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How to Break Up With Someone

Let's get this out of the way first:  breaking up is a difficult, often grueling, process.  Most of us do care, at least a little bit, about the feelings of the person we're breaking up with. Even if you're dying to be rid of your formerly "special" person and you happen to be a sociopath who doesn't care at all about other people, you'll still encounter roadblocks and logjams when trying to break up with someone.

So in this article, we aim to make your break clean, preserve your sanity, and yes, treat the other person with a measure of respect, too.  Be aware that this article is about breaking up an ongoing relationship which has lasted at least a few months, possibly years.

How Not to Break Up With Someone

Because the process of breaking up is so painful, many people try to minimize their pain by taking weasel measures:

  • Breaking Up By Text, Facebook, or Email:  Not appropriate at all when breaking up with a longtime partner.  This is more for telling someone after the first date you're not interested or even breaking up with someone you met online and have been seeing for just a few weeks.
  • Being Vague:  Saying "We need space" or "I feel I need to be alone for awhile" is not clear.  If he or she is to take you literally, this means that you will separate for awhile, do your separate things, then merrily come back together.  While this is unlikely, understand that a person who has just been delivered a "Dear John" or "Dear Jane" message will grasp at any straws that give hope for the relationship continuing.
  • Being a Jerk So That the Other Person Breaks Up First:  This is a passive-aggressive move, but it's common.  The person who wants to break up will generally be mean, act like a turd, or will ignore the other person, hoping that the other person will get so fed up that he/she will do the breaking up.  Not only is this a weasel move, but it takes forever to come to completion.
  • Disappearing:  Bad and completely inadvisable.  If the other person cares about you, they will make efforts to find you, believing that you may have come to harm.  You may even face legal action if law enforcement agencies are called in on a false alarm.

Where To Break Up

In private is the best place.  This gives you space and liberty to fully talk about the breakup.  It's best to break up at the other person's place so that you have the freedom to leave when you want.

But make sure that your transportation back home is in place.  If you are dependent on that other person to drive you home, chances are good they may not do so.  And for good reason.

If you fear any physical reprisals, then break up in public.

When To Break Up

Since there is no good time to break up, eliminate the times when it is really bad to break up.  Haven't you been going with this person for awhile?  Then you should know something about their moods--good and bad.

Generally, these are bad times to break up:

  • After the other person has slept poorly.
  • When the other person is experiencing physical or emotional (i.e.,following surgery, laid up with a bad back, or the death of a relative or pet) pain.
  • On a Monday or any other impacted workday.
  • In the middle of a workday (i.e., a lunchtime).

Try for a Saturday or Sunday.  Look for times when neither of you have to rush off to another activity.  In fact, scheduling a breakup conversation an hour before the other person has to fly off on a business trip reeks of passive-aggressive behavior.  Do it when you have time to talk things through.

Best Way to Say That You Want to Break Up

The best-case scenario for breaking up sounds something like this:

Sara, as you know, I've been struggling with some issues in our relationship.  We've talked about this a lot.  I've come to the point where I don't feel we're right for each other because you are interested in staying with this cult and I need something different.  For me, it's for the best that I move back to Arizona.

The beauty of this breakup statement:

  1. It concerns problems that you have both discussed in the past.  And you reference it here.
  2. You speak in terms of "I."  After all, this is your decision to determine your journey through life.  As the old line goes, "I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul."
  3. Even though this is clearly a breakup, your refrain from using red-flag, inflammatory words like "break up," "leaving you," or "go away."

When Nothing Else Works, Try the Old "It's Not You, It's Me" Line

Yes, "it's not you, it's me" is the oldest line in the book.  There is a reason why this line, or variations thereof, have been used for ages.

Even though the other person knows that this is "just a line," it still has the effect of defusing a potentially volatile situation.

For example, restaurant hosts or hostesses often warmly welcome you:  "Welcome to The Bard!  How are you?  Can I take your coat?"  Obviously, they say this about a hundred times per night.  But, delivered with care, it still has a subconscious effect on you.  Your mind links this scripted welcome up with the countless other genuine welcomes you may have received in the past.

So, even though the recipient of a "it's not you, it's me" line knows that it isn't entirely correct, their mind is amenable to the idea that they are not wrong.  It's a human desire.

Our only caution is that you craft a line that comes from truth at least partially.  If you are going to cite, for example, your confusion about your own sexuality, then it helps that the other person is familiar with your confusion.


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Q: How Do I Break Up With Someone I Met Online?