How to break up with someone you live with, without breaking down (with interactive quiz)

Category: Better Endings | Author and Publisher: Elly Prior | First published: 30-04-2018 | Modified: 07-05-2018

Breaking up with someone you live with is far more difficult than when you're in a dating relationship relationship (1). You're likely to have built up a collection of shared assets and networks, and disentangling yourself from these may be very challenging indeed. I suspect you've already considered all of this and, as a result, just shelved the whole idea of breaking up - maybe even more than once. And we haven’t even mentioned the emotional impact of a breakup yet, regardless of which one of you is the instigator.

Breaking up with someone you live with can also be made more difficult if:

  • You’re engaged to be married and wedding preparation is already underway
  • You’ve tried leaving before but - for whatever reason - you couldn’t go through with it
  • You're still on the fence and don’t know if breaking up is the right thing to do

I'm a professional couples therapist with 24 years’ experience under my belt. Believe me when I say I understand the challenge you’re facing! So, I’ve written this article to help you navigate this difficult situation. I'll take you step by step through what you need to do.

To start with, let’s cover all of the most common practicalities that need to be dealt with. Here's an interactive quiz to help you discover your next step…

Breaking up with someone you live with - discover if you're ready. Interactive quiz
Interactive quiz with immediate results

Are you ready to break up with your cohabiting partner?


  1. Are you totally sure that breaking up is the right thing to do?
  2. Do you know where you'll live after the breakup?
  3. Have you ensured that you can afford to break up right now?
  4. Have you made a list of all your possessions?
  5. Have you have made a list of all your debts - individual and joint?
  6. Have you made a personal budget?
  7. Do you have a plan about how and when you’ll tell your partner?
  8. Have you made a list of family and friends you want to inform immediately?
  9. Have you made a fair plan to share the care of your children?
  10. Have you carefully considered all possible reactions from your partner and how you'd deal with these?

Your score is: ...

Do you really need to break up? Have you truly worked at your relationship?

Do you feel that you’ve done all you can to make the relationship a success, but that your efforts have been in vain? Have the two of you grown apart, or have you simply fallen out of love with your partner? Are you in love with someone else?

Whatever the reason for your decision to end the relationship, I’d encourage you at this point to take a step back for a moment. Many relationships really do need to end, but just as many good relationships are abandoned unnecessarily. 

You’re considering a huge step -  leaving your partner whilst you're living together - so before we carry on…

When you’re feeling relatively calm, give yourself some space to think about your answers to these questions:

  • Are you absolutely sure you want to end it? 
  • Have you done all you can to make the relationship work?
  • How much is your partner aware that things weren't going so well?
  • Have the two of you discussed your problems?
  • Have you already mentioned before that you want to break up?
  • Have you really tried to make changes and deal with the problems?
  • Has your partner done the same?

If the answer to any of those questions is no, here's what I'd like you to do next, before you go through with the breakup...

  1. Use my Comprehensive Relationship Test to determine the real state of your relationship, including - importantly - what you still have together to fight for.
  2. Use my Communication Kit for Happy Couples. You'll find a ton of quizzes and tools to help you breathe new life into your relationship
  3. Consider face-to-face or online counselling for yourself before you go ahead - either to help you address the problems, or prepare you for the breakup

I want to upfront with you - I earn a commission from BetterHelp. You pay the same fee, regardless.

I want to upfront with you - I earn a commission from BetterHelp. You pay the same fee, regardless.

Are you engaged to be married?

If so, how far along are the preparations for the wedding?

I totally understand that it might now feel impossible to break up, especially if wedding prep is in full swing.

But the fact that you’ve found yourself on this page means alarm bells are already ringing loudly for you. I’m sure your immediate concern is the potential backlash from cancelling the wedding. But THE most important question here is: can you really see yourself spending the rest of your life with your partner? 

If the answer is "no", then you know you’re not in the right relationship. And as difficult as it might be right now, cancelling the wedding will cause far less grief in the long-run (for everyone concerned) than going ahead with it just to avoid the short-term upset.

If you’re not convinced the relationship needs to end, go back to the three steps above to help you figure that out. I’d also recommend that you take a look at my series of articles on how to make your partner love you again. You can check if there's anything else you can do that'll make a difference.

Should you consider a temporary separation?

You could discuss together whether living apart for a little while would be a good way forward. It could give you both a chance for quiet contemplation and re-evaluation. Maybe you just need a little time alone to help you figure out all the stuff you’re dealing with right now. 

