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For many of us, communication in a functioning relationship can be difficult, so the idea of telling someone you don’t want to be with them anymore may conjure a great deal of discomfort.

Whether we’re cutting ties with a long-term partner or someone we just met, telling a person to their face that we’re just not that into them feels, well, icky. But what’s the alternative? Pretending all is fine and spending our lives in internal conflict?


If breaking up with your partner is the right thing for you, don’t be tempted to put it off, and risk giving your partner false hope. Chances are, the longer you avoid the breakup, the more your sense of needing to end things will increase. Your partner may notice behavioral changes, such as distance and lack of interest on your part. As a result, your partner may start feeling insecure and become needier than usual. This could lead to frustration and, what I like to call, cringe.

Let me explain: ‘the cringe’ is that vicious cycle of not wanting a person who wants you, and their desperate attempts of winning your affection make them increasingly unattractive in your eyes. This cycle can manufacture unpleasant tension and even generate an emotionally hostile environment, leading to a destructive end for the relationship.

That’s the bad news, but your story can end on a more positive note…

Have you ever broken up with someone?

It’s About You

Breakups have a tendency to hurt; however, there is a process that prioritizes respect and minimizes pain.

It may sound counterintuitive, but how to break up with someone is more about your needs than theirs. It’s about creating a safe place for you to decide and then express your need to end things, without being manipulated or guilt-tripped into staying. It’s about honoring your lack of feelings, which, in turn, mirrors your partner’s worthiness for something more than what the current relationship offers. By respecting your needs, and being honest, you are, by default, taking the other person’s feelings into consideration.

Although we enter relationships with the best intentions, they don’t always tend to work out. This is why the first item on the list of how to break up with someone is self-reflection: why isn’t it working?

Why are you breaking it off?

Before having the “talk” with your partner, try to identify the real problem in the relationship.

Is there room for redemption?

An image of a man sitting alone, lost in thought, looking out of a window, to represent the introspection and self-reflection that is needed before breaking up with someone

Are your reasons for breaking up rooted in unchangeable circumstances, such as a critical incompatible value or a transgression that has occurred and can’t be forgiven (e.g., an affair?

Perhaps your frustrations are based on something more flexible, like a boundary that needs to be set – a solution that would amount to more than just a band-aid fix.

Depending on the context of your relationship, a breakup may be a life-changing decision. So, before taking that step, give yourself a moment (or two) to gain perspective that could support you and your decision.

If you’re second-guessing yourself, consider writing a pros and cons list of the relationship. Are there flaws or incompatibilities in the relationship that can’t go ignored? Try to avoid feelings of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ during this assessment, and report the conditions of the relationship.

If you’re still unsure, speak to a trusted friend, family member, or relationship expert for guidance. They may shed light on whether the relationship has run its course, and most people can agree that, as an individual, you aren’t always the best judge of your own relationships. Perhaps someone outside of your immediate circumstance will conjecture that it’s worth more time and effort. They may see a solution that isn’t obvious to you in the moment.

Note: Ultimately, you are the authority on your life and your emotions, and therefore, have the final say! However, don’t underestimate the power of a trusted friend or family member in a time of romantic contemplation.

A final thing to consider: can a constructive conversation be had before the breakup is made final?

Can frustrations be expressed to one another; can a plan be put in place to mend areas of hurt? If so, have the conversation and determine a timeframe to which this issue should be resolved, then pay attention to the relationship’s growth (or decline). If promises are made but there’s no follow-through, the integrity of the relationship is now in question.

The point of this is to ensure you’ve thought the breakup through; that no rash decisions are being made, and therefore, no regrets will be had.

If at the end of the day, you can’t deny the need for the split, it’s time to prepare for that breakup conversation.

Have you ever been broken up with?

The Breakup

Before approaching your partner, anticipate that it will get emotional.

Depending on the context of your relationship, your partner may cry, fight, or bargain. For this reason, it’s important you do the following:

Assess the Context

Assess the context of your relationship beforehand and determine a practical way forward. For example, are you:

🖤 Newly coupled

🖤 Long-term relationship but not living together

🖤 Long-term relationship and sharing mutual friends

🖤 Living together

🖤 Living together with children

Depending on the context of your relationship, more or less negotiation will be required. If you and your partner are newly coupled or don’t live together, a clean split may be possible.

If you share mutual acquaintances, let your friends know that you don’t want to speak about your ex-partner, nor be in the same place as them. Time with your friends may be divided between you and your ex, at least until the idea of being together loses its emotional charge (if ever).

If you are living together or have children, you may want to consider boundaries around physicality and communication. Ask yourself: how much contact can be reasonably reduced to ensure we’re holding up our end of our responsibilities, without getting into murky territory?

For example, maybe stop sharing a bed while you find another place to live. Focus discussions strictly on shared responsibilities and how to transition from being coupled to singlehood.

For an in-depth look on how to do this, check out: Consciously Uncoupling: Letting Go, Together.

The point here is to set boundaries that work for you, so the breakup is clear and emotional well-being is at minimum risk. Think of breaking up with someone as a form of self-care!

Be Prepared

Breaking up will feel less daunting if you do some early prep.

