The average American adult has been through three major breakups in their life, according to this survey1https://swnsdigital.com/us/2017/02/study-reveals-how-long-it-takes-to-get-over-an-ex/#:~:text=The%20average%20American%20adult%20has,over%20them%2C%20new%20research%20reveals.. Breaking up with someone you love is one of the most complex parts of life. But most of us have to go through it at least once.
This guide’ll use research-backed tips to help you get through a breakup with as much grace, kindness, and strength as possible.
Tips to Prepare for the Breakup Conversation
Before getting into how to have the conversation itself, there are a few preparatory measures to take.
Recognize when it’s time to end a relationship.
Before the breakup conversation, ensure this is what you want.
All relationships go through cycles. As Michelle Obama famously says, “If you’re married for 50 years, and 10 of them are horrible, you’re doing good!”
But sometimes, the relationship is too painful or has become toxic. And it’s time to end it.
You might already be crystal clear that it’s time to break up. If you need more clarification, then follow the action step below.
Action Step: Ask yourself these questions:
- Is your relationship taking more energy from you than it’s giving you?
- Has your relationship become a consistent source of negative emotions? (insecurity, anxiety, self-doubt, frustration, or shame)
- Are you arguing more and more frequently?
- Do you find yourself avoiding your partner or feeling uncomfortable around them?
- Are there no longer any fun or happy times together?
- Is it hard to imagine a future where you two are happily in partnership?
- Do you feel like your partner is holding your growth back?
- Do your values need to be aligned?
- Is there a lack of mutual trust and respect?
- Have one or both of you lost the desire to work on the relationship?
If you answered “yes” to one or more of these questions, it might be time to go separate ways.
Thoughtfully consider the when and the where
Choosing the right time and location to break up is crucial because it can distinguish between a breakup going smoothly or turning into an emotional disaster.
Take into account these considerations of when and where to break up:
- Don’t break up over text. For example, there might be some situations where that’s warranted if you don’t feel safe. But as a rule of thumb, break up in person.
- Don’t break up in a public location. Public spaces lack the emotional safety of being in one of your homes. You want there to be space, to be honest, vulnerable, and emotional if need be.
- Make sure you are the only two people present. You don’t want roommates walking into an emotionally taut moment or your parents calling you for dinner right in the heat of things.
- Don’t procrastinate on it. In my 20s, I had a partner I wanted to break up with but was terrified to let her know. So I just kept putting off meeting up, hoping the problem would solve itself (never a good strategy for problem-solving!). This, of course, was emotionally irresponsible and left her confused and hurt. And when we did finally meet up, it only made the conversation more difficult. Please learn from my mistakes! Once you know, act on it.
Emotionally prepare for the conversation.
It will benefit you to go into this conversation reflecting as much as possible on your feelings.
Here are a few prompts to reflect on so you come in ready to communicate at your best.
- Why are you making this decision? What has made you realize that it’s time to break up? What emotions have you been feeling in this relationship? Why do you want to stop trying? When people know their reasons for breaking up, it can help with ease of mind.
- Where can you take responsibility? Reflect on how you contributed to this situation. Don’t blame yourself. But earnestly inquire into what decisions you made or actions you took that caused a disconnect.
Get clear on your post-breakup desires.
This is another useful reflection to embark on before the conversation. It will be helpful to get clear on what your boundaries and desires are after you break up.
Take a few minutes to ponder these three questions:
- Do you want to stay in connection after breaking up?
There’s no right or wrong here. Sometimes, it is best to say goodbye and go your separate ways. Other times, it makes sense to stay in touch.
I’ve remained fairly close friends with my first partner, a relationship that ended eight years ago. However, I have several other former partners who I don’t keep in touch with at all.
Your desires can change, but at least get clear on what they are going into this conversation.
- If you want to remain friends, do you want a no-contact period after breaking up? And if so, how long?
If you decide to stay in touch, sometimes having a no-contact period can still be healthy. It can be tricky to be romantic lovers one day and then non-romantic friends the very next.
If you want a buffer period to help the relational transition, how long would you want that period to be? One helpful heuristic is to avoid forging a friendship until you are both over the secret hope that you might get back together.
