Breaking up is hard to do. And it's extra hard figuring out how to break up when nothing seems wrong — especially if you're worried about hurting your soon-to-be-ex's feelings. The key is balance. On one hand, you want to approach the situation with kindness and empathy for the other person's feelings. But on the other hand, it's important to remain firm in your conviction that breaking up is the right move. And of course, you want to make sure that no part of your breakup is undefined. A clean break, with clear boundaries, is the best way for you and your ex to heal and move on.
So, just how do you go about doing all that? Rip off the Band-Aid, says Kiaundra Jackson, a relationship expert and founder of therapy practice KW Essential Services. "There is no better way to have this conversation than to just do it." Jackson recommends rehearsing what you're going to say — write it down or practice with a friend. Jackson also suggests running through each scenario as far as your ex-partner's reaction goes. "Play out in your mind how the conversation will go if they respond positively, negatively, or indifferently," Jackson advises. "That way, if any of the three scenarios happen, you are well-prepared with a response."
James Guay, a therapist who specializes in high-conflict couples, says being kind and direct makes for "a more graceful exit." You can start by saying, “I know you may not be expecting this, but I wanted to share honestly where I’m at in our relationship.”
Even if it's just 10 seconds, it can serve as a bit of a heads-up to your partner so that they'll be caught less off-guard. You can also let them know further in advance, but that may make the situation messier. It might upset them and/or you might be forced to have this conversation sooner than you'd like. Most importantly, though, a statement like the one above acknowledges where you're coming from as well as validates the other person's reaction.
And then just do it. Be explicit about why you want to break up and that this is, in fact, a breakup. "You don’t necessarily have to provide every gory detail as to why you want things to end — unless, of course, they ask for it, and you’re able to share it in a kind enough way," Guay says.
And that's the thing about breakups that come when everything is seemingly OK. Maybe you and your partner have conflict-avoidant personalities. Or maybe you've been bored with your partner for awhile or have been feeling lost. Either way, these kinds of breakups are always the result of issues that have been glossed over. "If the reason you are breaking up with your partner is truly an issue, then it will not just come 'out of the blue.' It will be something that was expressed before, but went unresolved," Jackson explains.
If you're feeling guilty about not putting more work into your relationship, you can own up to that — but of course, don't beat yourself up about it. Every partnership, even ones that don't work out, is a learning experience. "If you waited too long to address the problems in your relationship before they became irreconcilable, then having a certain amount of guilt can be useful for not repeating this pattern in the next one," Guay says.
As you're wrapping up, be clear about whether you want to remain in contact or maintain a friendship afterward. Know that saying you want to be friends (when you actually don't) will give the other person false hope — even if that's just platonically.
Once you've run through what you're going to say, how you're going to say it, and your partner's reaction, it's just a matter of timing. "It’s useful to initiate the breakup conversation at a time when you all have space during/afterward to respond to your subsequent feelings and reactions," Guay offers. "In other words, don’t start the conversation right before you each have to go to work or to an important event."
It's understandable if you're nervous about what you're going to do — especially if you're worried about hurting the other person's feelings or feel that you didn't do enough to "fight for your relationship." But continuing a relationship out of guilt or nervous doesn't fix anything, or help anyone in the relationship.
And finally, remember to self-care after the breakup. "Managing anxiety and discomfort about breaking up with someone (when they least expect it) is tricky. We all have experienced some form of hurt and/or rejection in relationships, so breaking up with someone can activate our own memories of this happening to us and increase our anxiety," Guay says. "Coming back to the reasons why you want to end things and planning to be kind and direct can moderate these fears."