If breaking up with someone were easy, I wouldn’t be writing this article. The question isn't so much how to break up with someone but how to do it in a way that's not rife with sadness, awkwardness, and messy miscommunications. No easy feat.
There’s no such thing as the “perfect breakup,” but if you’re the one bearing the bad news, there are a number of steps you can take before and during that dreaded conversation to make the experience as healthy as possible for both you and your partner. Here, a therapist and a psychologist share advice for how to kindly and effectively break up with someone.
1. Make sure you actually want to break up.
Before you break up with your partner, make sure that you actually want to end the relationship. “A breakup is something that you want to do once you've thought about it over time,” says Rebecca Hendrix, L.M.F.T, a psychotherapist in New York City.
If you’re having doubts and concerns about your relationship, it’s important to share that with your partner before you breakup. “I've seen people do ‘surprise breakups' where you think everything is amazing and then the person is like, I'm leaving today,” says Hendrix. The shock of a surprise breakup can be “very, very traumatizing and very hard to get over.” It's much healthier to share doubts and concerns along the way—and in some cases, the relationship can even be saved by this type of honesty, she says.
Also, breaking up shouldn’t be a rash decision made in the midst of an argument, or a card you play in an attempt to control your partner—that latter approach is just passive aggressive and perhaps even manipulative, adds Hendrix.
2. Give the conversation forethought.
Once you’ve decided you want to end your relationship, it’s important to give yourself time and space to think about what you want to say before you actually say it. The conversation itself will likely be stressful, and when you’re stressed, you tend to lose access to the logical, rational parts of your brain, explains Hendrix. Writing down exactly what you want to say and practicing it in advance can help anchor in the message so that in the moment, you’re able to effectively communicate your thoughts. Planning in advance can also help you evaluate the tone with which you’re delivering the message. Try to keep it “neutral, non-accusatory, non-blameful, compassionate, direct, and honest,” says Hendrix.
That said, don’t try to craft the perfect script. “That’s mostly more about wanting the other person to not feel sad, and that’s just inevitable,” says Hendrix. “You can’t avoid it—at some point it’s good enough and you just gotta say it.”
3. Practice empathy.
As you plan, put yourself in your partner’s shoes. “Empathy for the partner’s experience of being broken up with, and the ability to express it, can go a long way to assuaging the inevitable pain,” says Franklin A. Porter, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in New York City. “If you’ve been on the receiving end in the past you would probably have a good idea how it feels, and recalling those feelings beforehand would be beneficial in managing your message.”
4. Acknowledge that you won’t be able to control their reaction.
“There is no guarantee that the conversation will be effective, because one can only control the message sent, not how it’s received,” says Porter. That said, there are many factors that can influence how well the message is received, he adds, which is exactly the point of thinking ahead about how you want to have the conversation.
5. Remind yourself that it’s completely OK to breakup.
It doesn't feel good to break up with a partner—especially if it’s someone that you care deeply about—but it’s also not wrong, so you shouldn’t feel guilty about your decision.
“Remind yourself that it's OK to leave a relationship that isn't working for you,” says Hendrix. “It's a self-honoring choice that you're making because you don't see a future together. And if it's not a good fit for you, then it's not a good fit for them, even though they may not be aware of it as much as you are.”
6. Deliver the news in person.
Don’t email, text, call, or otherwise deliver your break-up virtually. Breaking up with someone in person is no doubt uncomfortable and stressful, but it’s the right thing to do. “You owe it to your partner to have it face-to-face,” says Porter. Doing so “shows that you care for them and that you care for that relationship,” adds Hendrix.
7. Pick an appropriate setting.
There’s no one “right”location for this type of conversation, but Hendrix suggests putting yourself in your partner's shoes to determine where they might prefer to hear the news. Just keep in mind that settings rife with distractions—like a restaurant with loud music, for instance—probably aren’t wise choices. “You want to be able to be present and listen and ask questions and hear what they're saying,” she says.
Porter suggests avoiding public places altogether. “It’s not fair to the one on the receiving end to have to try to temper a potential emotional outpouring,” he explains. “It’s an intimate conversation that calls for an intimate setting, ideally at the partner’s place, giving them the prerogative to show you the door at any time.”
But don’t forget to make sure you feel safe as well. If you’re worried they may react angrily or violently, make sure you do choose someplace public and let a friend know where you are.
8. Show up sober.
It may be tempting to knock back a couple of cocktails before you start the breakup conversation—alcohol is a verbal lubricant, after all—but that’s a bad idea. “When we're drinking, we're not totally present,” says Hendrix. And during a breakup conversation, it’s important to be present so that you can be honest, kind, and remember the things you want to say, she explains.
9. Accept that it’s probably going to be painful.
If you and your partner have a deep relationship and have been together for a while, there's a high likelihood that whatever you're going to say is going to cause them pain, says Hendrix. It can help to anticipate this pain while also reminding yourself that it's not your fault. “Remind yourself to give your partner the dignity of being on their own path,” says Hendrix. “Your goal is to share the information, but not to go into over-responsibility for how they feel.”
