Breaking Up with Somebody

See also: Challenging Conversations with Your Partner

Not all romances last a lifetime. Most people go out with a few people before they get married, and anything from a third to a half of all marriages end in divorce.

Therefore it is likely that everyone will go through some break-ups during their lifetime.

The reasons for finishing things can be complicated and the consequences can be considerable.

Sometimes, people feel that staying in a bad relationship is better than being on their own or disrupting the lives of their children. These are individual choices, but it seems unlikely that you or anyone else will be very happy if the atmosphere in the house is tense and miserable.

Breaking-Up is Hard to Do

After a long relationship, there is unlikely to be a separation without any pain, even if it is a mutual decision.

Keeping things as civil as you can will help, as will looking after yourself physically and talking to trusted friends and family for support.

Initiating a Break-up

There are a number of things to consider before you initiate a break-up

1. Are you sure?

All but the briefest of relationships involve compromise and include periods where things are not so good. It is not worth throwing away something that you have built up over a long period of time without careful consideration.

If someone else has caught your eye, remember that infatuation is not always rational. The new person will also have their imperfections and may not be compatible with you in the long term.

If you are furious with your partner for a specific reason, for example, because they have been unfaithful to you or taken a major decision without consulting you, you should take some time to calm down before you take an irreversible step. Our page on Anger Management has some useful tips. You will probably need to discuss why this occurred and whether it can be prevented from recurring, however painful that may be.

Professional couples counselling may be required and our pages on Counselling will help explain this process and what you can expect.

2. Is this a good time?

Sometimes break-ups happen spontaneously due to an argument or a specific event, but often the realisation that you want to be free occurs gradually. If this is the case, it is worth thinking about the timing.

If your partner is having medical treatment, or your children are about to sit important exams, it might be better for everyone if you can wait a little longer to limit the disruption.

3. What are the practicalities?

Will you be offering to move out of shared accommodation?

Can your former partner afford to stay there without you or will they need support?

If you have children, will you seek to remain local to see them?

How will contact be arranged?

You cannot sort everything out in advance, but it is worth giving things a little thought in order to make the transition as smooth as you can.

Having the Necessary Conversation

Just disappearing from someone’s life and refusing all contact (which has recently come to be known as ‘ghosting’) seems like a cowardly way to end things.

If you can discuss what went wrong or why you feel that the relationship does not work, it will help your partner come to terms with it finishing, especially if they do not share your desire to end things.

The following may help you to have this discussion:

  • Pick your location. If you live together, it is probably best to go out rather than suddenly open a conversation at home, as your partner may want some privacy afterwards to process the news or to be upset. It may also be better to go out for a walk together or sit in a park rather than have to wait to finish dinner in a restaurant.

  • Stick to “I” statements, such as “I am unhappy about how much we argue” rather than “you” statements, such as “You are just so cross all the time!” Trying to pin all the blame on your partner is unlikely to be fair and is certainly going to make it harder to remain civil in future.

  • Be honest. If you are sure about the decision, avoid saying that you “need a break,” as you are giving the other person false hope. If your decision is final, gently make that clear.

  • “Is there someone else?” It may be that your decision to end the relationship has come about partly or entirely because you have met somebody else. It is not always clear whether it is best to mention this. An outright lie is unwise, yet your partner may solely blame the new person for the break-up even when the situation is more complex. It may be that it is better to focus on what went wrong between the two of you initially and, if you can, leave discussions about new relationships for the future.

Our page: Handling Difficult Conversations has some more things to think about.

Guide to Personal and Romantic Relationships

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The Skills You Need Guide Personal and Romantic Relationships

Personal and romantic relationships can be difficult to navigate.

Even those who are highly skilled at personal interactions at work can struggle to translate these skills to their home environment. This book is designed to help you do just that: to take your existing interpersonal skills, understand them better, and use them effectively in your personal relationships.

Managing if the break-up is not your decision

You may have had a feeling that something was wrong, or the decision by your partner may be completely unexpected. Whatever the situation when somebody ends their relationship with you, the shock and the feelings of loss and powerlessness can be overwhelming.

Try to keep your dignity and resist the urge to beg or insult your partner. If you need to get away to let it sink in, take some time on your own or with someone that you trust. If you need to discuss things later, a decent former partner should be prepared to talk to help you to come to terms with everything.

Heartbreak can be a horrible feeling, and almost physically painful, but it can be overcome. You may even look back one day and be grateful that your life headed in a different and more positive direction. Until that day, our pages on Dealing with Stress and Living Well may help you.