If you’re ending a relationship, you owe it to the other person to explain why, says Rachel Sussman, a New York City psychotherapist and author of?The Breakup Bible. “The people that I see who have the hardest time after a breakup, it’s because they don’t understand,” Sussman says. Ideally, your reason shouldn’t shock the other person, because you’ve discussed it in the past and tried to work through it, Sussman adds.
Guy Winch, a New York City psychologist and author of?How to Fix a Broken Heart, agrees that you should give a reason, but stresses that a breakup isn’t license to unload all of your pent-up complaints and snide comments — even if the other person says they want to hear them. “Find the one thing, because that might be useful for them [to know],” he says. Listing every last annoyance isn’t productive and will only drag out what’s likely to be a painful conversation.
It’s also important to choose your words carefully, the experts agree. “Phrase something as, ‘This bothers me,’ or ‘This really was difficult for me,'” instead of blaming the other person, Winch says. What you feel is terrible isn’t always objectively terrible, he says — just bad for you.
Finally, resist the urge to soften the blow with platitudes. Saying, “‘We can be friends,’ or ‘Now’s not a good time for me,’ all sound like, well, maybe in the future” things could work out, Winch says. Don’t imply that’s the case if it’s not.
Both Winch and Sussman say in-person breakups are the most considerate and mature option for established couples, and should preferably happen in a private place. “If it’s in public, they might be distraught, and then they have to somehow get home, which is horrible,” Winch says. The best place to do it is in their home, not yours, he adds, so you can leave if the situation gets too drawn out, and so that they’re in a familiar place.
That said, there are a few exceptions to the face-to-face rule, Winch says. Most importantly, if you fear for your safety in any way, you should keep your distance. Aside from that, a phone-based breakup may be okay if you’re dating long-distance, or if you’ve only seen each other a few times. For very new dating situations that have only lasted a date or two, you can even get away with a text.
But even if you’ve only been on one date, Winch says it’s always better to be upfront, rather than ghosting. He even recommends writing out a boilerplate message — something along the lines of, “Thank you, it was fun, but I didn’t feel a romantic connection” — and keeping it on hand for those situations.