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The Art Of Breaking Up, From ‘The Talk’ To Moving On

Photo: LA Johnson


The life cycle of a relationship is different for everyone, but most of us can relate to the feeling that a relationship has stalled.

Whether it’s due to the intensity of the pandemic, deeply cut emotional wounds, or simply the feeling that you’re growing apart, it’s helpful to have a roadmap for how to break up in a way that is compassionate and clear to the other person.

If you’re considering a breakup, these are the five major steps that you are likely to encounter as you move through the process.

Clarify your feelings about the relationship

Ultimately, you can’t move forward with a breakup that will stick until you have absolute clarity from one or both partners that your relationship cannot be salvaged.

It’s difficult to reach this conclusion on your own. A counselor can help you unpack your feelings and help you get clear on the needs you have in the relationship and how to communicate them to your partner. People often come to relationship expert Susan Winter when they are considering a breakup. She has seen clients go back and forth on the decision for months or cry wolf and threaten a breakup as a tactic to get the relationship back on track. She recommends journaling to think through your feelings. “Figure out what you need and what you want, and be able to identify in clear language to communicate with your partner or with your couples counselor what it is that you need and want that you’re not getting.”

Once you have articulated what you need to feel safe and loved in a relationship — and done your best to meet your partner’s needs, if you still can’t shift the relationship dynamic it could be time to move on.

Determine how and when to have “The Talk”

Always awkward but very necessary, you need to decide when and where to have the talk. Different people have different approaches, and you need to decide what’s best based on your relationship. Think about how your partner might take the news and whether this will come out of left field, or if they could be expecting it and thinking it too. Psychotherapist Jack A. Daniels believes in having the conversation in a public space so you both can walk away and process separately — while Susan Winter believes you should speak in private.

John Paul Brammer of the popular advice column ¡Hola Papi! suggests you set the stage for a breakup with the famous line, “We need to talk”. Once you have a plan to discuss, clarify your language for delivering the news, either through journaling or conversations with your counselor.

Breaking up doesn’t always happen in a one-and-done conversation: it could take place in a series of micro-discussions that ultimately lead to a break.

Plan out the separation process

Ending a relationship can mean splitting up friendships, property, pets and even families. The longer you’ve been together and the more deeply enmeshed you and your partner are, the more complicated this process will be and generally the longer this process will take. Try to lead with compassion for the other person but remain clear and steadfast in your decision.

If you aren’t married and required to go through a formal process of dividing up property, it’s still smart to memorialize your agreement on who is taking which pets and property in writing. This can help you avoid another conflict down the road.

Take time to heal and gain perspective on yourself and the relationship ending

Even if you are the person who initiates the breakup, the response from the other person can be hurtful and the decision to end the relationship can be difficult on you both.

Don’t chase closure from the other person. It’s possible you could end up with a civilized goodbye, but you should also be prepared for the door to be shut on your relationship without any further communication.

John Paul Brammer also recommends that you either unfriend or snooze your ex’s posts on social media. Continuing to see them and follow the changes in their life is more likely to bring you pain and question your decision than it will bring you joy and perspective.

Either way, it’s important that you take a period of time to reset and renew yourself. Figure out who you are and what makes you happy outside of the context of a relationship. This could involve journaling, self care, more counseling or simply reinvesting in friendships and family relationships.

Get back out there and live your best love life

Those who are newly single often wonder how long they should wait to date again. Jack A. Daniels suggests you spend 30 days abstaining from dating. Beyond that point, you could be ready right away or need more time to heal.

When you are ready to date again, dating apps provide a great way to expand your dating pool quickly. Millions of people use them.

Dating apps shouldn’t be your only way to date, however. John Paul Brammer suggests joining a hiking group or other special interest community to connect with like minded people.

Eventually everyone moves on, but people have so many ways of doing that. Some listeners said they took up a new hobby, others meditated, some wrote letters to past partners, and some took a break from dating to process the pain and move on.

Relationships can be complicated, but when the pain of staying is greater than the pain of leaving, you know it’s time to go — and eventually you can build your life anew and hopefully find love once more.


Damona Hoffman is a Certified Dating Coach and hosts The Dates & Mates Podcast.

The podcast portion of this episode was produced by Andee Tagle.

We’d love to hear from you. Leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823, or email us at LifeKit@npr.org.

For more Life Kit, subscribe to our newsletter.


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