How To Break Up With Someone Without Scarring Them For Life

If you’re reading this, then you’ve already made the decision, even if you haven’t quite admitted it to yourself yet.

It’s over. Whether you’ve been with someone for a few months or years have gone by, breaking up with them is never going to be easy.

You know it’s the right thing, and that you’ll both be better off in the end, but the thought of actually breaking up with them isn’t a pleasant one.

It is practically inevitable that you will hurt your partner by ending the relationship, but how and when you break up with them will influence how upsetting it is for the both of you.

Here are a few things to think about before you break up with someone, to try to minimize the heartache you’ll cause.

1. Do It In Person, If At All Possible

You can normally get away with ending things virtually if you’ve only been on a handful of dates or haven’t been seeing each other long.

Just be sure to actually tell them, for the love of god. If you think ghosting is socially acceptable you can stop reading now. There’s no hope for you.

If you’ve started meeting each other’s friends, staying over at each other’s place, or just feel like things have gone beyond the initial stage of a relationship, then you owe them a face-to-face break up.

If it’s a long-standing thing, it definitely needs to be in person. My friend’s boyfriend of two years broke up with her brutally in a quick 10-minute phone call from the office. She’s scarred for life. Don’t be that guy, or that girl.

Breaking up with someone doesn’t allow you to treat them with any less respect. A face-to-face explanation of why you are ending things will help both parties to accept the finality of the situation.

Organize to see them and bring it up quickly, as small talk isn’t going to be comfortable in this situation.

On the other hand, doing it in person isn’t always physically possible. If you’re in a long distance relationship, there’s no need to wait to break up with them in person if you won’t see them for months. If you know it’s over, it’s better to do it virtually so that you can both stop wasting your time.

2. Pick The Right Place

Preferably, do it somewhere private like their place (not yours, unless you live together – let them be on home ground!), so they don’t have to face the journey home with a tear-stained face.

At least pick somewhere that’s not particularly busy, so if they get upset then they’re not crying in front of crowds of people. A park is always good if the weather’s okay.

Please don’t pick somewhere seemingly romantic, and don’t do it over dinner in a crowded restaurant.

3. Do It ASAP

The last thing you want to do is hurt them, so you probably keep putting it off, but they probably already know something’s wrong.

They can tell that things have changed. Very few breakups come as a complete surprise to the person being broken up with, even if they deny it.

The sooner you do it, the sooner you can both move on with your lives and be happy again.

That’s not to say that you should abandon a relationship as soon as you hit some rocky ground – relationships are hard and take work – but if you can’t see a potentially happy ending to things, there is little reason to delay the inevitable.

4. Try To Avoid Special Occasions

If you can, try to avoid any significant dates that are meant to be happy occasions, like their birthday or New Year’s Eve.

Try to avoid any sad days too, like the anniversary of the death of a loved one. Just use your brain and think about how you’d feel in their shoes.

On the other hand, please don’t wait and do it the day AFTER their birthday. It’s not doing them a favor. You’ve given them some lovely memories on their big day, but immediately made those memories turn incredibly bitter, as they’ll know you were planning it all along.

5. Tell Them The Truth

I know you might think that it’s kinder to tell them you’ve just fallen out of love with them than that you’ve fallen in love with someone else, but it’s not.

They’ll find out the truth, and even if they don’t, they’ll still feel like something wasn’t right and you weren’t telling them the whole story.

Honesty is 100% the best policy, whatever your reason for breaking up with them.

Answer their questions honestly, without giving them any unnecessary details that will just make things worse.

This comes back to the idea of a breakup based on respect for your partner. Lying or not providing any explanation at all is no way to show respect for someone you cared about.

But you can still explain your reasons tactfully and this is best done by talking about how you are feeling and not resorting to reading out a list of their faults.

Sure, their behavior may be one of the main reasons for your decision, but now is not the time to point the finger of blame.

And framing the breakup as being based on you and your feelings gives them less opportunity to say they’ll change.

6. Be Positive About Your Time Together

Whilst always sticking to the truth, try to express to your partner that you will look back fondly on the time you have spent together.

It will be easier on them if they don’t feel like you regret the whole relationship.

Tell them that you wish them well and that you hope they find someone with whom they can be truly happy.

These simple words can help your partner to see a positive outcome to the breakup and see the relationship as a worthwhile part of their journey.

7. Don’t Ask For A Break

How many couples do you know that have gone on a ‘break’ when things get tough and then got back together, and stayed that way? I thought so.

A break is often just used as an interim measure by people who want to break up with their partner when they don’t have the guts to do it straight away.

Although it might not seem so on the surface, this is a pretty selfish move. If you know deep down it’s really over, it’s time to finish it. Don’t drag it out. 

8. And Don’t Ask For ‘Time’ Either

Another technique used by those who don’t have the nerve to just do it. Telling your partner you’re unsure about the relationship and then asking them for time to think things over is not cool.

They’re likely to spend that time obsessing over it and generally feeling miserable, when they could be starting the process of moving on.

9. Make It Clear It’s Over

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that leaving them with a shred of hope is kinder than completely pulling the band-aid off. It’s not. If they know it’s over, they can start getting over it.

If you leave them under the impression that there’s a chance of you two getting back together, then they might be determined to win you back.

10. But, Of Course, Be Gentle!

Whilst ripping the band-aid off sounds a bit brutal, it needn’t be! You do need to be firm and clear, but you should also be kind and gentle.

Don’t let yourself get worked up, and try not to cry if you can help it. On the other hand, don’t act like you’re made of stone, as you don’t want them to think you never cared.

It’s a balancing act, but it’s best to keep reminding yourself of how you’d feel if you were in their shoes and use that as the guide for your behavior.

