Where love exists, so does the possibility of heartbreak, and at some point, you may realize you and your partner have no future together. Even when this fact is perfectly clear, ending the relationship can still be pretty tough — especially when you cohabitate.
If you’ve come far enough to move in together, you likely have some pretty strong feelings for each other. Calling it quits, then, might seem like a waste. Yet love and positive regard can’t overcome every obstacle, and staying in an unfulfilling relationship will likely leave you both miserable down the line.
Not all relationships thrive, but this knowledge may not make your breakup process any easier. The prospect of breaking up when you live together might feel even more stressful, and that’s absolutely normal. If you’re not sure how to begin, we’re here to help. Our guide can help you navigate the breakup with consideration and respect, for your partner and yourself.
Relationships end for any number of reasons.
Perhaps a few months of sharing living space cast light on a few key problems — late nights out with no communication, disrespect for your personal space, or regularly forgotten chores. Maybe you ignored these problems at first, hoping they’d resolve themselves. When that didn’t happen, you tried to address them, but your efforts had little impact.
The specific circumstances might vary, but once you realize there’s no way forward, ending things sooner rather than later can save you both time and pain.
Decide what to say
Chances are, you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about breaking up before making up your mind. Now you’re certain, but you still aren’t sure how to tell them.
Everyone’s situation looks a little different, so there’s no set script to follow. If you feel a little stuck, these guidelines can help:
- Be honest. It can feel tempting to soften the blow with white lies, but ask yourself how you’d feel in their position. You’d probably want to know what really went wrong, so show them the same courtesy.
- Keep things simple. Limit your explanation to a few main issues instead of sharing a list of grievances.
- Avoid unnecessary blame. Accusing them of destroying your relationship or taking the blame yourself won’t help anyone. Try to stick to a more neutral explanation.
Prepare for questions
Most people want answers before they can come to terms with a breakup, so they may ask why.
It may not help them to hear every single detail — “You’re terrible at dishwashing,” “You like boring TV,” “You never listen to anything I say.” Still, offering some explanation of big-picture problems could help them make changes that improve the outcome of their next relationship.
It’s understandable to regret hurting them, but your first priority is supporting yourself. With that in mind, try brainstorming answers that reflect your needs, not their faults:
- “When it comes to communication, we’re just not on the same page.”
- “I see myself with someone who shares the same priorities around finances and household responsibilities.”
- “We have such different interests that I don’t feel connected when we spend time together.”
Give them time
After the conversation, they may feel stunned, devastated, angry, and confused. You can’t help how they feel, but you can offer compassion and kindness by giving them space to process.
Even if you’re planning to move out, offer them some time alone before you start packing up. Have an overnight bag with essentials ready to go, and set a time for you to come collect your things.
When it’s your house or apartment, they’ll need a few days, at the very least, to find somewhere to stay. Plan to discuss boundaries and sleeping arrangements. You might, for example, offer to sleep in the guest room or on the sofa.
When you share a lease, you’ll also have to decide who goes, who keeps the deposit, and so on. Making a list of considerations beforehand can help you avoid forgetting things in what might become a tense or emotional situation.
Once you know it’s time to break up, telling a few trusted friends and loved ones can make your next steps much easier.
Your social circle can offer emotional support, first of all. It’s understandable to have conflicting feelings. Breakups can cause plenty of distress, even when you initiate them. You’ve shared your lives and a home.
You might still love them and grieve the necessary loss. But when love and regret give way to second thoughts, loved ones can validate your decision and remind you of the reasons behind it. Friends and family can also offer a temporary place to stay and help you move out.
If you’re worried about your partner’s reaction, ask a friend to come over or wait outside. (Find tips for navigating a breakup with an abusive partner here.)
Having the talk
You know what you want to say. You’ve practiced in front of the mirror, or with a friend, and you finally feel ready to have the talk.
These tips can help you have a successful conversation.
Give them some warning
Clueing in your partner to the impending breakup can help them begin processing what’s about to happen. They may have even noticed the same warning signs you have and already feel the winds of change blowing in.
Instead of “We need to talk,” as they’re headed out the door, try:
- “I have something important to discuss with you. Will tonight work?”
- “I’d like to have a talk about our relationship. Do you have time this evening?”
Choose a low-stress time
While it’s best to talk as soon as you make up your mind, you might wait a day or two if they’re facing a big deadline or another temporary source of stress that requires their full attention.
Since you’ll want to plan for enough time to share your feelings and hear theirs, avoid having the conversation at bedtime or before work. If you have children, make sure they’re occupied and out of earshot.
Be clear and kind
Aim to start off by explicitly stating your desire to break up so you avoid any misunderstandings.
- “I care for you very much, but this relationship is no longer working for me. I want to break up.”
It can feel scary to come out and say, “I’m breaking up with you.” But indirect options, like “I don’t think things are working out” or “Maybe we should break up” can lead to long conversations with unclear resolutions. You might remain firm in your desire to end things while they walk away with the impression that it’s still possible to repair the relationship.