Does absence make the heart grow fonder?

It may well do. During a trial separation, you and/or your partner might be confronted with what you're missing about each other. But, will it be the positives you become aware of? 

If you do go down this route, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. Taking a temporary break in the hope that your partner will suddenly want you more or fall in love with you again is a somewhat manipulative way to change the dynamics.

It could also keep your partner's hopes alive that the two of you will get back together again. If you know that there's no chance of that, than take a deep breath, be brave and honest, and take the flack. Your partner will still hurt, but he or she will recover much quicker than if their hopes had been falsely kept alive.

Are you in an abusive relationship?

If your partner is physically, sexually and/or emotionally abusive, then you need to be extremely careful when breaking up. There is a chance that the breakup may trigger a desire for revenge. Therefore, the only responsible advice I can give you here is to point you to my article on the signs of an abusive relationship. There, you'll find a list with links to organisations that can offer help and/or information. Make sure you get all the support you need to get you safely out of this relationship.

If you're not sure if you're in an abusive relationship, start with reading my article on what constitutes emotional abuse.

How not to break up when you're living together

When you’ve made the decision to end the relationship here's what not to do.

5 Things not to do

  1. Don't change the locks
  2. Don't run away with the children (although this may have to be an option if you're in an abusive relationship)
  3. Don't resort to stonewalling (being silent and ignoring your partner) or being nasty in the hope that they'll initiate a breakup
  4. Don't pretend all is well and then suddenly leave without an explanation
  5. Don't let the status quo continue (DO take positive action!)

Why do I hope you won't do those things?

Well, for starters, they’re disrespectful to yourself and your partner. But also, they’ll just make the whole situation so much more unpleasant and difficult for everyone involved.

What are your prospects of another relationship?

  1. Are you already in love with someone else?
  2. Are you having an affair with that person?
  3. If so, is your partner aware?

Why is this important?

Well, if you're already in love with or seeing someone else, you probably already know that your partner won’t be best pleased about it.

There's no ideal solution to this scenario. So, the best thing to do is to be honest and stay calm. "Easier said than done", you may think, and you're right. Breaking up with someone you live with is never going to be easy, particularly not if they discover that you've been unfaithful.

Here are some ideas on what you can do, though…

What to do

Be honest. Sometimes an affair can remain hidden during a relationship. Unfortunately, at the time of a breakup it's likely to become known - if not immediately, then soon after.

Allow your partner to feel what they feel. There's nothing more you can do about it; you just have to ride the storm. Don't defend, don't get angry - it's too late for all that.

Here are some examples of what you could say:

"I totally get that you're angry, as I would be too if I was in your shoes. I just wish I wasn't the cause of your anguish." (I hope you could genuinely feel like that)

"I can see how much this is hurting you. And I’m sorry, but I know breaking up is the right thing to do - for both of us."

What not to do

Don’t become self-righteous or make yourself out to be the victim. You may well have had reasons for finding love elsewhere, but your partner is unlikely to accept those as excuses. All that will happen is that you’ll inflame the situation, and you’ll face a messier, more drawn-out breakup.

Considering your financial situation before you break up with someone you're living with

Consider - and plan for - the financial implications of ending your relationship. Depending on your circumstances, you might need to get legal advice.

You might have to think about expenses associated with:

  • Child maintenance
  • Property division
  • Establishing a new home for yourself, or maintaining the existing family home if your partner moves out
  • Court fees, if you need legal intervention during the separation

I so hope that the two of you can bring yourselves to negotiate fairly and peaceably. Not only will that save you both money, but it’ll dramatically reduce the stress you’re already under because of the breakup itself.

Here’s how you can start sorting out your finances:

Step 1

Make a list of all joint insurance policies, credit/store cards, banks and savings accounts so you can see exactly what needs to be dealt with.

Highlight the things you need to attend to immediately, particularly if your partner is running up bills on joint credit cards and bank accounts. For further information, see the Money Advice Service ⧉.

Step 2

Make a list of any debts you've incurred, e.g. credit cards, store cards, overdrafts, loans, rent arrears, outstanding bills and mortgage payments etc.

Separate out your personal debts and prepare to discuss how you'll divide the remainder with your partner, if possible. However, the best plan is to consult with a legal adviser, particularly if you have a mortgage.

