How to end a long-term relationship

You  want to end your relationship. You could have a blazing row (probably you've already had too many), but why would you?  What is there to be gained? You've probably already had enough trouble.

You could mention all the things that you don't like about your partner. But that's never going to be a good strategy!

So how else do you do it?

This page is for you if you want to end your relationship or marriage and just don't know how to go about it.

Just in case the search engine sent you to the wrong page ...

Having realistic expectations is important when you're thinking about ending a long-term relationship. I'm afraid it's not worth thinking that you can avoid any stress or upset... that's just a fantasy (sorry!). 

I can understand that it's much more comfortable to pretend it's all going to be okay. You might just find it excruciating to think of your partner being upset, or to see it happening. Particularly if you feel that you're the cause of the pain.

However, I know that you can manage it, if you prepare yourself well before the start of the emotional roller-coaster...

5 Common mistakes to avoid when you want to break up with someone

You'll want to end your relationship or marriage as smoothly as possible, even if you've been falling out of love for a long time.

"Why would I?" you might ask. Well, the rougher the ending...

  • the longer it takes for everybody to move on (particularly your children)
  • the more damage it causes to everybody's dignity and self-esteem. This has long-term consequences for everyone's mental and emotional well-being
  • the higher the cost (think two houses, two cars, childcare, lawyers, etc)

Some things can cause your soon-to-be ex to try and cling on to the relationship. From my professional experience, the top 5 reasons my clients gave for feeling clingy and needy in the face of a break-up were...

  1. Not having been told why the relationship is ending
  2. Not understanding why (this is generally caused by not having been told!)
  3. Not having been given sufficient opportunity to talk it over pre- and post-ending
  4. Unexpectedly being told it is all over
  5. A sudden inexplicable change in their partner's attitude

Should you stay or walk away?

Don't put off breaking up because you're worried about being 'left on the shelf' (lone woman in the image).Worries about being lonely are not an excuse to hold on to someone you don't love anymore

If you're not sure you should end your relationship or marriage, please take my Relationship Test first. This test will help you to think through what's wrong and what's still right in your relationship. You may find that there's still hope of recovery - or discover that it really is time to go your own way.

How to end a long term relationship:
limiting pain and conflict

The first step is to accept that it may take more time and energy to create a 'good' ending than perhaps you'd hoped.

The second step is to approach each stage with the right mindset. This means that come what may, you're mentally prepared to stay calm and polite. Act in the way you'd have wanted your partner to behave if they were the one breaking up with you - however difficult your partner may make it for you.

I promise you, if you need to engage a solicitor, that second step will help keep your costs down. You won't be creating another layer of conflict on top of the one you're already dealing with. (For help choosing the right lawyer see my page: How to Find a Lawyer)

Even if the breakup is unlikely to be amicable (for whatever reason), you may just manage a reasonable ending. You'll feel better for it and it may also help your partner to get over the ending sooner (I hope that still matters to you, if only a little).  

If you have children, the whole drama will be so much more manageable for them if the two of you can (at the very least) talk politely. Do take a look at my page about Divorce and Children to make sure you're prepared for how your kids might react, and what you can do to help them get through this process too.

Do all you can to stay as calm as possible. Stay in touch with family and friends and take time out for yourself to help you relax.

How to avoid making things worse

It's very easy to make an already difficult situation even more unmanageable by doing any of the following:

6 strategies that prolong the agony

  1. Putting the ending off when you really know you want to leave - sadly it just isn't going to be any easier a month or a year later. It's unlikely that there's ever going to be a 'good' time for this type of ending. Of course, there could be a really bad time - for example in the middle of a major crisis. Try to calmly think through why exactly you've been putting it off and take a problem-solving approach to each reason or 'excuse' you come up with. See my page: Problem Solving Strategies.
  2. Deliberately making life as miserable and difficult as possible in the hope that your partner says he or she no longer loves you and wants to end the relationship. This would only add another layer of problems and stress on top of what you're dealing with already. Ending a long term relationship this way would leave you both with a very bitter taste in your mouth.
  3. Using your children as pawns. Children Caught in the Middle of two unhappy parents are set up to form unhappy relationships themselves.
  4. Starting an affair - the pain this causes should not be underestimated. Again, it just adds more problems and distress. Ultimately your adultery could cause a great deal of trauma to all involved - not just your partner. If you want to be able to end your relationship as well as you can, then you'll need to end the affair - at least until you've dealt with the ending of your marriage or relationship (See my page: Surviving Infidelity).
  5. Avoiding any conversation about the problems in your relationship or marriage may result in your partner making assumptions. He or she will be desperately trying to figure out what's going on. You could be suspected of having an affair, even if there is no infidelity. Of course, if you are having an affair, I can understand you won't want to talk. However, you're only prolonging the agony if deep down you know you want to finish your primary relationship.
  6. Packing your bags and disappearing - no further explanation needed here.
To be aware of a single shortcoming in oneself is more useful than to be aware of a 1000 in someone else. Dalai LamaHolding on to anger and resentment costs too much precious energy

When and how not to end a long-term relationship

Here are 10 common mistakes in timing and method you'll want to avoid. The following are likely to make the breakup more messy, painful, drawn-out and potentially more expensive.

