Tell the truth — but don’t be cruel
If you’re ending a relationship, you owe it to the other person to explain why, says Rachel Sussman, a New York City psychotherapist and author of The Breakup Bible. “The people that I see who have the hardest time after a breakup, it’s because they don’t understand,“ Sussman says. Ideally, your reason shouldn’t shock the other person, because you’ve discussed it in the past and tried to work through it, Sussman adds.
Guy Winch, a New York City psychologist and author of How to Fix a Broken Heart, agrees that you should give a reason, but stresses that a breakup isn’t license to unload all of your pent-up complaints and snide comments — even if the other person says they want to hear them. “Find the one thing, because that might be useful for them [to know],“ he says. Listing every last annoyance isn’t productive and will only drag out what’s likely to be a painful conversation.
It’s also important to choose your words carefully, the experts agree. “Phrase something as, ‘This bothers me,’ or ‘This really was difficult for me,'“ instead of blaming the other person, Winch says. What you feel is terrible isn’t always objectively terrible, he says — just bad for you.
Finally, resist the urge to soften the blow with platitudes. Saying, “‘We can be friends,’ or ‘Now’s not a good time for me,’ all sound like, well, maybe in the future“ things could work out, Winch says. Don’t imply that’s the case if it’s not.
Do it face-to-face
Both Winch and Sussman say in-person breakups are the most considerate and mature option for established couples, and should preferably happen in a private place. “If it’s in public, they might be distraught, and then they have to somehow get home, which is horrible,“ Winch says. The best place to do it is in their home, not yours, he adds, so you can leave if the situation gets too drawn out, and so that they’re in a familiar place.
That said, there are a few exceptions to the face-to-face rule, Winch says. Most importantly, if you fear for your safety in any way, you should keep your distance. Aside from that, a phone-based breakup may be okay if you’re dating long-distance, or if you’ve only seen each other a few times. For very new dating situations that have only lasted a date or two, you can even get away with a text.
But even if you’ve only been on one date, Winch says it’s always better to be upfront, rather than ghosting. He even recommends writing out a boilerplate message — something along the lines of, “Thank you, it was fun, but I didn’t feel a romantic connection“ — and keeping it on hand for those situations.
All too often, Sussman says, the person who ends a relationship has second thoughts once the deed is done, which only makes for a messy, painful situation. “Spend some time soul-searching, journaling, talking to a really good friend or family member or talking to a relationship specialist“ to get your thoughts in order, Sussman says.
While it may feel uncomfortable to carry on the relationship while you make up your mind, Winch says it’s a necessary evil. “Everyone who wants to break up, every single person, does not voice that the minute they think it. They have to process it and be sure and be ready,“ Winch says. “That’s how it works.“
Once you’ve resolutely decided to end things, however, you shouldn’t delay the conversation or prematurely act like you’re single, Sussman says. “The dumbest thing people do is get involved with other people before their relationship is over. They just want to have a plan B. It can also be to create distance, maybe even on some level of wanting to get caught,“ she says. “If you’re involved with someone and the contract is exclusivity and monogamy, to cheat on that person is the most hurtful thing.“
Let them decide whether or not to contact you
It may seem kind to check in on your ex or to maintain a friendly rapport after a breakup, but resist the impulse. Both Sussman and Winch say the person who got dumped should be the one to decide when, or if, they want to reopen contact — and ideally, that should only happen after you’ve both moved on completely.
Couples should take time apart before trying to become friends, Sussman says. Let at least three months pass before starting any kind of friendship, Winch says — adding that most people who follow this rule opt not to get back in touch. If you’re the person ending things, Winch says you should prepare yourself for that possibility and give your ex their space, as hard as that may be.