On the flip side, in contemplating if you want a buffer of no-contact after breaking up, also consider that sometimes the post-breakup period can be painful and sad, and it can be helpful to reach out to your former partner to console each other and process together. Instead of ripping the bandaid off immediately, there is a slow peel approach. And helping each other move into your new lives as a team.
There is no one-size-fits-all for breakups, so determine what you think would be best. And remember, you can always change your mind.
- Are there other boundaries you need to set?
You two might share friends, or both frequent the same yoga class. It could be helpful to consider any boundaries or negotiations you’d like to bring up about shared spaces and community.
For example, you’d prefer not to bump into them at yoga. Can you have Monday night Vinyasa to yourself while they get Thursday Yin?
Action Step: Take a few minutes and visualize how you want the conversation. Where you say all the things you need to say with perfect clarity.
Studies suggest2https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5351796/ that visualizing an outcome in sports increases the odds of that outcome occurring. Try using this same principle in your relationship conversation.
Schedule a time to meet.
It’s generally best not to say, “Can we make plans for this week? We need to talk.” A message to that effect essentially says, “Hey, I’m about to break up with you!”
Sometimes, that can help the other person emotionally brace and prepare for the conversation. But more often than not, it will cause extra stress and worry and is essentially just breaking up over text and then scheduling round 2 for in-person.
Action Step: Decide where you want to have the conversation. Then, set up plans to meet your partner at that place. It’s going to be scary, but you can do it 💪❤️.
Tips on How To Have a Breakup Conversation With Honest and Kind Communication
Okay, so the moment has come. You’re sitting across from your partner. You’re about to say the thing you’ve been terrified to speak. Ahhh! You got this. Here are a few communication tips to stay connected, empowered, and compassionate.
Don’t beat around the bush.
Once you are settled and connected with the other person, just let it out.
There will likely be plenty of time afterward in this conversation where you both share more about your experience and feelings. But try not to be indirect or passive. You want to make sure everything is clear on what is happening.
You might start by saying, “Hey, I want to share something with you,” to ensure they are present and listening. Once you feel like you are both settled and connected, in a space where you feel safe and like you won’t get interrupted, then share your decision with clarity and directness.
Here are a few possible phrases to start with:
- “I’ve done a lot of reflecting, and I’ve come to realize that I want to break up.”
- “I have so much love for you, but I’m realizing we’re growing in different directions, and I think it’s time to break up.”
- “I love you, and this pains me to say, but our relationship has become too difficult. I don’t have the energy to try anymore. I’ve come to realize that I want to break up.”
It is notoriously hard to be fully honest and authentic in these conversations. Zooming out from breakups for a moment, if you’d like to learn how to maintain your authenticity while learning to attract people with your likability, then you might enjoy this free training:
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Listen in a way that creates a connection
After you’ve shared your decision, they may want to hear more about your reasoning and decision-making process, or they might need to express their feelings and emotions.
This is where you can make this breakup conversation feel connected instead of destructive.
The conversation won’t be clean and orderly. There will be lots of back and forth. But when it is time for you to listen, if you can do the following three things, you’ll be in great shape:
- Don’t interrupt
They’ll have a lot to say. They might cry, or yell, or sink into themselves. The conversation will go through arcs. When it’s your turn to listen, do your best not to react. Don’t instinctually defend yourself, correct them, or issue blame.
Just give them a vast open space to say and express everything that’s inside of them.
Practical Tip: If they’re speaking and something comes up that you are dying to interject, you can cross your pointer and your middle finger. This will help you privately “log” in your memory that you have something to say later.
Also note that if the other person has a habit of dominating a conversation, once you’ve listened for a while, make sure you get your turn to speak.
- Express empathy
Empathy is the secret sauce to gracefully navigating difficult conversations. There’s no one way to be empathetic. You’ve got a fine set of mirror neurons3https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4006175/, and if you speak from a desire to connect and support, you’ll be in good shape.
With that said, if there were one empathy guideline to keep in mind, it would be to affirm their feelings.
