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How to break up with someone you love: Everything you need to know

Image credit: Shutterstock - By Dmytro Zinkevych

There is never an easy way to tell someone, “I want to break up.” Even if it isn’t your intention, you never want to hurt the person you love (or used to love).

But when you have truly looked at your relationship and tried everything you can to fix the parts of it that aren’t working out for you, then it’s time to prioritize your happiness.

But how do you do it; how do you break up with your significant other? It’s not about assigning blame or proving that they hurt you more than you hurt them.

It’s about looking into the future, and showing both your partner and yourself that your lives will be better if you start walking down different paths.

Understanding, compassion, and empathy: these are the traits you must practice to help you and your partner get through a break up in one piece.

In this guide, we discuss why even the best relationships fall apart, why it is so important to break up properly, and everything you need to know about breaking up.

Why Even the Best Relationships Fall Apart

Love is magical. It can come out of nowhere, and when it hits you, it can change your entire life.

For weeks, months, and even years, love can make everything in your life feel wonderful.

Sooner or later you will start imagining spending the rest of your life in love with your partner, because why not? Why should your overwhelming bliss ever end?

But for one reason or another, it just stops. Even without any clear and obvious signs, the relationship slowly crumbles apart, and your happiness ebbs away.

One day you wake up and realize that you can’t remember the last time you were truly happy with your partner.

Maybe they will go away for a week for a business trip and instead of longing for them, you realize that you enjoy being without them.

And then finally you decide that the feeling of not having them is better than the feeling of being around them, and this is both equally frightening and relieving.

You know the truth about how you feel, but you don’t know what this means for the future of your relationship or even your own personal future.

But how can this be? How does a relationship that might have been perfect a year, half a year, or even just a month ago suddenly leave a sour taste in your mouth?

While there are many relationships that you might feel were bound to fall apart sooner or later, you might have once believed that yours would stand the test of time.

But even the best relationships can and often do fall apart.

Here are three reasons why:

1) You Couldn’t See the Signs

How many times have you seen a couple that you just knew weren’t meant for one another?

Maybe they bicker in small yet important ways, or perhaps they barely share any of the same interests and have nothing to talk about.

There are many couples out there who find themselves completely incompatible with their significant other, but stay together regardless.

Part of the reason for this is the ancient bit of wisdom, “Love is blind”, which recent studies have found to actually have a neurological truth to it.

According to researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, when people fall in love, the neural pathways in their brain that lead to negative emotions (including social judgment, fear, and being critical of others) become slightly deactivated when directed at our partner, as the brain is overwhelmed by the rush of oxytocin. 

This means that while we can clearly see the flaws in other couples, we have difficulty seeing the flaws in our own relationship until the oxytocin wears off.

2) You Aren’t on the Same Page

There are various stages to every relationship, and conflict generally arises when both partners aren’t on the same page.

This causes a power struggle consisting of confusion and disappointment – one partner believes the other partner is lagging behind or not doing what should be expected of them, while another partner feels that they are losing too much of themselves to the relationship and they need to slow down.

It can be frustrating, difficult, and in most cases, heartbreaking, but unless both partners are willing to wait and work together, conflict is unavoidable.

The problem is that neither partner can be blamed because of how fast we move through each stage and our expectations of our partner largely depend on our own personal history and what we currently want in our life.

One partner might be thinking of settling down and getting married, while the other partner might just be enjoying the moment without thinking of long-term commitment.

And when the couple discovers that they are on different stages, there is a sense of betrayal and disappointment, as each partner asks themselves: why do they not feel the same way I do?

The worst part is that the deeper your love is for one another, the greater these negative emotions will feel, which might ultimately lead to a breakup.

(I have just written a highly practical, no-nonsense guide to moving forward with your life after a break up. Check it out here).

3) Some Couples Are Better Off as Friends

There are about a billion people out there who can sing the tune to Jason Mraz’s song, “Lucky” and its iconic line – “I’m lucky I’m in love with my best friend.”

For many people, falling in love with their best friend seems like the ideal scenario (assuming you have a best friend you are romantically attracted to).