Also important: “There's no explanation that you're going to give that's going to feel satisfying to them,” says Hendrix, so don’t go into the conversation with the goal of ending it on a positive note.
10. Use “I” statements.
When communicating your message, deliver it from your point of view without blaming or accusing. “It's you who has decided that the relationship is not a good fit and it's you that has decided to leave the relationship,” explains Hendrix. “So the healthiest way is to take responsibility for your feelings using “I” words versus You don't really like my family or You don't like to go out as much as I do.”
11. Be direct.
Don’t beat around the bush or otherwise hint at the fact that you want to breakup without actually saying it. A less direct approach may seem kinder in the moment—but trust, it’s not. “The best thing to do is to just say the truth, which is we're not a good fit for each other,” says Hendrix.
12. But don’t delve into the details.
Avoid listing out the Rolodex of reasons why the relationship isn't a good fit for you. “These are things that are going to be hard for the other person to let go of,” says Hendrix.
If your partner presses you for specific reasons behind the breakup, you can acknowledge that you totally understand why they’d want more details and perhaps give a reason or two, framing it from the “I” point of view, says Hendrix.
No-no’s no matter what: being critical of your partner, referencing any shortcomings, or bringing any third party into the conversation (e.g. I’m in love with someone else), says Porter. And in general, you should reiterate the overall sentiment that you just don’t think you’re a good fit. “The only reason to really go into all of those little details is if you want to work on the relationship,” adds Hendrix.
13. Keep the focus on the relationship.
Address the breakup as a problem in the relationship rather than any shortcomings in your partner, says Porter. “Couples break up for myriad reasons, but ultimately, it’s the relationship that runs its course, and relationships always take two, so acknowledge your role in it not working out,” he says.
Hendrix puts it this way: “The relationship is this entity that you've created and that's what's not working out,” she says. “You're not a bad person, she's not a bad person, but it's the combination of both of you together that is causing you less happiness and less fulfillment.”
14. Prepare to listen.
Though you will be the one leading the conversation, you should also be prepared to listen—and listen carefully, says Porter. “You may not like what you hear. Your partner may react in any number of ways, but likely wants to be heard, if not have the last word,” he says. “Consider what your partners needs are at that moment and be prepared to address them and act accordingly.”
15. Plan for a number of reactions.
There’s no surefire way to predict how your partner will respond to the breakup, but you should prepare for a number of reactions.
If they get angry. “Understand that comes with the territory,” says Porter. Both Porter and Hendrix suggest validating their feelings. You can say something like, “I get that you’re angry; you have every right to be angry.” This may help diffuse the tension slightly, says Hendrix. At the same time, stay calm and don’t rise to meet their anger with your anger, she says. It can also help to ask: Are you ok to keep talking? Do you want to take a break and like to talk again in a few minutes? Of course if the anger is abusive (or otherwise threatening), you should say “this is not OK or appropriate” and end the conversation, advises Hendrix.
If they get sad. “Convey empathy as you would before the breakup—by a hug or some other gesture of affection, while being prepared and accepting of it being declined,” says Porter.
If they promise to change. Let them know that while you appreciate that offer, the breakup is rooted in the fact that the relationship isn’t a good fit and even if they change, your feelings on the matter won’t be swayed, says Hendrix. Also acknowledge that you wouldn’t want them to change for you, and only for themselves if that’s what they feel they need, adds Porter.
15. Don’t leave things open-ended.
In the moment, you may feel tempted to lessen the blow of a breakup by hinting at the chance of future reconciliation, but don’t say that if it’s not a possibility; otherwise, you’re giving your partner false hope. “If you say Maybe after I take the bar exam, then they're going to be waiting for their phone to ring after you take the bar exam,” says Hendrix. “If you know that this person is not a good life partner for you and there's a 99% chance that you're never going to rekindle anything, then you just want to tell the truth.”
17. Share a few positive sentiments.
Though you should focus the conversation on the breakup, it’s also kind to share reflections on what you like about your partner. “You want to be real about why your life is better because this person was a part of it,” says Hendrix. These thoughts could be well-placed when the conversation is wrapping up. “At the end of the conversation, regardless of the reaction, thank your partner for all the good times,” says Porter. “Express appreciation, and regret things didn’t work out.”
What to do after a breakup
After the conversation, do a mini debrief with yourself, suggests Hendrix. Ask: How was that for me? How do I feel right now?
Remind yourself that there’s nothing wrong with breaking up with somebody and while you may feel bad right now, the feeling is temporary.
Also, acknowledge the fact that you just did something really hard. Even though you were the one who decided to break up, “you’re not in the clear with regards to feelings,” says Hendrix. As you work through tough emotions, be really gentle with yourself and practice self-care, says Hendrix. Do nice things for yourself: go to a movie, take a nap, cook a healthy meal.
Originally Appeared on Glamour