How to Break Up a Long-distance Relationship the Painless Way

Assuming you’ve tried absolutely everything to make your long-distance relationship work and nothing has yielded results so far, it’s time to ask yourself some hard questions:

  • Can we power through our troubles until we meet again?
  • Can we get advice from a professional relationship expert?
  • Is there any way we can resolve our differences without resorting to a break-up?

The first three questions apply if you still love each other but face other challenges such as a lack of trust or simply the frustration of being physically apart. If that’s the case, there’s still hope for the two of you to make the long-distance arrangement work. All you need to do is dig deeper until you find the right answer. It’s possible that you just need to convince yourselves to bite the bullet and wait a little longer. You can also consider getting outside help from a relationship expert, attending sessions via videoconferencing. The last resort would be to break down your challenges into bite-sized pieces so you can work on them one at a time.

If you’ve tried everything and still hit a brick wall, maybe it’s time to ask the next set of questions:

  • Do I still want to be in this long-distance relationship?
  • Am I still in love with my long-distance girlfriend or boyfriend?
  • Are we just kidding ourselves?

As hard as it is, there comes a point in some relationships where it’s better to figure out how to break up rather than to learn how to live with it, to your detriment and hers/his. That helps no one and hurts everyone. These three questions will help you identify that tipping point and zero in on the real question: Is it over?

If you are now at that point – and there’s no shame in backpedaling to save the relationship, either – and you’ve decided to break it off with the other person, you’re faced with the challenge of how to break up. Do you FaceTime him? Do you send her a text? Do you do it on your next phone call? What about other arrangements, like letting your friends know or letting close family members in on it? Depending on how long you’ve been in this relationship, these questions will either be moot points or crucially important. If it’s anything more than just a casual long-distance relationship versus a we-were-once-madly-in-love relationship, then it’s your duty to think about all the other people in your life that may be affected by your decision.

So, let’s break down the break-up process to help you do it in a way that’s painless to both of you – or at least as painless as possible. There will be pain and there will be tears, but there need not be any recrimination or resentment when the decision is finally made and the inevitable has happened.

#1: Is This The End?

Before you do anything, you need to make absolutely sure that this is what you want. Most times, there’s no going back, and if there’s a point of no return in any break-up, it is right here. Think long and hard about whether you want to end this long-distance relationship or if the two of you just need a mental and emotional break from each other. Sometimes, the stress of maintaining a long-distance relationship can be so hard that you feel like you just want to break it off, but what you really want is some ‘alone time’ so you can both gather your emotions and think about things objectively. You might find that you actually can’t live full lives without the other person being a part of it.

Do you have a definitive “yes” for this question? If you do, read on.

#2: Broaching the Subject

At the outset, let me just say that the ONLY way you should break up with someone who has loved and trusted you for any length of time is face to face, either physically if you’re visiting with each other or digitally if you’re physically apart.

How to bring up the subject of breaking up is often the hardest part – even harder than making the decision to break up. Most of us don’t like confrontation, so we’re extremely uncomfortable dealing with a situation like this. If that’s you, then you need to have a plan and a script to guide you through the conversation. I say ‘conversation’ because, no, you will not be breaking up via text or, God forbid, social media! That’s the coward’s way out and it can lead to prolonged angst for both of you, not to mention souring your relationship forever and even spilling over to new relationships you might want to make with other people. It’s a small world, and never forget that.

So, have a plan and write a script containing what you’re going to say.

The plan involves charting a course for your conversation. The words come later. The course is the direction you want to steer the conversation in. You could start by choosing the right moment to bring up the topic, then consider where you’ll begin, how you’ll take the conversation forward, and how you’ll deliver your message.

Look at it from as objective a viewpoint as possible. You’re breaking it off with a person who you have probably loved in the past or at least been very fond of. You want to break off the formal relationship but still want to be friends – or, at the very least, not be enemies. You don’t want to antagonize them by making it out to be their fault alone, but you also don’t want to use the “It’s not you, it’s me” line because that’s so insincere and transparent, not to mention lame.

Your plan should be a sort of roadmap of where the conversation will go – what points you’ll bring up, what points you’ll avoid (this is crucial), what agreements you need to gain along the way, and so on. Most importantly, it should consider the end result of this effort. Hopefully, the result you want in an amicable split-up where you’re not avoiding each other at every turn.

Once you have that plan in mind, the next step is to craft the conversation, which is why you need to have it scripted. If that sounds too corny or artificial, think about this: you have made your decision and it’s final. The result you want is an amicable break-up, not a messy one. Therefore, you need to think like a negotiator, not a boyfriend or girlfriend. And what does a negotiator do? They negotiate some very rough terrain so both parties can come out safely on the other side, correct? That’s exactly your job here, too.

Your script should not be like a written dialog that you simply regurgitate when you talk to your long-distance partner. It should be more of a bullet list of important points that you don’t want to miss. For example, you can start with “We need to talk about us” or “We need to have a serious talk”, then into something like “I’ve been thinking about our relationship and where it’s going…”, then, perhaps, segue into the “I think we should stop seeing each other” part.

Following a sequence or train of thought along with important phrases and sentences gives you more confidence to deliver your message. The sequence generally follows a three-part structure: an opening for you to broach the subject, an explanation of your thought process leading to the decision, and the decision itself.

