What is the best way to break up with someone without hurting them? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Answer by Karen Arluck, Clinical Psychotherapist in private practice:
There is no surefire way to avoid hurting someone's feelings, but there are definitely better ways of breaking up that respect the other person and their feelings.
Breaking up Do's:
Have the conversation in person:
If at all possible, try to have the break-up conversation in person (exceptions include: living across the country or world or other extreme circumstances). Often tone is lost in text messages, and even on the phone, and doing it in person demonstrates a recognition of the importance of the relationship, even if this might be less appealing to the person doing the breaking-up.
Use clear language and "I" statements:
Stick to "I" statements and kind, but firm language. Assuming you are 100% sure of your decision, the less ambiguity, the easier it will be for the other person to move on. Avoid telling the person that "it's for the best" or "you don't want to hurt them". The reality is that this is what *you* want, but you really have no idea whether or not this is in their best interest or not. Chances are, if they thought it was in their best interest, they would have already broken up with you. It also leaves room for them to argue with you about what's in their best interest, and gives the false idea that if it wasn't in their best interest, that somehow you would be open to continuing the relationship.
This is not the time rehash every single thing the person did that drove you away. Hopefully the two of you have discussed the issues in the relationship many times in an effort to improve them, and you have made the decision that relationship is not working for you. Either way, it is likely that the person is already in emotional pain from the breakup, and won't be able to process any additional "constructive" feedback or comments.
It can be tempting to try to soften the blow by suggesting that you both be "friends". While there are certainly people who remain friends with their ex, many people have a hard time with this (especially at the beginning when feelings are still very fresh), and it can make it harder for them to move on from the relationship initially. If you actually want to be friends with the person, you can tell them this. However, keep in mind that this may blur the boundaries initially and they may continue trying to win you back. It is often more humane to end the relationship completely, which can be extremely painful for both of you but often makes it much easier to move on and meet partners that are better suited for both of you.
The point is...
While it is impossible to control how another person feels (especially if you are breaking up with them), there are definitely better ways to end a relationship. It is important to respect the relationship, (and the other person), enough to try to have this conversation in person, be clear about your intentions, and to be as kind, (but firm) as possible. Breaking up is never easy, and it takes more guts to do it the right way, versus the avoidant way of "ghosting" on someone. When in doubt, think about how you would want someone to treat you if they were breaking up with you.