How to End a Relationship the Right Way

Here's how you can make things go a little smoother

how to break up the right way

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When we fall in love, we often believe that the relationship will last forever. We always hope that this one is the one, that it will be different this time, that there's no way anything can ever happen to break you up.

Except, sometimes those things can happen and you do break up. If we only look at divorce rates, research shows they are between 30 percent and 50 percent (although measuring divorce rates is more complex than comparing marriages to divorces in a single year). And because they are not as closely monitored, it is much more difficult to get rates on casual and common law partnerships that break up.

Why and How Do Breakups Happen?

Most of us enter relationships with the hope that we will never have to end them. Marriage, especially, is built on the premise that it will remain "until death do us part".

Common causes for breakups include personality differences, lack of time spent together, infidelity, lack of positive interactions between the couple, low sexual satisfaction, and low overall relationship satisfaction.

Breakups follow a relatively common script that researchers have broken down into ten general steps:

  • Breakdown in communication
  • Physical avoidance
  • Further breakdown in communication
  • Assessment of the situation
  • More physical distance between the partners
  • Arguments and fighting
  • Attempt to work things out
  • Dating other people
  • Communicating feelings
  • Breakup

Although these steps do not always necessarily appear in this order and some may be skipped, this script gives a good idea of the breakup process for most non-marriage relationships. But this doesn't tell us how to break up.

Ending a relationship is one of the most difficult things we have to do. No matter where you are in the breakup process, knowing how to break up well can help make this transition smoother and less harmful for both partners.

How to Break Up the Right Way

We say "right" way, but in reality there is no right or "best" way to break up. Every relationship is different, and every person in a relationship is different. It is up to you to consider the personality, needs, and feelings of your partner as you read through this article and figure out how to end things.

Understand that there is no pain-free way to break up. We all wish that we could end relationships without hurt or pain at all. But no matter how broken the relationship is, officially ending it will cause pain on both sides. Once you acknowledge that there will be pain, you can be prepared for the aftermath.

Do it face-to-face. If you've ever been dumped by text or email, you know how it feels to be given so little consideration that the other person didn't even bother to tell you in person. Why do the same to another person? Your partner deserves the dignity of a face-to-face conversation. An intimate setting is arguably better, but if you are worried about your partner having a violent reaction, a public place is safer.

Be honest but don't give too much detail. In general, people want to know why they're being dumped. While "you're terrible in bed" or "you lack ambition" might seem like the honest answer, it doesn't really preserve your partner's self-esteem or dignity. Using a reflexive sentence like "I don't feel we're compatible sexually" or "I don't think our long-term goals align anymore" are nicer ways to express your feelings. Don't do a play-by-play of the things the other person did wrong or use clichés like "it's not you, it's me".

Do not give in to arguments or protests. If the breakup is a surprise for the other person, they might try to argue, protest, or give reasons why you should remain together and try again one more time. If you are at the point of breaking up, nothing can restore or revive the relationship now. Giving in will only delay the inevitable.

Make a Clean Break

Do not suggest you stay friends. Avoid saying "let's stay in touch". To move on from romantic relationships, you need to avoid further emotional entanglements with the ex-partner. It might possible to be friends again down the road, but this is not the right time to consider this possibility.

Express your sadness at the breakup and share some good things about your time together. Being dumped feels really bad. You can soften the blow a little by sharing some of the good times you shared together: "You taught me so much about cooking and I am a better cook now, thanks to you", or something similar. You want to make the other person feel like they had a positive impact on your life despite the relationship ending. You may also want to say something like: "I had hoped for us to grow old together and I am sad that it will not happen." It shows that you share some of your partners' hurt feelings about broken hopes.

Avoid turning the other person into "the bad guy". Nobody's perfect. You have faults too, and turning the ex-partner into an evil figure is simply dishonest (aside from obvious instances of violence, but that's not the kind of relationship we're talking about here). They may have done some bad things, like cheat, but they are human too. It's better to resolve your feelings around what they did (if they did anything wrong) rather than who they are.

Give yourself time to grieve. Even if you are the one breaking up, there will be a period of heartbreak, sadness, and pain. Realize that you will also need to adjust to your new situation. Surround yourself with people you love, do things that make you happy, and remember that crying and feeling sad is perfectly okay.

A Word From Verywell

In any breakup situation, the most important thing to remember is to be kind and compassionate. It's easy to forget how the other person might feel when we are so caught up in our own emotions, but it is essential to avoid centering the entire conversation on yourself. If you reach out with kindness and compassion, things will be much easier for everyone.

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Article Sources
  • Shamsian J. The common statistic that 'half of marriages end in divorce' is bogus. INSIDER. https://www.thisisinsider.com/what-is-the-divorce-rate-2017-2. Published February 9, 2017.

  • Miller RS. Intimate Relationships. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education; 2018.

  • Battaglia DM, Richard FD, Datteri DL, Lord CG. Breaking Up is (Relatively) Easy to Do: A Script for the Dissolution of Close Relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. 1998;15(6):829-845. doi:10.1177/0265407598156007.