How to Break up with Someone You Love: A User's Guide
keep your heart safe as everything falls apart.
Earlier this year, I broke up with someone I was in love with. Well, she broke up with me and then I was breaking up with her back. Sounds a bit complicated but this kind of thing usually is. In the final days and hours and minutes, my head was spinning with confusion, my stomach full of lead, my heart pounding. We had many long and stressful conversations about our respective needs, and I believe that we tried to make our relationship work despite irreconcilable differences. We had to break up. But we loved each other. In some ways, I still really love her and I probably always will.
In those final terrible minutes before I left work to drive to her parents house, I began to doubt everything I had experienced. In a frenzy, I grabbed my phone and read as many corny instructional articles as possible about breaking up with someone. They were mostly terrible and I was left with more questions and doubt than I had started with. Even just writing this, I'm feeling the anxiety build up again. Through it all, I’ve decided to write my own corny instructional article. Consider it a letter to my past - and probably also my future self, and also to you, heartbroken and desperate reader. Through everything, I learned a lot, and received a lot of good advice that I’d like to share with you. I'm sorry this is happening. Good luck.
Breaking up with someone you love is terrible.
This will be very difficult for you and for them. You already sense that this is true. You already feel the pain and dread in your chest, in your throat. You aren't wrong. However, you do have one advantage: you have decided to prepare yourself for suffering. In some way, you are taking your pain into your own hands and molding it into a manageable conflict with a more or less predictable outcome.
Still, this is just the way it is.
Sometimes, there is nothing to be done about the relationship and it simply has to end. Just because you still love this person does not mean you can let this drag on forever. Do you really want to keep slogging through until you hate each other? If you can not work this out, the question isn't whether or not you will break up, but how much you want to hurt each other before you do.
It is OK to break up with someone based only on intuition or a gut feeling. This is your life after all. Try to write down your feelings, your reasons, your limits. If you can't verbalize them, maybe you can draw or paint them, maybe you can compose them into song or dance, perhaps you can weld or knit them. In any case, you are at your limit. You know why. Don't let other people convince you that you are crazy, delusional, or misguided.
You will probably not remember why you are going through with this.
If you're anything like me, you will forget all of your reasons for the breakup as soon as you begin the much-dreaded conversation. Write down your reasons, tell them to a close friend, because during the breakup and immediately following it, you may not remember why you are making this decision. After all, you love this person, and here they are, crying, begging for answers, perhaps they are yelling, perhaps they are simply staring off in confusion. The clarity of purpose that you feel right now may evaporate for weeks. That is normal. On the other hand, you may feel immediately vindicated in the breakup process, perhaps even relieved. Regardless, writing down your thoughts now will help you stay grounded through the dark hours ahead, should they arrive.
Second guess yourself, but don’t triple guess.
Try to work this out. Before breaking up, you should have had multiple grueling and terrible conversations about your needs, expectations and desires. If you really love each other, you owe it to yourself to try to work through obstacles, to adjust and adapt to each others neuroses and insecurities, to find middle ground, or to try to work out a viable schedule and routine together. You don’t want to go through your life without making commitments, without trying to work through adversity. You also don’t want to suffer forever in quiet resignation. If you’ve already tried to fix it, trust that.
Don’t lie or sugarcoat anything – you still have a responsibility to tell them the truth.
This will be really hard for both of you, but you've already tried and tried, you've talked and argued for weeks, months, or even years. But you can't fix it. Maybe being in love itself is the only thing about your relationship that is going well. Now it's time to tell them why you are breaking up with them. You owe it to yourself to tell all of the truth to someone you love, and they deserve to hear from you what has gone wrong in the relationship. This way, you can both grow and learn.
Pick the right time and location, but neither will be perfect.
Consider telling them shortly after arriving, so as to not allow your anxiety to overwhelm you. Consider giving them a heads up, a message along the lines of "hey, I really think we need to talk." If you don't feel safe going somewhere private, go somewhere public or have a friend nearby. Don't break up over the phone except in the most extreme circumstances. If you are out of town, do you have another place to sleep that night? Don't let this type of planning delay the inevitable, but don't just wing it.
If possible, invest romance in the break-up.
Perhaps a last date, perhaps a letter or final gift to accompany your final moments together. Whatever it is, it is important to affirm the dignity of the past, to share also what you've learned and loved about your partner and your relationship. It's possible that the breakup will have gone so horribly that this is not possible. In my last breakup, we went to the movies after, and to dinner (neither of us could eat). I really savor these final moments. Almost certainly don't have breakup sex, unless you both can do so without confusing the situation.
Maybe you live together, maybe you share friends. Try to establish boundaries with one another. You both need time and space to heal. You might have to do this over the phone or via a friend. Make time to do it because you don't want to fight in public, nor do you want to isolate or be isolated by your ex from the things either of you care about. Probably not, anyway. If you never want to see or hear from them again, try to do so in a way that feels honest and not merely vindictive, and try to explain why, if you can bare it.
Get your friends in on it.
Tell your friends all about why you need to break up beforehand. You need them to remind you why you are doing this to yourself. You need them to drag you to get food, to keep you stimulated somehow so that you only spend a little bit of your time in bed-ridden, multi-day, movie-watching despair.
Your heart is an organ in your body.
Take long hot showers, go on walks or runs, exercise as much as you can. Watch scary movies to stimulate an adrenal response. Go get a massage or take an ice bath. No matter what, don't sit around all day watching television and crying. Do that at night time if you want, but not all day.
Don’t dwell on or suppress what was good.
When people ask you how you are don’t be afraid to be honest with them. You will probably be surprised at the empathy of your peers, and they may have really nice advice. Talking about the breakup with relative openness will help to naturalize and solidify the events in your head, which might feel fake, unbelievable, and generally horrible in many ways. You don’t need to slam and slander your ex to justify the breakup, but don’t build them up again in your head in a way you cannot control. By sharing your feelings with the people around you, you are also helping others to calibrate the kind of support you need, and you are signalling to them that perhaps they can confide in you in the future, making your world a more bearable and healing place.
Don’t rush yourself, but move on.
Everything takes its own time. I'm not saying to rush out to have rebound sex, although for many people that really helps. I am saying that you should keep yourself in the mentality that you have already made the break. There really is no going back. The only way you can go is forward and every day is a step in that direction. By the time you’ve done it, you’ve done it. Try to leave the worst of it behind you.
Keeping in mind the boundaries you and your ex have set, do check in with them at some point. Maybe a week later, maybe a month later, it's different for everyone. Unless something has gone wrong and they never want to speak to you again, or you to them, it is the right thing to do. Make sure that they have the support they need. You cannot be that support for them. You may need to do this part on the phone.
Love and live your life as fully as you possibly can.
Finding a serious romantic love, and spending a considerable portion of your life with that person is a fantasy western society is unwilling to question. Is this really the most important or interesting way to conceive of a good life? Consider all of the ways you can organize your attention and dispose of your potential. Don’t sell yourself short on an unquestioned pursuit of romance, and don’t let the fear of living alone box you into a relationship that closes the door to your dreams. Even if it is the most important element of your life, you will almost certainly fall in love again. If you are lucky, more heartbreaks do still lie ahead. In the meantime, fall in love with your city or town, fall in love with the mountains and the air, fall in love with the beaches and rivers, fall in love with cooking and eating and sleeping in. This is going to be OK.