How to End a Long-Term Relationship That’s No Longer Working

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "How to Not Die Alone" by Logan Ury. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Why do people stay in relationships that are no longer working? How do you end a long-term relationship as kindly as possible?

Many people drag out relationships they know aren’t working because they’ve already invested time into the relationship.  But in doing so, they forfeit the time they could be spending building a better relationship with someone else. 

With this in mind, here’s how to end a long-term relationship that’s not serving you anymore.

Ending the Relationship

Once you’ve decided to end the relationship, how do you actually do it? Ury argues that the key is to make a plan, as research suggests that people are more likely to follow through on their goals if they make a plan for doing so. 

First, plan what you’re going to say: Compassionately communicate that the relationship isn’t working, but don’t name specific reasons, as this will likely lead your soon-to-be ex to obsess over whatever you say. Second, schedule both the breakup and its immediate aftermath. Select a time to have this conversation that works for both your and their schedule. Allow yourself up to 90 minutes, but then have something else to do—like drinks with your best friend—so that you can avoid dragging out the breakup unnecessarily.

How to End a Long-Term Relationship as Kindly as Possible

Some couples schedule and plan for a breakup together. After realizing that they’re incompatible, they’ll plan to break up in a few months, enjoy the time they have left, and then break up on a pre-planned date. But this strategy has mixed outcomes. Some couples remain together, while others follow through on their breakup. And if one partner was never fully on board with the breakup, this can lead to disappointment and heartbreak.

But if you’re like most people and are unilaterally ending your relationship, experts have further recommendations for doing it kindly. Never use cliché lines like “It’s not you, it’s me”—such lines will trigger your ex to obsess over why you actually broke up with them, since they know these cliché lines are meaningless. And if you’re worried that your partner will react in an emotionally unstable way that leads to a too-long conversation, consider scheduling your breakup in a therapist’s office or around the schedule of a close friend who can help your partner process the news.

How to Recover From a Broken Heart

Whether you’re the dumper or the dumpee, breakups are painful. Ury argues that the key to recovering quickly is to frame the breakup positively by focusing on how it benefits your life. To do so, consider writing a breakup diary: Spend time listing both what’s good about the breakup and what was negative about the relationship. You might also start participating in activities you gave up on during the relationship so that you can focus on how the breakup adds to your life instead of on what it took away. 

Different Ways to Ease Your Heartbreak

Other relationship experts suggest different ways to ease your heartbreak. First, while framing the breakup positively may help you recover, don’t rush yourself through the grieving process, which is what helps you accept the reality that your partner is no longer in your life. Second, in addition to listing the positives of your breakup and the negatives of your relationship in your breakup diary, consider describing your emotions in your most painful moments, then re-reading those pages six months later. Acknowledge what you’ve done to change your emotional state, which can be empowering. Third, when participating in activities you gave up on during the relationship, focus on physical activities—exercise can help you process your emotions and thus get over the breakup faster.
How to End a Long-Term Relationship That’s No Longer Working

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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