So, here's how not to break up.

13 Tips on how NOT to end a relationship

  1. Don't deliver the bad news just before your partner is due to go out, go to work, pick up the children, etc
  2. Don't walk out of the door to go to work (for example) having just hinted for the first time that you're unhappy and don't see a future for the two of you.
  3. Don't end a relationship during a telephone conversation.
  4. Don't leave a voicemail with either a hint or a clear message about ending.
  5. Don't let someone else do the dirty job for you.
  6. Don't deliver the message in a public place. Ending a relationship in a public place should only be an option if you're worried about abuse (see my page: Signs of an abusive relationship)
  7. Don't tell friends, family members or colleagues you're ending your relationship or marriage before you tell your partner or spouse that it's over.
  8. Don't end the relationship during a row - your partner may actually be pleased - it may be what she or he was hoping for!
  9. Don't text/send an app, video message or private Facebook message that 'it's over' to someone you once thought the world of.
  10. Don't write it online in any shape or form - email, Facebook status update or any other way.
  11. Don’t be ‘unavailable’ if what you really need to do is end it.
  12. Don't give any kind of ultimatum.
  13. Don’t chicken out of ending, when you really know it is over.

"Goodbyes" are an unavoidable part of life - some are more painful than others. Ending an intimate relationship is never going to be easy. So I'm afraid there's no point thinking you can 'just do it' without causing any pain.

I'd always advise getting some professional help. It's so easy now to set up a session with an online licensed therapist. It matters not what time it is or what device you're using. For further information see my page on online counselling.

I'm guessing you've already had experience of endings before though...

Dead red roses in the snow -  a perfect metaphor for a dead relationshipWhen you're absolutely sure your relationship can't be revived, it's perfectly right to end it. But... do end it with grace - to preserve your own and your partner's dignity.

What other endings have you experienced?

We experience all kinds of endings in a life-time:

  • endings of couple relationships
  • the death of loved ones
  • endings caused by moves for whatever reason
  • change of jobs
  • endings of friendships and so on.

You may have lost a grandparent or pet as a child. Or you may have suffered the breakup of your family, with all the losses that entailed.

Your previous experience of endings can become a template for those that follow. Your thoughts, feelings and actions are based on what happened to you before.

Therefore, I'm really chuffed that you're taking the time and trouble to find out how best to end your relationship. It's not an easy thing to do - so the more help and advice you can find, the better. Let's start with how to have that potentially gut-wrenching conversation...

Ways to make a difficult conversation easier

Even if your spouse or partner is expecting bad news, your delivery of it needs careful thought and courage! Being sure and well-prepared will help you do it more confidently and with empathy and compassion.

When we get bad, or even shocking, news our brain takes more time to comprehend what is happening. 

10 Tips for giving bad news, step-by-step

  1. Prepare yourself
  2. Time it right
  3. Do it gently step-by-step, rather than blurting it all out at once
  4. Talk a bit slower than you might normally
  5. Take a few sentences to build up to the purpose of the conversation
  6. Leave short breaks for 'the penny to drop' and for contemplation
  7. Expect your partner to have difficulty processing what you're saying
  8. Expect and be prepared for the unexpected
  9. Expect and be prepared for how you're going to cope - it may be different than you had hoped or anticipated
  10. Realise that it most likely needs more than one conversation

Don't argue, don't blame, don't keep the door open for another chance

5 Tips for getting the dreaded conversation right

  1. Talk about your role in the relationship
  2. Talk about how you are feeling - how you have run out of steam
  3. Avoid criticising your partner for what you perceive to be wrong with him/her (someone else could have been perfectly happy!)
  4. Avoid giving your partner reasons to promise to change (see why I said you needed to be absolutely sure about your decision?)
  5. Avoid giving him or her another chance if you know you truly believe in your heart that it's time to break up

3 Tips for a gentle let-down

  • Allow your partner sufficient breathing space if the ending has come as a shock.  Don't start waffling on about something else or say lots of reassuring things you don't mean. Don't offer to stay friends either.
  • Do not expect to start to negotiate the division of property/possessions in the next month or so.
  • Stay courteous and considerate at all times. This will help you both to recover much quicker. Yes, you too - even if you are the instigator of this ending. Doubtless you've been through a difficult enough time already.

