After breaking a couple of hearts myself, I’ve found myself in the position of being on the receiving end of “It’s not you, it’s me” a total of three times in a row. Each time hurt more than the last. Especially the most recent one, because I truly thought that would be the one that would last. It was such a confusing, blindsiding and ambiguous breakup, that it shattered my sense of reality.
There is nothing wrong with realizing that you just don’t mesh as well with your partner as you thought, or realizing that you have different dreams and goals than when you first started dating them. You ultimately have to do what’s best for you, because at the end of the day, this is your life and your life only.
Breaking up with someone is unfortunately almost never easy, and it’s a challenge to avoid hurting your partner by telling them you need to go your separate ways. Pursuing what you think is best for you doesn’t make you a bad person, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
There are no concrete right ways to break someone’s heart, but there are definitely some wrong ways. Luckily, since I’ve been through the wringer a couple of times, sitting on both sides of the table, I have a few pointers to share with you. Hopefully, my experiences can help you find a way to make this less painful for both you and them.
Dig Deep and Find Your Reason
Before I bring up the more concrete points I have, I ask that you take some time to think about why you want out. Listen, making a potentially life-changing decision not only for yourself but for someone else as well, is hard as fuck. There are a lot of things to take into consideration before you pull the proverbial plug. I’m not trying to invalidate your feelings or shame you for wanting out, just make sure you have the insight on why you are doing it in the first place.
A few questions to ask yourself:
- Do I think the grass is greener on the other side?
- What are my dealbreakers and are they consistently displayed in my current relationship?
- Am I happy? Am I getting what I need emotionally, sexually and mentally?
- Have my priorities and direction in life changed?
This is your opportunity to self-reflect and organize your thoughts. Make sure that when you make this decision, you’re doing it with honest intentions, and compassion for them and yourself.
Blindsiding Them Is a No-Go
At this point in the process, the two of you should have already had some sort of conversation on how to address the things that just aren’t working for you. No one (in a non-abusive relationship, of course) deserves to have the rug pulled out from underneath them.
Your soon-to-be-former partner could possibly be under the impression that things are just fine and dandy and have no idea what’s about to hit. By blindsiding them you are potentially setting the foundation for a traumatic life experience which could shape how they approach relationships post-you, all while wrecking their self-esteem, and mental & emotional well-being. I can’t imagine that you would want this type of pain for your former partner.
Not only will this hurt them and take a considerable amount of time to repair, but it will also make things more difficult for yourself. Take it from me, when people are left so suddenly without warning, they’ll want to desperately fix anything and everything they can, all while trying to avoid this surprise breakup.
I have shamefully done this to my high school sweetheart. The way I hurt him has haunted me ever since. We had been together for nearly five years and had all the usual teenage relational ups and downs. But, for the last six months of our relationship, things had gone stale for my part and I slowly realized that I didn’t have to be with him for the rest of my life, just because he was my first love.
The summer before I turned twenty, I got my first “big girl” job and the growth I experienced was instantaneous. Overnight, I became confident and self-assured as I worked to make my own money, surrounded by adult co-workers who treated me like one of them. I soon met and fell hard for one of those co-workers who was a person that embodied everything my boyfriend didn’t. On a whim, I broke up with my ex over text while he was away for a music festival and jumped straight into a summer romance with the new guy (a relationship that lasted five years).
Left out of the loop and heartbroken, my ex immediately tried to fix things by begging and pleading, even trying to guilt me by buying an engagement ring with my name inscribed on the inside. Seeing him so broken by my actions, and hearing through the grapevine that he went down a black hole filled with fistfights and pill addictions, was my first adult lesson in how not to break someone’s heart. My consequences had real actions, and even though I didn’t force him into this downward spiral, I knew I was the ultimate reason behind it.
While it was the right decision for me to leave, it was completely and utterly wrong to do it the way I did. Yes, I was a self-centered nineteen-year-old when this happened, but knowing the fact that I had it in me to break someone in that way, still keeps me up some nights. I’ve truly learned my lesson and feel deep remorse for how he was treated.