With an already-established history and in-jokes, a great relationship to build your romance upon, and a familiarity with each other’s quirks and characteristics, there could be nothing better than falling in love as best friends.

After all, isn’t a long-term relationship most dependent on how well two people can get along when the initial rush of romance is gone?

But what many people unfortunately learn the hard way is that some couples are simply better off as friends.

A best friend-turned-romantic partner relationship might feel like the best thing in the world when it first starts, but if you aren’t romantically compatible, those signs will start to show just a few weeks into the relationship.

The qualities that make two people become best friends don’t necessarily translate a proper foundation for a romantic relationship.

These breakups are usually the most difficult and drawn-out, as many people do not want to believe that they can’t “work it out” with their best friend/significant other.

They might believe, “If I can’t work it out with them, then who can I work it out with?”

Why It’s Important to Break Up the Right Way

There might be no everyday feeling more terrifying than knowing you want to break up with your partner.

You still love them – even if you say you don’t, it’s very unlikely that your feelings for them are gone – and the last thing you want to do is hurt them, especially at the level of a breakup.

You want the best for them, but you don’t want to be there for them.

You want to ensure they have continued happiness, but you don’t want to be the reason for that happiness.

You have to put you and your partner through an emotional surgery, and you are terrified that one of you might not make it through in one piece.

But it has to be done, and it has to be done the right way. It has to be clear, concise, and without-doubt; like ripping off a band-aid, it works best if you do it in one quick motion.

It can be tempting to do it differently, however. To ghost them until they “get the idea”, or to slowly crawl your way out of their life so that they learn to live without you.

You might feel that subtler and less direct methods are better for your partner, but the truth is this is almost never the case.

Failure to break up properly can cause both you and your partner more pain and misery than either of you deserve.

Here are a few common situations that can arise from this failure:

The Toxic Loop

The Toxic Loop occurs when the party who wants to break up doesn’t have the courage to face their partner and say that it’s done.

They may try to end the relationship and have “the talk”, but their partner will do everything they can to avoid that conversation.

They might promise to change, say that they can’t live without them, or even threaten to commit self-harm if the relationship ends.

This causes the first partner to try to eke out affection and continue the relationship, even if they are now absolutely unhappy.

This creates a toxic loop, involving “the talk”, promises to change, an attempt to return to a normal relationship, and disappointment until the first partner tries to end it again.

The Waiting Game

The Waiting Game is an evolved form of the Toxic Loop, where the disappointment is shared between both partners, and both partners want to end the relationship but neither are willing to pull the trigger.

This means that there is never a “talk”; both partners simply try to continue the relationship, and when conflict arises, they push each other as far as they can to try to make the other person end the relationship.

So why does this happen?

The most common reason is that neither partner wants to be the one to end the relationship and feel responsible for killing it; they know that if they end the relationship, they have to hold themselves accountable for whatever unhappiness they feel afterward, instead of being able to blame their partner for ending it.

The Lost, Angry, Bitter Cause

In this scenario, the break up happens, but it doesn’t happen peacefully. Instead of breaking up in an understanding and soft manner, you might have been aggressive, blaming them for everything and taking none of the responsibility for why the relationship didn’t work out.

This will leave both parties angry and bitter for a long time, with unresolved feelings that can lead to sudden fights over the phone, awkward meet-ups with your mutual friends, and unplanned angry sex that you both regret the next morning.

All of this happens because you tried to go cold turkey on the relationship without giving you or your partner the chance to properly say goodbye to your emotions

When Is It Time To Break Up? 

Deciding when it’s time to break up isn’t always a linear process. As you go through the motions of your relationship, you’ll find that there are times when it “feels right”, only to change your mind a couple of days (if not hours) later.

But ultimately, all these moments of “feeling right” will eventually culminate into that singular, definite, unmistakable feeling of wanting to move forward. 

So, how do you know when it’s time to end things? Although there are tell-tale signs that you should break up with the other person, the answer simply depends on how you feel about your relationship. 

You might be in a position where you’ve tried to get through your partner, only to have your concerns fall on deaf ears.

