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Breaking Up: How to End a Relationship Respectfully

Why Do People Break Up?

There are lots of reasons why people break up. Growing apart is one. You might find that your interests, ideas, values, and feelings aren't as well matched as you thought they were. Changing your mind or your feelings about the other person is another. Maybe you just don't enjoy being together. Maybe you argue or don't want the same thing. You might have feelings for someone else. Or maybe you decide you just don’t want a serious relationship right now.

Most people go through a break-up (or a few break-ups) in their lives. If you've ever been through it, you know it can be painful — even if it seems like it's for the best.

Why Is it Hard to Break Up?

If you're thinking of breaking up, you may have mixed feelings about it. After all, you got together for a reason. It's normal to wonder: "Will things get better?" "Should I give it another chance?" "Will I regret this?" Breaking up isn't an easy decision. You may need to take time to think about it.

Even if you feel sure it’s for the best, breaking up means having an awkward or difficult talk. One that’s likely to hurt the other person’s feelings.

Is it Better to Avoid It? Or to Get it Over With?

Some people try to avoid having a difficult talk. Others want to just get it over with. But neither of these is the best approach. Avoiding just makes the situation last (and may end up hurting the other person more). And if you rush into it without thinking it through, you may say things you regret.

Something in the middle works best. Think things through. Get clear on what you want. Then act — with courage and kindness.

What’s the Best Way to Break Up?

There's no one-size-fits-all way to break up. Every situation is different. But here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Be true to yourself. Even if the other person might be hurt by your decision, it's OK to do what's right for you.
  • Think about how the other person might react. Do you think they might cry? Lose their temper? Beg you to change your mind? How will you deal (calmly) with their reaction?
  • Be gentle and honest — but not brutal. Say why you want to break up. But "honest" doesn't mean "harsh." Don't pick apart the person’s “faults” to explain what's not working. Tell them some things you like about them. Be honest and be kind.
  • Say it in person. Breaking up through texting or social media may seem easy. But think about how you'd feel if someone did that to you.
  • Confide in someone you trust. If it helps, you can talk things through with a trusted friend. But pick a friend who can keep it private. Make sure the person you’re breaking up with hears it from you first — not from someone else.

After the Breakup

After the breakup, resist gossiping about or badmouthing your ex. You wouldn’t want them to do that to you.

Some people find a way to stay friends after they break up. But not everyone wants to. For some people, seeing their ex can feel painful — especially seeing them with someone new. It takes time to get over hurt feelings or rejection.

Breaking up is hard, and it can be painful. But when you do it in a kind and respectful way, it’s best in the long run.

Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date Reviewed: Oct 20, 2023

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