherwise, the person whose name is not on the lease will usually be the one who moves out, although specific circumstances can vary.
If you can, try to figure out what the options are beforehand to eliminate some of that stress for the other person.
Establish a moving schedule
Moving out of a shared residence after a breakup can involve a lot of stress and charged emotions. Arranging specific times to pack up your things can make it a little easier. If you have different work schedules, one of you can come while the other person is at work.
It might take a little effort to arrange times, but try to stay calm, even if you think they’re being unreasonable or difficult. If they won’t agree to leave, bring a trusted friend or family member who can provide a neutral but supportive presence.
Discuss shared pets
If you got a pet together during your relationship, you might disagree on who keeps it. It may sound a little extreme, but one possible solution is to share custody of the pet.
Of course, the possibility of this depends on the animal. A dog or reptile in a terrarium might easily travel between two homes in the same town. Cats, however, are a different story. They tend to be territorial and have a hard time adjusting to new surroundings.
If there’s a cat involved, ask:
- Where will the cat be most comfortable?
- Does the cat prefer one of us?
- Do I really want the cat, or do I just not want them to have the cat?
Answering these questions honestly can help you decide who the cat should live with. If you end the relationship as friends or on good terms, you could always offer to cat-sit or visit in the future.
Try to leave emotions out of it
During a difficult breakup, you might struggle to set emotions aside when addressing the logistics of moving, splitting up belongings, and everything else involved.
But keeping calm can lead to better outcomes for both of you. The situation might be awkward, but try to handle it with a polite, professional attitude.
When children are involved
If one or both of you has children in the home, it’s important to give them honest, age-appropriate details about what’s happening. You don’t have to get too specific, but try not to lie.
Be prepared to tell them how the living situation will change. You and your partner should decide beforehand whether the non-parent will have any further contact.
If both partners help provide childcare, regardless of who the parent is, it may help for both of you to talk to children old enough to understand what’s happening. Children form close bonds with their caregivers, so they might become very upset if one suddenly drops out of the picture without explanation.
Above all, don’t have the breakup conversation in front of children. If they can’t be out of the house for it, wait until they’re sleeping, then speak quietly in a separate room.
Breaking up with a long-distance partner isn’t too different from breaking up with anyone else once you start the conversation. But you may want to consider a few extra details before you have that conversation.
Choose the method wisely
Generally, a face-to-face conversation is the most respectful way to break up with someone. If your partner lives several cities, states, or countries away and talking in-person would require significant time or money, you may not be able to make this happen.
You should avoid email or text, but phone or video chat may be good options for ending a long-distance relationship.
Don’t wait too long
Whether you wait to break up or not can depend on your situation. If you already arranged a visit, you might decide to wait and have a breakup conversation in person.
Make sure to consider whether this is fair to the other person. For example, if you’re going to see them, you might plan to leave the same day after you’ve talked. But if they come to see you, they’ll be on their own, possibly without an immediate way home.
Avoid waiting to break up if you know the other person is planning to change their situation (quit a job and move closer to you, for example) based on your relationship.
Give some warning
It can help to prepare the other person for a breakup conversation. This could be as simple as texting to say, “Hey, I have something serious I’d like to talk about. Is there a good time when you can talk for a little while?”
At the very least, pick a time when you can both give your attention to a serious conversation. In other words, avoid breaking up with a quick call on your way to an appointment.
It’s normal to want to stay friends with a partner after breaking up. Maybe you started out as good friends and don’t want to lose out on everything you share just because the romance side didn’t work out.
A 2011 study involving 131 participants suggests that people who experience more relationship satisfaction before breaking up are more likely to stay friends after a breakup.
The authors identified a few other factors that increase your chances:
- you were friends before getting romantically involved
- both of you wanted to break up
- your mutual friends support the friendship
- both of you want to work on maintaining a friendship
That last bit is key: If the other person doesn’t want to remain friends, it’s important to respect that and give them space. Respecting their boundaries will only increase the chance that you may be friends one day.
Polyamorous breakups pose some additional challenges because they affect several people. While many of the same advice applies, there are a few other things to consider.
Breaking up with one partner
If your other partners were friendly or intimately involved with your ex-partner, the breakup could have reaching effects.
You have to not only process the breakup on your own, but also potentially sort through what happened and the feelings involved with each of your partners.
Whatever the situation is, open communication is key.
When talking with your other partner, try to avoid:
- only talking about the breakup
- saying negative things about your ex-partner
- telling other partners they shouldn’t spend time with your ex-partner
- sharing unnecessary details with partners who are friendly or involved with your ex-partner
Leaving a triad or committed group
How you handle leaving an entire poly relationship, rather than just breaking up with one partner, can depend on your reasons.
If polyamory isn’t right for you, but you still feel close to your partners, you may be able to maintain a friendship. But if the relationship involved dishonesty, manipulation, abuse, or less than ethical behavior, making a clean break with anyone involved is probably best.