My suggestion is to have a few lines that can be repeated to help you stay grounded in your decision and to uphold your boundaries.

Because your soon-to-be ex-partner may not want to end things, they may try to sway you from leaving. In cases like that, use repetitive assertions. These are phrases that can be repeated to reiterate your boundaries. Keeping the focus on your needs makes it difficult for your ex-partner to argue against them. Here are a few examples:

If they try to sway you

“I realize this is a difficult situation, but my decision is final.”

If they try to cross boundaries

“I understand you want to speak about/do X, but we decided it’s best for both of us not to. I would like us to honor that agreement.”

If they are being manipulative or insulting

“I know you are in pain right now, but if you continue to speak to me like that, I’m going to have to leave.”

Timeframe and Exit Strategy

Prior to the breakup conversation, determine a time frame in which you are willing to spend in that space. For example, maybe you commit to giving your partner 15-30 minutes of your attention once the breakup has happened. Have an exit strategy in place for when that time is up, so you can easily remove yourself, and avoid, in the pitch of those immediate feelings, a secondary talk, or shared time, that might lead to premature decisions about staying friends, how you might fix things, or possibly, in a moment of affectionate, walking back the break-up.

The breakup conversation should occur in a place you feel safe and that you can easily leave (aka, not your home!). Spend time being clear, kind, and final. This type of communication is best for you and your partner.

If you are in a long-distance relationship, consider a video chat over text. It is more personal.

If for any reason you feel unsafe meeting your partner in person, respect those feelings. If you require assistance in navigating this breakup, reach out to a mental health professional. They will safely talk you through it.

What is the most difficult part of a breakup?

What to Say

When it comes down to it, communicating your desire to end the relationship may feel uncomfortable. You must remember that you’re doing both you and your partner a favor. If you are seeing obvious signs that this relationship won’t last, avoiding it will only feel worse in the long run, and at one point or another, it is bound to come out.

Breaking Up

What to say:

An image of a person sitting across from another person, having a serious conversation, with body language that shows the emotional intensity of the situation, to represent the difficult conversation that must take place to end a relationship.

🖤 Be honest and positive:
“It has been nice getting to know each other,”

🖤 Express your reason:
“But I don’t believe this relationship is right for me.”

🖤 Make your message clear:
“For that reason, I think it’s best we go our separate ways.”

🖤 Give a hint of compassion:
“I know this isn’t how we expected things to go, but you deserve honesty.”

From here, they may have questions. Answer the questions you are comfortable with. When possible, focus on the issues of the relationship, rather than the faults of the person that might further ignite their feelings of indignation or despair. For example:

“Quality time is a critical component for me in a relationship” rather than “You always put your career before us!”

Pay attention to the language they use to ensure they aren’t trying to sway or manipulate you into rethinking your choice. Remember to lean on these phrases if needed. They bear repeating, as they can act as mantras for you as you navigate this heavy and complex process:

If they try to sway you

“I realize this is a difficult situation, but my decision is final.”

If they try to cross boundaries

“I understand you want to speak about/do X, but it’s best for both of us not to.”

If they are being manipulative or insulting

“I know you are in pain right now, but if you continue to speak to me like that, I’m going to have to leave.”

Are you thinking about breaking up, or currently in the midst of one?

What NOT to say:

If at all possible, try to avoid the following phrases and actions when breaking up with someone – they may make the moment slightly easier, but ultimately they are sowing more pain as you go forward. Let this be the moment that faces that pain, so that once it’s over, you can head down a path of healing, rather than falling into the traps you laid for yourself by being insufficiently honest. So, keep in mind the following:

Pity Cliches

Don’t add insult to injury with these commiserations:

“It’s not you, it’s me.”

“I’m not good enough for you.”

“Whomever you end up with will be so lucky to have you.”


Don’t pretend you care more than you do. Don’t act like they have a chance to win you back.

“Let’s see where we’re both at in a month’s time.”

“We can still be friends!”

“Maybe one day we can give us another shot.”

Physical Touch

Be mindful of how you interact with your soon-to-be ex. They may want to hold your hand or have a final kiss – and you may want this as well, at the moment. Ensure you put clear physical boundaries between you and them to the level at which you need them. One way of doing this is sitting across a table from them.

How long into your last relationship did you realise it wasn’t right for you?

Stay Rational

An image of a person holding hands with someone but looking away, perhaps with a frown on their face, to represent the discomfort and awkwardness of being in a relationship when you know it's time to end it

This isn’t the right person for you. Your desire to break up with them, especially after careful assessment of the relationship. It’s time to move on.

Remember, by doing this you are creating space for them to find someone who will connect with and appreciate them in a way you can’t. But more importantly, it is not your job to fulfill that for them.

Relationships are some of the greatest teachers of life. They expose us to aspects of ourselves that we may not have accessed otherwise. Through them, we are taught about our needs and desires and what it means to share a life with someone else.

Not everyone is for us, and that’s okay. It’s better to know that, end it, and make room for more compatible partners and grander adventures.

Life is long. Love is beautiful. Don’t settle.

Until next time,

You know what to do!

Quean Mo xx