The Single Best Way to Break Up with Someone, According to Experts
HINT: IT DOESN’T INCLUDE SAYING “IT’S NOT YOU, IT’S ME.”
By Laura Dorwart
Breaking up is never easy, but sometimes it’s even harder to be the one breaking things off than to be the recipient of an “it’s not me, it’s you” speech. If you’re thinking about ending a relationship, you might be wondering how to break up with someone in the kindest, healthiest way possible. And believe it or not, there are actually some ways to make your breakup go a little more smoothly. While things might still be awkward and painful, we asked experts for the best ways to make your breakup a little less stressful for everyone involved.
Choose the best place to break up
Executive dating coach and founder of Dating Transformation Connell Barrett suggests that, when it comes to breakups, location matters. Choosing the right place to break up—where you can both feel safe to express what you’re feeling while maintaining healthy boundaries—is key to setting the scene for a productive conversation. And, of course, ghosting or breaking up via text or social media is never a good idea.
That’s why Barrett suggests heading to your partner’s place when you’re planning on having the talk. “If you’ve been intimate with each other, or dating for a while, break up in person, face-to-face,” he says. “Don’t break up in public, because you don’t want the other person to feel the eyes of strangers on them in such a raw, vulnerable moment. Don’t do it at your home. Go to their place. That way, if things get intensely emotional, you can extricate yourself more easily. You’re also not making your ex drive or commute in a potentially emotionally fraught state.”
Be assertive with what you want
While it might be tempting to approach your partner passively so you don’t come across as harsh during a breakup conversation, assertiveness is actually best, says Catalina Lawsin, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Beverly Hills. Lawsin says that coming from a place of strength is a good way to avoid manipulation by a partner who wants to keep trying. Assertiveness during a breakup is also kinder to the person you’re ending a relationship with, as it doesn’t leave as much room for false hopes and doubts.
“The decision to break-up isn’t an easy one to make. When you’re ready to end the relationship, be sure to stay on course in preparation for the breakup,” says Lawsin. “It’s easy to engage in the breakup conversation and get lost in rehashing the problems. If you’ve tried communicating with your partner about problems already, kept hitting roadblocks or you both can’t come to a compromise, then it’s important to remember before, during, and after your break-up conversation that you want to end the relationship.”
Use ‘I’ statements when you speak
Experts agree that staying out of an argument during a breakup is a crucial part of navigating a healthy end to a relationship. One way to do this, says Lawsin, is by focusing on your decision rather than on your partner. “Use ‘I’ statements,” she says. “Keep the focus on what you need and how you feel. Once you veer off into listing concerns you have about your soon-to-be ex-partner, this opens the door to them becoming defensive and swaying the conversation off course. Try saying things like, ‘while I’ve enjoyed our time together, I want to stop seeing one another’ or ‘I’ve grown a lot in our relationship and now no longer feeling like I can grow further in this relationship, I want it to end.’ When you keep the focus on your needs, feelings and desires, your soon-to-be ex-partner can’t challenge these, because they’re yours.”
Relationship coach Barry Price agrees that leading the difficult conversation with your own feelings around your decision is a mature way to avoid major conflict while still standing your ground. “Use my ‘I-We-You’ template for communicating the breakup,” says Price. “I have loved our time together but I am ready to move on. We were great when we met but things have changed. I wish you the best.”
Own your part of what went wrong
Most breakups, especially if they don’t involve abuse or infidelity, aren’t anyone’s fault. Many relationships come to a natural end, with no single clear reason—and if so, you probably had a hand in any missteps that took place over the course of your relationship
Christine Scott-Hudson, a licensed marriage and family therapist and the owner of Create Your Life Studio, says that a sincere apology for anything you might have done to hurt your partner during the relationship can go a long way toward deescalating a potentially stressful situation. “Apologize for anything you may have said or done that was hurtful,” Scott-Hudson advises. “And tell them they are loveable and deserving of a healthy relationship in the future.” If you don’t try to divide you and your partner into “perfect” vs “imperfect” categories, you greatly increase the likelihood that you can have a mature, productive conversation instead of a hurtful one.
Set boundaries for the conversation before it starts
Especially if you think the breakup could become emotional or volatile, or if you’re not always good at sticking to the boundaries you set, Lawsin suggests that you set them before you ever begin a dialogue.