Be as Concise and Straightforward as Possible
Using the last story as an example, I didn’t give my ex the dignity of a whole lot of explanation when I pulled the trigger. I lacked the emotional maturity to explain to him why I was leaving, and instead, cruelly gave him a laundry list of everything that had been bugging me for five years. Something that left him extremely hurt and overwhelmed by this multitude of information. Doing that was the easy way out, the coward’s way out, instead of doing the hard and genuine work of confronting the fact that I had changed and craved a new direction in life. A direction that didn’t include him or us as a couple.
There’s not a painless way to break it to someone that you’re breaking up with them but once you’ve made a genuine effort to examine both yourself and the situation, and have taken into consideration if there are things that can/should be fixed; and made the ultimate decision that this is the path you want to take, then there’s no beating around the bush any longer. The bandaid needs to come off, and you just need to do it. There is a fine line though between overindulging in every little detail/thought/feeling and not sharing enough as to why you are making this decision.
It’s natural that your partner will want, or even demand answers as to why you want to break up, and they deserve those answers. Be prepared though that they may question your decision making, ask if there’s someone else involved or accuse you of having never loved them. Answer those questions while remaining firm and giving no wiggle room. Don’t indulge them if they ask if there’s something about them that’s causing you to leave.
You need to shift the focus from them to you, the classic “it’s not you, it’s me”. It’s a clichè for a reason. Sometimes people just wake up and realize they want something different in life. If you can see clearly that where you want to go in life is different than where you are headed with them, say that. If it’s plain as day to you that you no longer experience compatibility with them, that’s more than ok to voice. You have two choices here that you can choose either one of or mix into a combination: make it about you and your life, or the two of you as individuals in coupledom. Don’t make it purely about them.
Cut the Confusing Rhetoric
Like I mentioned before, my most painful breakup was an ambiguous one, filled with a multitude of confusing rhetoric that spewed from my ex’s mouth. He said some incredibly confusing things such as “this is right for right now” and telling me that he loved me while breaking up with me. He even referenced the Bebe Rhexa song “Meant to Be” in our first conversation post-breakup, saying if things are meant to be down the line, then they’ll just be. I empathize with him, it’s hard breaking up with someone you still love. But his ambiguity left me really emotionally & mentally screwed up for such a long time. His words gave me the incentive to fight hard for both him and us as a couple. Whatever sliver of hope he gave me, (whether intentionally or unintentionally is still up for debate), I clung onto and used as fuel to refuse the reality being presented before me. I tried with all my might to will him into changing his mind, believing that this situation wasn’t a permanent one. That wasn’t a fun position for either of us to be in.
Do your ex-partner a favor, and don’t leave it open-ended no matter how much breaking up with them pains you, no matter how confusing it is to see them in agony. It’s natural for us to want to soften the blow when we’re letting someone down, when we’re hurting them. But saying things that could be interpreted as hope is downright cruel for someone with a broken heart.
Be compassionate in how you communicate your decision while remaining firm. You are not there to hold their hand and support them through this, and they should never feel as they should support you either, but that shouldn’t stop you from breaking the bad news in as kind a way as possible.
While it’s ok to tell them that you will always appreciate and cherish the time you’ve had with them, leave out how much you love and care about them. Be cautious in telling them that they are a wonderful person who will find a better-suited partner one day, because if they were so wonderful, then why would you leave them? It doesn’t make it not true, but they don’t need to hear those words from you, it’ll only be confusing.
Ultimately, this will be a painful matter, no matter what you do. But, you have the power to do this the right way for all parties involved. You have the power to do right by them and right by yourself. Remain compassionate, kind and empathetic. Remind yourself that you aren’t a bad person for wanting other things, even if it hurts someone you’ve loved.
With enough time the pain and grief that go hand-in-hand with most breakups will pass, as all things eventually do. One last tip I have for you, is to give yourself and your former partner time and space to process, grow and move on from both your romantic relationship and the breakup itself. Maybe one day you can be purely platonic friends but that’s not going to happen anytime soon. And it’s definitely not going to happen while you’re still in contact.
I wish you all the best and hope my experiences have given you some insight on what to do and what to avoid.