This is the Right Way to Break Up with Someone, According to a Psychologist
To dump or be dumped, that might be the real question.
You know how the song goes: Breaking up is hard to do. And really, no wonder the tune caught on. Breaking up is the most dreadful of experiences, but we all have to do it. There's collective consolation in that, at least.
One of the perks of having a gaggle of girlfriends is that you’ve personally and vicariously broken up with too many boys (later, men) to count. Following that logic, you've also been broken up with enough times, vicariously and otherwise, to have a firm, well-rounded grasp on the subject. By now, I’m a bit of a breakup aficionado.
As human beings, we don't want to intentionally cause pain, especially to those we love. That’s why breaking up is dreaded, despised, and utterly loathed—and it’s also why so many people do it badly.
We paired our breakup wherewithal alongside the professional insight of licensed psychologist and professor, Dr. Robin Walsh. Together, we give you a definitive guide of the right way to break up with someone.
How to Know When to Break Up
“As soon as you start thinking about the beginning, it's the end,” writer Junot Diaz once penned.
No one ever enters a relationship thinking that it’s going to end in a breakup. Nonetheless, there will be a time when you must become the dumper and someone you care about the dumpee. As in, it doesn’t always end up like the movies. So how do you know when it’s time?
“When you begin to wonder if you should break up, it's time,” says Dr. Walsh. “When you shift from wondering what will fix the problems to whether you should exit the relationship, it's a telltale sign that the problems may be beyond fixing.”
For example: When you’ve tried to fix your relationship problems through open communication, real effort, and even professional guidance, and the progress just isn’t happening. (This step should never be skipped.)
Maybe important things like your life goals, values, and mindsets no longer match up—or perhaps never really did—and it’s something you’re not willing to sacrifice. This is especially important if you’re giving up small pieces of yourself to try to make things work.
Other times, you just don’t feel the same love anymore, and you’re not being honest about it. Ultimately, you don’t always have to have a “right” reason to break up with someone. You might love them as a best friend, but no longer as a life partner. For your own good, and for your partner, don’t put it off.
How to Break Up with Someone You Love
This is not a time to follow any one of Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” Just slip out the back, Jack; Hop on the bus, Gus; Don't need to be coy, Roy. No, no, and no.
So how should you approach it?
“Be honest. Telling the person how you feel and why shows respect for yourself, your partner, and the relationship,” says Dr. Walsh. “Be constructive with any criticism, and be willing to listen to some about yourself.”
Taking consideration of his or her feelings is important, but don’t beat around the bush. Be clear and concise. Say the words. (How many times do we have to ask, “Are you breaking up with me?”)
“Oh, and have the discussion in person. This should go without saying,” Walsh hints. These digital days, the hint is needed.
Is there one thing you should never say while breaking up with someone? Dr. Walsh says yes: "It's all your fault."
Ultimately, it takes two. If you’re in a relationship where fault falls more so, or totally, on one side, take the high road and avoid this phrase.
How to Get Over a Breakup
A lot of good things come out of breakups. You have more time to focus on bettering yourself, exploring new things, and planning quality time with your friends and family.
Of course, sad things come out of breakups, as well. Limit communication after ending things for both of your sakes, and avoid the social media rabbit hole. Is that his new girlfriend or just the deli worker? It’s not your business, Susan.
WATCH: 10 Romantic Messages for Your Loved One
If you're left feeling sad or lonely, stick it out. Most likely, you put a lot of time and effort into the relationship, and something still made you end it. Trust your gut. But remember: You have the right to be sad, too. That just doesn’t necessarily mean it was the wrong decision.
Finally, give yourself time to heal and discover your single self again. (Girls’ trip, anyone?)