Breaking Up Isn’t Easy — Here’s How to Do It Gently

Learn here for how to break up with someone in a gentle way.

I have been the dumper and the dumpee. When I was in my early twenties and just starting out as a high school teacher, breaking up with a guy I was seeing caused me to cry for a week – and I was the one who’d initiated the breakup. I was deeply torn about hurting another person, even though I knew I didn’t want to date him anymore. 

After a decade of dating, when a breakup comes, it’s far less dramatic. We didn’t work out. Whether the man I’m dating brings it up, or I start the conversation, saying goodbye is less coddling emotions and more being real about expectations. What stings is when a breakup reveals information I didn’t have, making it the result of failed communication. Which means… we weren’t ever going to make it.

I’ve learned a great deal about who I am in relationships and what, exactly, I am looking for. A breakup now is less of an existential disaster and more of a necessary tax on the opportunity to learn more about myself and men. 

Is there such a thing as a “good breakup”? They’re always sad, because something has failed. But they’re usually necessary. Whether you are initiating it or accepting it, here are some steps to help you approach, or at least think about, making a breakup.

It takes two to tango, so this is no longer a dance.

Maybe you two were perfect. Maybe you had big plans. Maybe much of your life was already rewritten to include them. But if someone wants out, the relationship has dissolved. When that decision is made, your partnership is no longer a partnership, because one of the partners is no longer participating.

If you are on the receiving end of the breakup, allow this to have a space in your mind as you go through the feelings of grief, anger, and logistical disaster. The person you have been with no longer wants to be with you. It’s awful. But it’s big enough that they’ve asked to end things. To be perfectly blunt, do you really want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with you?

If you are the one initiating the breakup, this is something you can keep in mind as you navigate the compounding emotions of loss, harm, and regret. If you have made the decision to exit the dance floor, why would returning to it and attempting to pick up the dance again make the dance better? The relationship has broken down for one reason or another, and knowing this is something that can help center you.

Stick to facts and reality.

Breakups are a mess of what-ifs, broken dreams, and differing views. Dwelling on past arguments or possible fixes isn’t going to move the breakup forward. The decision has been made and must be lived with.

If you are being informed of the breakup, there is an inevitable urge to ask what could have been done differently to avoid the situation. Maybe there is concrete feedback (that you are obviously allowed to ignore for a bit!) about how you participate in a relationship. Tuck this away. Now is not the time to make a grand gesture of promising to change or rewrite your personality.

If you are informing your partner that you want to break up, be clear, direct, and willing to be told you got it wrong. Maybe your partner had no idea something they missed was dear to you, or maybe they didn’t perceive how their actions were affecting you. You are speaking to someone you care about, who didn’t intend to be in this situation – a situation that you are creating. Hear them out. 

Walk away.

When it’s done, you need space. Revisiting it over and over isn’t going to make it better. Hashing out every experience and previous conversation won’t undo this moment. There is a gigantic bag of “what-ifs” that will follow you around for weeks or months. Ignore it. 

As the dump-ee, this is the time when you are allowed to go to ground. Grieve. Be angry. Take time off work. Visit friends. Be a total homebody. Look at photos and cry, then take those photos down. Do not, however, return to the endless ticker tape of Things You Could Have Done Differently. You didn’t do those things differently. They have already happened, as has this breakup. Maybe you want to be mean. Maybe you do get a little mean. Maybe that’s okay.

As the dump-er, you are allowed to make a call about communication. If your partner is clinging to the conversation with a desire to dissect every interaction, it’s okay for you to say no. There is a fine line between decency and indulgence. When you reach that line, it’s okay to pack up the conversation and walk away. Maybe you don’t talk for a while. Maybe you have to block a number. Maybe you don’t get to pick up your things. Maybe the person you are breaking up with turns on you and blames you for everything. Weather it, and walk away. Their emotional well-being is no longer your job. 

There is no easy way for a relationship to end.

I remember getting dumped once and saying the meanest thing I could think of at the time: “I am not glad I met you because our time together isn’t going to be nice upon reflection and I didn’t grow as a person while dating you. I wish I had not met you at all and I will never think about you again.” I was speaking from a place of anger, and in the moment, devaluing our time together was the lowest blow I could land. Was I correct? Of course not. I immediately added certain attributes of his into the Red Flag Catalog, which means the time wasn’t wasted. I also, of course, learned about myself. 

Regardless of which side of the breakup you’re on, the end of a partnership means expectations didn’t pan out and much of the investment can feel like a sunk cost. However, every relationship you have does teach you something about the world and living in it. The loss of a relationship is one of the most human events we can live through.

Be in the know with Grotto