How To Break Up (The Right Way)

I recently ran into an acquaintance with whom I share a mutual friend. When I asked about our friend, he shared that she’d recently broken up with her boyfriend.

By Gwen Farrell4 min read
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I was shocked to say the least, as they had been dating for over five years and planned to get married in the near future. “It’s really sad,” the acquaintance offered. “He has no idea why she ended things.”

This puzzled me almost more than the break-up. When someone dumps you, doesn’t the bare minimum require knowing why you’re being dumped? It’s also another addition in a long line of anecdotes I’ve heard of awkward, unpleasant, and just in general bad breakups. My sister’s roommate was dumped while in the car with her boyfriend on the way to their shared workplace, and a relative missed my wedding because her boyfriend broke up with her over the phone while she was on the way to the venue. 

Like the song says, breaking up is hard to do. But there is definitely a right way and a wrong way to go about it. Here’s how to break up (the right way).

Communicate Clearly

If you’re the one doing the breaking up, a game plan is essential. Don’t go in blind or try to improvise. Have a mental or even physical list of points you want to make as to why things need to end. If a break-up really is needed and what’s best for everyone, you’ve probably already thought about why exactly it isn’t working out. Women in general are typically more empathetic than men, so keep those feelings and potential reactions in mind as well.

If you’re the one being broken up with, ask that the other person explain themselves as clearly as possible, and even with emotions on deck, try to listen as best as you can. Being dumped is the worst, but it’s even more painful to not know why. If you never communicated well in the first place, a break-up is likely overdue.

Pick an Appropriate Place and Time

Environment is everything. Even if you’re eager to end things or get the discomfort over with, breaking up on a major holiday or birthday makes you the jerk, not them. Breaking up, like getting engaged, is a story that’s often told over and over again. Pick a neutral place, and avoid having friends or family nearby. If there’s a definite possibility of your soon-to-be ex taking it badly, have an escape route in mind, or even choose a public setting with plenty of people nearby if the situation calls for it.

Breaking up on a major holiday or birthday makes you the jerk – don’t do it.

Set Boundaries, Even If It Hurts

Even if you end up being friends with your ex (whether or not that’s actually possible is a different topic for a different time), you probably won’t be friends a week or even months after your relationship ends. Make sure that both of you know what’s expected. Texting and calling every day should obviously be off the table, as should going to places where you know you’ll probably see them. It’s probably painful to cut them off, but it’s for the best. A gradual distance between the two of you might feel better in the moment, but it’ll be even harder to separate yourself from them in the long run.

Don’t Get Even

It’s natural to want to hurt a person as much as they hurt you. But before your mind automatically goes to felony property crimes, take a breath (or five). Keep perspective. If you think you’ll hurt them by immediately trying to date someone else or waving a “casual” relationship in their face, you’ll not only hurt yourself more, but you’ll also become yet another victim of modern dating culture. What sounds more fulfilling, a meaningless fling which probably won’t have the effect you thought it would and will leave you feeling hollow, or recovering at home with your favorite movies, friends, and other soul-nourishing remedies?

Avoid the Rebound

They say getting under someone else is the best way to get over someone, which effectively tells you all you need to know about our generation’s messed up priorities. Even if your friends are encouraging you to hop on a dating app or trying to set you up, you’ll still feel bad after that distraction is gone, and you might even feel worse. 

Invest in Yourself

They say the best revenge is living well, and while you might not be trying to get revenge on your ex, investing in yourself is a good way to put distance between yourself and the relationship. View the break-up as an opportunity. Go to the gym and stick to a workout routine, or make a list of places you want to see. Go out with friends when you’d normally be spending time with your ex, and try out different hobbies to keep yourself busy. Being productive and busy will keep bad thoughts and emotions at bay, and you might even find a new restaurant, vacation spot, or craft to do in your spare time that you genuinely enjoy. 

Unfollow Them

If you believe yourself strong enough to still keep seeing your ex and all their activities on social media immediately post-break up, you’re probably lying to yourself. There’s absolutely no shame in blocking or unfollowing them, and even their friends too. Even if your mind is going to different, upsetting places about where they are or what they could be doing, you don’t need to know. A clean break is a good one, and that means not keeping them around on social media “just in case.”

A clean break is a good one, and that means not keeping them around on social media “just in case.”

Be Honest

Whoever ended things – whether it was him or you – it’s extremely tempting to come out on the other side of the breakup seeing yourself as the blameless one. Unless your soon-to-be ex was abusive, this probably wasn’t the case. This realization hits all of us sooner or later, and it means having to put on your big girl pants and look at yourself in the mirror. While the other person was at fault, you probably were too. This isn’t a bad outlook, but a realistic one, and honesty and self-awareness, while painful, can only help you at such a vulnerable time.

Ask for Help

While the first few weeks post-breakup might mean wallowing in your bed, you can’t do that forever. In fact, you’ll probably feel better if you get up, change your clothes, take a shower, go outside for a walk, or do something fun. This might also mean asking others for help, even if you feel the need to be isolated. Whether it’s parents, friends, or roommates, enlist them in getting you out of the house and out into the world.

Don’t Romanticize or Demonize the Relationship

Looking at a relationship from the rear-view mirror is a weird thing. Without the comfort and familiarity of the other person there to guide you, it might feel like you lost the best thing you ever had. But nostalgia is a powerful feeling and it can easily cloud your judgment when you’re emotional and feeling powerless. Romanticizing the relationship, especially when it probably needed to end, is something you should try to avoid. In the same way, on the opposite end of the spectrum, seeing all of the relationship as bad is a temptation as well. Don’t mislead yourself into believing your ex or the relationship as a whole is all bad or all good. This can lead you to making poor decisions like contacting them needlessly or motivating you to compare all other future mates to them. Avoid extremes – the relationship wasn’t all bad, but it wasn’t all good either.

Closing Thoughts

Break-ups are awful, there’s no way around it. And while it doesn't feel like it in the moment, you’ll heal and be okay eventually. Doing what isn’t good for us can feel like the obvious decision after ending a relationship. But ending the relationship well sets us up for a better emotional, physical, and mental recovery. 

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