Keep a few things in mind as you deliver your message:

  • If you’ve really taken this decision, then stick to it. This should not turn out to be a negotiation. It’s a simple delivery of a clearly thought-out message.
  • Don’t prolong it. We’ll talk about that in the next section.
  • Be very clear and don’t use ambiguous words like “maybe”, “possibly”, “we could”; rather, use definitive and decisive words like “have to”, “should”, “must”, etc.
  • Don’t be robotic in your delivery. It shouldn’t sound like a rehearsed speech or like someone coached you.

If you’re still apprehensive about going through with it, you should know a little more about knowing when the job is done. That’s what we’ll discuss next.

#3: Making the Sale

Have you ever been in a situation with a salesperson where, at some point, you’ve already made the decision to buy, but the guy goes on and on about the benefits of the product? He’s got no clue that you’ve already decided, which is why knowing when the sale has been made is as important as making the sale.

I don’t want to sound too crass by comparing a break-up to a sales pitch but that’s exactly what it is. You’re selling the fact that the relationship is over. And that’s why it is vital that you know when the sale has been made. Going back to our salesperson example, they should know when to ask for the sale. And it shouldn’t be a “so, how about it?” or “what do you think?”; it should be a firm “will you be paying with cash or a card?”

Translating that into the ‘sale’ for your break up, once you’ve delivered the message, the ‘closing the sale’ part of your message should be as unambiguous as “cash or card”. You’re assuming they’ve understood and you’re merely looking for confirmation of that. “I think you’ll agree that it’s best for both of us” works well but you can say it your own way. Just make sure that there’s no doubt about the finality of the matter.

#4: Ending on a Good Note

More often than not, you’ll want to part ways amicably. It’s actually how most people want it but they have no idea how to achieve that. And because they don’t know, they end up making such a mess of the relationship that they can’t face the other person for a long time after. Remember Joey from Friends? Well, that shouldn’t be you!

Ending a relationship on amicable terms is quite hard, to be honest, which is why so many relationships get broken beyond repair instead of just broken up. The key here is in how you deliver the message in the first place. Easing into it with a plan and a script is the best way to ensure that you’re managing the emotional dialog as much as the verbal one. So, if you need two or three conversations to deliver the message, so be it. Rushing into it in a single 10-minute conversation might not be a good idea, especially if your partner is the sensitive type. If it takes longer, let it, as long as your message is clearly understood and accepted.

This is the only way to ensure that you part ways on good terms. You don’t have to stay friends if you don’t want to, but that doesn’t mean you have to hate or resent each other, either. That’s why delivering the break-up message in the right way is such a critical component of this whole process.

#5: Telling Others

This part can be equally hard but in a different way. There may be recrimination from those who thought you were ‘the perfect couple’ and ‘can’t stand to see you suffer like this’; some might even tell you that it’s absolute nonsense and that you should get back together again. If you’ve already decided to go through with the breakup, then you need to stand your ground as firmly when it comes to letting close friends and family know. There are obviously a few ways to do this:

  • Social Media: Really? Well, why not? It’s a trend – at least, it should be. People tell the world about a new relationship, a baby, a house move, a new job, etc. through social media platforms. Why not a breakup? You can make it a little lighter by using humor.

breakup humor

  • In-Person: The traditional way is to call the people both of you care about and just rip off the bandaid. Hear them out when they object and call you stupid. But don’t give in, and don’t tell them you’ll try to make it work. That just sets the wrong expectation. Tell them you’ve thought about it, discussed it with your partner, and feel it’s the best way forward.
  • As and When Required: If you’re not keen on making a big deal out of it, you can just deal with each person as and when you speak to them. It’s more of an “Oh, by the way…” but if that’s what you’re comfortable with, that’s fine, too.

Some Thoughts to Leave You With

Breaking up is hard. To stop having a relationship with someone is much harder than building a rich one, but so many people around the world are suffering the consequences of a bad relationship that we felt that an article on breaking up was needed. Most of the ones we’ve read so far have given boilerplate advice and off-the-shelf solutions that don’t really work for anyone. Nobody tells you that you need a plan and a script, an opening, a body, and an end, or even that you can end nearly any relationship on a positive note.

The truth is, breaking up is a negotiation carried out with a very specific end in mind. That might sound very clinical on the surface but there’s a reason why using the methods we’ve described in this article really work. That reason is that this approach treats the other person like a reasonable human being, which is what we all like to think we are. It allows you to deliver your message in a non-threatening and non-confrontational manner. The biggest reason people continue to be in bad relationships is that they don’t have a roadmap to lead them safely out of it. That’s what we hope this article will help you achieve.

Of course, if the relationship is an abusive one, there are other ways to deal with it. We haven’t covered that in this piece. This article is intended for people who are simply tired of the long-distance relationship they’re in and have decided to move on. It’s your life, so there’s nothing wrong with making the right decision for yourself. It’s important that you’re sensitive to the needs of the other person, but without ever compromising your own. That’s the hard part. And if this article helps even one person break off their long-distance relationship because they weren’t happy with it, our job is done.

If you want to read about how to enrich a relationship and make it more meaningful, please read this article. To fix a broken relationship, read this one.

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