Practical Tip: As the other person is speaking, it could be helpful to recite as a mantra internally: “Their feelings are valid, their feelings are valid.” This can be a helpful reminder when tense emotions come up.
You might even say out loud to them, “I know this is hard,” or “Your anger is valid,” or it could just be silently listening with an open heart.
- Avoid falling into guilt (if possible)
You probably care about this person you are breaking up with and might even love them. When they express their pain, it will be very easy for you to feel like it’s your fault that they feel bad and that, as a result, you should feel bad. You might assume you are responsible for their sadness, grief, or anger.
Of course, you are in some ways because you share something causing them pain. But in other ways, their feelings are theirs, not yours. And it’s generally healthiest to not take on their emotions.
But none of us are perfect. And you may reach a point where you can no longer hold space. Their tears might cause you to collapse and fall into despair. If this happens, embrace the mess.
Practical Tip: Remember before the conversation that their feelings are their responsibility, not yours.
That doesn’t give you the excuse to be mean, but it does give you the freedom to express yourself freely without taking responsibility for their emotions and trauma.
Share in a way that honors both of you.
Now that you know how to listen skillfully, here are four tips on how to share your part.
- Explain your decision
At some point, potentially early in the conversation, you’ll want to tell them exactly why you’re breaking up.
Here are a few items that will be helpful to share:
- How did you realize you wanted to break up?
- Was this realization a long time coming, or did it dawn on you?
- What emotions have you been feeling in the relationship that have led to this?
- Don’t blame or accuse
There will be times in the conversation when it will feel exceedingly tempting to let them know how wrong they were and how much it was their fault.
Here’s a clip from the movie Her, where the conversation between the main character and his ex-wife quickly falls off the rails because they start to accuse and blame.
Practical Tip: In the conversation, if you notice yourself veering into the territory of “You are so ____” or “It’s your fault,” take that as a cue to say, “I felt _____.”
As much as possible, please stick to your feelings and experience, not what they did wrong.
- Take responsibility
If the other person is surprised that you are breaking up with them, this likely means you did not communicate your feelings or misgivings.
This may be one of several areas where you can take responsibility for where you could have done better.
Practical Tip: Share where you can take responsibility for the relationship reaching this point. Don’t go into self-blame. Just acknowledge the places where your words or actions caused pain and how you’d like to learn how to do better.
You might say, “I acknowledge I didn’t communicate as clearly as I could have,” or “I recognize I frequently lost my temper at you, which didn’t help things.”
- Make sure you’ve both said everything.
If you feel like you’ve reached the end of the conversation, ensure you’ve emptied your cup. You don’t want to leave feeling like there was something you didn’t get off your chest.
And if this is a relationship that you’ve been in for several years, this conversation might require more than one go.
Practical Tip: When you’ve reached what you think is the end of the conversation, ask the other person, “Is there anything else you need to say or get off your chest?” Make sure to ask yourself this question as well.
Tips on How to Recover After the Breakup
Your work is not yet done once you’ve had a difficult conversation.
Recovering from a breakup can be tremendously difficult, especially if you’re young, have planned a future with this person, and have included them in your identity.
Here are some tips for overcoming a breakup as skillfully as possible.
Feel your feelings
In the following clip, neuroscientist Andrew Huberman explains that you can never fully recover from a breakup until you’ve felt all your feelings all the way through.
If you try to suppress your feelings or sublimate your pain into your work so that you can grind 12 hours a day, you will never recover from the breakup.
If your feelings naturally arise, pause what you’re doing (if you can) and give yourself space to feel.
Though many of us have been conditioned to repress our feelings, we aren’t sure how to feel them. If that’s you, here are a few ideas.
Action Step 1: Use media. Suppose some songs or movies seem to pluck on an emotional chord related to the breakup—whether sadness, pain, fear, or anger—use that media to go into your feelings.
Action Step 2: One straightforward way to express your feelings is to give yourself the space to tell them. Here’s an activity you can try. Go through each step in order, and breathe between each.
- Put on a timer for 90 seconds—to express anger. You can shout, punch a sofa, twist a towel, or clench your fists. Try to express anger. Even if it feels like you’re faking it, that’s okay.
