There never seems to be a “right time” to have a breakup. It feels insensitive to cut ties right before your SO's birthday or Valentine’s Day — not to mention when they're sick, busy, or just lost a loved one. A pandemic hardly feels like an ideal time to cut ties, either, but staying with someone simply to protect their feelings isn’t going to prevent them from hurting in the long run. So, if you’ve decided it’s time to call it quits, don’t fret. I spoke with two breakup experts about how to break up during the coronavirus outbreak, and they have a slew of helpful tips for achieving a compassionate, considerate split.
The main factor that will decide how you go about your breakup is your living situation. If you're currently cohabiting or even just temporarily self-isolating together, you'll obviously have some additional logistical considerations to factor in.
If you aren’t living together, you have the benefit of knowing neither of you will have to face the possibility of moving out, and all the challenges that come with that, especially during a time where many cities are urging residents to “shelter in place.” Not only that, but Chelsea Leigh Trescott, a breakup coach and host of the podcast ”Thank You Heartbreak,” notes that you’re less likely to get sucked back into the physical aspects of a relationship that’s not working because you’re not in their presence (so the temptation isn’t there).
Natalia Juarez, a breakup coach and dating strategist, advises against breaking up over text — even if that’s your primary mode of contact with your partner right now. Particularly if you’ve had a meaningful relationship that’s lasted for months or years, there’s no way to convey respect or help someone achieve closure with a text message. Given the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) current orders around social distancing, however, it may not be practical or safe for you to break up in person. If that’s the case, experts agree that a FaceTime chat or phone call is perfectly acceptable. The advantage of FaceTime is that it allows you to see each other’s facial expressions and body language, which can be invaluable cues for avoiding misunderstandings. However, Juarez notes that it’s fine to speak over the phone if that feels more natural and comfortable for you.
On the other hand, if you and your partner are currently living together, you'll need to think about whether one of you has somewhere else to go. Before going through with the breakup, it’s a good idea to talk to family members or friends and get a sense of whether or not you can live with them temporarily. If you aren’t able to secure an alternate living situation, it’s time to ask yourself: Can I handle continuing to share a living space for a period of time? Can they? The circumstances around the coronavirus pandemic have made it a somewhat difficult time to move. Living with an ex isn’t just awkward — it can also make it tough to heal and move on. So, if neither of you has anywhere else you can live right now and you’ve committed to pulling the plug on your relationship, that’s something worth thinking about. Juarez points out that if you have a second bedroom in your home, that can make a big difference in easing the transition.
Regardless of whether you live together or not, you may want to consider the timing of your breakup, too. Juarez typically recommends initiating a breakup on a Thursday or Friday, so that the other person has the weekend to get over the initial shock and be around supportive friends or family while they're coming to terms with the split. That said, their work schedule may have been impacted by the outbreak, so that may no longer apply.
Keep in mind that regardless of your living situation, this breakup is likely to be a series of conversations rather than one single discussion. This is especially true if you have to break up over the phone or FaceTime. You and your ex may want to meet in person after parting ways just to get some additional closure, particularly if you’ve been together for a long time.
“The method I use with my clients to exit a relationship is a bit of a process,” explains Juarez. “The purpose of this is to allow your partner to begin processing for themselves the fact that you are having concerns and doubts about the future of your relationship. All too often, the worst breakup situations are the ones where the other person feels completely blindsided. It can be traumatic, especially at a time like this, to try and process shock and heartbreak in the context of life.”
Even if you do engage in more than one conversation, or meet up in person to finalize things, it’s crucial to stay grounded in your decision. According to Juarez, while it may be tempting to try and soften the blow by saying, "Maybe we can be friends," or, "Who knows what will happen down the road?", these kinds of wishy-washy statements can provide false hope for your partner, ultimately making it more difficult for them to move on.
After you've begun the breakup process, it's time to turn your attention inward. "During a breakup, it is natural to expect our inner circle to rally for us, to check-in and invest themselves in our well-being and recovery," says Trescott. "The most challenging aspect of breaking up during the coronavirus [outbreak] will be attending to yourself when others are too distracted or simply aren’t able to attend to you because of the coronavirus."
Self-care is always a crucial part of breakup recovery — but that’s especially true right now, when many of your loved ones might be consumed with their own fears, concerns, and personal issues. Since you’re likely going to be stuck inside a lot, Trescott suggests first focusing on creating a nurturing environment that feels soothing to you — whether that means rearranging your furniture, switching up the lighting, or adding new artwork to the walls.
In order to manage obsessive or anxious thinking, Juarez recommends practicing mindfulness, which means focusing on just the one thing you’re doing in the present moment rather than multitasking or getting carried away with future concerns. In other words, if you are going for a walk, just focus on walking — the way your feet feel on the ground, the noises in your surroundings, the smell of the air. If any thoughts around your breakup pop up, simply choose to let them go rather than push them away. Juarez also highly advises making time for exercise to ease stress and release those feel-good hormones. Lastly, she suggests starting a journaling practice. For at least 15-20 minutes each day, allow yourself the time to connect with your thoughts and feelings and release them onto a page.
“It can be a safe place to explore all of your emotions — the good, the bad and the ugly are all welcome,” Juarez adds.
You may also want to express your thoughts and feelings in a visual way like drawing or painting, rather than writing about them. Joanna, an 18-year-old art student living in the UK who recently broke up with her college boyfriend over video chat, says she’s been discovering new parts of herself and feeling “so much more creative" ever since the split.
“In past relationships, I’ve noticed me and the other person would drown in each other and I would lose myself,” she adds. “But having my own time is a nice cleanse.”
Remember, even if your friends and family seem a little distracted amidst the coronavirus outbreak, you deserve time to grieve your relationship however feels right for you, and on your own timeline.
“While the world is consumed by an unprecedented crisis, you have permission to be consumed by your heartbreak and concerned for yourself," says Trescott. “Take comfort that the entire world feels equally helpless and is trying to process their new normal. You’ve never been so not alone.”
Hear that? Breaking up may be hard to do, but your feelings are just as valid during a pandemic. In fact, there's hardly been a better opportunity to slow down, do some soul searching, and take stock of your priorities, needs, and wants. There's nothing like a global crisis to put things into perspective, and right now, you get to focus on a new relationship: the one with yourself.
Chelsea Leigh Trescott, breakup coach
Natalia Juarez, breakup coach