How To Break Up With Someone You Love, According To Relationship Experts
Breakups are never easy, but when you still love and care about the person, it can be even more difficult to go your separate ways. To help you figure out a plan for before, during, and after the breakup, we asked relationship experts for their top tips—here's what to know.
Knowing when it's time to break up
Before we get into how to break up with someone you love, let's first focus on the why. All relationships need to be nurtured in order to sustain them, after all, so how can you recognize when it's just not working anymore?
Firstly, you want to ask yourself if you've really given the relationship a fair shot. You might opt to take a break from the relationship and realize that you don't want to break up after all, or perhaps one of you is going through a temporary tough time that will pass. Maybe you're actively working with a couple's counselor, things are improving, and you both want to save the relationship.
To that end, according to licensed marriage therapist Weena Cullins, LCMFT, your overall well-being is the most important factor to consider when assessing whether to end the relationship.
"While all intimate relationships are subject to experiencing rough patches at different times, choosing to remain in a relationship that consistently causes you stress or compromises your physical, emotional, or mental health isn't the best choice," Cullins previously told mindbodygreen.
And as licensed psychotherapist Babita Spinelli, L.P., adds, it's entirely possible to know that someone isn't a healthy fit for you, even if you love who they are.
That said, if you can't see a future with this person, they're weighing you down more than lifting you up, or you're holding out for them to change, it's probably time to let the relationship go. (Here's our full guide to knowing when it's time to break up for more information.)
Now, if you're sure that it's time to part ways, here's how to do it.
How to break up with someone you love:
Prepare for the conversation.
Breakups are incredibly delicate, so you'll want to prepare some mental notes or a script, of sorts, to prepare for the conversation. As Spinelli suggests, "Think about how you want to communicate why the relationship isn't working. If you need support, talk it through with a resource or trusted friend."
She notes that it's important to remember the full breakup may require more than one conversation. "I see it as episodes in a season—this doesn't mean it has to be dragged out, but it honors the relationship and gives it the time it deserves," she adds.
Compassionately explain your reasoning.
Find a time to sit down and open up the conversation. Choose a neutral time and setting where you can give each other your full attention, and calmly, compassionately explain where you're at in the relationship.
For instance, if the relationship isn't serving you anymore, share with them that as much as you love them, boundaries were crossed and you feel it's not healthy or safe for you, for instance, Spinelli says. "Language like, 'I love you, but we are not growing together,' or, 'Our paths seem to be different now,' or, 'My life goals or vision feel miles apart from yours,' are some verbiage to pull from," she adds.
Listen to their side.
Breakups, at their best, can leave both people feeling seen and heard even though you're going separate ways. And an amicable breakup involves both people expressing their side of the story.
"Recognize that your partner may feel extremely hurt or blindsided even if the indicators or red flags were there," Spinelli explains, adding, "Share your journey leading up to the decision, but be empathetic and open to listening to their feelings."
Own your part of the breakup.
On a similar note to no. 3, relationships are a two-way street, and in many cases, both of you likely contributed to the reasons behind breaking up. "Be open to owning your part in the breakup even if you are the one taking the action based on your specific issues with your partner," Spinelli notes.
You'll want to set and hold firm boundaries throughout the breakup conversation(s) and following the breakup. As respectfully as you can, Spinelli suggests, "Keep your boundaries firm and remember why you're having the conversation."
She adds you should expect that your partner may need space or some time to process your decision, and you may, too, once you have communicated your feelings. "Be open to your thoughts, and come up with a plan together of how you will part ways," she notes.
Boundaries can be especially necessary if you two are living together during the breakup, but even if you don't live together, you can discuss things like going no-contact, how you'll handle seeing each other if you have mutual friends, etc.
Familiarize yourself with the standard stages of a breakup.
As the breakup becomes solidified and you begin your post-breakup journey, it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the stages of a breakup so you know what to expect. (Obvious spoiler: It's not an easy process.)
According to clinical psychologist Kristina Hallett, Ph.D., ABPP, the following seven stages of a breakup are normal and expected responses to a breakup:
- Sadness and grief
- Moving on
In some cases, you may move through these stages linearly, or you may loop back to anger or bargaining again, for instance. Plus, everyone will move through these stages at a different pace.
Here's our full guide to each of these breakup stages for more information.
Avoid contact and social media stalking.
"It can feel like an extreme move when you're still working to get over a breakup, but the truth is that cutting off contact with an ex is the fastest, most effective way to truly move on," Parikh previously wrote for mindbodygreen.
Here's our explainer on the do's and don'ts of reaching out to an ex for more help.
Create a post-breakup self-care plan.
Let's just be honest: You're going to have a lot more time on your hands once you're newly single, and that means more time to wallow if you don't find things to focus on.
"Even when it's a good decision," Spinelli says, "we might still feel sad, alone, overwhelmed, and anxious, so think about what you might need after the conversation."
Think things like connecting with friends, booking yourself a weekend getaway, or starting a new hobby. Need some inspiration? We have a full list of 50+ self-care ideas to help get you started.
Lean on your support system.
Speaking of connecting with friends, breakups are a time when your loved ones can be your greatest supporters as you move through the stages of grieving your relationship and acclimating to the transition.
Spinelli strongly recommends leaning on your friends, family, or any other trusted people in your life–whether you need a vent sesh, a shoulder to cry on, or just someone to grab dinner with. That's what friends are for, so don't be afraid to ask for help!
Focus on yourself.
If there's one positive side to being newly single, it's that you can now take all the time, love, and energy you were pouring into the relationship and give it back to yourself. Focusing on yourself can look like any number of things depending on the person, such as doing some soul searching, reigniting a lost passion, or working with a therapist.
To that end, licensed therapist LeNaya Smith Crawford, LMFT, says it's important to remember that you are a whole and powerful being, and you do not need a relationship to validate that. "Oftentimes, we get so caught up in a relationship that we lose sight of the things that make us, the individual, feel good," she previously told mindbodygreen.
Work with a mental health professional.
Last but not least, don't underestimate the impact a breakup can have on everything from your mental health to your daily routine. It's a major transition, especially if you've been together for a long time.
Working with a therapist can help you to not only unpack your feelings about the relationship and breakup but also find healthy coping mechanisms and unlearn any patterns or behaviors that aren't serving you anymore.
How do I break up with someone I still love?
You can breakup with someone you still love if the relationship is no longer serving you. Be honest and compassionate as you explain how you're feeling, set boundaries, and know that while it's not easy, it's for the best.
How do you know when it's time to break up?
Your well-being is the most important factor to consider when assessing whether to end the relationship. It's time to break up if the relationship consistently causes you stress or compromises your physical, emotional, or mental health, or when you realize a future together is not realistic.
How do you know when to end a relationship with someone you love?
You know when to end a relationship with someone you love when, despite the fact that you love who you are, you recognize that your lives are not aligned and you would be better off parting ways.
Breaking up with someone you love is a heartbreaking process that will take time to get over and heal. While it's not going to be easy and the stages of a breakup should be expected, on the other side of your breakup, you'll find inner strength and self-love you may have been missing for some time.
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, a registered yoga instructor, and an avid astrologer and tarot reader. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from State University of New York at Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.