3 Tips on What to Say When You Want to Break Up

Updated November 8, 2018
Woman thinking about what to say

One of the most difficult situations to be in is trying to figure out what to say when you want to break up with someone. Most people who experience a break up are in pain - saying the right things can help make it easier.

What to Say When You Want to Break Up Gracefully

In some ways, it's easier to break up with someone if the person has done something awful to you. If your partner cheats on you, you have a perfect excuse and no need to justify your decision to end things.

However, life isn't always that cut and dried. Sometimes the signs of a relationship breaking up are more subtle and harder to understand. Sometimes you don't even know why it is you are breaking up - you only know you have to.

There are a few communications strategies that will help you know what to say when you want to break up.

Be Clear and Concise

Everyone knows that "We need to talk." is a signal of an unpleasant conversation to follow, so try not to beat around the bush. Don't draw out the agony by going through all the reasons and then saying "...so that's why I think we should break up." Throughout the whole explanation, you are giving the person the false hope that you are still trying to make things work. Start out by being clear, and then go into the reasons why, if necessary. For all you know, they've come to the same conclusion - and a simple "Yes, I think you're right," ends the conversation. You can say:

  • "I think we need to break up."
  • "I feel like it would be best if we ended our relationship."
  • "I have not been feeling fully satisfied in this relationship and think it would be best if we broke up."
  • "After some thought, I think we should end our relationship."
  • "I no longer want to continue our relationship."

Be Open and Truthful

You probably wouldn't want your partner to lie to you, so be realistic and truthful about why you are breaking up. If it's communication, tell the person where you think it broke down and be honest about it. If you simply grew apart, tell him/her honestly where you think your values diverged and why they aren't compatible. Most of all, if you don't really know why but you just need to break up, explain that as well. Remember that being honest is not an excuse to be cruel. For example, if your partner is no longer attractive to you, you don't need to say "I think you're ugly." Instead, you can say something that preserves your partner's dignity. You can try:

  • "I don't feel the same way about you as I used to."
  • "This relationship isn't fulfilling my needs anymore."
  • "I am not comfortable staying together knowing that we are on two very different paths."
  • "I don't feel right continuing a relationship that I can't see making it long term."
  • "In thinking about our future, I don't think we are compatible in the long run."

Use Self-Reflecting Communication

Man explaining himself to girlfriend

While "it's not you, it's me" may be true, it often seems like a cop-out. Still, you do want to try to use many "I" statements, because "you" statements can easily come across as being accusatory. "You don't listen anymore!" puts blame on the other person, whereas "I can't seem to communicate with you" takes some personal responsibility. This is not the same thing as blame - in fact, trying to find some way to blame either yourself or the other person is usually both futile and destructive. Instead, you may want to explore how your own actions - and the actions of your partner - contributed to the current state of affairs that necessitate breaking up. Remember that sometimes life just gets in the way of even the most well-intentioned relationship, and just because a relationship is ending does not mean that it was a failure. People move on to new stages of growth throughout their lives, and there's no guarantee that they will always grow together. You can say:

  • "I am having a difficult time communicating my needs to you, and think it would be best to work on myself."
  • "I don't think our relationship is healthy for me to continue being a part of and think we should break up."
  • "I am feeling hurt by many incidents that have occurred throughout our relationship and think it would be best to move on."
  • "I do not feel confident in our relationship succeeding going forward."
  • "I no longer feel happy in our relationship and think we should break up."

The Most Important Thing

What is most important is not necessarily what you say but rather how you say it. When you're breaking up with someone, you both will likely be in a lot of pain - so try very hard to say things as kindly as possible. If you can keep from lashing out at your partner in a defensive reaction, you will be much more likely to come to a mutual understanding of why the break up needs to happen. That will help you both move on and leave your relationship to become a fond memory rather than a deep scar.

3 Tips on What to Say When You Want to Break Up