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5 Steps to a Breakup That Sticks

5. Before you say goodbye, set your boundaries.

 Iakov Filimonov/Shutterstock
Source: Iakov Filimonov/Shutterstock

It’s not unusual to lose interest and become fed up with a particular romantic entanglement—but it's just as common to find yourself at a loss for just how to end it.

Many people stay in unhappy relationships or marriages because they don’t want to hurt a partner’s feelings. They keep the commitment going, but still feel miserable, a feeling that's hard to hide. In ways subtle or direct, the other partner realizes that things are not the way they once were. Although the aim may be to not hurt your partner's feelings, you actually prolong both your suffering.

Others who have fallen out of love may simply not know how to effectively end the relationship. They may use quarrelsome and dysfunctional behavior to act out on the dissonance created by wanting to call it quits but not knowing how. For example, they may stop contact and avoid their partner all together, otherwise known as “ghosting.” But this is irresponsible behavior; you owe your partner more closure, and more data about what led up to the demise of your union—otherwise you are condemning them to second-guess and doubt their every move in future relationships.

Similarly, using text, email, or social media to do your dirty work will leave your partner questioning your character. Your partner is not an item to be returned to the store. He to she is a human being and should be treated with respect. If your relationship was anything more than a brief fling, you owe this individual a face-to-face interaction.

There is also the tactic of making your partner so miserable that you force them to pull the plug. This is cowardly behavior that will negatively impact how you see yourself. On the other hand, you can inspire a healthy self-image by respectfully and compassionately ending relationships that no longer work for you.

If you have been unhappy in your relationship, have attempted to talk to your partner, and have tried to work through your unhappiness to no avail, you must allow yourself to do what needs to be done. Here are 5 steps to break up directly and compassionately:

  1. Schedule a time to sit down and talk to your partner in person, face-to-face, about your desire to end the relationship.
  2. Your goal for this talk is to be honest and to state the facts of what is not working for you in your relationship. Steer clear of character assassination or judgment about your partner.
  3. Demonstrate compassion by saying what you appreciate about the relationship, what you have learned, or how you have grown as a result of the relationship and being with your partner.
  4. Let your partner know you are engaged, fully present, and open to answering his or her questions.
  5. At the end, draw a boundary: Let him or her know that you need to stop contact so that you can both move on. (For more, see "4 Reasons To End Contact With An Ex After You Break Up.")

As I describe in my workbook, you can’t control a partner’s reaction or grief process—that is theirs to sort out. However, you will always know that you honored this chapter of your life and treated your ex with respect. Now it’s time to start the work of moving on.

Jill Weber, Ph.D. is a psychologist in private practice in Washington, D.C. and the author of Breaking Up and Divorce 5 Steps: How to Heal and be Comfortable Alone and Building Self-Esteem 5 Steps: How to Feel "Good Enough". For more, follow her on Twitter @DrJillWeber and on Facebook, or check out

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