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How to break up with your partner

Updated: Sep 27, 2023

Well, here you are. You’ve reached the point where you want to, or are leaning towards, breaking up with your partner. But the thought of actually doing it is scary as hell. So you’re stuck. Some people have been stuck here for years!, and I know you don’t want that to be you.

What you don’t want to do is do something messy or stupid. Like what I did ten days into my relationship with Charles. Things had been great. He was the one for me, I said at 19. And we hadn’t been apart for one moment of those ten days. But then he told me about an old girlfriend who was going to be coming back from Mexico in a few weeks and I flipped out.

I felt betrayed and humiliated, flew into a rage, and walked out. My exit line was, “Don’t call me.”

Well, I called him a month later and we’ve spent the rest of our lives together, but man! was I flirting with disaster. All because I acted on hurt and rage and impulse.

So if you’re fans of not being stupid and not being messy, this is the guide to breaking up for you.

First. Are you even IN a relationship? Just because you’ve been seeing each other and having sex doesn’t mean “relationship.” Here’s what makes something a relationship:

  • You have feelings for each other

  • You’ve both been thinking about having a future together

  • Your lives have in some way gotten joined together

Some couples are here in days, some months. But if you’re here, it’s a relationship, and you owe the other person a real break up.

Second, and this is huge. Are you sure you want to break up? For the love of God, get clear about this before you break up!!! And—good news—we’ve written the book on the subject!! Two books!! Is He Mr. Right? for people in the beginning stages of a relationship and Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay for people who are definitely committed to and IN a relationship. You really, really, really do NOT want the super-messy and hugely time consuming back and forth of breaking up, getting back together, breaking up again, getting back together again, on and on and on like stupid idiots. Besides our books, a great way to get clear is to go into couples therapy. A few months with someone you feel is a good couples therapist will tell you if your partner is someone with whom you can work to solve your problems.

One more thing to get clear about at this stage. You may still have feelings of loyalty and caring towards your soon-to-be ex. That’s normal. It’s fine. But it doesn’t mean that breaking up is a mistake.

It also doesn’t mean you need to get your partner’s agreement to the breakup. Coming together is the very definition of a joint project. But getting out requires only one person.

Okay, so: you are in a relationship and you do want to get out of it. Good. Clarity is your friend.

Third. Make a plan. Just ask a divorce lawyer: they wouldn’t dream of breaking up with their own partner unless they had a plan in place first. That’s what smart people do. What does a plan consist of? Answers to these questions?

  • Where am I going to live after I drop the bomb?

  • Where’s my money going to come from?

  • How is our stuff—belongings—going to be allocated?

  • How are the legalities of breakup going to work? That’s actual divorce in many cases but not all. You’d be foolish if you didn’t consult a lawyer before you broke up with you partner.

Fourth. Have your plan all set up in advance. You want to be able, as far as possible, to say bye-bye to your partner and immediately step into your new life. As they say, if you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.

Fifth. What you’re going to say. Here’s what you’re NOT going to say: you’re not going to explain why you’re breaking up. You’re not going to give reasons. And here’s why. The minute you give any reason—“We’ve grown apart,” or “All we do is fight,” or “Our sex life has gone to hell” or whatever—you’re either going to start an argument (“That’s not true!”) or a negotiation (“I’ll change!”). But you’ve already thought all this through, right? Right? You don’t want to be drawn back in. You just want to be OUT.

So what you will say is simply this: “I don’t want to be with you anymore.” Then whatever they say, you’ll just acknowledge, not argue, and repeat your point.

“But aren’t I a good, loving person?”

“You are. I just don’t want to be with you anymore.”

“Tell me what’s wrong with me!”

“There’s nothing wrong with you! You’re terrific. I just don’t want to be married to you anymore.”

“It’s the sex thing, right?”

“Look, the sex thing has been there, but what’s really going on is that I just to end our marriage.”

“You’ve never really wanted to be with me, have you?”

“I’m not at the point now where I want to change your mind about anything. I just don’t want to be with you anymore. I know that’s painful. It hurts me too. But it’s the truth.”

“You’re not telling me anything!! Why are you afraid to really tell me the truth?”

“This is the truth. It’s the truth I’ve come to after thinking about it for a long time. It’s just that I don’t want to be with you anymore.”

And at some point, with your staying calm and on point, the conversation ends. If you get into a discussion about any of the points your partner brings up, you'll either end up in a fight or back in the relationship.

Sixth. Your partner’s gonna have to do what your partner’s gonna have to do. As they say, you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs. Just because you got your shit together to get to this point doesn’t mean your partner isn’t going to have to deal with what you’ve said. Remember, being dumped is humiliating and terrifying. And saying words like “I’ll always care for you,” or “You’ll come out of okay financially” won’t make things better in the short run.

So your partner may flip out or go into a tailspin or do whatever. What you have to remember is: you’ve just broken up with them. You’re NO LONGER in a relationship with them. You’re no longer responsible for them. If they really are a grown up, they’ll be okay. If they’re not a grown up, well, that’s just one more good reason for you to be outta there.


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