How to break up with someone the right way

If you’re playing with the idea of sending a carefully constructed essay via WhatsApp, we implore you to think again

“Breaking up is hard to do,” according to the eternally referenced Neil Sedeka song. But, honestly, a lot has changed since 1960 and, 61 years on, breaking up is actually remarkably easy to do.

There’s no shortage of cowardly ways to end a relationship in the year 2021, but you must ask yourself, do I want to be that person? You know the one, that terrible anecdote that occasionally gets brought out on a first date after a round of shots. The person who handled things so badly that they’re still being brought up a decade on. 

If you’re playing with the idea of sending a carefully constructed essay via WhatsApp, we implore you to think again with these tips from relationship experts on how to break up:

Location matters

Arguably, the most important aspect of any good break up is that it happens in person. While it requires more courage than a cowardly text or call, it’s so much more respectful to your partner and allows both parties to communicate and come to some form of closure.

Dr Clair Burley, Chartered Clinical Psychologist at The Birchwood Centre for Relationship Therapy, told The Independent: “The first key to any sensitive break up is to meet face to face. Breakups that happen over a phone call or text message never feel very respectful. 

“This has been tricky with past lockdown restrictions. However, as restrictions ease there are likely to be options for how we can meet with one other person face to face.”

Neil Wilkie, relationship expert and author of The Relationship Paradigm adds: “Find a safe space, free of interruptions where you can talk confidentially. Explain to them that you have been thinking about the relationship and have decided that it has to end.”

It’s good to try and avoid blaming them, too, Wilkie says. “Instead, express your feelings and accept your responsibility for how the relationship has become.  Be gentle but also be very clear; it is over. There may be tears and anger but hold firm to your decision.”

Don’t try and ‘fade out’ a relationship, even if it was brief

Anyone who’s been ghosted before knows how horrible it can feel, particularly if you were unaware there was an issue. For the sake of both partners, a relationship, regardless of how long or intense it was, needs a clear and definitive ending point.

Hayley Quinn, Match’s dating expert, explained to The Independent: “When there isn’t a clear end to a relationship, or any explanation for it suddenly ending, people can really struggle to make sense of what’s happened and move on. 

“Whilst it might seem like the ‘fade out’ approach to ending a relationship could be kinder (and certainly less emotionally difficult for the dumper) in reality this can lead to more confusion and hurt. Even if you don’t see the ‘relationship’ as a big deal (“it was only four dates!”) never assume this is how the other person is feeling.”

Be honest, but take care with how you put things

If you’re breaking up with someone, there’s probably a reason for it. It’s important to be honest, but be diplomatic in your choice of language and try not to assign blame as this can cause confusion.

Rachael Lloyd, eHarmony’s relationship expert, explains: “It’s ok to say, ‘I feel our connection isn’t as strong as it could be’, or ‘I’m sorry, but this isn’t working for me’ if you feel the relationship has fizzled out or you’re simply not compatible.

“But don’t heap blame on them as this disempowers your position, and may give them false hope that if they change their behaviour you’ll reconsider.”

If you still value your ex as a friend, it might be good to reassure them by telling them all the things you like about them, adds Lloyd. “It could be that they have a brilliant personality and you think the world of them, but you just don’t feel romantically inclined anymore,” she says.

Time the end of the conversation right

If the news comes as a shock to your partner, they may need time to take it in. It is respectful to allow the other space to express their feelings and to ask questions because this is part of them processing what we have said.

Burley stresses the importance of this. “Oftentimes this can feel disrespectful if done too early (when the person hasn’t had a chance to talk to us), or if done too late (we’ve been supporting them too long which is stopping them from processing the ending of the relationship),” she says.

“There is time when we can respectfully step back and allow the person’s friends and family members to support and comfort them.”

If you live together, set ground rules up front

Break ups with someone you live with are probably the riskiest of them all because it can quickly turn the safe space of your home into a hostile environment.

To navigate this tricky situation, it’s best to discuss next steps with your partner to avoid having to stay in the negative environment for too long.

Wilkie suggests moving into separate places as quickly as possible.

“If you have to stay in the same place for a while, it is really important that you set ground rules,” he says. For example, are you going to share the same bed?”

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