Long-term relationships come with lots of memories, both good and bad. You have strong ties and emotions linked to your partner. You may even live together or have kids with your long-term partner. But sometimes that history isn't enough to stay together forever. Breaking up a long-term relationship is challenging and requires sensitivity, respect and potentially some legal help.
Clarify Your Reasons for Breaking Up
Before you make the move to split, make sure you're ready to end the relationship. Consider the reasons you want to go your separate ways. Have you tried what you can to save the relationship, or is it beyond repair? Being confident in your decision helps you stay strong when you tell your partner you want to break up, especially if he tries to convince you to stay.
Have an Honest Discussion
If you're sure breaking up is the best move for you, have the conversation as soon as possible. Waiting only prolongs the pain. You'll never find the perfect time to break the news to your partner, and the conversation won't get any easier with time.
Initiate the conversation in person when you're both calm. Breaking up in the heat of an argument, even if you were already planning to split, leads to the potential for an explosive situation. Tell your partner about your plans before you tell anyone else. Be kind and gentle yet firm to let her know you have no intentions of staying or working it out. If you aren't clear that the relationship is over, you give her hope for reconciliation.
Give Your Partner Space
If your partner doesn't know the breakup is coming, he may be shocked to hear the news. Give him the space to react in a way that feels right to him. He may need time to process what you're saying. He may feel angry, so you need space for yourself as much as he needs it. Let your partner set the pace going forward. He may not be ready to discuss splitting belongings right away if you live together, for example. Your partner may want to cut off contact completely with you for at least a little while. Respect his needs in this aspect.
Make Decisions Going Forward
You need a plan going forward, especially if you live with your long-term partner. Check the terms of your lease to see if you can change it to just one person's name as long as one of you plans to stay. If you both want to move somewhere else, consider the consequences of breaking the lease if you can't get out of it.
You'll also need to split your belongings if you live together. This can get messy if one person is petty or wants to make the split difficult on the other person. Protect your personal items that you had before moving in together, such as family heirlooms or valuable artwork you already owned.
It's also important to set boundaries in the relationship. If you have to live together for a little while after the breakup, set ground rules, so both people have privacy. You might sleep in separate rooms if space allows. Decide on topics of discussion that are off limits if necessary. For example, if your partner wants to constantly talk about what went wrong or if she tries to convince you to take her back, let her know that those conversations are done.
Take Legal Steps if Necessary
You may need legal input if you live together or have kids together. An attorney can help you determine your legal options for splitting assets and belongings if your partner is refusing to cooperate. If you have kids together, you'll need to draft a custody schedule. You may also need to work through child support issues depending on your situation. If you haven't already, you may need to establish paternity since it isn't automatically granted if you're not married.
All interactions with your partner should be respectful. That can be challenging, especially if he doesn't return the favor, but it makes the situation easier when you can act with respect. Not only do you present yourself in a mature way, but you also avoid making the situation worse by causing unnecessary drama.
Tend to Your Own Emotions
Even if you're the one who initiates the breakup, you can expect a range of emotions, including sadness. You're ending a relationship that spanned years, and you likely had at least some good moments together. Acknowledge the emotions you're going through during and after the breakup. You may need to reach out to friends, family or a counselor to help work through those emotions. Work on making healthy improvements in your life to help move on from the split.
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- Psychology Today: 4 Ways to Break Up With Someone Compassionately
- Counselista: How to End a Long-Term Relationship Effectively and Gracefully, and Leave With Dignity
- Psychology Today: How to Break Up When You Still Have to Live Together
- NOLO: 14 Steps to Breaking Up With Your Unmarried Partner
- FindLaw: Marriage vs. Cohabitation
- Tell your family and friends what you are planning on doing. This may help you stay true to your convictions.
- If you are in an abusive relationship, a break-up may require a mediator or a protective order of abuse.
- If you have children with the person you are breaking up with, separating may be more difficult.
- If you work for the person you are breaking up with, you may need to approach the situation even more delicately, to protect your professional interests.
Shelley Frost writes professionally on a full-time basis, specializing in lifestyle, family, parenting and relationship topics. She holds an education degree and has extensive experience working with kids and parents.