- Put on a timer for 90 seconds and journal over and over on the sentence stem “I am angry because…” You can do this with pen and paper or say it aloud.
- Put on a timer for 90 seconds—express sadness. You can wail, collapse, or sob. Try to express sorrow. Even if it feels like you’re faking it, that’s okay.
- Put on a timer for 90 seconds and journal over and over on the sentence stem “I am sad because…”
- Put on a timer for 90 seconds—express fear. You can let your eyes go wide, pucker up your insides, or shallow your breathing. Try to express fear. Even if it feels like you’re faking it, that’s okay.
- Put on a timer for 90 seconds and journal over and over on the sentence stem “I am scared because…”
- Put on a timer for 90 seconds—express joy. You can laugh, smile, or jump up and down. Try to express joy. Even if it feels like you’re faking it, that’s okay.
- Put on a timer for 90 seconds and journal over and over on the sentence stem “I am joyful because…”
If you do this activity, some emotions might flow out of you, and others might not. This activity allows you to practice feeling feelings. It’s like going to the gym for your emotional muscles. If it ever feels too intense, pump the brakes.
Expect healing to take a while
This team of researchers4https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.2017154118 took on an ambitious project where they tracked over one million posts from 6,803 Reddit users who posted about their breakups. The researchers analyzed posts for linguistic patterns to assess how they processed their breakup.
The researchers found a consistent pattern: there is a huge spike in distress the week of a breakup, and it usually takes six months to return to your normal baseline.
Here is one infographic depicting some of the linguistic patterns studied. Without getting into too much detail, each of these four quadrants measures how a person’s use of language reflects their contemplation over complex problems and emotional distress.
You can see their distress builds before the breakup, peaks, and then symmetrically peters off.
And, of course, six months is just an average and an estimate. You might heal from your breakup within a week or a year. When my first partner and I broke up, it took me about four years to complete my grieving process and fully open my heart to a new partner.
In the wise lyrics of musician Trevor Hall, “You can’t rush your healing.”
Practical Tip: It will take six months to process your grief and return to normal.
Practical Tip: Don’t rush into dating. If you want to date again, only do so once you feel genuinely excited by the idea.
Avoid social media stalking.
So you’ve taken the bold step to break up, and decided to go no contact. Whew. It was tough, but you did it. Then, one fine Wednesday afternoon, you’re casually scrolling through Instagram. And a picture of your smiling beloved appears.
They look so beautiful! Your heart opens a bit.
And they look happy!
Why are they so happy? Are they not upset about the breakup?? You must get to the bottom of this!
So, you naturally click on their profile and start going through their pictures.
Who is this person they were getting drinks with?! Have they already moved on?!?
Okay, you get the picture.
Whatever communication boundaries you set when breaking up, stalking them on social media will only make things more complicated.
Action Step: Unfollow them on social media once you’ve broken up.
Yes, this might sound extreme, but it’s necessary. Once you feel re-centered, you can follow them again. But it’s for your good.
Find yourself again
When we date people, on some level, we merge with them. They become our support system and our biggest fan. We start to create an identity together and become a unit.
When we break up, it can feel like we’ve lost a part of ourselves.
It can be disorienting at first. Your sense of self might feel diminished, and you might not remember who you are precisely.
The remedy for this is to give extra care to yourself, reforge your own identity, and do activities that make you feel alive.
Action Step 1: Pick at least one hobby and sign up for a weekly class after breaking up. It doesn’t matter if it’s the hobby of an old friend or something new and exciting.
Action Step 2: List ten solo activities that help you feel like you care for yourself. Put this list up on your mirror and reference it often.
Activities might include things like:
- Taking a bubble bath
- Cooking a nice meal
- Going for long walks in the woods
If you’d like more tips on becoming the best version of yourself, you might enjoy this article.
Create a reminder
There could be times when the sadness feels so deep you’ll question why you broke up in the first place. A wounded heart can punt all of your well-thought-out reasons right out the window.