How are you feeling?

Even if you're the one instigating the ending of your long term relationship, I won't be surprised if you feel sad, disappointed and lonely. Probably too you might feel angry and perhaps be suffering sleepless nights.

Of course, what you're going through does depend to some extent on why you married or stayed with your partner in the first place. Assuming that the two of you were together out of true love, you may find that the whole split is going to be more painful than you'd anticipated - even if you have been falling out of love over a period of time. You may have already experienced that - or it may happen later, when it's over and all the 'practical' stuff has been dealt with.

If the split and/or divorce is what you wanted, it may be a relief when you've finally done it. However, you may have been so focused on all the trouble and the actual separation that the meaning of the end has barely registered. No surprise then if it 'hits' you a little later.

Unfortunately you'll probably have to deal with loads of unwanted negative emotions during the breaking up process. But I can help you with this a little. I recommend hypnosis downloads to help calm your troubled mind, and the Ending a Relationship download can really help.

Why staying in charge of your emotions is important

Of course it's very likely that you and/or your partner are going to be emotional at the end of a relationship. It is expected, though, that you'll experience a different mix of emotions. Much of it depends on what led to the decline of your partnership.

However, I have some advice for you that may save you a lot of heartache:

  • Don't say you're leaving in a fit of anger - the damage may be permanent without intention!
  • Don't say it's over in the hope that it will 'make' your partner do what you want them to do.
  • The moment you hurl accusations at someone, their ears close.
    Don't be surprised if you feel that your partner doesn't seem to listen.
    He or she may be unable to hear what you're saying, because of the way you're saying it. For help with this, do have a look at How You Can Improve Your Communication.
  • The more emotional we are as human beings the less able we are to make sense of, or understand, things. In other words - the more emotional we become the less intelligent we are in that moment.

Just remember that what you blurt out when you're distressed, obsessed, hurt and/or angry could cost you dearly during a divorce process. You may just be adding to your lawyer's bill.

Do you need legal advice?

Before you take any action though, be sure that you've had legal advice, if appropriate. Particularly if you've been living together, you have joint assets and you're considering moving out. If there's any chance that you might get into difficulties about that, make sure that you're aware of both your legal rights. See my page: How to find a lawyer.

Staying in touch - a good idea or not?

Do you need to stay in touch with an ex when you're ending a relationship? What are your own expectations of how long you'd want to carry on seeing your ex-partner?

It speaks for itself that if you have children, you need to be prepared to be parents together for the rest of your lives. (And incidentally - any future partners will need to know that you come 'as a package'). If your children are still young, clearly there's likely to be regular contact to ensure that their needs are met.

How long you need to stay in touch and the quality of contact depends on a number of factors.

10 Factors that have a bearing on the length and quality of your contact after your breakup

  1. The length of your marriage or relationship - it can be difficult to let go and get over it
  2. The intensity of your relationship -  you can't be together and you can't be apart
  3. The geographical distance - if you've had a long-distance relationship you may have already felt quite separate for some time
  4. How secure or insecure you each feel as individuals - how difficult and stressful is it for each of you to be independent
  5. How secure you felt in your relationship or marriage - if you feel generally insecure, you may find it difficult to let go, however much the relationship was damaging for you
  6. How easy it is to divide your assets and whether or not it requires a lawyer
  7. The legal advice you have both received - sometimes the manner in which legal advice is conveyed is less than optimal!
  8. The state of your financial affairs and how much stress that causes you
  9. How you negotiate the division of your possessions - delays, misunderstandings, avoidance, legal advice, promises not kept - and so on - all have a bearing
  10. Whether or not either one of you is intent on point scoring or revenge - both utterly pointless and potentially expensive!

Finally

Do yourself a favour...

 ... there's really no shame in needing a bit of help when you're feeling sore or unsure. Of course you'll get through this difficult time, but why torture yourself?

Self-hypnosis with a hypnosis download will do the trick. It's discreet, user-friendly and cost-effective. Have a look at my Self-hypnosis FAQ and Downloads (and there's a super download specifically about ending a relationship).

Alternatively, for personal advice and guidance - connect with a professional, licensed therapist. See my page on online therapy.

So there you have it! You now know how to break up with someone in the most compassionate and reasoned way. It is so worth making the effort to break up in the 'best' possible way, to preserve each other’s dignity and help you both move forward with your lives again once the relationship is over.

For more information, tips and advice on endings, see my pages...

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Related articles

How to Stop Arguing
What Happens in Marriage Counselling?
Infidelity Warning Signs
Children in the Middle
How Does Divorce Affect Children
How to Get Over Someone
My Boyfriend Has Changed for the Worse

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