Other times, you might be in a good, steady relationship only to realize you want to start seeing other people. 

Either reason is a justifiable answer for breaking up. While it’s important to take your partner’s feelings into consideration, you shouldn’t feel trapped in a relationship just because you “don’t have a good enough reason” to leave.

You wanting to leave the relationship is all the reason you need to end things. All that matters is that you do it respectfully and firmly. 

Is It Over? 4 Tell-Tale Signs It’s Time To Move On

Breaking up isn’t always the right answer to relationship problems. Maybe you love your partner and want to save the relationship.

Although there are steps you can take to move forward, remember that a resolution isn’t always guaranteed. If issues go unresolved despite your efforts, consider moving forward, but this time on your own. 

1) You don’t respect each other

When all else fails, respect is the final pillar holding your relationship together. It preserves your integrity as individuals and prevents you from crossing over to the point of no return.

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Insults become a staple in any fight and all empathy and sympathy are gone out the window.

Possible fixes:

Take a break from each other so you can let things cool down. Ideally this will make the relationship new again and make you appreciate the other person’s qualities

When to break up:

– You hurl insults at one another like it’s nothing

– Physical abuse is a recurring part of fights

– Your partner uses your insecurities, beliefs, and mistakes against you

2) You don’t feel intimate

When innocent moments of hand-holding and kissing feel more uncomfortable than enjoyable, it’s a sign that your relationship has reached its end.

Possible fixes:

Talk about underlying issues that inhibit intimacy. Schedule time you will spend together without kids, work, and other distractions.

When to break up:

– You space out during sex or prefer to pleasure yourself on your own

– You would rather kiss your partner on the forehead or cheek than on the lips

– You feel annoyed when they ask to spend more time together

– You no longer do the small things like patting them on the shoulder or brushing their hair

3) Communication is impossible

It doesn’t matter if you’re deciding where to eat for lunch or making an important financial decision – whenever you try to talk, the conversation inevitably turns into a fight.

Possible fixes:

Undergo couple’s therapy and aim to resolve issues with the help of a communication expert.

When to break up:

– Fights are centered on who’s more wrong or right and no resolution is ever made

– You feel like you can’t tell your partner something because you know it will turn into a fight

– You feel like you have to step on eggshells around them just to prevent an outburst

– Relationship issues are recurring or have become progressively worse

4) You don’t care about what happens

The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference. When fights start to hurt less and less, it’s a tell-tale sign you’re falling out of love with your partner.

When you no longer care enough to fight back, there’s a good chance you won’t have the energy to fight for the relationship either.

Possible fixes:

Sit your partner down and say you’re falling out of love. List down reasons why this is happening, as well as some recommendations on how to rekindle the romance.

When to break up:

– You don’t chime in discussions because you just want it to be over

– Important details in their life become less meaningful and excitable

– Both of you tend to be ruder

– Special occasions pass by unknowingly

How To Break Up With Someone: Try One Last Time

Before cutting the cord, make sure that this is absolutely what you want.

If your goal is to get your partner to care better, don’t hold the relationship ransom just to get them to listen to you.

Be vulnerable for the final time and discuss relationship problems with your partner. 

If things are left unresolved after your talk, don’t offer false hope. Instead, accept that the relationship is over and start thinking about how to break up with your partner.

Why It Matters:

There’s nothing worse than a sporadic breakup.

To the receiver, it can make them feel confused, inadequate, and insecure. To avoid any surprises, communicate how dire the situation is for you so they know you’re on your last straw. 

Plan The Situation

Breakups are tense and emotional situations. You never know how the other person might react, and how you’ll respond as a result, so it’s always good to plan ahead.

Plan to do the break up in person out of respect for them. This also makes it easier to communicate your reasons and finalize your decision. 

Why It Matters:

As the “break upper”, you want to be in control of the situation. Instead of pandering and hesitating about what to say next, you should know what to do however this pans out.

This minimizes the hurt and betrayal associated with breakups and makes it easier for both parties to move on peacefully. 

