Ending a long-term relationship is not an easy thing to do.
Of course, everyone’s situation is different, and there are lots of personal factors to take into account.
We asked a group of select experts for their best tips and advice when it comes to ending a long-term relationship.
Here’s what they said.
The Situation Will Resolve Much Faster If You’re Honest About It
Nick Bognar, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Even though it’s harder in the immediate sense, it is generous and kind to be forthright with our partners about our feelings and our intentions. It also pays off in some pretty big ways – the situation will resolve much faster if you are honest about it.
Situations, where we move on to the next relationship, are far less complicated when we have a clean break from the last one.
Unless physical safety is an issue, I never, ever recommend breaking up via text or email, or letter. Hard conversations work out best for everyone when we have them face to face, or at least over the phone.
For someone looking to get out of a relationship, I recommend that they look inside themselves and make sure that the relationship is really over.
This is because sometimes partners will try to negotiate with us or persuade us, and succumbing to that can be confusing and painful for everyone.
Once they’re resolute that they are leaving this relationship, I recommend that they approach the partner in a reasonably private way (again, unless safety is an issue), and say, I need to tell you that I am ending this relationship. Then provide as much or as little detail as you want (a lot of information is nice, but sometimes it’s more important to make an exit).
Be prepared for the partner to have an unpleasant reaction, and respond to it with kindness and grace.
Separate your things as quickly and cleanly as possible, and – this is important – don’t talk to this person at all until both of you have really moved on.
People often try to remain friends and end up in relationship limbo because they don’t understand that their relationship is not a friendship. It may be, but only after both parties meet again after changing and living a lot.
Communicate Clearly About The Challenging Relationship Issues
Heidi Krantz, Certified Life and Dating Coach
When ending a long term relationship, it’s important to recognize what stage each partner is at regarding emotionally separating.
Often, one partner has been contemplating ending the relationship for quite some time and is well on the way in the process of emotionally distancing.
Frequently, the other partner is not consciously aware that their partner has checked out and even though there may be issues in the relationship, he/she has not yet contemplated leaving and therefore has not begun to separate emotionally. The shock factor can be devastating.
In order to prevent this shock factor, it is important to communicate clearly about the challenging relationship issues and provide ample opportunity for the couple to address these issues.
As it becomes clear that the relationship dynamic is not improving significantly enough, that needs to be communicated as well, repeatedly, gradually, and with sensitivity.
This communication needs to take place with shared responsibility rather than with finger pointing and blame.
When the communication occurs in phases as described above, the shock factor can be diminished, both partners have ample time to begin emotionally separating, and the actual end of the relationship feels more expected, natural, and even inevitable.
Breaking Up Is Always Better Than Not Breaking Up When The Relationship Is Bad
The most important part of ending a bad long-term relationship is actually ending it.
This may sound like an obvious statement, but too often we get hung up on the wrong ways to end a relationship (with a text message for example) that almost always require dramatically less emotional effort that we force ourselves down pathways for break-up so emotionally taxing that we never undertake them.
No matter how toxic a breakup is, breaking up is always better than not breaking up when the relationship is bad.
An important concept to consider when contemplating break-ups is that of the local optimum: Imagine standing on a hill and looking at a mountain. There is no path forward you can take without first going down before you begin ascending the much-larger mountain.
This is what a bad relationship almost always looks like in that the period after the break-up will almost inevitably be worse than the relationship itself was — but to move up you must first travel down.
Don’t Have Expectations Of Closure From The Other Person
Sarah Epstein, Marriage and Family Therapist
Part of what makes ending a relationship so difficult is the hope and expectation that the person we’re breaking up with will agree and validate your feelings and experiences.
We hope that despite the other person’s hurt feelings, that they’ll help us feel OK about the relationship ending and all the difficult things that led up to it ending.
When we cling to that hope, we may draw out the break-up because we keep coming back, hoping they’ll say something different.
Part of ending a long-term relationship is learning to give yourself closure. That means sitting with your pain and grief, validating it for yourself, and learning not to need other’s approval of a decision they may not like.
When you can move forward from a relationship and tend to yourself, it will be much easier to make it a clean break.
Some struggle to end a long-term relationship because they still love or respect the person. But ending a relationship does not have to mean that the other person is bad or mean.
It just means that they’re not right for you. A person can be a good person and the wrong partner.
Learning to hold both of those realities simultaneously will help you end a relationship that isn’t a good fit.
Make A List Of All The Things You Appreciate About Your Partner and Relationship
Marie Murphy, Ph.D, Relationship Coach
It sounds strange to a lot of people, but one of the best things you can do if you’re considering ending a long-term relationship is to make an exhaustive list of all of the things you appreciate about your partner and your relationship.
Here’s why: sometimes people end long-term relationships because they’re angry or unhappy with their partner, or the relationship has been stagnant for a while… only to later look back on all of the good things about the relationship, and wonder if they might have made a mistake by ending it.
It’s hard to make a decision about a relationship that’s truly right for us without being completely honest with ourselves about how we feel about the relationship – and being comprehensively honest requires us to acknowledge what we’ve loved and enjoyed about the relationship, not just what we don’t like.
This allows us to refine our sense of what we truly prefer or want in a relationship, too – so we’re better able to decide whether or not we should end the relationship.
If we do end the relationship, having a sense of our preferences helps us move forward with a clear sense of what we want in our love lives (as opposed to thinking we know what we don’t want).
It also allows us to end the relationship with more love and appreciation and respect for our partner, which benefits everyone involved in the relationship (and the family system, if there is one).