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35 Ways to Tell If It's Over, and to Tell Your Partner

What to say when it's time to close the door.

Key points

  • Fear of being alone often keeps people in relationships that have long ended.
  • According to 2011 census data, 55 percent of US married couples stayed together at least 15 years — but this did not account for those separated.
  • Figuring out if a relationship is over begins with asking oneself if one's partner is truly the right one, or just the one "right now."

When you first met, you thought the two of you had been touched by the same star. Then something happened. Love began to crumble. You made excuses. There was tension between you.

But you reasoned that it was still better than being lonely, because the fear of the monster called “Alone” often leads people to stay in relationships long after a connection has ended, emotionally and physically. It is especially difficult during such "couples" holidays as Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve.

The United States Census Bureau reported in 2011 that its latest data (compiled in 2009) indicated that 83 percent of all currently married couples had made it to their fifth anniversary, and about 55 percent had stayed married at least 15 years. However, if you look closely at the data, a large share of the couples are separated though not divorced—this did not figure into the overall statistics. And there was no tally of the "un-divorced"—those no longer wishing to stay married but who, for various (often financial) reasons remain legally together.

How can you tell if your relationship is unambiguously over?

These 35 questions and thoughts should factor into any decision:

  1. The most important question to ask yourself is this: In your heart of hearts, do you believe that he or she is the right one for you?
  2. If your answer is, “I’m not sure,” you may, in fact, be sure that the person is not right but you are afraid to be alone. Instead, ask this question: “Is this person just the one for now?"
  3. If he or she is maybe right just for now, then consider the following thoughts and decide how to proceed.
  4. Make a promise to yourself that you will wait one week before saying, “It’s over.” You can think about when you began to question the relationship; that is, what pushed you over the edge.
  5. Before saying anything at all, write down five qualities about the other person that helped you to fall in love. Was it kindness, empathy, the ability to listen, generosity of spirit, honesty?
  6. Write down at least two experiences that brought the two of you joy. Now ask yourself, “Can we find that place of happiness again?”
  7. Write down the general pros and cons of the relationship.
  8. Review your list using the weighted average: You've made a list of 10 positive qualities and only one negative, but the negative is something so significant or fundamental to you, it will outweigh the positives.
  9. Review your notes and ask again, “Is it time to say, ‘Good-bye?’”
  10. Now, ask yourself, “If he or she were to be breaking up with me, what are the words I would want to hear?"
  11. Start to prepare what you might say, from a positive position: “We have shared happy times together.” Then give two or three specifics.
  12. Next, state the reality: “Something is not working between us.”
  13. Express your need: “I need to move on.”
  14. Be willing to listen, calmly, to the other person’s reaction.
  15. Decide in advance not to argue. Do not try to counter angry words. Simply listen and say, “I know this is painful.”
  16. Also, acknowledge how difficult is it to say the words, “It is over.” Explain briefly that you have considered your decision carefully.
  17. Be firm: “I am not telling you this so that you will do things differently. I am telling you this because I feel that this is the end of the road for us.”
  18. Decide in advance how to answer the other person if he or she asks, “Couldn’t we give it another try?" Or "Could we go to counseling?"
  19. In considering your response, realize that "another try" is often dependent upon conditions. Ask yourself how many times there were promises to “make things right” in the past.
  20. If you think the relationship can be salvaged, you love the other person, and he or she is serious about making that commitment, counseling might be a good idea.
  21. If you can agree to counseling, go into the sessions with an open mind.
  22. When you see the therapist, avoid turning the sessions into finger-pointing exercises by airing a laundry list of complaints.
  23. Be honest, but also be kind.
  24. If you have decided in advance that therapy would be out of the question, repeat that "It's over." Maintain an honest and kind attitude.
  25. If your partner asks if there is someone else, then whether the answer is yes or no, consider replying, “This is not about another person, it's about us.”
  26. Be aware, however, that if there is someone else, then the longer you keep (or have kept) that fact from your partner, the longer it will take for you both to heal.
  27. And if there is someone else, know that infidelity can be either a deal-breaker or a wake-up call. Therapists know the benefits that couples can derive from therapy, even after infidelity, if they've committed to saving the relationship.
  28. Know whether your partner would benefit from a prolonged good-bye, or from a quick end.
  29. Understand the consequences of a prolonged end—it can sometimes open the door to guilt or manipulation, or for your partner taking a “victim” mentality. "How can you do this to me?”
  30. Understand the sincere hurt and anger the other person is feeling.
  31. Remain calm at all times.
  32. Reassure the other person, again, that he or she is someone with whom you have shared a great deal of joy—but that now it is time to move on.
  33. Consider recounting again at least two special moments that you shared together for which you will always be grateful.
  34. Remain firm if he or she responds, "Then why can’t we try again?”
  35. Even if ending the relationship is what you wish to do, prepare for an empty feeling inside.

As I review this piece in August 2019, there is very little to add to the substance. However, it is sad to note that this post was among the most often read — over 1 million hits. Perhaps some of my suggestions on love will make this obsolete.

Copyright 2012 Rita Watson/ All Rights Reserved


Ending a Relationship, University of Georgia Health Center Infidelity and Marriage: Deal Breaker or Wake-Up Call? Rita Watson and Bill Mitchell/ SIPP Data on Marriage and Divorce - U.S. Census Bureau "When is it time to leave the relationship?" Discovery Health
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