If you’re here wondering how to end a long-term relationship, then chances are your love life no longer aligns with the woman you are today. But ending a relationship that has spanned years or decades—and potentially involves a mortgage, wedding vows, and kids—is not a decision you can make lightly.
But although ending a long-term relationship will undoubtedly be messy, staying in the wrong relationship because it’s the easier thing to do will not serve you in any way. Yes, it will be hard to break up with someone you have a long history with. Yes, it will be tough to rebuild your life without them. But you have to trust your intuition and follow it.
If you know it’s time to walk away and begin a new chapter in your life, this article will show you how to end a long-term relationship gently and make it as stress-free as possible.
But first, let’s explore how to know when to end a long-term relationship. You’ll know it’s time when:
- You’ve fallen out of love
- The bad days outweigh the good ones
- Your relationship is no longer growing (which means it’s dying)
- Your relationship is not nourishing you in any way
- The trust or respect is gone
- You both want different things that you aren’t willing to compromise on (like marriage and kids)
Here’s how to end a long term relationship
1. Make a decision (and stick to it)
Making a firm decision to end things is one of the hardest parts of this process. You’ll inevitably go back and forth, weighing up pros and cons, and trying to convince yourself why the relationship will work. But if you find you keep circling back to this place, something isn’t working.
Here’s a great way to get to the truth of how you feel:
If you could press a button, end the relationship today, and fast forward through all the uncoupling, heartache, and breakup stuff, would you press it?
Often, people stay in relationships even though they’re miserable because it’s easy and familiar, and they’re scared of the alternative. But this is not LIVING.
Once you’ve decided that your relationship has no future, don’t waste time in limbo or pretend that things are okay. Push the metaphorical button.
2. Get emotionally prepared
The next step to end a long-term relationship is to prepare to have a conversation with your partner. It’s normal to feel anxious, distressed, and sad in the leadup to ending things, and you’ll also worry about how your partner will handle the news.
But there’s a lot you can do to calm yourself down and find some stable ground amid the chaos in your mind. Think about what you want to say and how you’ll say it. Think about when and where you’ll have a conversation. Certain days or events will be inappropriate and unnecessarily cruel (like birthdays, obviously), so be considerate with your choice.
3. Journal why you’re ending it
During this turbulent phase, you might find the act of journaling incredibly therapeutic and helpful for making sense of your jumbled thoughts. More specifically, create space to journal about why you’re ending the relationship. What has led you to this point? What are the dealbreakers? Why do you think you’re not right for each other anymore?
Not only will this help confirm your decision, but you’ll have it as a reference for the future any time you’re having second thoughts or feeling lonely and wondering if you made the wrong choice.
4. Communicate how you feel clearly
When you do finally sit down and communicate you want to end things, your partner is likely to be shocked by the news (unless this has been a long time coming for both of you). They’ll be wondering why, so it’s essential you articulate your feelings clearly and calmly. You might be angry, hurt, or resentful but try to diffuse these emotions ahead of your conversation to avoid a huge row.
Generally, it’s best to focus on how you feel and use the word I instead of you—”I feel like” instead of “you’ve made me feel”—to avoid blaming your partner and pushing them into defense mode. If you can, give your reason for ending things in a sentence or two. Explain enough so that your reasons are clear, but avoid piling too much on your partner all at once.
5. If you’re married, get legal advice
How to end a long-term relationship becomes more complicated if you’re married. You might be afraid things will turn nasty, and he’ll try and make your life difficult to punish you.
What if he tries to take our kids away from me?
What if he starts spreading rumors about me to everyone I know?
Or what if he blackmails me with something from my past?
Thoughts like this can give you recurring nightmares and make a real dent in your peace of mind and mental health.
To alleviate some of this stress, make sure you have a plan. Get legal advice. Play out worst-case scenarios. Think about what you can do if the worst was to happen. That way, if it does, you’ll be prepared for it.
6. If you have kids, set ground rules
If you have kids together, breaking up becomes even more complicated. But while divorce will undoubtedly be hard on your kids, it would be even worse to stay married and bring them up in a house filled with unhappiness. Remind yourself of this every time you worry about your kids. They’re more resilient than you think they are. I mean, you can just throw them head-first into a ball pit, and they’re totally fine.
The next step is to plan how you’ll balance seeing the kids. Will he see them on weekends, or will you each have them for one week at a time? Will you still do certain things as a family, like celebrate the holidays and the kid’s birthdays? How will this work?
Having kids means you will still have to remain in each other’s lives, so you’ll need to decide how often you’ll see each other, when, and if you’ll talk to each other or not.
Get clear on your ideal scenario, what your boundaries are, and what you’re willing to compromise on.
7. Talk to your kids
Once you’ve figured out together what you’ve decided to do, it’s time to have an honest conversation with your kids. Don’t give them the messy details about the problems you’re having in your relationship. Do tell them it’s not their fault. Be honest that some things will be changing (one of you will be moving out) but reassure them that other things will stay the same (they’ll remain at the same schools and still see both of you each week, etc.).
Have this conversation a couple of days before anyone moves out so they have time to process what’s happening and ask both of you any questions they might have. Know that this will be hard on them—change always is—and be there for them in any way you can be.
8. Tie up any loose ends
Sell the house, decide how you’ll divide up your furniture, finalize any outstanding bills, and find a new place (or places) to live.
