Past generations had no choice but to end their relationship face to face (or possibly over the phone). But in the days of texting, social media DMs, and dating apps, what's the best way to break up? Is it OK to end things via text, or is that really a no-no? According to experts, face-to-face is still the best way to break things off with your partner in most situations.
"There is a spectrum of breaking up — nipping something new in the bud before it gets serious, ending a relationship that has included sex, and ending a long-term relationship that included saying 'I love you,'" David Strah, a relationship coach and licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. "My general rule of thumb when breaking up with someone is the golden rule: to treat them as you would like them to treat you."
"Unless someone has done something really offensive, it is important to include at least three things in your breakup," Strah says. Thank them for the time you spent together, be clear that you are ending the romantic relationship, and wish them well (if you genuinely mean it). But when it comes down to whether or not you can get away with ending things online or if having the talk in person is the way to go, the seriousness of your relationship can help you determine what you choose to do.
"The best way to breakup with someone depends on the length of time of your relationship and its intensity," Strah says. "If you have only been casually dating for a few months, it's OK to email or text someone a brief note." But if you've been dating for more than a few months or if you've told each other you're in love, it's probably best to meet in person. "Although potentially hurting the other person’s feelings might seem scary, having a conversation in real time is the right thing to do because it ultimately shows that you care enough to be clear and supportive," he says.
One of the tempting aspects of breaking up via text message is that you're able to think about what you say ahead of time. If this is something that's important to you, you can still incorporate this into your in-person breakup. Before you meet up with your partner, take the time to write down what you want to say. Maybe this means jotting down a few bullet points, so that you remember everything you want to mention, or actually writing a narrative letter to read to them out loud.
"Many times in the heat of the moment and with the adrenaline of having to do something so difficult, we forget what we wanted to say," Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist with expertise in relationships and faculty member at Columbia University, tells Bustle. "It helps to write it down," she says. "Remember your partner will have questions, they will have comments, and having your notes can help you stay on track to share what you need to share."
There is one major exception to the etiquette rule that breaking up with a serious partner in person is ideal. "If your relationship is physically or sexually abusive, you must break up at a distance, in order to protect yourself," Christine Scott-Hudson, MA, MFT, ATR, a licensed psychotherapist, marriage and family therapist, and owner of Create Your Life Studio, tells Bustle. Instead, end things clearly in writing. "Do not risk your own health and wellbeing with anyone who is unpredictable or has a history of violence," she says. "Go 'no contact,' get professional help, and never look back."
It can be awkward and sad to end a relationship with someone, but as long as you're safe, fight through the discomfort and tell them that you want to end things face-to-face. It will make them feel better than a text would, and it's probably the right thing to do.
Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800) 799-SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org.