Have you ever had a friend tell you that it’s too hard for them to break up with a long-time partner? The truth is that when it comes to ending a long-term relationship, sometimes it’s difficult to know how to handle it. (This is especially the case when you’ve been together for a long time and you don’t want to hurt the other person.) Studies have even shown that couples that live together and break up often face similar difficulties as those going through a divorce—it’s not easy. We’re not going to downplay how hard it can be to part ways, but there’s no good reason to just stay in a relationship that isn't working.
In the long run, it’s detrimental to your quest to find a partner you’re compatible with (if that’s your ultimate goal).
Below, find seven pieces of advice for how to end a long-term relationship. We’ve done all the work for you.
You’ve come this far, so have an idea of what you want to say so you don’t forget anything. It’s important to choose a time and place that’s conducive to an honest, serious conversation (for example, tacking this talk onto a brunch date is not a good idea). By the way, we shouldn’t have to say this, but no matter how nervous you are, it’s never acceptable to break up with a long-term partner through phone, text, email, or Gchat conversation.
You don’t want to hurt your partner, but you need to be genuine about why you want to break up. There is no such thing as closure, but you will be helping the other person understand by giving some sort of context as to why the relationship is no longer working for you. At the very least, realize this is what you would want from your S.O. if the tables were turned.
Exchange Your Things
A friend of mine and her boyfriend recently broke up, and even though they didn’t live together, she had amassed quite a few belongings at his place. After over a month, she still hadn’t grabbed her things, which was causing her quite some anxiety (when they finally did meet, it brought up the hard feelings all over again). When it comes to returning each others’ things, consider the “ripping off the Band-Aid effect”—as in, do it quickly so the pain will subside faster. You can also choose a method that works for you, including leaving them with a mutual friend, your doorman, or even mailing them back to avoid an awkward in-person meeting.
Break the News
Give yourself as much time as you need, but the sooner you confide in close friends and family, the faster it will feel like reality (plus, you’ll also have someone to talk to about the situation). This doesn’t mean you should bash your ex, though—especially not with mutual friends. A word to the wise: It’s also smart to come up with something to say to acquaintances who ask about your ex so you don’t get flustered. Something like “We’re not together anymore—unfortunately, it didn’t work out” should do the trick.
Devise a Plan for Coping
Write a letter to your ex, and burn it. Talk to your best friend for hours. Or consult a therapist if you truly want some unbiased advice. Whatever route—or routes—you choose to go down, it’s important to cope with the situation instead of avoiding it. Some people choose to keep themselves so busy that they don’t actually spend time acknowledging the loss. Trust us—take the time to grieve before you end up freaking out over a spilled cup of coffee three months later.
Some of us can’t understand the concept of “staying friends,” while others tend to keep in touch with their exes. Regardless of whether you will keep contact in the long run, now’s not the time to stay connected. “Even if your breakup was not an emotional high-wire act, as so many are, there needs to be time apart to break the bond ‘the couple,’” says Susan J. Elliott, author of Getting Past Your Breakup. “This is part of the grieving process. When the ex is still there, it stalls the process and confuses the mind.”
Be Kind to Yourself
Even if it was your idea to break up, that doesn’t mean this isn’t an emotionally taxing situation for you, too. You need to take the blame off of yourself—you’re not a bad person for what you did (wanting to be happy is never a crime). Keep your best interests at hand, whether that means you need some alone time, a trip away with friends, or even a mental health day with your sweet pals, Ben & Jerry.
Up next: tips for dating in your 30s (and enjoying it).