How to end a (long-term) relationship confidently and gracefully, and leave with dignity

Category: Better Endings | Author and Publisher: Elly Prior | First published: 11-10-2010 | Modified: 02-05-2019 | This article translated into Dutch

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What to do when you want to break up amicably

You want to end your relationship. You could have a huge argument (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 article is for you if you want break up and just don't know how to leave someone you may or may not love anymore.

Oh, and a "long-term" relationship is simply what you consider it to be - whether it's 1 year, 10 or 20 years, or maybe even 30 - 50+ years. That doesn't mean that the consequences of a break-up will be the same, though. What happens after depends to a large extent on your present stage in life and your particular circumstances.

If you want to get out of a relationship, I'll show you how to break up step-by-step, making sure you can protect both your dignity and self-esteem throughout the process. We'll aim for preferably an amicable break-up.

(You may also be interested in my article: How to end a relationship with someone you live with.)

Just in case you've landed on the wrong page ...

End your relationship when you're absolutely sure. Remember the grass is only greener where you water it.

Having realistic expectations is important when you're thinking about ending a long-term relationship. I'm afraid it's unlikely you can split up without any stress or upset. (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...

Should you stay or walk away?

If you're not sure your relationship or marriage is really over, do take my comprehensive Relationship Compatibility 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.

Do you think or hope there is still a chance that the two of you could work it out and avoid a breakup? Then get my Loving Communication Kit for Couples. The kit contains a bundle of action-packed, solution-focussed, relationship saving tools.

Interactive quiz with immediate results

Are you prepared for the breakup?

  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:...

Save $12 and your relationship
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5 common mistakes to avoid when you want to break up with someone and leave

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

"Why would I?" you might ask. Well, the more thoughtless 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 hold on to the relationship. From my professional experience...

...the top 5 reasons my clients gave for feeling clingy and needy in the face of being dumped

Number 1
Not having been told why you want to get out of the relationship.

Number 2
Not understanding why (this is generally caused by not having been told!).

Number 3
Not having been given sufficient opportunity to talk it over pre- and post-ending.

Number 4
Unexpectedly being told it is all over.

Number 4
A sudden inexplicable change in their partner's attitude.

To end your relationship as smoothly and kindly as possible, I really recommend you talk it over with- and get advice from a professional counsellor.

You won't need to commit to weekly sessions, you could just have a few online, WhatsApp, or email conversations.

I promise you, it can make all the difference. For further information, see my page: Relationship breakup advice.

How to end a long term relationship nicely: 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. Hopefully, you'll also have read my article When to break up your relationship.

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.

Even if splitting up 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.

Read my article on how to help your child through a divorce. It will help you being prepared for how your kids might react, and what you can do to help them.

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.

For information about the stages of a breakup and how to tell your partner you want to break up, see my other article with a ton of breakup tips.

How to end a (long) relationship without causing unnecessary pain and bitterness

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 the relationship - 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 article: Problem solving strategies.

2. Deliberately making life miserable
and as 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
Read How to help your child through a breakup.

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: The complete guide to 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 (including an emotional 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
I can understand that might be tempting, but it's cruel!

Image quote: '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 not, and how not to end a long-term relationship

Avoid causing more hassle, pain and a potentially longer lasting and more expensive process. Take heed of the following advice

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 your partner will physically hurt you or verbally abuse you.
  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.

Breaking up 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 how to get expert online counselling and help with your individual situation.

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

How to end a relationship when you've experienced badly handled endings in the past

We experience all kinds of endings in a life-time that happen to all people

  • breaking up of intimate relationships;
  • the death of loved ones'
  • endings caused by moves for whatever reason;
  • change of jobs;
  • the ends of friendships and so on.

You may have lost a grandparent or pet as a child. Or you may have suffered a family breakup 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...

How to end a relationship gently
Ways that 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 you want to leave your relationship.

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

Breaking up? 10 tips on how to deliver the bad news.

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.
Image quote: 'The most uncomfortable situations in life hold the greatest potential for growth.' -Panache DesaiWhen 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.

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.

There's so much to remember - things to avoid, to do and not to do. I know! I highly recommend you prepare yourself with self-hypnosis.

Discover more about this affordable, effective and user-friendly aid in my article: Hypnosis FAQ and Downloads.

3 Tips for a gentle let-down

1. Allow your partner sufficient breathing space if the breakup 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.

2. Do not expect to start to negotiate the division of property/possessions in the next month or so.

3. 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.

There's more help and advice on the following page...

 ... Divorce advice for men (and women) - discover what to say and when.

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.

Also, 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 come to realise that 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.

Fortunately, I can help you with this a little. I recommend hypnosis downloads to sooth 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.
  • 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 divorce lawyer.

Breaking up? 10 factors that have a bearing on the length and quality of your contact

Best way to break up: is 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 either one of you is intent on point scoring or revenge - both utterly pointless and potentially expensive!


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 find the best way to break up, to preserve each other’s dignity and help you both move forward with your lives again once the relationship is over.

It will also make it - potentially - that much easier to start a new relationship.

For more information, tips and advice on breaking up, see my articles...

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