Know What To Say

Getting your point across clearly and concisely should be the goal of this breakup. Knowing exactly what to say will strengthen your resolve to move forward as a single individual.

More importantly, knowing what to say helps the other person understand what went wrong in the relationship and will help them understand your decision better. 

Why It Matters:

The situation could easily go from talking to shouting, and knowing exactly what to say will help you stay on track.

Granted you don’t have to do long spiels on trust, self-improvement, and bad behavior, but giving them a straightforward answer will help the other person find peace after the relationship. 

Prepare For The Reaction

Anticipate anger, hurt, and sadness from the other person but don’t feel any responsibility to curb those feelings.

Plan the things you want to say and stay true to your decision, no matter what happens. 

Why It Matters:

As a response, your partner might start begging, crying, or doing just about anything to win your sympathy back.

By preparing for their reaction, you can deflect these emotions and solidify the separation, despite their refusal. 

During: Be Straight To The Point

Make sure your intentions are apparent as soon as you sit down with the other person. Skip the small talk and get started with the topic.

If they try to distract you or talk about something else, be firm and take command of the conversation. 

How To Say It:

“There isn’t an easy way to say this but I want to end the relationship.”

“I feel like things haven’t been working out and it’s better if we stop seeing each other.”

“I know this relationship hasn’t been its best, which is why I’ve decided to move forward alone.”

Remain Firm But Polite

As the break up unfolds, there’s a big chance your now-ex will respond in a negative way. There’s a fine line between cushioning the blow and sugarcoating the truth.

Make sure they feel respected and heard, but don’t try to offer any false hopes and promises afterward. 

How To Say It:

“I know it hurts to hear this but I think this is the best thing to do.”

“I’m sorry you’re feeling this way but I think we should still part ways.”

“This can’t be easy to hear but it will benefit both of us.”

“I know it’s not what you want but it might be exactly what we need for ourselves.”

Don’t Decide On Your Friendship

A big mistake freshly broken up couples do is to try to downgrade the relationship into a friendship. By doing so, you’re still tethered to the other person, making it impossible to feel like the relationship ever truly ended.

Finalize things by agreeing to give each other space and focusing on your individual needs. Revisit the possibility of rekindling a platonic relationship later on. 

How To Say It: 

“I think it’s best if we focus on ourselves for now.”

“We can talk about being friends some time in the future, but not right now.”

“Let’s give each other time to move on from this.”

After

Don’ts Dos
Stalk your ex on social media and try to get in touch with them Unfriend or block your ex temporarily until you’ve had enough time to yourself
Get rebound sex or jump into another relationship immediately  Spend time with friends and family 
Overthink what happened and find ways to restart the relationship again  Remind yourself why the break up happened and find peace in your decision
Resolve to spending time with your ex again just because you’re uncomfortable with being alone Pick up a new hobby and find new ways to spend your time
Bad mouth your ex with your common friends Respect each other’s privacy and avoid divulging relationship problems 
Reach out to your ex asking how they’re doing Give the other person time to process the situation and heal on their own 
Go through mementos of your relationship Hide or throw away pictures, messages, and other physical reminders of your relationship

You’re Single: What Now?

Understanding, compassion, and empathy. These are the three qualities you used to get through a difficult part of your relationship. Now that it’s over, you should also practice these three virtues for yourself. 

Understand that you need time to move on from a failed relationship while giving yourself compassion despite your own faults and shortcomings. At the end of the day, you need to empathize and forgive no one else for yourself. 

As you go through the next days, weeks, months, or years alone, find peace in knowing that you always have yourself to rely on and that you don’t need another person to feel strong and special.

Focus on building yourself into a better version of you, not just for your next partner, but for who you are right now.

NEW EBOOK: If you found this article useful, then check out my latest eBook: The Art of Breaking Up: The Ultimate Guide to Letting Go of Someone You LovedLetting go of the life you’ve spent months or years building with a partner isn’t as easy as swiping left or right. In this eBook, I empower you with the most practical, beneficial ways to finally heal that heartbreak – and I promise, you’ll come out much better than before. Check out the eBook here.

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Lachlan Brown

Written by Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 6 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

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