Whatever you do, don’t tell them you think they’re overreacting.

11. Let Them Dictate How Things Go Forward

You might have the awkward return of each other’s stuff to deal with, or you might even be living together. Whatever needs to happen, it’s best to let them be the one to call the shots (although you shouldn’t be a doormat).

I always find that no contact is the best way to go when you first break up, to give both parties a chance to process things and start recovering.

If they want to keep in contact and you don’t think it’s healthy, let them know as tactfully as possible.

You can hopefully be friends down the line, but no one can seamlessly turn a romantic relationship into a friendship.

If you start seeing someone new (or you already were), be sure not to flaunt it. Keep it off social media for a while out of respect.

Horrible as the process might seem, try to keep it in perspective. You’ll be fine, and they’ll be fine. It’s for the best. You’ve got this.

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Breakup FAQs

Besides the act of breaking up itself, there are some other things to consider.

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions that might help you get through this experience as smoothly as possible.

What if I live with my partner?

A healthy breakup is difficult when you’re under each others feet all the time, so if you know you’re going to end the relationship, try to arrange some temporary accommodation elsewhere.

Ask to stay on a friend’s couch, move back in with your parents, or see if there is an affordable hotel or B&B nearby that you can make do in for a short while.

In the longer term, one or both of you will need to find somewhere else to live and this process should start immediately.

The longer you live with your now ex-partner, the harder it will be for you both to move on.

And, sadly, there might be some ill feeling between you which can erupt into arguments if it’s allowed to fester for too long.

What if I still love them?

You might see that the relationship isn’t healthy or simply isn’t meant to be, but this doesn’t mean you don’t care about your partner.

You may even love them quite a lot, but love is not always enough to keep two people together.

Love is a reason to give a relationship every chance of succeeding, but it is not a reason to persist with something that isn’t in either of your best interests in the long term.

When deciding whether or not to break up with someone, try to separate your feelings from the more practical and realistic points.

Don’t allow feelings – even love – to keep you in a relationship that is doomed to fail eventually.

What if they aren’t expecting it?

While most people will sense that something isn’t quite right in a relationship, it’s not always the case.

This is especially true if you have never spoken to your partner about how you are feeling.

If someone isn’t expecting to be broken up with, the news will hit doubly hard. But the advice doesn’t really change too much…

…don’t delay it, be honest, be clear, and be firm.

What if they don’t want to / won’t let me break up?

When being broken up with, some people will try really hard to prevent it from happening.

They might insist that you give things “one more chance,” even though you’ve already given the relationship every opportunity to succeed.

Don’t give in to any demands and stand firm in your decision even if they are trying to guilt trip you, use emotional blackmail, or simply because they seem so devastated by events.

Don’t feel like you have to justify to them why you are ending the relationship.

Offer a clear explanation to begin with, but don’t then feel the need to provide further details.

If you have made your decision and it is something you have carefully thought through, you must stand firm and keep repeating that it is over and there is nothing they can say or do that will change your mind.

Be prepared to end the conversation and walk away if necessary.

And if they persist with trying to win you back, just refuse to engage with them when they bring that topic up.

Sure, you may have to still talk to this person for various reasons, but you don’t have to talk to them about your relationship.   

I feel really bad, what should I do?

There’s no denying that breaking up with someone – especially if you love them – is a hard thing to do.

You are bound to experience some pretty unpleasant feelings such as guilt, remorse, sadness, and even an emptiness of not knowing what comes next.

There is no magic pill to help you get rid of these feelings, but it is worth remembering why you are taking this action in the first place.

Have your reasons clear in your mind and use these to help remind you that you are doing the right thing.

And don’t allow your partner’s sadness, anger, or disappointment to weigh on your shoulders too.

You may have been the one to initiate the breakup, but a relationship is about two people and their feelings are not yours to own or deal with.

What if I have second thoughts?

If you break up with your partner and then experience second thoughts, don’t worry, this is quite common.

If you have been together for any great length of time, you’ll have no doubt become integral parts of each other’s lives.

Having to face the decoupling of those lives and the stark uncertainty of the future can be a huge practical and emotional upheaval.

It’s understandable to wish that everything could go back to how it was.

Only, how it was wasn’t working for you and you have to keep reminding yourself of this until you have adjusted to your new reality.

What if they have depression or other mental health issues?

Ending a relationship with someone who suffers from depression or some other mental health issue may feel doubly difficult.

You may feel responsible for their emotional well-being and stability, but the truth is that as much as you may help them cope with their condition, it is still their condition.

If the relationship is not healthy for you or them or both, ending it is still the right decision.

The advice above still holds true, and it isn’t easy to be any gentler than you might be with someone who doesn’t have mental health issues.

The only thing you might wish to do differently, particularly if you have been with this person for a long time and know their friends and family, is to let them know after you have broken up with your partner.

It may feel like you are going behind your partner’s back, but if you believe they will need support and could pose any risk to themselves, it is a kind and sensible thing to do.

I’m scared of breaking up with my partner, what should I do?

If this relationship has been a big part of your life for a significant period of time, ending it can be a source of fear.

This fear can come about because of the inevitable pain that you and they will experience, the unknown future that lay ahead, and the prospect of actually saying those words.

Fear is natural, but it can also be overcome. You must just keep your mind focused on the reasons why you wish to break up with your partner.

These reasons will help you push through the fear and reach the point where you actually take the action and split with them.

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About Author

Katie splits her time between writing and translation. She writes about travel and self-care and never stays in one place for too long. She’s currently based in beautiful Cornwall, England, after long stints in Brazil and Mexico. She spends her free time trail running, exploring and devouring vegan food.