Maybe your SO said “I love you,” and you’re incapable of uttering those three little words in return. Or, maybe you find yourself unable to picture your partner in your future. Regardless of how it plays out, realizing that you have to tell someone you’re not in love with them can be a heart-wrenching strugglefest, to say the least. But have you ever heard the expression “the hardest things in life are the most worthwhile”? It definitely applies here. Surely, sharing your feelings — or rather, lack thereof — with someone comes with the risk of hurting theirs. But it’s also the only way to protect both you and your partner’s long-term happiness.
According to Dr. Gary Brown, a prominent couples therapist in Los Angeles, while it’s totally understandable to dread telling someone that you’re not in love with them, it’s still a conversation worth having.
“If you are like most of us, you have experienced feelings of rejection at various points in your life,” he tells Elite Daily. “Knowing what it is like to be on the receiving end, you hopefully have empathy for someone you need to tell that that you are not in love with them.”
There are several reasons why candidness is the right approach for this situation. For one, Dr. Brown says you want to be honest for the sake of your own integrity. But Amanda Ruiz, licensed professional counselor and founder of The Counseling Collective, notes that being direct helps you avoid leading your partner on and fueling any false hope that you may have a future together.
“This frees them up to move forward in their lives and, of course, frees you to do the same,” explains Dr. Brown.
But before you dive into this difficult discussion, Dr. Brown notes that it’s crucial to be absolutely sure you’re not in love with them. The reality is, it often takes time to fall for someone, so if you think there’s a chance that your feelings are gradually growing and changing, then it may be worth riding the wave of this relationship and seeing where it goes. However, if you feel confident that you’re not in love with someone because they’re not a good romantic fit, or you feel that they’re pressuring you to return their feelings, then it may be time to have a candid conversation.
All that said, there is a way to be direct yet gentle at the same time.
“I think it's important to let someone down as kindly as the circumstances stances will allow,” says Dr. Brown.
One of his top tips for letting someone down gently is to be mindful of the setting in which you have this talk. While you may be tempted to choose a restaurant or a coffee shop to potentially avoid a dramatic scene, doing so will likely hinder both of you from having the discussion you both deserve.
“This conversation needs to be private so that the person is free to experience whatever emotions they have without the risk of feeling exposed in public,” explains Dr. Brown.
Additionally, you may want to be mindful of your tone when having this conversation, as it can have a weighty impact on how your words are perceived. Dr. Brown advises using a soft tone of voice.
Rather than blaming or accusing your SO, Ruiz says it's best to focus on the positives. In other words, there’s no need to give a list of all the areas they’re lacking in or all the reasons you don’t love them.
“It's hard to hear someone doesn't love you,” she says. “Try to soften that news by explaining what it is that you do like about them. Maybe you appreciate their sense of humor or their work ethic, and so you can share that.”
Once you’ve divulged that you’re not in love with your partner, Ruiz recommends also addressing how you’d ideally like to maintain your relationship, if at all, going forward. Do you hope to remain friends? Would you like to take a step back from the relationship completely? Being clear with them on this front is key, and remember: They may need some time to sort through their own feelings and decide how they’d like to resume.
It’s never easy to tell someone you care about that you simply aren’t in love with them. But think of it this way: If the roles were reversed, you would want to know the truth, right? So, while it may feel like a painful conversation, it’s important to keep in mind that you’re actually saving yourself and your partner from potentially experiencing even worse heartbreak down the line. As they say — honesty is the best policy, and in matters of the heart, it’s certainly no different.