How To Break Up With Someone The Right Way, According To A Relationship Expert
When someone thinks about the heart-wrenching struggles of breaking up, they often imagine themselves on the receiving end of the news. But at least once or twice in your life, there will probably come a time when things feel lackluster, strained, or downright hostile in your relationship, and you need to take on the opposite role.
As Cheryl Strayed once wisely wrote in The Rumpus’ Dear Sugar column, "You don't need a reason to leave. Wanting to leave is enough." Of course, wanting to leave and actually leaving are very different things. Whatever your reason, whether it's due to hurtful betrayal or just a slow but undeniable erosion of love, figuring out how to break up with someone can be really hard—especially if you've never done it before.
To make the process a little bit easier, we spoke to relationship and well-being coach Shula Melamed, M.A., MPH, for some expert advice on how to end a relationship in a way that's actually healthy:
Don't ghost—even if it was just one date.
"I've heard some people say that if they've only gone out on one date with a person, there is no need to notify them. In my opinion, a simple text should suffice—something kind, direct, and in the spirit of closing the door," Melamed says.
A text is also appropriate if you're calling things off with a person with whom you've been on a few sporadic dates. "This lets the other person know the timing isn't right, or that you are not interested in exploring the relationship further," she says. "Though it might sting at first, at least it won't leave the mysterious residue of ghosting."
If you're at a loss when it comes to striking the right kind/direct/empathetic tone in your "breakup" text, Melamed offers a couple of examples:
- If you're taking the initiative in breaking the bad news post-date: "Hey I had a great time getting to know you and [mention something interesting from your conversation], but I'm not feeling a romantic vibe."
- If they text you to make plans and you're not feeling it: "I had a great time, but I am feeling more of a friend connection."
Make honesty and empathy your goals—especially when ending a serious relationship.
The longer a relationship lasts, the more care you should take with the breakup. This makes sense; your partner (and you, for that matter) is more invested, and the process of separating will likely be painful and strange—even if you both know it's for the best in the long run.
"Communicate kindly, directly, and with empathy," Melamed advises. "No one likes to be broken up with, even if they themselves understand the relationship might not have a chance at thriving. In a mature breakup, it's understood that there are many factors that contribute to the end of a relationship."
Ultimately, a mature break up means putting yourself in your partner's shoes and showing them the respect, kindness, and empathy you would want to be shown if the roles were reversed. You need to be willing to explain your reasoning for ending things if your partner asks, and sit with the pain that your decision is causing—no ghosting, no picking a fight so you have an excuse to leave. Make your best effort to understand how your partner is feeling and to be respectful of that while still staying true to your decision.
Remember that little details—language, body language, setting—are all important.
According to Melamed, what you say isn't as important as how you say it. What does that mean? How you break up—the words you choose, and the tone and body language you use—are what determine whether you've handled the situation with maturity and grace. Some of Melamed's rules for a mature, adult breakup are:
Plan a time to talk somewhere quiet and private: Find a space where you can have the kind of conversation you need to have, where you won't feel rushed or uncomfortable. Ideally, this will be somewhere private—or at least a public place that's not too busy, like a park. Maybe not your favorite restaurant or a bustling coffee shop where you could run into friends. And if your partner asks if something is up, be honest that you need to discuss something important with them.
Have open and attentive body language: Closed body language, like folding your arms across your chest or biting your nails, signals that you don't want to have a dialogue. Keep your arms uncrossed and your body turned toward your partner to encourage an open conversation. Similarly, never break up with someone while you are walking away or when your back is turned.
Maintain eye contact: Eye contact is a silent way of conveying respect and attention, as well as your unwavering commitment to your decision. Maintaining eye contact will show your partner that you're confident this is the right move while being open to communication.
Do not use blaming language: Remember the old advice to use "I" statements—focus on how you feel instead of on any problems your partner is causing. For example, "I need time on my own" instead of "you're suffocating me." At the same time, don't tell a white lie to avoid confrontation—be honest about why you're ending things; just be respectful about it.
State what you've learned from the relationship and what you'll take from it: This is a great gratitude practice. The end of a relationship is hard for everyone, but remembering why you loved your partner to begin with will help you use the experience to grow going forward—and (hopefully) inspire them to do the same.
Give your partner a chance to share what they think and feel: You can't practice empathy if you're not open to listening to how your partner feels. Just remember: Giving your partner a chance to share their feelings doesn't mean you have to back down from your decision—it's a sign of respect.
If touching or embracing are appropriate, feel free to do so: In some cases, it might be appropriate to hug or join hands as you let go of the relationship; other times, your partner won't want any physical affection, and you have to respect that, too.
Practice social media empathy, too.
As the dumper, there's a good chance you will move on from the split faster than your partner—you've had time before the breakup to process and mourn the end of the relationship, after all. But, even if you're feeling great and burning up Bumble within weeks (or days...or hours), be mindful of what you post on social media, from announcing your newly single status to showing off your next relationship. That stuff stings.
"Take [your former partner] into consideration before posting," Melamed says. "If you are posting about a new relationship, make sure you are doing it in an authentic way that is celebrating your current situation rather than some subconscious act to hurt your ex."
Kayleigh Roberts is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles, California. She earned a B.S. from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. She covers culture, entertainment, and health and has written for several notable publications including Elle, Marie Claire, and The Atlantic.