7 Tips For Letting Someone Down Gently, According To Experts
Even if you both know it's the right thing, even if it's been coming for a while, going through a breakup or ending things with someone you're dating can be totally overwhelming — which is why it's easy to avoid confrontation and procrastinate rather than actually doing the deed. But if you know that you want to end things with someone, it has to be done. Even though there's no perfect way to break up or break it off with someone you're dating, there are ways to let someone down gently — and it's really crucial that you do your best to make it a smooth transition.
Because breakups can stay with you for a long time, especially the bad ones. "A cruel breakup can forever change the trajectory of a person’s approach to relationships," Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., clinical psychologist, and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show tells Bustle. "It can be traumatizing, it can trigger depression, and it can create a basic fear and mistrust of others. A bad breakup can have enough of a negative impact that without professional intervention the person can develop very unhealthy dating and relationship patterns... If you have experienced a significant breakup — and in particular if it is a cruel one — the best thing to do is to go get therapy to help you transition from a place of hurt to a place of strength."
So how do you make sure you're letting them down as gently as possible? Here's what experts say you need to remember.
1. Do It As Soon As You're Sure
If you know that you're not feeling it — whether it's only been a few dates or you've been dating for years — it's important to let them know as soon as possible.
"If you know that someone has feelings for you, but you have different plans, dragging out the breakup is cruel," Jonathan Bennett, relationship and dating expert at Double Trust Dating, tells Bustle. "Once you know that your partner is no longer in your plans, it’s best to be upfront from the start. Don't prolong the process."
2. Create A Dialogue
If the relationship isn't working, there's a good chance it's not working for either of you. Try to open up a conversation where you talk about both of your needs and wants — and why this relationship isn't delivering.
"I think engaging in a conversation about what people want individually in their lives is helpful," licensed psychologist, and founder and CEO of Rapport Relationships, Dr. Jennifer B. Rhodes, tells Bustle. It also gives your partner a chance to ask questions and for you to answer them, to let the healing process begin.
3. Do It In Person
If you've gone on more than a few dates, you likely owe them a face-to-face conversation — or at least a phone call. "In this age of texting, please do not break up via text message," relationship counselor and clinical sexologist Dr. Martha Tara Lee of Eros Coaching, tells Bustle. "Besides coming across as cold and uncaring, a breakup text does not give the other person a chance for proper closure — to ask questions, hear your tone of voice, or see your facial expression on how you feel ending the relationship. The pain and the healing process may drag on, and your now-ex may continue to contact you — repeatedly. If you care about the person, do it in the best way possible." If it's been a long-term relationship — and it's not a toxic one — doing it in person is usually the only way.
4. Mention The Positives
If you really want to let them down gently, don't just focus on what didn't work. "Tell them what you realized, tell them about your priorities and what you like in a relationship," Dr. Lee says. "This allows both of you process why the breakup is happening, and have a direct conversation about it." If you think that they're a great person, but just not the right match for you, make sure that they know that.
5. Be Honest
You may be tempted to make up something to make it all go smoothly — but fibbing can actually be really patronizing. "Giving obvious excuses or lies when breaking up, even if you’re trying to make the other person feel better, only adds insult to injury," Bennett says. "While you don’t need to get into every detail about why you’re breaking up, cliches and lies (e.g. 'It’s not you; it’s me') are just going to make the situation worse." Honesty is the best policy.
6. Don't Leave Any Room For Confusion
It's really important not to leave any ambiguity lingering in the air. "Breaking up is uncomfortable for the dumper, but it's far worse for the dumpee," bestselling author and relationship expert, Susan Winter, tells Bustle. "The kindest way to break up with someone is to do it cleanly, and with clarity. Leaving wiggle room for your ex to wonder, 'Is it really over?' only serves to torture them in the long run. Being vague is not compassionate." So no matter how hard it is, be direct and clear.
7. Resist The Backslide
Finally, letting someone down gently isn't just about the actual breakup — it's also about what happens afterward. If you don't want to be with this person, going back to them or continuing to hook up with them can be very, very cruel. You should only make any move toward getting back together if you're sure it's the right thing — and what you want.
“The only reason you should ever get back together with an ex is because you’re willing to accept them exactly as they are,” sex and relationship expert Ravid Yosef tells Bustle. “Acceptance, no matter the circumstances, is the only way that you can make it when that thing that was wrong in the first place creeps up again.” Unless you're willing to do that, avoid backsliding.
There's no perfect way to end things with someone, but you can try to let them down as gently as possible. This means being clear and direct, but also giving them room to ask questions and have their say. And, whatever you do, remember that it's important not to give them any mixed signals or go back to them just for comfort. You're making the choice to break things off, so it's up to you to set healthy boundaries.