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Time to Call It Quits? 4 Ways to Break Up With Your Partner

Protect yourself by paying attention to warning signs early in a relationship.

Key points

  • In a relationship, it's important to be wary of early signs of potential emotional hurt, such as infidelity, instability, and lying.
  • A breakup can be self- or other-oriented, depending on whose needs and feelings are considered. It can also be done directly or indirectly.
  • When it's time to end a relationship, clear communication that takes the partner's feelings into account is best.

Some of the most common deal-breakers in ongoing relationships include abuse of any type, infidelity, secretive behaviors, refusal to do their fair share of household tasks, and lack of attention to personal hygiene. Everyone has a different level of tolerance for what they consider bad behavior and some otherwise great partners are simply people who haven’t been made aware of the negative impression their bad habits are creating.

For relationships to work, open and honest communication is essential. Without feeling that you are able to share your feelings with your partner, relationships tend to stall. If a partner’s bad habits are getting in the way of the relationship growing, the best way to encourage a change in your partner is to share your feelings about the behavior. Until your partner knows what you’re having trouble dealing with, they can’t contemplate changing. Until someone realizes that they have a problem, there’s no problem for them.

When to Call It Quits

There are definitely some behaviors that should make you pause and think, “What am I doing in a relationship with this person?”

Infidelity: If you find out a partner is unfaithful, you need to address the issue upfront with your partner right away and not hope that infidelity doesn’t happen again. When a partner’s attention drifts beyond their primary relationship, it’s generally a symptom of an even deeper rift that, left unattended, will grow bigger and erode the relationship further. Of course, if polyamory or throuples are your jam, monogamy might not be expected, but if a partner is breaking the relationship’s ground rules, this is an issue, too.

Lack of intimacy: By intimacy, I am referring to that deep level of connection, authenticity, and vulnerability. When partners refuse to self-disclose at the same level that their partners do or refuse to let a partner share at a deep level, the relationship will be stuck at a level that lacks depth. While superficial relationships can work well for some people, they may begin to feel like transactional behavior-based connections rather than more meaningful, deeply intimate relationships.

Lying: If someone can't be honest at the start of a relationship, just imagine how quickly the mistruths and lies can pile up. Without honesty, no relationship can stand the test of time.

Instability: While someone may appreciate a “devil may care” or “c’est la vie” attitude, when they are trying to build a lasting relationship with someone who is unable to hold a job, live up to their promises, and be there for them when needed, the “free spirit” they once admired begins to seem more like a jerk who can’t be trusted to do what needs to be done. When a partner changes jobs frequently, has no qualms about backing out of commitments, or just can’t be counted on when things get rough, this may be a partner who can’t honor the expectations a partnership implies.

Abuse of any type: This shouldn’t have to be included on the list as it should be a given, but abusers are often highly skilled manipulators who are able to convince their victims that the abuse was a “one-time thing” that won’t happen again. But it always does—abuse is cyclical. After after one or two rounds, both the abuser and the victim understand the cycle; unfortunately, it’s often up to the victim to break the cycle and leave the relationship. Remember, abuse isn’t limited to physical assault—it can include verbal abuse, emotional abuse, relational abuse, financial abuse, and spiritual abuse.

Breaking It Off

According to Baxter (1985), there are two main areas of consideration when we are preparing to end a relationship—whether our communication is self-oriented or other-oriented and whether we use direct or indirect means of communication.

“It’s over. I'm outta here.”

If your interests in ending the relationship are primarily self-oriented, you may take the most direct route and simply announce that you’re ready to break it off with your partner. This type of announcement may be the hardest for your partner to hear, but it allows for clarity on the part of the communicator.

“Yeah, I haven’t been around much ... and, uh, yeah.”

On the other hand, the indirect communication route taken by a more self-directed person may include a less-than-clear announcement that you’re ending the relationship, and this may include increasing withdrawal from the relationship. You may make excuses for your absence from the relationship, as well. You are less interested in how your partner takes the news and more interested in seeing that your own needs are met. If the relationship is no longer meeting your needs, your focus on your own self-interest erases any care you may have had for your partner’s feelings.

I think we need to talk about the status of our relationship..."

For those who are more other-oriented, breaking up can be a more involved process. More direct individuals will touch on the topic of breaking up in such a way that their concern about their partner’s feelings is apparent. They don’t want to just “dump” their partner and yet are still ready to leave the relationship behind. These situations allow for the “relationship talk” where the party ending the relationship brings up the topic and keeps the break-up momentum on track while ensuring that their partners’ feelings are as protected as they can be. The term, negotiated farewell, was coined to describe this type of breakup.

I don’t think there’s anything left to say" (although nothing has been actually said).

Lastly is the process in which an other-directed, but more indirect communicator, initiates a breakup. Their goal is to dissolve the relationship with no harm to the partner. This can involve the type of behavior referred to as “ghosting,” in that someone just stops engaging with the other. Both partners will realize the relationship is over and just accept that it’s faded away without actually stating what has happened. No names are called, no ugly statements are made, and no confrontations occur, but this means of breaking up also denies some amount of finality to either partner. In an effort to avoid hurting the other, the initiator just leaves their ex-partner wondering what happened and what went wrong.

When the choice is yours, choose to be kind.


Baxter, L. A. (1985) Accomplishing relationship disengagement. In S . W . Duck & D. Perlman (Eds.) Understanding personal relationships. Beverly Hills: Sage.

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