How to break up with someone

It’s the hardest part of any relationship: the end. It takes a lot to decide that a relationship is over, and if both of you haven’t come to the same conclusion at the same time then it’s going to be tough.

Having “The Talk” isn’t something that is entered into lightly, at least not if you actually care for the other person. However, not having it and not handling it well will only ever lead to more pain and heartache for both of you, so it’s often better to rip the band-aid off quickly.

Like anything, this discussion will go best if you actually prepare for it and have a plan, so here are some things to think through and do before, during and after.


In the days or weeks running up to The Talk take some time to really think about why you want to break up. Most breakups cause pain and distress, with few ending in platonic friendships and no complications. It’s not a decision to be rushed or made on a whim.

Think through why you don’t feel the relationship can or should continue and weigh up all of the pros and cons.

Is it final?

Know whether it’s a done decision from your perspective or whether there are things that might change your mind. If you want to break up because they seem to have no time for you, how would you react if they changed their commitments and plans to make you more of the centrepoint in their life? If you were arguing over their friendship with another person, what if they chose you over them?

If there are things that might save the relationship then know what they are and the minimum you expect. But if there is nothing that they can do at all, know this inside yourself and be clear and strong about it. It will make all future discussions with them easier, albeit still not easy.

No surprises

Don’t sideswipe them. Going out on a romantic date night they’ve arranged and telling them things are over is never going to go well. If they are shocked and surprised then they will not respond calmly, rationally or without panic, and may well lash out in defensive reflex.

You do not need to prepare an agenda or write a position statement for them to review in advance of telling them, but if you can prepare them in some way things will go more smoothly. Even if it’s just telling them that you need to talk, or sharing some concerns with them in the run-up, don’t let it come out of the blue.

Location, location, location

Do it in the right place. Some people swear by doing it in public to minimise the scene that might be created, though a drink thrown in the face is always going to draw attention. Other people think a private conversation between the two of you would be better.

You know each other better than most, so choose the place that is right for you. However, as an extra tip, that place is rarely (if ever) over text message or email.

Don’t be mean

You’re breaking up, which is going to cause them enough hurt as it is. The fact you want to minimise their hurt says that you care about them, and that they’ve probably not done something horrible themselves (such as cheating or abuse) to deserve an instadump. So be wary of piling on the misery by going into too much detail about their flaws.

There will probably not be one single reason why it’s over, there are probably little things they do which you’d have preferred them to change, but unless they ask for warts-and-all feedback (and perhaps even then) there is no need to go into all the gory detail. It won’t help them much, won’t change things for the two of you and will not change the outcome.

Be clear

It’s not about preparing bullet-points and a presentation, but make sure you are clear with what you are saying. Don’t leave room for ambiguity. Be clear about what the issues are and that this means that things are over. If you leave any wriggle room or space for doubt then you leave room for debate, arguments or – worse – hope.

Timing is everything

Don’t do it after sex. Don’t do it on their birthday. Don’t do it when they are getting ready for a big work presentation. You don’t want other things on their mind to distract them or conflate their hurt or anxiety. Choose a time when you can talk for a while and when the potential for knock-on problems is minimised.

However, don’t wait too long. There will never, ever be a perfect time to break up, and the longer you wait for one the worse the conversation will be.

Prepare for their reactions

There are a number of ways they may react. They may be angry and shout at you, they may break down in tears, they may shrug with nonchalance, they may smile in relief and they may act in a way you never expected. Think through what might happen and be prepared for their reactions as best you can.

It isn’t uncommon for them to lash out and say mean things about you in defence. It doesn’t matter whether or not these things are true, only that them saying them will make them feel a little more in control of the situation. Try to hold back from telling them they’re wrong (if they are) as it won’t change anything. Remember why you are breaking up and that it’s going to be painful for both of you; at least you were in control of the decision.

Think logistics

Depending on how long you have been together and how tightly your lives have been intertwined, there may well be practicalities to explore. At the most serious end will be discussions around children, houses, cars, debts and more, while even the more casual issues might involve hoodies which have been borrowed or splitting pubs, friends and favourite restaurants between you.

Think some of these things through, but know that the break-up conversation is probably not the best time to discuss them in any detail. Knowing some of the answers, though, will help you feel in control of your fate, and control is what you’re looking for.

Talk to your friends

Friends are the family you choose, and at times like these is when they are most important. Talk to your inner circle the moment you accept things might be going south, throughout your thinking period and as soon as you’ve made your decision. Talk to them before The Talk, and talk to them afterwards.

They will offer support and guidance, a shoulder to cry on if needed and reassurance that you’re doing the right thing. They’ll also offer you other things to do to take your mind off the past and towards more fun events in the future.

Whatever you talk about, try not to be too hard on yourself. Sometimes things end for bad reasons, sometimes for the right reasons and sometimes you regret the end coming even when it is inevitable. Remember that you are a good person, you are doing the right thing and you deserve happiness. It may take a while to find it again, but you will find it.

Breaking up

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