By the time you reach your 30s, you may be more realistic about dating than you were a decade earlier. You’ve likely been in several relationships, perhaps some serious partnerships, and you know what you want—and what you don’t want.
Relationships can fall apart for any number of reasons, and breaking up in your 30s can be more emotionally fraught than in your 20s, because you have more invested in the relationship. But you can do it! Rachel A. Sussman, relationship counselor and author of The Breakup Bible, shares tips for breaking things off with honesty and care, while remaining proud of yourself.
Be honest about the situation. Breakups don’t usually come out of left field. You and your significant other might be fighting better than you’re getting along, or there are major problems concerning finances, your love life, addiction, or trust issues. Because you’re in your 30s, you don’t have several years to wait for things to get better.
There’s nothing wrong with pointing out a problem when you see it, Sussman advises. “It’s OK before you break up with someone to say, ‘It looks like things are going in this direction; this is how I’m feeling; let’s talk about what breaking up would actually look like.’” Taking control at the start will help you navigate the difficulty of breaking up.
Sort out who is responsible for what. Dating someone in your 30s means that your lives might be more intertwined than 20-somethings’. If you live together, you have to figure out who is moving out, or if both of you are. It’s good to settle debts as soon as possible, or decide if ongoing financial support situations will extend beyond the breakup. Determine custody of pets, and figure out upcoming vacations or weddings you might have planned for.
Have a “party line” for friends and family. If you’ve become a part of each other’s family—this includes if one person has children from another relationship—or share mutual friends, it’s best to agree on what to say to emotionally invested parties. Sussman recommends a “party line” that casts the breakup in the best light.
Do it as your best self. To that end, perhaps the most difficult part is managing your own emotions and not letting yourself give in to bitterness and anger—at least, not to the extent that you burn bridges. “I know it all sounds very mature to have these conversations,” Sussman says, “but a lot of times, it looks like a couple is going to break up, and they don’t do anything about it. Then one person cheats on the other, and they have a horrendous breakup. Better to do it while things are still good instead of waiting until it devolves and you are your worst self.”
Take time to grieve. You’re likely not going to emerge from a breakup totally unscathed, so it’s all right to take some “you” time after you’ve sorted through apartments, pets, vacations, and family. The healthiest response, in fact, would be to allow yourself to experience sadness, anger, and the fear that you won’t meet someone else again.
“The more pressure you put on yourself that you should be feeling something else, that actually delays the process,” Sussman says. “There are two things that will get you over a breakup: 1) the passage of time; and 2) doing the good psychological work to figure out why you picked this person, why it didn’t work out, and what part you played in it. That will help you move forward and pick a better partner.”
Be accountable. It all comes back to being honest about how this relationship doesn’t work out, which includes considering your part in it. “You have to have accountability,” Sussman says, “because if you don’t, you’re going to do the exact same thing. Then you’re just going to have another breakup, and that’s going to be worse.” Part of the grieving process is rebuilding—holding on to that best self that you maintained during the most agonizing parts of the breakup, and bringing those qualities to your search for the one for you.