If you’re renting a house or apartment, there’s a strong chance you’re locked into a contract. You can stick it out and be amicable towards each other, or one of you can move out and you can get a friend to take their place, or you could speak to the owner and see if you can end the lease early.
Be considerate towards each other’s feelings during this process and avoid getting petty over small things that don’t really matter, like TVs and sofas (cut it in half like Ross did?).
9. Tell your family and friends
The next step to end a long-term relationship is a hard one because it’s time to break the news to your wider circle: your family and friends. Although this will be tough to do—they’ll want to know what happened—the sooner you do it, the more real it will feel.
Remember not to bad-mouth your ex. Plan out what you’re going to say beforehand to give everyone a clear and concise explanation that doesn’t venture into the gritty details. Something as simple as “we want different things” is enough to explain why things ended without requiring you to air any of your dirty laundry.
10. End contact with each other
My advice after a breakup is always to cease all contact with each other. That includes texts, phone calls, Facebook messages, and Instagram stalking. Block each other on social media and resist the urge to make contact, no matter how lonely you feel. It’s natural to find yourself drawn back to someone who feels familiar and safe, but remind yourself why you ended things in the first place, and stay strong.
If you have to keep in contact because you have kids, then be very clear about what that contact will look like, and don’t blur that line.
Staying in touch after you’ve broken up will only keep you hung up on each other and prevent you from moving on with your lives. Worse still, if you initiated the breakup, calling or texting will only give your ex false hopes about potentially rekindling things. DON’T DO IT.
11. Be prepared to have second-thoughts
Long-term relationships are notoriously hard to get over because it’s excruciatingly difficult to stop loving someone. Even if you’ve already fallen out of love, it’s still tricky adjusting to life on your own again and figuring out who you are outside of a couple. So expect to feel confused and experience a rainbow of emotions. You’ll have good days and not-so-good ones. You’ll wonder if you made the right decision, you’ll have regrets, and you’ll feel lonely. Trust that this is normal and all part of the breakup process.
When you feel low, look back at your journal entries on why you wanted to end things and trust that you made the right choice for yourself.
12. Give yourself time to grieve
Even if you’re the one who initiated the breakup, you will be grieving a loss, as will he. You might be fooled into thinking you should be okay because you don’t want to be with him, but it’s natural not to be. Take all the time you need to grieve. You might feel silly because no one has actually died, but a breakup is such a similar experience to a loved one dying. Your relationship has died. And that person who used to be such a big part of your life is suddenly gone. Silly things will remind you of this loss, like when you’re folding laundry on your own, or you’re at home on the sofa with no one to cuddle up to, or you have to eat a whole pizza yourself. Hang on a second… remind me why this sucks again?
Pizza aside, this is not easy to adjust to or heal from, so be patient with yourself. There’s no set timeline here for when you should be okay.
13. Consider working with a therapist
If you’re struggling and need extra support as you heal from your breakup, you might want to enlist some professional help. A qualified therapist can provide a safe space for you to work through any baggage you’re still carrying from the breakup and help you figure out where to go from here. There might be specific issues or events you’ve buried deep inside of you that need to be addressed so that you can fully move on and heal, and a therapist can help you do this without any judgment.
14. Be kind to yourself
What you need now more than ever is a strategy for moving forward and showing yourself kindness and compassion. Spend time with people who bring you joy and care about you. If you’re craving company, think about getting a dog. Create space each day for self-care. Avoid criticizing or judging yourself when you’re in this fragile state.
15. Rediscover who you are
Wondering how to cope after a long-term relationship ends? After you’ve let yourself grieve, it’s time to rediscover YOU. The longer you spent in your previous relationship, the more your sense of self will have interwoven with his, leaving you wondering who the hell you are without him.
So be intentional about rebuilding who you are on your own. Pick up old hobbies. Learn something new (like IDK, juggling, walking through fire, or hula hooping). Travel. Throw yourself into your work. Start a new project that you’ve been thinking about forever. Meet new people. Have fun exploring new things and picking up pieces of yourself you lost along the way while discovering new ones.
16. Get through the rebound period before you start dating again
After the end of a long-term relationship, you’ll find yourself in rebound territory. During this time, dating will be more of a coping mechanism than a genuine desire to meet someone new. You’ll know you’re rebounding because dating won’t feel as exciting as it’s meant to, and the new connections you make will feel murgh.
Although you might be craving company, it’s best to avoid dating again until you feel ready and excited to do it. You want to feel whole on your own, recognize your value, and know that you don’t need to be with anyone to be happy (this is Little Love Step #1, ladies). People can sense this in the way you show up, and it makes you infinitely more attractive, which is why it’s worth waiting for.
I hope this has helped you figure out how to end a long-term relationship, move on with your life, and find your way to the happiness you deserve. Remember that just because your relationship has failed, it doesn’t make you a failure.
While this process will undoubtedly be complicated, it’s important to trust that you’ve made the right decision. Letting go of what’s not working is the only way to make space to welcome new things that fully align with the woman you are today.
Have you ever had to end a long-term relationship? What was the most challenging part of the process for you? Let me know in the comments.
PS. If you’re ready to start making men pursue you for love, then join me on this free webinar to discover the 3 steps to building emotional attraction – Register here to get started (it’s 100% free).