Ask Emily: How Do I Break Up With Someone?

woman detaching her bra
Dear Emily, 

I need break-up advice for a 4-year relationship in which we live together and have no friends or family around the area we live. I’ve never been broken up with or done the breaking up. We are both 24 and this is my first serious relationship and first love. 

The thing is… there’s nothing really wrong with the relationship. I just have a gut feeling that I want to be alone for a while, and discover more about myself personally and sexually. I want to find a stronger sense of self before getting into another committed relationship. 

I’ve struggled with coming to this decision for quite a while now and I think I’m ready to take action.  How do I go about this? Why do I feel so guilty? What about living arrangements?  Can you tell me how to break up with someone I still care about?

Ryan, 24 

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Dear Ryan, 

Thank you so much for your thoughtful email. I  won’t lie—breaking up is not fun. But that doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do. You sound fairly certain that it’s time for the relationship to end. 

Understanding Breakup Guilt

Breakup guilt is extremely common. No one wants to hurt someone they care about. But sometimes, the most loving thing we can do is be honest. If you feel that ending the relationship is the best way for you to continue to grow, then you are acting in integrity.  Also, be prepared for her reactions, she might express extreme anger or sadness, possibly both. The most important thing here is to remember that her sadness is not an indication that you are doing something wrong. Although you’ll likely want to make her pain go away,  stay strong and stick with your decision.

Of course, we can be honest and empathetic at the same time. Understand that even though it’s the right thing to do, it will hurt your ex.  She deserves to be with someone who wants to be with her, just as you deserve to explore yourself and your freedom. 

How to Break Up With Someone

There will never be a “perfect” time to break-up, but you can follow my three T’s of communication (timing, turf, and tone) to keep the conversation on track. As for the conversation itself, start by sharing that you’ve been thinking and processing some emotions and that you need to lovingly end the romantic relationship.  It’s important to be direct and honest, using “I” statements, and avoid blaming and focusing on what you think she might’ve done wrong. 

Speaking from experience, it can be tempting to say things like “it’s not you, it’s me” or “maybe we take a break,” but try to steer clear of false promises. Share with her what you expressed to me: you’re ready to explore what it’s like to be on your own and grow as an individual. She might have more questions about this, especially if she’s in pain and wants to keep a hold on the relationship, but just remember that your reasons for wanting to end things are totally valid. 

The Aftermath

There will be some intense emotions from both of you. Breaking up is a process, not an act so this might take place over several conversations.  And if that guilt comes creeping back (because it might), remind yourself that breaking up does not make you a bad person.

I know this is a painful process, but I also know that you’re going to be okay and grow from this experience.