Make no mistake about it: breakups are hell. Regardless of whether you’ve been dating your high-school sweetheart or a girl you met on Tinder six weeks ago, telling her it’s over—or, even worse, being told it’s over—is such an agonizing experience for everyone involved that it’s easy to understand why ghosting was invented in the first place. (For the record: no ghosting, fellas.)
But as emotionally fraught as breakup conversations are, they can actually get a lot worse. There are some things you can say that are almost guaranteed to inflame tensions, trigger a negative response, and ultimately make your final meeting even worse for both of you—regardless of who is breaking up with whom. So, with the help of top relationship experts, we’ve assembled all of those avoidable phrases right here. Read on—and good luck! And remember: if you think your relationship has what it takes to go the distance, be sure to read the secrets of the best relationships to know for sure.
Getting the breakup conversation going in the first place is one of the trickiest elements of doing the deed. Common openers like, "Listen, we have to talk," or “You are a great girl, but…," are terrible opening lines, according to Dr. Nikki Goldstein, sexologist and relationship expert.
Those phrases will set off panicky alarm bells in her head and immediately put her on the defensive. “I would suggest starting the conversation as a general one like you would any other day,” says Goldstein. “Then, ease into saying that there is something you want to talk to her about.”
Goldstein adds that while there’s no way to tell someone you want to break up without delivering some sort of blow, it’s important to try to be as respectful as possible, and using the aforementioned phrases isn’t that helpful in getting things off on the right foot. And if you're just beginning a new relationship, don't miss our 10 Sexiest Things to Say on a First Date.
This phrasing simply puts too much emphasis on her. “You should always opt for first-person pronouns to avoid placing blame and to show empathy for your partner,” says Nikki Hurst, a matchmaker and relationship expert with Three Day Rule, a Boston-based matchmaking service.
For example: “This is no longer working for me” is a totally reasonable statement. Follow it up with a straightforward reason why you have made this decision, ideally focusing on you and not her. For more great relationship advice, here are Five Ways to Know If She’s “The One.”
While honesty is important, “there isn’t much value in saying you’re no longer attracted to your ex,” notes Dr. Jon Belford, a Manhattan-based clinical psychologist.
He explains that attraction isn’t just physical, and that it depends on many different variables. “In a longer-term relationship, loss of attraction is typically tied to an emotional disconnect that developed over time, so it is more helpful to recognize, understand, and discuss those aspects of the relationship,” he says. If you’re ending a shorter relationship, saying you “feel a lack of chemistry” is both truthful and kind. And if you feel like dating again, here are The Best Dating Apps if You’re Over 40.
Dude. No matter how spot-on it may feel, never say such a cliché. “It doesn't help to hear ‘it's not you, it's me,’ or ‘you're perfect, anyone is lucky to have you,’” says Hurst. “These statements leave people feeling hurt and confused and are ultimately fluff. They don’t mean anything at the end of the day.”
Every relationship is unique, so don’t be afraid to get specific about what exactly the problem is. That way, your ex won’t be left wondering what they could have done better, or if things could have been salvaged.
If you feel as though your relationship could use an extra spark, here at the 13 Sexiest Things You Can Ever Say to a Woman.
Let’s not get petty, people. “Breakups are never easy, so there is no need to make them worse than they are,” says Goldstein. Try to avoid statements and comments that could come across as insulting or degrading. “Steer clear of anything directed at her looks or personality as the reasoning for the end. There is always a nicer way to send the message you are trying to get across,” she adds. For example, if you think she has an overbearing personality, say something like, “I don’t feel our personalities work well together,” instead of, “You’re overbearing and I can’t take it anymore.” (And speaking of bosses, we would advise you to never date yours, which is indeed one of the 12 Rules for Dating a Colleague.)
It’s very easy to lash out if you’re getting dumped. But you’ll come to regret it later.
“It’s undeniably painful when somebody you care about makes a unilateral decision to exit your life,” says Belford. “The immediate shock of abandonment can send signals to your nervous system that mimic that of a physical threat, leading to a fight-or-flight response and compromised ability to regulate your emotions. And in that state, all kinds of regretful things can be said, screamed, or thrown.”
If you find that your emotions are calling the shots, Belford recommends taking in the experience slowly, focusing on your breath, and taking your time to react. It’s perfectly okay to say you can’t process everything at the moment and that you’ll loop back later for closure. For more tips on controlling your stress in the moment, here's our Full-Day Guide to Conquering Stress.
This statement is disingenuous, and your partner will definitely hear the two words missing on the end of it. (“I’m just not ready for something this serious with you.”)
Instead of saying this, tell your soon-to-be ex something more specific you need to be focusing on instead of them. “Also, highlight the ways in which you feel you’ve been unable to meet her needs,” suggests Belford. “Help her be honest with herself and recognize that things likely weren’t perfect from her standpoint either. She may still feel crushed and rejected, but it will help her get in touch with the sense that she too is deserving of something more fulfilling.” On the flip side, here are Five Sure Signs You Are Ready to Get Married.
Hate to break it to you, but if you’re ending a relationship, there is an extremely high chance that you are hurting the other party.
“Take ownership of emotions you feel,” says Goldstein. Not only that, but own the fact that what you’re doing is going to cause some negative feelings for them, too. “Allow the other person to talk and listen to what they have to say and how they feel. If they are sad, comfort them and reassure them they even though this hasn't worked out, they have a bright future ahead of them,” she suggests.
Yes, sometimes couples do get back together, but it’s certainly not the norm. “While it may be tempting, you want to avoid leaving the other person with a sense of false hope,” notes Belford. Often, people do this to protect the feelings of the person being broken up with, but if you’re really sure you don’t want to be together anymore, don’t send mixed messages. It’s just plain cruel.
The breakup convo is definitely not the right time to bring this subject up. “It depends on the situation, but in order to really move on from an ex, a friendship with them might not be the best option,” says Goldstein. While it's okay to keep the lines of communication open in the weeks following the split, you certainly shouldn’t be talking frequently.
“If you feel you need a coffee every so often or a chat on the phone, that’s fine, but this should be only every so often, and quick and casual,” she says.
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