Dumping someone: how to end a relationship respectfully

When it comes to ending a relationship, there’s no easy answer – especially when it comes to dumping someone you love or leaving a toxic relationship behind. 

You might need to break up with someone for a range of reasons, but you might dread having to do it and keep putting it off. Knowing how to spot the signs, and how to approach a break-up, can help relieve a bit of the anxiety so that you get through it in one piece.

This can help if:

  • you’re thinking of breaking up with someone

  • you’re not sure if you need to break up with someone

  • you’re ready to break up with someone but aren’t sure how to do it

  • you want to know the difference between breaking up and taking space.

boy and girl holding hands standing and facing away from each other

Signs that a relationship is ending (or should end)

It’s natural to feel really close to someone at one stage of your lives but then to grow into different people over time. You might realise that being together isn’t working out the way it used to and that’s okay. In fact, it’s quite common. Some signs a relationship might be ending:

  • There’s no longer an emotional connection. You don’t feel as close to your partner or you notice they’re not sharing things with you in the same way they used to.

  • The communication between you has broken down, shifted or become negative. You might feel like you’re always walking on eggshells, or that your partner no longer opens up to you.

  • The attraction and physical intimacy has changed for no obvious reason. You may no longer feel attracted to each other, or the physical affection between you has diminished over time.

  • The trust has shifted. Maybe you no longer trust your partner or vice versa, That may be because of something small, or more serious – say your partner cheated on you or the relationship has become toxic.

  • There’s no longer shared values or goals. This could relate to how you want to spend your time, what your interests are, where you want to live or study, or how you manage money together.

In some cases it might come down to intuition: you just know that something is off but you can't quite put your finger on it.

How to know when to end a relationship

It’s important to remember that all relationships have their ups and downs. Just because you’re going through challenges, it doesn’t always mean you need to dump your partner. Usually a relationship ends when one or both partners realise they can’t continue with how things are, and that being apart might be the best thing for everyone. Knowing when to end a relationship might feel like you want to explore relationships with other people, if you’re in a monogamous relationship (or vice versa), or you feel anxious about seeing your partner, or you’re avoiding them altogether, or you recognise that you no longer want to be with them. Other times, it can be clearer that it’s time to end a relationship. For example, you or your partner may have broken the other’s trust, or you’ve disrespected each other’s boundaries, or there has been a significant shift in your life circumstances, such as you’ve moved to another country. 

If you’re unsure about whether you need to end your relationship, it can be helpful to talk with someone to get a different perspective. You could talk to someone you trust, like a friend or someone you look up to, or you could chat to a counsellor. It might also help to keep a journal and to brainstorm a pros and cons list about all the things you love and don’t love about your relationship to get a clearer picture.

How to break up with someone you love respectfully

Breaking up with someone you love can be really hard because you still love them, right? It’s not like you want to hurt them, but you know that ending the relationship is the best thing for everyone.

Knowing how to end a relationship respectfully is one of the best ways to avoid causing unnecessary pain, while keeping things as positive as possible, to help you both process the change and move forward. Here are four tips on how to end a relationship respectfully: 1. Have good intentions. When you’re breaking up with someone you love, it’s important to be true to yourself and honest about the reasons why you are breaking up with them. Take some time to get clear on the reasons why this decision is right for you both. Journaling can be a helpful way of doing this.

2. Be honest and kind in your communication. It’s helpful to consider how your partner might feel when you talk to them, and how they might react to different words. You can practise with a close friend to get their advice, but make sure that your friend knows it’s a confidential conversation.

3. Choose a safe setting. When you break up with someone you love it’s typically a good idea to do this in person, and in a private setting where you both feel safe and comfortable. Breaking up in person can really help you process this tough conversation together.

4. Consider the timing. Timing is relevant in two main ways. First, choose a time when you and your partner can have some private, focused time together. Second, your partner might need some time to process the break up. Even though you’ve been on the journey towards this decision, it could be the first time they have realised it.

How to end a toxic relationship

Ending a toxic relationship can be a tricky thing to do. Sometimes, it’s hard to even recognise when you’re in a toxic relationship but once you do, you may realise you need to end it. Toxic relationships don’t always involve abusive partners, but they can still be really hard to leave. Here are some tips on how to end a toxic relationship safely:

  • Build a support network around you of family and friends to help you get through the breakup – especially in the first few days and weeks.

  • Map out a plan of how you’ll manage different stages of the break up, and strategies that might help you to cope, like booking in date nights with friends and practising self-care. 

  • Remember to stay firm in your decision, because it can be easy to fall back into patterns that feel familiar and comfortable. 

  • Limit your exposure to your ex. You can cut off some or all contact and unfollow or mute them on social media.

Seek professional support, if necessary, to help guide you through the experience of leaving a toxic relationship.

Is breaking up over text or social media okay?

If it’s safe to do so, breaking up with someone in person is a respectful way to have this tough conversation. It can allow you both to read each other's emotions and responses which can sometimes get lost over text or social media. However, even though it’s usually best to break up with someone in person, there may be some instances when breaking up over text or social media is a safer option. 

For example, it might need to happen in the following instances: 

  • You’re in a long-distance relationship or there’s scheduling conflicts.

  • You’ve already broken up with them repeatedly but they cross your boundaries.

  • You’re in an abusive or toxic relationship and need distance to stay safe.

  • You’ll find it harder to follow through with breaking up if you do it in person.

How to stop the cycle of breaking up and getting back together

When you have a strong and familiar connection, it can be easy to fall back into a relationship with your ex. This is sometimes called “relationship cycling” and is actually more common than you might think.

To stop this cycle, reflect on why you initially broke up with your ex. Clearing the air and having an open and honest conversation to make a plan together can be helpful. 

If your partner’s not on board with breaking up again, you might need to set clear boundaries

How to know the difference between needing space and breaking up

Sometimes people just need a bit of space. This could be for a range of reasons: maybe they’ve experienced a big event or change in their lives, maybe they are facing some personal challenges that they need to sort out on their own. Whatever the reason, the best way to know the difference between needing some space and needing to break up is to communicate clearly with your partner so that you both understand which decision is best for each of you. Once you’ve made that decision, set up healthy boundaries and put a time frame in place so that you are both on the same page about what to expect when taking some time apart. Talking to a trusted friend, or even to a counsellor, can be really helpful in understanding which of these options is best.

What can I do now?

  • Talk to an experienced peer worker through ReachOut PeerChat.

  • Share your story and learn from others in ReachOut’s OnlineCommunity.

  • Find a mental health professional if you feel like you need more support.

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