Getting dumped is never fun, but people often tend to forget that initiating the breakup can also be pretty awful — yes, you’re in control, but that doesn’t leave you immune to guilt, angst, grief, or some deeply unpleasant combo of all the above. After all, you truly cared about this person at one point. Maybe you even loved them. Maybe you still do. And even worse than seeing someone important to you get hurt is actually being the one to cause that hurt.
To help you through it, the Cut asked therapist Samantha Burns, a licensed mental-health counselor, relationship coach, and author of Breaking Up & Bouncing Back, how to pull off the ideal breakup. Here’s her advice for how to break up with someone as smoothly as possible during every stage, from the moment you decide to end things to the mourning phase that follows the split.
Before the breakup
Give yourself and your partner a chance to fix things. “A breakup should never come out of the blue. Before making a final decision to end the relationship, you should share your concerns or dissatisfactions, and try to work through them as a team. Though the decision to call it quits may not be mutual, it’s your job to communicate and let your partner know how you’re feeling, even if you think this may hurt or disappoint them. I think it’s important to include your partner as much as possible in discussions around your feelings so that a breakup doesn’t take them by surprise, which can be quite traumatic and confusing.”
Pick a location. “If you feel safe with your partner, do it in private where you can take time to talk through it and answer their questions. If you don’t live together, break the news at their place so that you can leave when you’re ready. If your partner is emotionally or physically abusive, consider doing it in public, with a friend nearby, or even over the phone or in a letter depending on your specific situation, prioritizing your safety.”
Work out the logistics. “Many long-term committed couples co-habitate and share finances. If you live together, you should have a plan of where you’ll stay, whether it’s temporarily under the same roof in different rooms, or at a friend or family’s place, and how you’d like to divide your belongings.”
Brace yourself for feelings on both sides. “Be prepared that your partner may be very hurt and in shock, and need time and space to process the news and how they’d like to manage communication. You’ll likely get emotional too. Your partner was your emotional home, the person you depended on, and with whom you shared your life. You likely didn’t make the decision to breakup lightly; so don’t doubt your decision just because you miss them or feel lonely at first.”
Give your friends a head’s up. “Let a couple close friends know in advance so that they can be there to support you in the transition. Share it with a couple people whose advice or support you value, especially if talking it through with them gives you clarity. Your support system is the people who will give you love and belonging when you feel lost and alone.”
During the breakup
Start by being straightforward. “It depends on why you’re ending the relationship, but if you genuinely care about and respect this person, be empathetic and rip off the Band-Aid with a straightforward statement such as, ‘There’s no easy way to do this, and it hurts me to know I’m hurting you, but I need to end this relationship.”
Explain your thinking. “The best breakup conversations convey clear reasons why the relationship isn’t working, since the hurt partner may waste a lot of time afterward searching for evidence about what went wrong. Rather than point fingers, try to share from your perspective about how you’re feeling, whether it’s unappreciated, unloved, disconnected, that you have different core values, or want different things out of life.”
Stick to your decision, regardless of how your now-ex responds.
If they beg you to change your mind: “Someone shouldn’t have to beg or convince you to love them or be with them. A breakup can be confusing when there’s not necessarily something wrong that you can put your finger on, or if it’s just a feeling. Trust yourself that in the right relationship, your head and heart will agree and you won’t have to choose between them.”
If they get angry: “Remember that only you can control your behaviors and emotional responses. Commit to staying calm and realize that anger is a secondary emotion, usually masking hurt, pain, and rejection. After you say what you need to say, if they lash out, remove yourself from the situation, with the option to have a final closure conversation when they’ve cooled off.”
If they get sad: “You can make an empathetic comment, such as, ‘I know this is really hard on you and that it’s not what you want to hear. I’m so sorry to hurt you,’ but don’t leave the breakup up for debate. Being wishy-washy may give your partner false hope that they can convince you to stay.”
If they promise to change: “This is a common reaction to a breakup: Your partner will make promises, whether it’s to change, go to therapy, or do whatever you want to make it work. However, these types of changes should have already been discussed before you actually made the decision to break up.”
After the breakup
Tell your friends and family ASAP. “I highly recommend sharing the news relatively quickly with your inner circle. A common symptom of a breakup is feelings of loneliness and isolation, so quality time and phone calls with your breakup buds will help you feel connected.”
Prioritize your physical and emotional health. “The most important coping skills involve managing your physiological needs for proper sleep, diet, and exercise, as well as quality time with supportive friends. You may also want some time to yourself to cry it out. Just don’t self-medicate with drugs, alcohol, rebound sex, stalking your ex on social media, or frequently contacting them.”
Make a game plan for social media. “If it’s an amicable breakup, you may want to agree on a day to change your relationship status, so it gives you both time to share the news with friends and family before they see it publicly. After this, you may want to block/remove/unfriend for now, since no one successfully goes from lovers to friends overnight, and remind yourself you can always add them back when and if you’re ready for a platonic friendship. Consider deleting images and saving them to a flash drive that you can put out of sight and out of mind.”
If you’re having second thoughts, give yourself time to know for sure. “Regretting the breakup is different than missing your ex. It’s normal to miss someone who was a huge part of your life. But regret suggests you realized you made a big mistake, or the circumstances around the breakup have changed — maybe you’d no longer have to do long-distance, or one person is better able to prioritize the relationship. If you regret the decision, it may be worth it to have a conversation with your ex, but I’d wait at least three months post-breakup to make sure these feelings don’t pass. And be prepared to discuss what would be different.”