How to break up your marriage or relationship in 3 clear steps

Category: Better Endings | Author and Publisher: Elly Prior | First published: 25-09-2010 | Modified: 01-07-2019

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How to break up with someone

Oh the pain and awkwardness of breaking up and ending your relationship or marriage! 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 in 3 clear steps.

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

You'll need further advice!

Be sure to also visit my page: The complete guide to breaking up with someone

Photo: broken heart. Text: How to break up with someone in 3 clear stepsBe clear what you want to achieve, be clear about your boundaries, be kind, but be direct.

Stages of a relationship or marriage breakup

The ending of a relationship happens in different stages.

Stage 1: discontentment
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.

Stage 2: avoidance
Then you become increasingly aware that you're no longer happy.

You're likely to even be avoiding getting into a conversation with your partner. Instead, you may rather spend your time on social media, watching tv, spending time with your friends, staying at work or going out.

Trusted friends are likely to know more about your feelings than your partner does.

Stage 3: fantasising
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.

Stage 4: giving up
The next stage is when you give up dealing with your relationship problems as they now seem impossible to resolve.

Stage 5: planning an ending
And one day you find yourself looking at your finances and secretly scanning the papers for somewhere else to live.

Stage 6: making that decision
Then, all of a sudden you've come to a final decision to break up.

Interactive quiz with immediate results

Are you really ready to end your relationship now?

  1. Are you really, really sure you want to break up?
  2. Have the two of you done all you can to save the relationship? For example, have you used my Communication Kit for Happy Couples?
  3. Have you been for relationship counselling together or had relationship counselling online (assuming you're not in an abusive relationship)?
  4. Have you talked to your partner about your doubts?
  5. Have you taken responsibility for your part in the downturn of your relationship and worked hard to make amends?
  6. Have you worked at accepting your partner for who he/she is without wanting change them, and focusing on all that they bring to the relationship?
  7. Have you been faithful (unless the two of you had an agreement about having other liaisons.?
  8. Have you treated your partner as you hope to be treated yourself?
  9. Have you had some personal counselling to talk through what's going on for you, or for advice about ending your relationship?
  10. Have you invested sufficient time and effort in this relationship - enjoyed the ups and worked through the downs?

Your score is: ...


See also my article When to break up.

How to end your relationship - 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.

If you're not sure you are doing the right thing then I recommend you take my Relationship Compatibility Test. And make sure you get some good relationship advice, be that from a professional or a wise, non-judgmental person in your own social circle.

For even more help and advice, also read...

 ... my article: How to end a long-term relationship.

Be clear about why you're breaking up

You need to be absolutely clear about your reasons before you talk to your 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 ready to chat with you.

Image quote: The biggest adventure you can take is to live the life of your dreams. -Oprah WinfreySometimes 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, and this relationship, 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 Loving Communication Kit for Couples.

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.

How to break up your marriage or relationship 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.

If you're breaking up a long-distance relationship, use the following advice to write a letter or email. That is, if you really don't want a one-to-one on Skype or other video app.

Are the two of you living together? Then also read my article: Breaking up with someone you live with.

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. In other words: you'll know precisely what you want to say when you're breaking up!


You need to break it to your partner gently, but firmly.


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?

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 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 - no shouting or blaming.
  4. Avoid saying anything like: "but", "maybe", "if you would only..."

The latter leaves the door open for your partner 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.

If you have children, talk about how you will tell them you're splitting up. Read my article on how to help your children through a breakup.

No doubt, you'll also want to know when to break up with someone, I suspect.

7 do's and don't for a better breakup conversation

How to end a relationship
7 Do's and don'ts for a better break-up conversation 

1. Do - briefly - tell them which behaviours are a problem to you
(accept that you personally don’t like those things about her/him - someone else might find them totally lovable!) Don't waste time blaming, particularly if you know you were probably mostly to blame, but do give your (ex)partner an honest reason for the breakup.

2. 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!)

3. Don't say: "We can still be friends."
You most likely can't, at least not for a year or so, and maybe never.

4. Don't let them convince you...
to give them another chance if you're absolutely sure you want to end the relationship

5. Do set a time limit for this breakup talk
- if necessary have a friend call in at a certain time.

6. Do break up in a public place if you're in an abusive relationship
and take a friend for support (if you're not living together. If you are living together, first talk to a support organisation for people in a violent relationship.

7. Don't put the ending off...
...when you know it's over.

Are you in an abusive relationship?

If so, you will need to help and support of a licensed counsellor or specialist organisation.

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 - Decide what to do about 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.

Need a bit of extra help?

I recommend self-hypnosis. It is so discreet, user-friendly and cost-effective with an expert download.

For more information, see my article Hypnosis FAQ and Downloads and consider getting the download on ending a relationship.

Please, rate this article ...

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. :-)

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