How to Break Up Like a Grown-Up

A dating coach walks you through the messy stages of a clean break.


Nobody wants to be the bad guy, but sometimes you have no choice. Maybe they don’t share your interests, maybe it’s a lack of trust, maybe you’re just bored, but if you don’t get out of your relationship soon you’re going to lose your mind. Statistics say more people mull their jailbreak on Valentine’s Day, but a clean break is always in season. Sorta like tornadoes.

There are a lot of miserable tasks in life but breaking someone’s heart resides somewhere near the top of the list. You need to get through it as gracefully and humanely as possible — your boyfriend or girlfriend or we-aren’t-even-official-yet deserves as much. Inverse reached out to a dating coach named Anita Chlipala to help walk you through the emotional minefield between you and freedom.

Give me a better way to break up with someone than sending a card that reads: “Welcome to Dumpsville. Population, You.” There must be a better way.

One of the best ways is to do it in person. I’ve had clients who’ve been with someone several months and they get a breakup text. Give your partner the courtesy of meeting with them in person and doing it, like, in their place so you can leave them alone. Try to really explain why you’re breaking up with them. People want closure. Why didn’t they want me? So being able to really address that question is really important.

Is there a place more preferable than, say, the park or a restaurant?

Yeah, I think it would be more comfortable for them. I mean, yes, if it’s been an extremely volatile relationship maybe doing it in public might be better to avoid a scene. But then you’re assuming how well someone can control their emotions. For me, if someone would break up with me I’d start bawling. I’d prefer it to be done in the privacy of my home. And at home you aren’t interrupted. If you do it at home there are no distractions and there’s no rush. You can focus on each other. If you need to get up off the couch and stare off into the distance you can. No waiter is going to ask you if you want more water.

I can’t break up by text, though.

The text message, the ghosting — those infuriate people. If it’s one or two dates, yeah, maybe, but people who have a relationship and care for someone should do better. Don’t ghost.

Anything I can do to prepare for the breakup?

Make sure it’s what you want. People lack education around what makes a relationship work. Some of my clients, they fight with their partner and say We argued, so we should break up or they think there’s someone else perfect out there. But no matter who you’re with there are fights and conflicts. People break up over things that don’t necessarily need to lead to a breakup. There’s no one perfect out there — it doesn’t exist.

Once I’m sure, then what?

Be nice. You want to be callous. Don’t be like, I don’t want to be with you anymore and that’s it. Be nice and try to answer all of their questions as well as you can.

Nice without giving false hope, I assume.

Yeah. If you’re done you have to make sure you close that door. Sometimes that false hope happens because you want to still stay friends. Lot of people I know stay friends with their exes. So don’t give false hope by setting some expectations about contact. Really be clear, so that there’s no grey area.

When’s the last time you dumped somebody?

I broke up with my boyfriend in July. I went over to his place with two empty bags so I could get my stuff. I knew it wasn’t going to work. I wasn’t going to get my needs met and he wasn’t delivering and I’d talked to him about what I needed over and over. I just hit the point where I could not imagine being with him the next 50 years of my life. I gave him ample opportunity and I was very clear. I was sitting on his couch and I was like, “I don’t want to have this conversation another month from now.” I got up, grabbed the few things that I had there, and was like, we’re done. The thing is if you want people to move past the breakup they really should know why the breakup is happening and you should know why you’re doing it. Make sure you’ve communicated what your needs are; a lot of people aren’t even asking or sure for themselves. When you see it clearly, it’s easier to be like, no romanticizing and no regrets. In my case, I’d flat-out asked for things for months, so it was really easy to move on.

Communication is key. But none of us like to have this conversation.

Follow the Golden Rule. If there’s a person that you’re dating, if they broke up with you, how would you want it to be done to you? The ghosting, people have no qualms doing it to another person, but when it happens to them they freak out or they’re so hurt by it. The goal is to do it respectfully. Depending on how well you know your partner, you probably know how they’d prefer this to happen. And be able to answer that question why and give as much information as possible because that’s going to help them move on faster.

How much can I sugarcoat the truth?

You have to be honest. Social media now, everyone can talk to each other. If there’s someone else in the picture respect your partner enough to tell them in person. Because they’re going to find out later.

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