Equal parts tact and toughness will help you get through this very unpleasant conversation.
Identifying a negative relationship and actually parting ways with a toxic friend or significant other is pretty brutal. Even if your split is ultimately the right decision (life happens and people grow apart), delivering the news is unpleasant at best—and totally gutting at worst. And to make matters worse, there’s no course on how to breakup with someone you care about as painlessly as possible.
But when a relationship needs to end, whether it’s romantic or platonic, there's no easy way around it—in fact, the only way around it is through it. To spare both yourself and the other person a load of hurt feelings, awkwardness, and lack of closure, arm yourself with these tips on how to break up with someone like the kind, mature adult you are.
1. Trust Your Gut
The very first step is telling yourself it’s over—and believing it. "Never end a friendship hastily or in anger. Once you initiate the process, it's almost impossible to return to the same level of intimacy," advises Irene S. Levine, PhD, psychologist, friendship expert, and author of Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend.
Things will likely get confusing and emotional, but being resolute in your decision will keep you grounded throughout this tough process. “If you’re honest with yourself about what’s happening from your perspective, you can find a way to stay with your truth while still being kind,” says Lisa Steadman, a relationship coach and author of It’s a Breakup, Not a Breakdown.
2. Don’t Make Yourself the Enemy
"It may be time to end a relationship when the relationship makes you feel bad most of the time," says Jamye Waxman, author of How to Break Up With Anyone: Letting Go of Friends, Family and Everyone In-Between. If that's the case, you’re not a monster for wanting to breakup with someone who negatively impacts your life. The very fact you’re beating yourself up in the first place shows that you actually are a compassionate person. Love isn’t always meant to last forever, and it’s okay to be the first one to admit this particular relationship isn’t destined for eternity. It seems like a big deal—and it is—but it’s also quite common and far from the end of the world.
3. Allow Yourself Some Space
This doesn’t mean ghost them. Instead, try the slow fade first. “Breaking away slowly and passively is a natural first step,” says Andrea Bonior, PhD, a clinical psychologist and author of The Friendship Fix: The Complete Guide to Choosing, Losing, and Keeping Up With Your Friends. It’s okay to stop being the first to initiate plans or to take a little more time returning their texts and calls.
But don’t replace an actual breakup with a passive fade-out—this is just the first step to giving yourself some space. If you let it go on for too long, you could either hurt the person more by ignoring them, or make the eventual breakup harder on yourself after they haven’t gotten the hint.
4. Break Up With Them Face to Face
Assuming this is someone you’ve spent lots of time with, shared secrets with, experienced new things with, and possibly loved, this is not a conversation to have digitally—or to avoid altogether. Sending a haphazard text isn't an option, so your most cut-and-dry choice is to meet with your friend or partner in person to formally end the relationship. Levine recommends meeting in a public place, like a coffee shop, for a pre-set amount of time, like an hour.
Because you've already decided to end the friendship, Levine points out it's not necessary to lecture the other person, make them feel bad, or attempt to change them. "Try to end a relationship in a way that is kind," she says. "Take responsibility for the decision and don't blame it on the other person. This might entail writing a script for yourself to make sure you have given sufficient thought to what you want to say and how."
5. Don’t Point Fingers
“I” statements are key. This couples-counseling strategy applies to any tricky personal confrontation, especially a breakup. Bonior suggests using phrases like, “I feel like I’m moving in a different direction,” and leaving lists of sweeping accusations, like, “You were never there for me when I needed you,” for a venting session later on, either with confidantes or in a journal. The very fact that you’re breaking up means this isn’t salvageable, in which case, there’s no need to unearth everything they’ve done that’s driven you crazy.
6. Say What You Need to Say
This sounds counterintuitive for advice about how to break up with someone nicely, but in a way, stalling what you came to say isn’t all that nice (for either of you). Why prolong this uncomfortable, inevitable, and probably sad exchange? Instead, plan a tactful, gentle way to come out with it, finding a balance between being direct and being diplomatic (remember your “I” statements!). And don’t neglect to actually end the conversation. If you leave things open-ended or unclear, you’ll be back in the same, sticky spot all over again as soon as tomorrow.
7. Resist the Urge to Get in Touch
Whether you decided to break up with a boyfriend, girlfriend, or former best friend, letting go is never as easy as you convince yourself it’ll be. And that’s okay. You’re not weak for missing them. You’re not evil for cutting ties, then wanting to call them. You’re an emotional human who just did a really hard thing.
But while the silence can be deafening, resist the urge to text all the time, comment on each other’s posts, or respond to Gchats. Holding back is often the best—and only—way to help you both move on. “It can feel harsh or cold, especially if you haven’t filled the emptiness with another relationship, but remember you’ve already said your piece,” Steadman says. You need time to process and grieve, as well as space to start fresh.
According to Waxman, it's possible to feel bouts of nostalgia and regret after ending a relationship. "Life is flexible and so are friendships," she says. "Relationships change—a friend or partner you break up with may eventually find a place in your life, even if it's different."