How to break up with someone

From doing the dumping to giving each other’s stuff back, breaking up is a painful experience. For both of you. If you’ve decided it’s definitely over, here’s how to break up.

boy and girl sitting apart on bench

If we sit like this long enough, maybe they'll take the hint?

How to end your relationship

You’ve made up your mind: it’s over. Now you’ve got to break the bad news. It’s not going to be pleasant, but you can try to make sure it goes as smoothly as possible.

Tell them in person: Unless they’re abusive, breaking up face to face is the decent thing to do, however tempting it may be to hide behind a text message.

Pick a good time: Probably best to avoid breaking up on their birthday, or shortly before an important exam.

Keep it simple: Plan what you’re going to say and practise it beforehand. Get to the point quickly – it’s like pulling off a plaster.

Don’t backtrack: You’ve made your decision. Giving them false hope won’t help anyone in the long run.

Be honest: Don’t make up fake reasons for ending it. That doesn’t help either, especially if they find out.

But not too honest: Being dumped hurts. No need to rub salt in the wound by listing all the reasons why you stopped fancying them.

Let it sink in: Don’t immediately demand all your stuff back, or ask if you can stay friends. Give them time to process what’s happened.

Accept that they’re hurting: However gently you’ve handled things, they may well see you as the bad guy. It’s not your job to make that better.

You’ve broken up – now what?

You may need some moral support, so arrange to see or call a friend after breaking the news. You can always cancel if you find you don’t want company.

Some people just feel relieved, but doing the dumping can leave you with quite the mixed bag of feelings. “Expect it to hurt even though it’s your decision,” says Paula Hall, a young people’s counsellor for Relate. “You’re probably going to miss them. You’re making the decision about whether it’s right to end it, so give yourself some credit and allow yourself to hurt a bit.”

The other person may expect you to deal with their feelings, too. “Some people get very angry, bitter or upset at being dumped and react very badly,” says Paula. “You have to be prepared for that.”

Try to be understanding, unless they’re trying to use hurt feelings as an excuse for abusive behaviour.

When you’re the one being dumped

Your partner says it’s over, but you don’t want to split up. “It’s tough, I’m afraid,” says Paula. “It takes two people to make a relationship work, but only one person to break it up.”

You could ask if they’re sure. Have they definitely had enough of the whole relationship, or is there one clear problem that needs fixing? But if their mind’s made up, you’ll need to accept their decision – however broken-hearted you feel. “If they’ve decided it’s not going to work, then it’s not going to work,” Paula says.

Break-ups: the practical side

As well as those pesky emotions, you’ll have some practical issues to deal with:

Posting on social media: What’s worse than being dumped? Being dumped and discovering the rest of the world already knows. Broadcasting the news could leave your ex feeling humiliated, which won’t make you look so good. Don’t be too hasty to update your status.

Getting your stuff back: This can get sad and awkward, so pick your moment carefully. Asking for stuff you’ve lent them or left round at their place? Fair enough. Demanding they return every gift you ever bought them? Not so much.

If you live together: You’re both responsible for any shared finances, such as tenancy agreements, council tax and utility bills. Citzens Advice Bureau (CAB) and Shelter can help if you need advice about your rights.

Dividing up shared belongings: If there’s stuff that belongs to both of you, you probably won’t get to keep everything you want. Work out what’s really important, and be willing to let some other things go.

Wanting to destroy mementos: You might feel like erasing all evidence you were together – deleting photos of the two of you, or selling that pricey gift on eBay. You might regret it later, though, especially if you’re left without photos of significant events in your life.

Handling mutual friends: Accept that it’s going to be a bit awkward for a while,” says Paula. “It tends to sort itself out over time. Don’t make people feel like they have to take sides – do what you can to avoid drama.”

Can you stay friends?

Staying friends is a nice idea in theory, but it’s not always possible – especially if one person’s still holding out hope for a reunion, or the idea is just too painful. You might need to let some time go by first.

Photo of couple on bench by Shutterstock

Next Steps

By Anne Wollenberg

Updated on 29-Sep-2015