How to Break Up With Someone (Without Totally, Completely Crushing Them)

It's time to finally have THAT conversation.
How to Breakup With Someone
Photo: Getty Images | MementoJpeg
Dina Cheney - The Knot Contributor.
Dina Cheney
Dina Cheney - The Knot Contributor.
Dina Cheney
The Knot Contributor
  • Dina writes for The Knot Worldwide, specializing in food, travel and relationships.
  • With more than 20 years of experience in service journalism, she also pens articles and recipes for publications, such as Good Housekeeping, Parents, SELF, Health, Men’s Health, Men’s Journal, Prevention, Fine Cooking, Weight Watchers and Diabetic Living.
  • Dina graduated from Columbia College, Columbia University and The Institute of Cul...
Updated Oct 05, 2023

You know it's over with your partner—but you just don't want to have The Conversation (you know the one). To take away some of the sting, stress and confusion, approach your breakup with compassion. For guidance on how to break up with someone in an empathetic way, get out of the group chat and go to the experts. (Sorry, but the group chat girlies can treat you to post-breakup drinks instead.)

We turned to Robert Solley, Ph.D., a San Francisco-based licensed clinical psychologist specializing in couples and individual adult therapy, and James Giles, Ph.D., a relationship expert, adjunct professor of psychology at Roskilde University, and the author of Sexual Attraction: The Psychology of Allure, for their expert advice on how to break up with someone.

With their tips, you'll learn how to break up with someone without hurting them—well, as little as possible anyway.

In this article:

How to Know When It's Time to End a Relationship

One of the surefire signs it's time to break up with someone is an abusive partner. For other scenarios though, ask yourself whether you've lost hope in your relationship improving, counsels Dr. Solley. If you feel the negative aspects significantly outweigh the positives, it's probably time to move on.

For additional insight into when it's time to end a relationship, you can learn the common signs here. If your relationship exhibits any of these symptoms, it may be time to start thinking about how to break up.

How to Break Up With Someone

There's no way to sugarcoat it: This conversation will likely be painful, awkward and uncomfortable. Ending a relationship is never pleasant—and trying to figure out how to break up with someone you love is just plain awful. But hopefully, these strategies from Dr. Giles and Dr. Solley will help ease the process.

1. Lay the groundwork earlier

Once you start questioning your relationship, begin working on your relationship issues with your partner. Letting them know you're having doubts or issues can only help, coaches Dr. Giles. If you drop the news suddenly, they'll probably experience more shock and pain—and you both lose out on the chance to potentially save your relationship if that's something you both desire.

2. See their side

Remember what it felt like when you were last rejected and think about how much you needed compassion, says Dr. Giles. "This form of devastation can be unbearable for some people. Being fully aware of this should help you treat your partner in a compassionate way."

3. Consider their wellbeing

At one time, your partner's feelings were immensely important to you, reminds Dr. Giles. "You might have gone to extraordinary lengths to help relieve their pain. You may no longer want them, but at one time you did." Perceiving their well-being as still holding value for you could help guide your approach.

4.Tell them in person

Break up face-to-face if possible, urges Dr. Solley. If not, have the conversation by video chat or phone call. Sure, it might be more uncomfortable. But facing this awkwardness head-on will help you build your tolerance for discomfort and increase your communication skills.

5. Deliver the message with kindness

Begin by telling them how much your relationship has meant to you, counsels Dr. Solley. Then, explain you've been doing a lot of reflection and soul-searching and have come to the difficult decision to go your separate ways.

Express that you care for them deeply, but don't think the two of you are still bringing out the best in each other. Here, you can mention their admirable qualities, plus own your role in any challenges. Next, say they deserve someone who can love them wholeheartedly.

6. Speak plainly

Being clear you're ending the relationship is vital, says Dr. Giles. To help avoid confusion, you can share the reasons behind your decision. "Being unclear will only harm the other person, putting them in an unpleasant state of continuous uncertainty." Although definitiveness may initially cause your partner intense grief, it will help prevent them from harboring false hopes and allow them to move on more quickly.

One caveat? If you see future potential, consider agreeing to no contact for a set period of time, such as six months, suggests Dr. Solley. During this time, work on your own issues, perhaps with a therapist. Then, after that pause, you and your ex can decide whether to try again.

7. Listen to them

After expressing your thoughts, pause and let your partner respond, says Dr. Solley. If they're upset, allow them the space to voice their emotions. Then, reflect them back. For instance, you might say, "I know this is really hard…"

8. Don't budge—but wish them well

"Once you've decided to break up, it's best to commit to it and follow through," Dr. Solley encourages. "Don't vacillate or allow yourself to be maneuvered out of sadness or anxiety back onto murky ground." Then, end the conversation by expressing that you want the best for them.

How Not to Break Up With Someone

Try to avoid these common pitfalls when ending your relationship, coach Dr. Giles and Dr. Solley.

Place blame or gossip

Don't blame your partner to their face, urges Dr. Giles. Instead, try to acknowledge your own shortcomings. For instance, if your ex complained that you were messy, you could admit you're not very organized, which must have been hard for them. Also try to view their troublesome traits as limitations, rather than defects or pathologies, Dr. Solley adds.

Similarly, when sharing your news with others, avoid badmouthing your ex. "It's a small world, and those thoughts might get back to them," reminds Dr. Giles.

Rewrite history

To help justify your decision, you might be tempted to see your relationship through a distorted lens. For instance, you might suddenly view positive events in a negative light. If you share these perceptions with your partner, you could cause them more suffering, diminishing the love you once shared.

Be indecisive

"Fostering false hopes only prolongs suffering," says Dr. Giles. This especially hangs true if you're sorting out how to break up with someone that loves you. "If there's no possibility of reconciliation, then let the other person clearly know this."

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