They might get upset, even angry or tearful. You might feel some emotions surging, too. That’s completely normal. You care about each other, and you’ll both be affected by this.
That doesn’t mean you have to let them shout at you or put up with any other type of outburst. If things get heated, avoid letting your own emotions get the better of you. Instead, leave the room, get a drink of water, or take a walk around the block. Call a friend if you feel scared or unsafe.
If they seem too upset to continue talking, suggest picking up the conversation when they feel calmer.
Give them a chance to talk
Once you’ve explained that you want to break up and why, it’s their turn to talk. They’ll probably have plenty of feelings about your decision, and listening empathically, with your full attention, shows you respect those feelings.
Answer their questions, but be mindful of circling or unproductive conversations. Don’t be afraid to end the discussion if they keep challenging the breakup or asking you to reconsider.
Plan to revisit practical matters
You’ll need to talk about financial matters, such as splitting shared bills and dividing up belongings you purchased together, including electronics, appliances, and furniture.
Still, sorting through finances and shared possessions can be a lengthy process after even the most amicable breakup. If you feel overwhelmed right now, agree on a time to go over these important details.
After you’ve had the breakup conversation, you might feel relieved that it’s finally over. Yet finalizing the end of your relationship can open the door to some new challenges, especially if you’re breaking up in the middle of a pandemic.
What if we’re stuck together for a while?
You may not have the financial means to change your living situation right away. This might make you think twice about breaking up, but it’s generally best to talk it out rather than maintain the relationship under false pretenses. Then you can have a candid discussion about options for going forward.
Go into the conversation with some research under your belt. If you’re the one who needs to move out, you might let them know you’ve been saving up for a deposit and outline your timeline for finding a new place. If they moved in with you, extend the same compassion you’d hope for in their shoes and give them time to process the breakup and look for a new place to live.
When you own or rent together, next steps may involve negotiating a short-term plan to continue sharing space. This can be tricky, but it’s not impossible, as long as you establish clear boundaries. Talk about who goes to the guest room or sofa and set up a schedule for common areas and time alone, if necessary.
Lockdowns and other restrictions can cause serious complications for relationships and breakups. On top of your existing stress, you now have to navigate another life change and all the complicated emotions that come with it.
If either of you hasn’t been working, you might not have the money to move. Staying with family or friends might involve a quarantine period and other extra precautions, if it’s even possible. If you have a new place lined up, you might struggle to find moving help.
As you navigate plans for moving out or temporarily continuing to cohabitate:
- Be patient, with yourself and with them.
- Respect their boundaries and stick to yours.
- Agree on what to tell friends about your situation.
- Communicate respectfully.
- Avoid letting physical closeness pull you back into old relationship patterns, like cuddling, sleeping together, or having sex. It’s natural to crave that comfort, but it will only renew the hurt when things do officially end.
What do we tell the kids?
Breakups become even harder when children are involved. You can find more detailed guidance for co-parenting here, but these tips can get you started:
- Decide together what you’ll tell them beforehand.
- If one partner isn’t the legal parent but still has a close relationship with the kids, consider potential visiting arrangements. If you share legal custody, you may need to consult a lawyer.
- Talk to the kids together, if possible. Be honest, but keep your explanation simple.
- Be prepared for questions about the breakup and future living arrangements.
Don’t forget your pets — they’re family, too. Pets you brought with you will probably leave with you, but what if you adopted a furry friend together? As long as you’re not leaving an abusive situation, consider setting up a co-ownership or visitation plan so you can both spend time with your pet.
Now that it’s over, what next?
Don’t force friendship
You might want to maintain a friendship after the breakup, but they may not feel the same way, especially if the breakup came as a surprise or significant blow.
There may be room for friendship in time, especially if you had a satisfying relationship. For now, though, it’s important to respect their needs and give them space.
Take care of yourself
Yes, you made the choice to break up, but you can still grieve your loss.
If you felt strongly enough about them to move in with them, you probably thought the relationship had lasting potential. Realizing otherwise can hurt quite a bit, even if you don’t immediately realize it amid the more pressing challenges of ending the relationship. When the dust settles, you might find yourself overwhelmed with sadness, regret, loneliness, and other emotions you shoved aside.
Good self-care practices can always help you cope, so make an effort to stay active, seek support from friends, and spend time on relaxing hobbies.
Professional support can also help. A therapist can help you work through lingering doubts, grief, and other unresolved feelings about the breakup. Therapy also offers space to become more conscious of your contribution to the relationship and explore changes to enjoy more successful relationships in the future.
The bottom line
Moving in together often seems permanent, but it doesn’t always mean a relationship will flourish. Some people just aren’t suited to each other, and this often only becomes clear after you spend more time together.
Breaking up with someone you live with can feel incredibly difficult, but remember: You’re making the choice that’s right for both of you, even if they don’t yet realize it.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.