Step 3

Explore alternative accommodation (consider getting some legal advice first). Decide how much it's going to cost you to live on your own, with the help of a budget planner. Here's one from the National Debtline ⧉. Remember to take into consideration your part in paying off any debts.

So, now you're ready to prepare, let's talk about how to end your relationship with your live-in partner...

How to break up with someone you live with

6 practical steps to help you through the process

  1. Get legal advice if necessary. See my article: How to Find the Best Lawyer.
  2. Plan how and when to tell your partner. I’ve got this totally covered in my articles: How to end a long-term relationship and Breaking Up Tips.
  3. Deal with any urgent financial matters. This is particularly important if you don’t think you and your partner will be able to sort out your finances amicably. Contact your bank and credit card companies immediately to ask for advice.
  4. Tell your children - preferably together. Breaking up with someone you live with is made even harder if there are children involved. But you can minimise the pain and suffering of your whole family unit by going about it the right way. If you have children, see my articles: Children in the Middle and How to Minimise the Effect of Family Breakup on the Children.
    Oh, and don't forget to inform their schools and their friends’ parents.
  5. Tell friends and family. See below.
  6. Work together to split up your possessions. See below.
How to break up with someone if you're still living together. 6 Practical steps.

How to deal with family and friends when you're breaking up with someone you live with

This probably isn’t high on your list right now. However, I highly recommend you carefully consider what to do about shared family and friends.

Why?

  • You're likely to bump into them. Awkward!
  • You might need or want their support and friendship - perhaps at least some of them
  • If not, you may still want to continue to see them (family gatherings, parties, etc.). 
  • Or you might have no choice but to keep seeing them if they’re important to your children. In which case, it’s vital that you let your children know that they’re not letting you down or doing anything wrong if they want to stay in touch with them
  • Family and friends may feel the need to choose between you and your partner, though much depends on how you handle the situation
  • Many couples get back together again months or years later, or become casual or even firm friends (I know - it may surprise you!). So you might want to think twice about what you say to friends and family that you might encounter again in the future under different circumstances!

What to do

  • Make a list of shared family and friends
  • For those you have little contact with - send a card or an email with a few words about the breakup.
  • For those that are important - ask when you can talk to them undisturbed (without children nearby), either in person or on the phone/Skype. I'd suggest a gentle lead-in such as: "I wonder if you've been aware of our difficulties..."
  • Just acknowledge their reactions, whether or not you understand or agree with them. You don’t have to defend or justify - or necessarily offer comfort, for that matter!

What not to do

  • Don't say anything negative about your partner. It's best not to make any assumptions at this stage about who your friends/family are likely to support. Also, if you and your partner do get back together, you wouldn't want your partner's relationship with anyone in your social circle to be compromised by what you said post-breakup.
  • Don't allow yourself to be led into a heated discussion.
    Say something like:
    "I know that this is difficult for you" or...
    "Of course, I can hear/see you're upset/angry/disappointed/worried..."

But remember: you don’t have to defend or justify your actions or decisions to anyone!

Work together to split up your possessions

I know... it can be a difficult and sad task! :-(

6 Tips to make dividing property as easy as possible

  1. Act fast - agree to spend no longer than a couple of hours on the task.
  2. Agree to remain civil, and try your best not to get petty or greedy.
  3. If you anticipate lots of resentment and hassle, make a list of the belongings in question, take photos if you want to, and discuss it all in a neutral place.
  4. Label items with sticky notes with your names on, if necessary.
  5. Show your generosity of spirit and let your partner choose first. Agree in advance that you'll negotiate on things you really wanted too, but don't be greedy!
Advicenow.org.uk suggestions for dividing possessions.https://www.advicenow.org.uk/guides/survival-guide-living-together-and-breaking

Finally

Breaking up with someone you live with is undoubtedly going to be difficult and painful. It’s also not all going to get resolved overnight. So, be sure to allow sufficient time for the whole process - for your sake, and your partner’s.

Once you’ve had the “it’s over” conversation, don’t expect your partner to be ready to negotiate on possessions the very next day, or even the following week.

Separating homes, finances, possessions and your emotional ties will all take time, perseverance and hard work. But no matter how monumental the challenge may seem, know these two things:

  1. You are capable of dealing with everything that needs to be dealt with
  2. Staying in the relationship just to avoid the difficulty of separation is absolutely not a better idea!

Remain civil throughout if you can, and I promise you - you will get your life back on track again. Just take it all one step at a time :-)

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