Breaking up is hard to do.
Whether you flinged for a hot and heavy two weeks or lived together for two solid years, a breakup is one of the most difficult — and often mishandled — actions you’ll experience in your adult life. Still, it must be done. Prolonging a relationship out of fear of the “we need to talk” moment is unfair and cruel to both parties.
So, having dumped and been dumped, I’m going to tell you exactly how to break up with someone the right way. All people are different and all relationships are different, but there remains a cardinal set of principles and do-nots that can help you walk away from a breakup without feeling like the bad guy.
To quote Patrick Swayze in Roadhouse: “Be nice.” It hurts being broken up with, so if your ex-partner starts yelling, be nice. They try guilting you back into the relationship. Be nice. They pull low blows. Be nice.
A breakup will always feel like an attack on our personal beings. It can make us feel unworthy, ugly, and powerless. Even if we aren’t gung-ho about the relationship either, the fear of loss and inadequacy can make us believe that we were happy or in love. This is why being nice is the best possible thing you can do in a breakup. In some cases, both parties will be comfortable expressing similar feelings and then, bam! You have two people who are both peachy keen with a split.
In others, being calm will provoke a loud, emotional reaction, and that’s OK too. Just remember to be nice and let the other person feel that sadness without embarrassment. If you approach the situation cool and collected (without being cocky), it’ll get across the message that you’ve made up your mind.
Tip: This conversation is best done in a place they feel comfortable. Never break up at your place or out to a fancy dinner or for, Lord’s sake, on vacation. Break up in a place that is territorially theirs.
Give An Explanation
Speak in a serene tone, don’t point blame or bring up the past, and explain — without going into great depths — why you need the break.
Explain your reason for breaking up only in terms of why you need it.
I repeat: Explain your reason for breaking up only in terms of why you need it.
This simple act will eliminate hours and hours of roundabout thinking for your ex-partner, questioning what they did wrong. It’s never them. We break up with them because of our needs, goals, or lifestyles. So lend the courtesy of a small explanation. After all, this was a person who, for a time being, captivated and cared for you. They deserve to know.
Paint a Picture of Their Future
There’s a fine line between being nice and being confusing. If you can do it without making it sound flirty, try to paint images of their future that are positive and not connected to you. This reinforces other aspects of their life that do not involve you, giving them something to focus on and showing you truly were listening during your time together. A breakup can lead to some of the most transformative and progressive times in our lives. Emphasize that for their future.
For example: “I know you’re going to get that promotion at work and imagine the possibilities. You’re a hard worker and I admire that about you.”
When It’s Time To Not Be Nice …
There is a second, equally as important, part to Swayze’s quote. “Be nice, until it is time to not be nice.”
How will you know when that moment has come? If they continue yelling (and only yelling), becomes physical in any way, makes threats, or verbally attack your decision, well, it’s time to not be nice. By “not be nice,” we don’t mean start yelling or dishing out your arsenal of past mistakes. It means it’s time to leave.
If you follow the first rule of “being nice,” the odds of needing to deploy “not being nice” are slim. After (nicely) making it clear that you will be going in your own direction, you have done everything you can to be honest and straightforward. You didn’t ambush, text, or ghost the breakup, and that alone means you’re a good guy.
If the other person responds with anger or guilt, stand up, wish them the best (in a non-sarcastic voice) — heck, even pepper in a, “You’re a strong person and I know you’re going to do so much” — then leave.
Let Them Keep Gifts
Don’t be petty about past gifts. If at any point in the relationship you gifted something to your ex-S.O., it’s theirs now. And I’m sorry, it’s not a two-way street. If they ask for something back, just give it back.
There is almost always one person in a breakup who doesn’t want the split as much as the other. Since you initiated the breakup, the other person is probably that one who feels they had more invested in the relationship. A common response of theirs might be asking for something back to regain a sense of ownership or territory over their life. When they ask for something back — a movie left at your apartment or that perfect bedding set — simply box it up and drop it off at their doorstep. There’s no need to knock and wait for the exchange. In fact, try to do this at a time they’re not home, because seeing you will make them feel worse.
Addendum: If there is an item of value that you would like back, don’t ask. Say, “I’ll need to get X. When should I pick it up?”
Don’t Text Back
Although it might sound like the nice thing to do when they text about missing you or wanting to know more about “why” (you should have explained this immediately at the time of the break up), don’t text back. The quicker they can forget about your presence, the happier they will be.
If you find it’s too difficult to ignore the texts — hey, you guys dated and they probably know you more intimately than most other people — block the number so you don’t see them. There is nothing wrong with blocking an ex’s number if you went about the breakup the right way and need to move forward with your life.
Resist The Urge to “Like”
With time, the other person really will forget you. If you were serious in the first place about not wanting to make it work, don’t try to squeeze back into their life. It can be confusing when, a month down the road, you see a picture of your ex on social media. It may provoke feelings of lust or love but ignore the urge to push back into their life. This inclination may be the result of wanting to feel desired again, or perhaps you’re in a slump and want to be in a position of power once more. Acting on this urge will make you a comic book supervillain, so just don’t.
This was your decision. Let them (and yourself) move on. It’s OK to miss your ex.
This includes anything as seemingly harmless as liking a photo on their Instagram, as well as walking past their work or sending the occasional, “Hope you’re doing fine,” text. (And definitely not, “u up?”) All you’re trying to do with a small like or text is remind them of you. And that is an asshole move.
This was your decision. Let them (and yourself) move on. It’s OK to miss your ex. During the time you were together, odds are you shared a part of yourself or discovered new passions that will forever remind you of them. Inside jokes, TV shows, and foods or drinks can all act as mementos of the connection you had. These same things may make you feel sad or even guilty, so for a while, it’s alright to avoid them and try new restaurants, explore other parts of town, and join a new gym.
For real. The healthiest way to seal a breakup is to start yoga — for both sides of the breakup.
Here’s why: Yoga is a mindfulness practice. The goal is to be completely in the now. Through intentional breath work that is married to a sequence of posing, yoga can make the outside world melt away, giving your mind time to be by itself and not focus on your ex. (even if it’s just because the poses are so hard you won’t be able to focus on anything except not falling over).
Yoga also teaches you to be kind. If you feel wronged by a breakup — guilty, angry, jealous, all those bad emotions — yoga can teach you to let it all go and recognize the goodness in yourself and the other person. I especially suggest hot yoga because sweating releases toxins and has a cleansing effect.
Pretty soon, you’ll find yourself standing taller and stronger with a quiet mind. You might even have a new set of abs, which, let’s be honest, always feels good.