How to break up with someone in 3 steps when you want to leave a relationship

Category: Better Endings | Author: Elly Prior | First published: 25-09-2010 | Modified: 08-02-2018

Oh the pain and awkwardness of breaking up! I so understand your predicament, from my professional as well as personal experience. Therefore I'm going to help you discover how to break up confidently, with grace and compassion, in 3 clear steps.

This article is how to break up in person. If you're having a long-distance relationship you can have that breakup conversation on Skype or on Facetime. Breaking up any other way, such as on social media or by text, is not the way to do it.

Stages of a break-up

The ending of a relationship happens in different stages.

  • At first you notice a vague sense of discontent, stillness and perhaps even loneliness at times. You feel in your heart that things ought to be different, but perhaps you accept them as 'normal' up and downs. If you've tried to work on the relationship, you may have tried talking about it, setting some boundaries and compromising here and there.
  • Then you become increasingly aware that you're no longer happy and perhaps you'd rather spend your time on social media instead of getting into a conversation with your partner. Trusted friends are likely to know more about your feelings than your partner does.
  • Over time that feeling increases and you begin to imagine what it would be like if you were to break up, go your separate ways and have a happy, healthy relationship with someone else.
  • The next stage is when you give up dealing with your relationship problems as they now seem impossible to resolve.
  • And one day you find yourself looking at your finances and secretly scanning the papers for somewhere else to live
  • Then, all of a sudden you've come to a final decision

If you think your partner wants to break up with you, you'll need another page!

Quickly hop over to: How to Make Your Partner Fall in Love with You Again.

Image quote: Be clear what you want to achieve, be clear about your boundaries and be kind.

How to separate - in 3 clear steps

My advice on how to break up in 3 steps will help you navigate the process of ending your relationship or marriage with relative ease and grace.

However sad and difficult, we all have to accept that endings happen.

I want you to do it well so that you and your partner hold on to your dignity.  A cleaner ending makes for a faster recovery with:

  • fewer arguments
  • your children's well-being protected
  • less damage
  • less pain - believe me!
  • a manageable lawyer's bill (if you need legal advice)
  • enough energy left to invest in your future

Of course, I'm assuming that you are totally sure that you want to split up from your partner or spouse.

If you're not sure you are doing the right thing then I recommend you do my Relationship Test.

Be clear about why you are breaking up

You need to be absolutely clear about your reasons before you talk to your spouse or partner about why you want to leave the relationship.

We’ll talk later about how and when you might start the conversation. For now, just trust me. Think about the answers to the questions below and write them down.

These answers will help you prepare for that stomach-churning conversation when you tell your partner that you want to break up and separate.

You'll be ready to articulate exactly why you are breaking up. Believe me - you'll be asked!

If by any chance you want to get some personal advice, you can get that right now on my page Online Relationship Breakup Advice. There are qualified counsellors/therapists ready to chat with you.

Oh... one more thing...

Image quote: Sometimes a relationship has to end, particularly when you know you've given it your all or you've simply outgrown each other.

What was your dream?

Remember that the ultimate reason for breaking up is that your dreams have been shattered. Those dreams were part of the story you told yourself about what life should be like.

We're not talking reality here. We're getting to the core of who you are: your expectations, your perceptions, your assumptions, your feelings and thoughts about life - including the person you're breaking up with and other important people in your life.

I know this sounds deep, but taking responsibility for that will help you create the best possible ending.

Should you still be unsure about what to do, I recommend you reinvest in your relationship with my Breakup Prevention Kit. It will help you focus on other things in your relationship instead of all the trouble. You can have deeper, more meaningful and also fun conversations that may just save your relationship.


I used you site for advice on ending a new relationship where I was more involved, but the guy just wanted a fling. Very helpful - thanks.

- Carole

Break-up advice in three steps

If you're not living together, you may want to meet in a neutral location, where you can't be overheard. It may be an idea to have some trusted friends close by to be there for you afterwards.

Step 1 - Know your reasons for breaking up

We're beginning to shape the conversation you're going to have with your partner with the answers to these questions. You'll be able to construct the story of the highs and lows of the relationship and its ultimate decline in your perception.


You need to break it to your partner gently, but firmly. Why? It will be for your mutual benefit, help you set boundaries, making the ending all the more smoother. The latter will make it easier for you to move on quicker and doesn't leave your soon to be ex with any false hope.

