Some advice on how to break up with someone and on how to deal with the aftermath.
Relationships end, either through one person dying or a break up. Breaks ups can be sudden events, or people may just realise that over time the relationship has fizzled out. They can be really difficult and emotional. People can feel angry, sad, down, frustrated. Even if you’re the person doing the breaking up there can be a real sense that you have lost something.
Do you want to break up?
You could try and make the relationship work. You could struggle on and hope things get better (sometimes people have a bad patch in a relationship).
Sometimes unhappy relationships can be rescued, particularly if they haven’t been communicating very well with each other.
A bit of honest talking (which isn’t easy to do) and some proper listening (which is even harder) can really help people in a struggling relationship. Finding out what is actually going on in someone’s head rather than assuming can make you feel connected again.
If this is something you are thinking about maybe check out my relationships graph. This hopefully will assist you in thinking about what is important to you in a relationship, what you have, what you don’t have and what you can work on.
How *not* to break up
There’s not usually a great way of doing it, but there are bad ways …
It’s never nice hearing that your partner wants to end the relationship (no matter whether you’ve been going out for 2 days, 2 weeks or 2 years), but there are bad ways to do it.
- In public or in front of your friends. Facebook walls and Twitter feeds are also in public.
- Saying something that is unkind or deliberately hurtful (even if it might be true). Eg “you were crap at sex”, “your breath is terrible”, “I always thought you were ugly but I took pity on you.”
- Telling them 3rd hand, through a friend or just letting them find out.
- Just letting it fizzle out or not returning phone calls, emails, WhatsApps or texts without explanation.
If your partner has been a complete and total shit, or your relationship has put you in danger, or you have been really badly treated, then put yourself first. It’s okay to block them on facebook, not return their calls or texts and to cut them out of your life altogether.
Read more about signs of an abusive relationship
Better ways to break up
First, think hard about what you are feeling in the relationship and get it really clear in your mind. Do it privately. It could be in a letter or private message or email or text or whichever method of communication works best for you.
Ideally this is something that you might already have talked about. Think about how you have talked about big things in your relationship before, what’s worked well in the past?
If you choose to do it in person or on the phone then make sure that you are in private and that you have a good signal on the phone, lots of battery and lots of credit/minutes.
Choosing the right time
Choose the right time, but do it soon. Don’t let it linger but don’t do it on the same day as they get bad news. Or if there is so much stuff going on in their lives that they won’t be able to hear what you are saying properly. Daytime is good, then they can get their mates to help them. In the middle of the night is bad because their peoples will be asleep.
Speak for yourself and don’t blame. “I’m sorry but this isn’t what I want.” “I feel unhappy in the relationship”, “I don’t feel any trust any more”, “I don’t feel like I’m part of a team”. People can’t argue with what you are truly feeling.
They deserve an explanation, not an essay. Say what you have to say as clear and as concisely as you can.
Be nice but be honest and clear. Don’t say you still love them if you don’t. Don’t say you want to be friends unless you really, really do.
Make sure that they have heard and understood what you have said. Listen to what they have to say back, but remember that they might say things they don’t mean if they get angry. Remember that you are probably having really strong complex feelings, they probably will too, so take a bit of a deep breath before you say anything.
Depending on how long you’ve been together this could happen in one conversation or it might take a lot of talking.
Once you’ve done it you might feel terrible but, all you have to worry about is how you get over it. How the other person gets over it is up to them but it isn’t your responsibility – especially if the other person was controlling or abusive.
Some people are able to be friends straight away after a break up, others might not. If you do have a friendship after a relationship I think it’s important to recognise that it’s a different kind of relationship. Being friends afterwards probably won’t make the sad, painful feelings go away. It’s okay not to remain in touch with exes – which might be sad.
You’re allowed to have sad feelings. After a relationship you might have these a lot, don’t try and fight them. They will go away just as they come in – like clouds. Or farts.
Your relationship with yourself
It’s hard to change FEELINGS, but you can change what you THINK and DO. If you’re feeling really low, try to keep doing the basics – getting the right amount of sleep for you, eating, drinking (maybe think about whether booze makes you happy), some gentle exercise, tidying up.
How to do self care
When you’re feeling a bit better. Try to go out, see your friends. Do stuff, stay active. Try getting creative. Learn something new. Feel yourself stretching and growing. Happier feelings will come back, welcome those when they come but remember that it’s still ok to feel sad now and again. You may feel a sense of loss for a long time but this will get smaller and smaller as the rest of your life gets bigger and bigger.
How to love yourself
Try not to compare yourself with other people – especially your ex. You might feel other people are doing better than you but you’re only comparing their outsides with your insides – which is not a fair comparison.
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© Justin Hancock, 2023
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Justin Hancock has been a trained sex and relationships educator since 1999. In that time he’s taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. He’s a member of the World Association for Sexual Health.