“Set your boundaries for the conversation before it starts,” she suggests. “Decide how long you’re willing to allow for the conversation, where you want to have it, and also what you will and will not be open to discussing during the conversation. If you clarify your needs and intentions before going into the conversation, you’ll be more prepared to maintain emotional control during it.” Sticking to your original boundaries will send a clear message that you’ve made your final decision and will be sticking with that, as well.
Share clear expectations
Showing kindness and empathy toward your soon-to-be-ex is a crucial aspect of a healthy breakup. Being manipulative or wishy-washy won’t allow your partner to move on with a clean slate as easily. That’s why Barrett suggests that you need to be as explicit about your needs as possible.
“Don’t take half measures. Don’t say, ‘Let’s take a break and see what happens.’ Use clear, simple, definitive language so that there’s no doubt about the outcome of this conversation,” he explains. “Something like, ‘We have to end our relationship. It’s not working, and it’s over now.’ You may be tempted to fudge and leave an opening, but it’s kinder to just rip off the Band-Aid.”
Don’t make false promises
If you’re not ready to be friends with your soon-to-be-ex … don’t be! Becoming friends after a breakup when you actually aren’t a good fit, or if it’s too much, too soon, can get emotionally messy quickly. “Don’t promise that you’ll remain friends,” says Barrett. “If that happens, great. But playing the let’s-stay-friends card might feel like a consolation prize, making them feel even worse. Plus, it’s likely not true. Most couples who break up don’t become friends. Break-ups are about painful honesty, so don’t say anything that isn’t true and that you don’t feel.”
Prepare yourself emotionally (and physically)
On your first date, you probably got dressed up and presented a “best” version of yourself to a potential partner. Believe it or not, preparing yourself for a breakup is also a healthy choice. Before you go through with a breakup, make sure that you’re not drinking or taking any substances before you meet up, and that you’ve had enough sleep recently. Factors like sleep deprivation and substance use can put you in a bad mental state for communicating clearly and empathetically with your soon-to-be-ex.
It’s also important to prepare yourself emotionally for this potentially stressful encounter, says Price. “Before telling [your partner], get into your strongest emotional and physical state,” he says. “Exercise and do encouraging affirmations like ‘I can do this! I deserve to have my needs met!’” Adopting in a confident, positive mindset will allow you to approach your breakup with strength and peace, even if there’s also pain involved.
Evaluate the pros and cons
Mackenzie Riel, who works for sexual education and relationship advice platform TooTimid.com, says that the key to a better breakup is making 100 percent sure that you want to go through with it in the first place. A breakup is hard to come back from, so if you’re at all unsure about whether you actually want to mend your relationship, consider it long and hard first.
“Before actually breaking up with someone, evaluate the pros and cons of the relationship to make sure that it’s the right decision,” Riel says. “The small issues that occur in relationships are oftentimes fixable with therapy and communication. There isn’t always a need to separate, but sometimes we see certain signs that lead us to believe it’s what needs to be done. If you are sure, you should always go into it with an amount of confidence and clarity.”
Many people trip up during a breakup by sugarcoating their decision or evading the truth. You might be afraid to use the word “breakup,” for example, and offer vague platitudes instead, like “Let’s take a break” and “Let’s see what happens.” Chelsea Leigh, a breakup coach who is certified in solution-focused life coaching, as well as the podcast host of Thank You Heartbreak, says that this insincerity might seem kinder in the moment—but it’s actually anything but.
“Too often we underestimate the power of sincerity when we’re breaking up with someone,” says Leigh. “We want to protect the person we’re letting go of and we also want to preserve the image they have of us. And so, we do this by being vague with our reasoning, by downplaying our emotions, or lying altogether about why in fact we are breaking up with them. This is a total disservice, though, and ultimately only exacerbates the grievance. Because of our natural tendency to want to fill in any gaps in logic, we wind up telling ourselves stories about why someone did and did not break up with us and, more often than not, the stories we tell ourselves are false and self-diminishing.”
“This, of course, is the wrong way to be healing ourselves in the wake of a breakup,” she says. “So, to alleviate the potential for this, your best approach is to be sincere, clear, and patient with the person you are breaking up with. If they have a question, answer it. And remember that this isn’t the time to be focusing on how you are being perceived by the person you are breaking up with, but rather is the time to make sure your ex isn’t left in the dark with a thousand miserable and misguided thoughts.”