Love is a complicated thing. It can make you feel like anything is possible — the day is a little better, the sun shines a bit brighter, and everything is okay. But love can also blind you, and make it tempting to stay in relationships that might not be the best fit. The thought of hurting someone you care about can be daunting, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. Maybe you’re taking a job across country, or your partner wants kids and you don’t, or you just realized that you’re better off as friends. Whatever the reason, ending things when you still care deeply about your partner is no easy task. We asked Niloo Dardashti, a relationship coach and workplace psychologist in New York, for advice on how to break up with someone you love.
Before the Breakup
1. Make sure breaking up is what you really want.
Relationship issues sometimes look like one thing on the surface, but when you dig deeper, you’ll find there’s something bigger that needs addressing. Are you at different life stages? Or is your partner rushing you to move to the next level? Are they a workaholic? Or are you feeling insecure about your own career path? “If you notice an issue, I think first you want to ask yourself, Is that really all it is, or is there something else going on there? Are you feeling pressured? Is it a commitment issue?” Dardashti says. Take a step back and an honest look at what your doubts are actually about — you might be able to find a solution to your concerns without having to break up.
2. Have an open conversation about your priorities and deal-breakers.
As you get older, you realize that compatibility is about more than whether you get along. It means where you want to live, how much you work, if children are in the cards. Although it may seem intimidating, sitting down with your partner to discuss what you do and don’t want from life can save you from heartbreak in the future. “Do that early on in the relationship,” Dardashti says. “Not too early, but at a certain point so that it doesn’t hit you by surprise to find out ‘Oh yeah, this person doesn’t want to have kids.’ You don’t want to be blindsided.”
3. Once you’ve made the decision to break up, stick with it.
Sometimes it’s hard to turn off your emotions when your partner is sitting right in front of you. You’re about to say the words … but then you notice how cute they look, and you start thinking about all the good times you’ve had, and suddenly you begin to question why you wanted to break up with them in the first place. This is where willpower comes in. “If you’re ready to make the decision [to break up], then it’s important to be firm about it, and not do this push/pull with your partner and make them think that there’s hope when there’s not,” Dardashti says. “The most important part is the conviction of knowing that the issue is more important than your momentary feelings of affection and adoration.”
4. Accept that it’s going to be uncomfortable.
Breakups suck, and no amount of Google searching or Reddit forums will give you the magic solution to make them better. “There is no easy way to break up,” Dardashti says. “You just do it and prepare yourself for the fact that it’s going to be uncomfortable.” Just because it’s uncomfortable doesn’t mean that it’s not the right thing to do. “I think a lot of the time nowadays people don’t do things in the service of avoidance,” Dardashti says. “We’ve become so afraid of being uncomfortable that we avoid being really honest with the people around us.” Remember that the discomfort you’ll feel in the moment is ultimately better than continuing to lead your partner on.
During the Breakup
5. Break up in person.
“Do not do it over text or email,” Dardashti says. “If you have a relationship with them that has a history, you’re going to want to do it in person. It’s about giving them that respect that has been built between you — the respect that they deserve.” When the time comes, find a quiet, semiprivate place where you’ll both feel comfortable to have the talk.
6. Answer all their questions.
Chances are, if you break up with someone, they will probably have questions, and you should be prepared to answer them honestly. “If someone’s breaking up with you and they’re not giving you adequate feedback about why, that’s going to leave you feeling confused and hurt and possibly angry.” Dardashti says. Letting your partner in on your thought process can ease the tension and lead to a more amicable split.
After the Breakup
7. Respect their boundaries when it comes to communication.
The hardest part of being broken up might be the transition from being best friends and romantic partners to strangers. If you or your ex needs a break to process and heal, respect that. “If you find that staying in contact with the person makes it harder to stick to your conviction or is giving the other person false hope, then that’s a moment where you have to reassess whether it’s a good idea to stay in contact for now,” Dardashti says. If they ask for space on social media as well, respect their wishes. This doesn’t mean that a friendship won’t be possible in the future, just that they need time and space in the meantime.
8. Rely on your support system.
Once you’re single again, you’ll probably have more time than you know what to do with. That means it’s a good time to reconnect with old friends or re-familiarize yourself with an old hobby or pastime. Healthy distractions are key. “We know that having community is incredibly powerful has a positive factor in mental health and physical health. So when you’re going through stress like a breakup, it’s even more important to really allow yourself to be vulnerable and talk to someone you trust about what you’re going through,” Dardashti says. You might also consider talking to a professional. After a breakup, it can be helpful to talk to a therapist about what you’re feeling and what you want to avoid in future relationships.