13 Tips For Breaking Up With Someone Compassionately
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Q: I’ve been dating someone exclusively for about seven months. We’ve had some great times, but I’ve been slowly coming to the realization that we’re not a good fit for the longterm. I think we should probably break up, but I feel horrible about being the one to end it. What makes it even worse is that I know I’m going to catch my partner off-guard. How can I do this as gently as possible? Is there any nice way to break up with someone?
A: Thanks for writing in. I’m sorry you’re in the position that you’re in; breaking up is never easy! But it’s admirable that you’re trying to be sensitive to your partner. Here are 13 straightforward ways to soften the breakup blow, with compassion.
1. Come Prepared
If you’re nervous about breaking up with your partner, you can ease some of your fears by deciding what you’re going to say beforehand. I’ll share more tips about what types of things you should consider sharing, but having a rough idea of what you’re going to say will help the process go much smoother. You can even try saying the words out loud, or practice in front of a trusted friend.
2. Anticipate The Response
Another way to soothe your nerves is to think through some possible responses your partner could have and come up with a strategy for how to react to each. You’re not going to be able to guess exactly what will unfold, but the act of having thought it out and come up with a few game plans will make you feel more confident.
For example, if you think your partner might try to convince you to stay together, practice saying firm statements like, “I’m sorry, but this is the decision I need to make” and plan a way to make a quick exit.
3. Rip Off The Bandaid
Once you’re sure you’re ready to break up with your partner, try to do it as soon as possible. A lot of people delay their breakups because they’re nervous or worried about hurting their partner’s feelings. Unfortunately, breakups are always going to be uncomfortable, and they’re always going to hurt. There’s never going to be a “good time” to break up with someone. If you keep putting it off, your partner will eventually be able to sense that something is wrong. They’ll be even more hurt that you dragged it out longer than necessary.
4. Be Thoughtful About Timing
One exception to the Breaking Up ASAP guideline: if possible, try to avoid breaking up with someone on important days, like their birthday, their favorite holiday, the anniversary of a loved one’s death, or the day they take their GRE. You don’t need to wait a month to break up with them after the New Year, but don’t break up with your partner on the day of their grandma’s funeral.
5. Do It In Person
Yes, breaking up in person is awkward. But if you’ve been with your partner for a significant period of time, and serious feelings have been involved (like if you’ve said “I love you”), they deserve the respect of a face-to-face breakup. If you’re truly worried you won’t be able to stick to your guns in person, a phone call is an acceptable second choice.
6. ... And In Private
Just last week I witnessed an excruciatingly awkward breakup in a coffee shop. Don’t double down on the embarrassment of being dumped by doing the dumping in public. I would recommend going to your partner’s house, so you can leave them in the comfort of their own space. They won’t have to worry about other people overhearing the conversation, or having to brave traffic or public transportation while they’re crying.
7. Be Clear
You can spare your partner a lot of pain by helping them understand that your mind is already made up and there’s no going back. Let them know the specific reasons why you’re ending the relationship. Try to keep this short and succinct.
For example, something like, “I’ve really enjoyed the time we’ve spent together, but I want to get married at some point and I know you don’t agree with marriage, so I think it’s best if we end things now.” If you don’t have that concrete of a reason, you can say something like, “I don’t think we’re compatible enough to spend the rest of our lives together” or “I have a hard time picturing us together long-term.”
8. Don't Take The Bait
The person you're breaking up with might get argumentative and defensive, but try not to get into a long, drawn out argument about your reasons for wanting to break up. If your partner pushes for more details, or tries to prove you wrong, say something like, “I wish I could give you a reason that would feel better to you, but I can’t. My mind is made up.”
9. Thank Them
You and your partner did have some wonderful experiences during your time together. Expressing your gratitude for the time you shared may help soften the blow. You don’t want to go into too much detail and give your partner false hope for a reconciliation, but say something simple like, “I’m never going to forget the time we shared” or “I’m so glad I met you.”
10. Don’t Go The "Break" Route
So many people try to soften the breakup blow by saying “let’s take a break” when what they really want to say is “I’m done.” This might spare your partner a little bit of hurt in the moment, but you’re only prolonging the pain and making it worse in the long run.
11. Talk About How To Handle It Socially
Our social media accounts can make breakups so much more awkward than they were in the pre-Facebook days. If you want to handle your breakup gracefully, I suggest actively talking about how you’re going to handle the breakup on your social media accounts. You both know you might have to go through the dreaded “changing our Facebook relationship status” process, so why not be upfront about it? Ask your partner if they’d rather be the one to do it, or if they want you to.
You may also want to consider blocking or de-friending your partner for a while, to give you both some space. If so, tell your partner your plan. Getting a heads-up beforehand is much less painful than unexpectedly discovering that you’ve been blocked. You can say something like, “I just want you to know I’m going to temporarily block you because it’s going to be too hard for me to see updates about you, but I’m hoping we can get to the point where we can be friends and check in on each other.”
12. Cut Off Contact
If you want to eventually be friends, you’re going to need some time away from each other to heal. So many people try to jump to being friends right away because they’re afraid of the pain of being apart, but that approach rarely works. Tell your partner that you need some space without contact. Offer to reach out to each other after a set period of time (for example, maybe you agree on six months), or simply say you’ll reach out whenever you feel ready.
13. Give Yourself Time
Even though you’re the one doing the breaking up, it’s still going to be painful for you. Give yourself time to mourn the end of the relationship. Surround yourself with friends, try to do some fun things, and take good care of yourself.
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