Breaking up with someone is, without a doubt, one of the most crucial life scenarios in which to harness compassion. But if your boo never got serious with anyone before you, it can be an even more tender task — because a first love can bond you to someone in a way that’s particularly profound. So, how do you break up with someone gently, when you know that you’ve played such a significant role in their love life? According to Steve Kane, relationship expert, author, and founder of gethappy.life, it’s totally possible to break up with someone in a sensitive way — and the key is to remain, calm, concise, and kind, while focusing on your own needs and avoiding blame.
While it may not be easy to execute a gentle breakup, it’s well worth the effort to put some serious thought into where, when, and how you do the breaking up.
“There is literally nothing to be gained by being any but gentle,” he tells Elite Daily. “And there are plenty of things to lose.”
Kane notes that knowing you could have split up with someone in a sensitive way could trigger some major regrets that eat away at you over time.
“Be nice to your soon-to-be ex — and, ergo, to yourself as well," he adds. "There is much to be gained by being gentle — gratitude from your former partner, and pride in yourself for being a kind, considerate, mature human being.”
"When a breakup reflects the tension for the split rather than the appreciation and harmony that initially kept two people close, a person may go on to anticipate future outcomes similarly, believing that avoidance, animosity, anger and the like are stronger, and therein more prevalent emotions than love itself," she explains. "You don’t want to be the reason someone fears love and loss. If a breakup feels like a betrayal or an abandonment then someone is naturally going to guard themselves against the potential for love in the future rather than grow toward it with grace."
First thing’s first: You’ll need to give some careful consideration to the location for this difficult conversation. Kane suggests choosing a neutral, quiet setting where you have enough privacy. If you decide you don’t want to carry out the breakup in a public place, it may be best to do it at their home, not yours. Your SO will probably feel far more comfortable expressing their true feelings in their own space. Another benefit is the fact that you can leave whenever you feel is appropriate.
When you do meet up with your significant other, Kane recommends being direct and concise — ripping off the bandaid, so to speak. Avoid making too much small talk, as the longer you delay the inevitable, the more challenging it will be to tell them you want to end your relationship.
There’s a good chance that your SO will have some questions. For example, if you don’t provide a specific reason for why you’re ending things, that’s something they’ll likely want to know. If so, Kane suggests being honest, yet kind. There’s no need to say “I don’t love you anymore,” — instead, you might say that you simply no longer feel emotionally invested. And rather than saying “I feel suffocated,” you might explain that right now, you need more freedom than a committed relationship allows for. According to Kane, the best thing you can do is to give them a reason that starts with “I.”
“No matter what, make it about you, not them,” he adds. “And give them plenty of time to react, or respond, or even to vent.”
It’s impossible to predict how your partner will respond when you express your desire to end the relationship — especially since you were their first love. Try to prepare yourself by thinking of responses to any possible questions they might have. That way, you’ll be less inclined to get pulled into the intensely emotional undertow.
“No matter what they say — calling you the vilest names or making whatever accusations — don't take the bait,” says Kane. “Simply nod, take deep breaths and reply with something like, ‘I'm really sorry my feelings have brought out this response in you. It wasn't my intention. You're saying things I need to process, and I promise I will. But I'm still here to break up, and trying to make that as easy as possible for both of us.’”
For your part, Trescott recommends aiming for consistency in character.
“Don’t do anything that would cast a shadow of doubt on who you are as a person,” she says. “An easy way of doing this is to try to keep the promises you made. So, if you said you would never block the person if you were to break up, try and challenge yourself to honor that if the other person isn’t attacking you or exhibiting poor coping habits.”
There are a number of other compassionate ways to ease the pain of your breakup for your soon-to-be ex. For example, you could write them a gratitude-filled letter to read after you go your separate ways. My last partner penned me a thankful email after we parted ways, and knowing that there were no hard feelings and that he appreciated the time we spent together definitely helped me to move forward with no negative vibes. Or, if you suspect that this split will be especially hard on your SO, you might contact a close friend or family member to make sure they’re close by and able to provide support as soon as your breakup conversation is over.
You know better than anyone what makes your partner feel most comfortable and loved, and keeping those things in mind while you go about your breakup can go a long way in protecting their heart. Ultimately, as Trescott says, the goal is to leave your partner in such a way that allows them to believe in love going forward. Remember: you were their first love, which means you’ll also be their first heartbreak. By ending things with empathy and integrity, you’ll set an example for how they should expect to be treated in the future. And if that’s not good dating karma, I don’t know what is.
Steve Kane, relationship expert, author, and entrepreneur
Chelsea Leigh Trescott, breakup coach