There’s no reason you can’t continue to see partners who didn’t behave in problematic or harmful ways, but if the group dynamic persists, staying friendly with just one partner can be tricky.
For extra support throughout the process, consider seeking out local poly groups or a poly-friendly therapist.
If you think your partner might hurt you when you try to break up, it’s important to take steps to protect your safety.
Involve other people
Tell your loved ones about your plan to break up with your partner. If needed, store clothes and important belongings with people you trust, in case you have to leave in a hurry.
Try to have the breakup conversation in a public place. If you can’t do that, take someone you trust with you. This is also one of the rare cases in which a phone call or text might be more appropriate than a face-to-face conversation.
Plan and prepare
For your own safety, it’s best to leave an abusive relationship as soon as you safely can. But if you can’t leave right away, use the time to plan and prepare. Keep a secure journal of abuse incidents, with photos if possible. Gather important documents and store them in a safe place.
If you have children, involve them in your safety plan. Practice with children who are old enough to understand. Get them to a safe place before you have a breakup conversation, if possible.
Stick to your decision
An abusive partner may try to manipulate or control you during the breakup process. They might assure you they love you and promise to change. It’s certainly possible for people to change, but if you made the decision to end the relationship, you probably did so for a good reason.
You might miss them after you break up, even if they were abusive. You might even wonder if you made the right choice. These feelings are normal, but they can be stressful. Consider reaching out to a therapist or advocate for help during this transition phase.
These resources provide safety and legal information, planning tools, and live chat support:
Some people stay in relationships long after deciding to leave because they worry their partner might react badly, experience extreme emotional distress, or hurt themselves.
While caring about your partner’s safety isn’t necessarily wrong, you need to make the best choice for your own life.
Call in backup
“Make a safety plan with one of your partner’s friends or family members,” Parker suggests. That person can stay with your partner after the breakup and offer support until they pass the point of crisis.
Arrange for help
“Tell them if they’re threatening to hurt themselves, you’ll call 911,” Parker goes on to say, “but that you still won’t get back together with them.”
If your partner is seeing a therapist, encourage them to call for support. You can also call to let the therapist know about your partner’s situation if they won’t make the call themselves.
Take your partner seriously and call for help if you need to. Arrange for someone to stay with them so they won’t be alone. But follow through on your intention to break up.
“Don’t let them use threats of self-harm or suicide as a way to get you to stay in a relationship,” Parker says. “Remember that ultimately, you are responsible for your actions and choices, and they are responsible for theirs. Your leaving does not ‘make’ them hurt themselves.”
Even if do you all the preparation in the world, it can still be hard to find the words when you’re facing your soon-to-be ex. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind.
Sort through your thoughts and plan what you want to say beforehand. If it helps, have a pretend conversation with someone you trust or just practice saying the words out loud to yourself.
Above all, aim to keep things clear and simple without being overly negative. If you don’t feel comfortable getting into specifics, you could say things like, “We aren’t compatible long-term,” or “Our personalities don’t work well together in a romantic relationship.”
Note, though, that providing more detailed reasons could help the other person address any problems you noticed in your relationship.
For example, you could say, “It really frustrates me that you never show up on time or follow through on things you say you’ll do. It makes me feel unable to trust anything you say.”
What you don’t do during a breakup can be just as important as what you do choose to do. While every breakup is different, there are a few things that are almost always a bad idea.
Airing the breakup on Facebook
The rise of social media has added a new layer of complexity to braking up.
Resist the urge to say negative things about your ex-partner after the breakup. If you need to vent, save that for private conversations with your friends and family.
Checking up on them
It’s tempting to see what an ex-partner is up to, but don’t walk or drive by their house or stop by their work unless you have a valid reason and made arrangements with them. If they feel stalked or threatened, they could file a police report.
If you’ve agreed not to talk, don’t initiate contact before the time you agreed to ends. If you’re worried about their emotional state, have a mutual friend or someone else check on them.
You may have good intentions, but it’s possible hearing from you could set back any progress they’ve made.
Blaming or criticizing
If you have mutual friends, avoid blaming your ex-partner for the breakup, criticizing them or their behavior, or saying anything spiteful or nasty. If they cheated or did something hurtful, you may feel angry and upset long after breaking up with them.
These feelings are valid, but try to talk about them productively. This can help you keep those mutual friendships, but it can also benefit your recovery and emotional health.
It can be tempting to silently slip out of the relationship, especially if you haven’t been together for very long. You might be unsure you even had a relationship. But if you’re uncertain, they might be, too. They also might have thought it was a relationship, so never hearing from you again could be upsetting.
If you weren’t too invested in the relationship and the thought of meeting just to break up stresses you out, at least send a text to let them know it’s over. This isn’t ideal, but it’s better than nothing.
Above all, a good general tip to keep in mind when breaking up with someone is, “How would I feel on the other end of this?” Keeping this in mind can help you end your relationship with compassion and respect.
Crystal has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.