It can be helpful to write a note from when you feel clear and centered so that you can return to clarity by reading that message when you are lost in the fog of heartbreak.
Action Step: When you’ve steeled your resolve and decisiveness, remind yourself exactly why you broke up.
Here are a few examples:
“It will never work between us because I know I don’t want kids, and they are certain they do want kids.”
Or “As much as I love them, I felt depressed in our relationship because they undeniably stifled my growth.”
Read this reminder in uncertain moments when you feel the misplaced urge to rekindle.
Seek social support
Research indicates5https://digitalcommons.unomaha.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1267&context=university_honors_program that after a breakup, social support helps with mental health.
You might feel lonely after a breakup. Some of your relationships atrophied due to your singular commitment to your partner.
It can be hard to ask for help and to lean on people, but this is the time to do it.
Action Step: List five people you want to feel closer to. Where the thought of them gives you energy, reach out to at least one of these people weekly to meet up for at least the next few weeks.
Working with a professional to help you process your difficult emotions can also be tremendously helpful. If you choose this route, Psychology.com is an excellent repository for finding relationship therapists in different locations.
Frequently Asked Questions About How to Break Up With Someone
Breaking up with someone you care about requires an honest and respectful conversation where you express your feelings and reasons for the breakup. It’s best to do this face-to-face and ensure that you give them time to process and respond.
The nicest way to break up with someone is to choose a private and comfortable setting where you can speak openly, being gentle and empathetic in explaining your reasons and giving the other person an opportunity to express their feelings.
Breaking up with someone you still love is particularly painful, and it requires clear communication about why the relationship needs to end, even if love still exists. Support from friends, self-care, and focusing on your needs can help you through this challenging process.
Knowing it’s time to break up often comes from recognizing persistent issues that can’t be resolved, feeling unhappy, unfulfilled, or stifled in your growth. Reflecting on your feelings, values, and long-term compatibility can help you make this challenging decision.
Takeaways on How to Break Up With Someone
Breaking up with someone is difficult, especially when you still love them. It requires courage. But sometimes, it is the best decision to make.
If you are considering initiating a breakup conversation, here are a few tips to remember.
Before the breakup conversation,
- Clarify if it feels like you need to break up. One of the many helpful questions you can ask yourself is: is your relationship taking more energy from you than it’s giving you?
- Thoughtfully consider when and where to break up. As general advice, please Don’t break up over text or in a public location, make sure you are the only two people present, and don’t procrastinate on it.
- Emotionally prepare for the conversation by asking yourself why you are making this decision and where you can take responsibility.
- Clarify your post-breakup desires by reflecting on the following: Do you want to stay connected after breaking up? How much time do you want to take after breaking up before connecting? Are there other firm boundaries you need to set?
Once you are in the actual breakup conversation, keep in mind these tips to make the experience as connected as possible:
- Ensure you are both present and connected before opening up the conversation
- Don’t beat around the bush, and make it clear that you are breaking up
- Don’t interrupt when they are sharing and expressing
- Express empathy and validate their feelings and experience
- Avoid falling into the pit. It is very easy to take responsibility for their feelings. But remember, their emotions are their own
- Explain your decision and how you came to it
- Don’t blame or accuse, and speak in terms of what emotions you felt
- Take responsibility for the ways that you contributed to causing any pain
- Make sure you’ve both said everything you need to communicate by asking, “Is there anything else?”
And after you’ve broken up, keep in mind these tips to stay emotionally healthy:
- Feel your feelings. The more you put off feeling your emotions, the less you’ll heal from the breakup
- Be patient. It usually takes up to six months to feel normal again. Don’t rush to date before you’re ready
- Unfollow them on social media to save yourself plenty of unnecessary torture. Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, all of them!
- Return to yourself by investing in a hobby and clarifying your self-care practices
- Create a reminder of your “why” so that in times of doubt, you can remember that you had good reasons
- Seek social support. Reach out to friends, family, and possibly a counselor to help you through this time.
Best of luck with this conversation. It might not be easy but know that if you believe it’s time to break up, it is the best decision for both of you.
And if you’d like more tips and insight on processing a breakup, you might find this guide helpful.
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