Write down the answers to the following questions

How long have you been together?
How did you first meet?
What attracted you to your girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse?
What did you like most about him/her?
When did you first notice that the relationship was not quite right?
When did you begin to wonder what it would be like if you ended the relationship? (Tip: it was probably earlier than you think)
Are you already in a relationship with someone else?  Perhaps your partner already knows about your infidelity?
Does your partner suspect your infidelity?
Have you already found somewhere else to live (if living together)?
What precisely bothers you about the relationship?
What precisely do you not like about him/her? (Tip: don't share this with your partner!)

Step 2 - How to tell your partner you want to break up

  1. Take it gently - step by step - take your time.
  2. Be kind and considerate. He/she may not have seen it coming.
  3. Do not become defensive - there's no place for defensiveness in any case. Stay as calm as you can, regardless of your partner's reaction.
  4. Avoid saying anything like: "but", "maybe", "if you would only..."

The latter leaves the door open for your partner or spouse to keep fighting for the survival of your relationship or marriage (and who would blame them). It would lead to false hope, heart-wrenching discussions, pleas and promises. You've got to be clear about- and set- boundaries. Let them be clear this is your final decision.

For more about all of this, see my page How to End a Long-Term Relationship.

8 Do's and don'ts for a better break-up conversation

  1. Don’t tell your spouse/partner what you don’t like about him/her
  2. Accept that you personally don’t like those things about her/him - someone else is likely to find them totally lovable
  3. Take responsibility for your own likes and dislikes in a relationship
  4. Don't blame him or her, however tempting
  5. Accept that you both played a role in what's happened
  6. Don’t say something like: “It is not about you, it’s all me” - even if it's true, he/she will see it as a meaningless cop-out (and perhaps it is!)
  7. Don't say: "We can still be friends."  You most likely can't, at least not for a year or so, and maybe never.
  8. Do set a time limit for this breakup talk

Are you in an abusive relationship?

If so, you will need to help and support of a specialist agency. Do not attempt to leave without having fully informed yourself of the best strategy in your particular situation. Most of the advice in this article won't help you to keep safe. See my article on the signs of an abusive relationship (support agencies on the last page)

Step 3 - Saving face with family and friends

Do consider whether or not you need to say goodbyes to your partner's family and friends.

It can be oh so awkward if you later bump into them. What do you say when you haven't bothered to even send them a card to say thank you for being there, welcoming you, supporting you or whatever else there is to say thank you for and wish them all the best?

Most importantly, if you have children, they'll need to feel that they can talk to you about family and friends! After all, they may well stay in touch with them.

There is no shame in...

... needing a bit of extra help with this gut-wrenching task. I recommend some self-hypnosis. It is so discreet, user-friendly and cost-effective with an expert download. Have a look at my page Hypnosis FAQ and Downloads - especially the one on ending a relationship.

Do also consider connecting with an professional - online - licensed relationship therapist. He or she will take all the time to get to know your particular situation and help you take the next step. For further information, see my page: Online Breakup Advice.

Free printable download

Download the printable PDF of Breaking up Tips for free!

New! Rate this article (anonymously)...

I really hope this article is of help to you. :-)

I frequently update my articles based on feedback, therefore I really value your vote.

Thank you so much in anticipation. :-)

Related articles

The Best Relationship Advice
Before You Consider Divorce
How to Get over Someone
Getting over a Relationship
Children in the Middle

Do you need help?

There's no shame in asking for help. In fact, it's a measure of strength.
Take action now... 

... connect with an online professional therapist

    Your problem is never too small or too big, too silly or too complicated to ask for help from a licensed therapist.

    You won't believe what a breath of fresh air it is to be able to discuss your problems with your own professional. Someone who takes the time to really 'get you' and offer tailored guidance to suit you and your particular circumstances.

    Connect with your therapist as often as you like in confidence (no need even to give your real name).

CLICK HERE or click the image...

I want to upfront with you - I earn a commission from BetterHelp. This is how I earn an honest income, whilst giving away tonnes of free information throughout my site. You pay the same fee, regardless.

Found this page helpful?
Please, share -
this page or my blog...

Mind and Relationship Matters Blog

Feel free to ask for help, or comment on this article

Elly Prior

Hello you! :-)

It's me - Elly Prior, I'm the Founder and Author of this site. I'm a 'real' person! I'm hoping to make a positive difference, small or large, to every person who visits my site.

Do feel free to ask for help. I would be delighted to write a few lines to support you and help you to move on. (Oh, and if you're glad I replied, please do give me the thumbs up, that helps someone else to pluck up the courage to write too.)

Alternatively, scroll back up to the blue box to discover how you can connect with another professional counsellor. Or, for further information, see see my article on online, professional, mental health and relationship advice.

Image courtesy of: Michael Korchia