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Breaking up

Breaking up with someone is rarely easy. Even if it’s your decision, you’ll probably feel some sadness and miss things about your ex. 

If you’ve been dumped, it can be especially tough. You may feel shocked if it’s come out of the blue, as well as angry, sad, rejected or all sorts of other emotions.  

But however hard it is to deal with a breakup, you will get through this difficult period. And there are things you can do to help you cope.

Below you’ll find advice to help you through the different stages from deciding it’s time to end the relationship to coping with heartbreak and being on your own again.  

Should I finish with them?

Sometimes deciding to split up is straightforward – you just know it’s the right thing to do and the time has come to do it. But often it’s not that clearcut. 

If things are perhaps not as good as they used to be but does that mean you should end it? Maybe one you is about to move away to study and you don’t know if you want a long-distance relationship. Or maybe you’ve felt attracted to someone else and you’re not sure what this means for your relationship.

Weighing up the pros and cons

If you too are feeling confused, you could try writing down how you feel. 

  1. Make a list of the good things about being in the relationship 
  2. Then list the disadvantages of being in the relationship
  3. Write down how you’d feel if you split up now
  4. Write down how you think you’d feel if you split up in six months’ time

This may help you weigh up the pros and cons of staying together or splitting up.

Before deciding, you could also consider:

Talking to your partner about your doubts: Bringing up difficulties in your relationship can be awkward. But if you’re having doubts, maybe they are too? By talking and listening to each other, you may be able to work things out together. See more advice about communication
Talking to a friend or someone in your family: you can trust and whose opinion you value. Sometimes, just voicing what you’re feeling can help you see things more clearly

Do you feel something’s not quite right about your relationship?
If you’re ever frightened of your partner or can think of any way in which they try to control you, make you feel bad about yourself, or harm you physically or sexually, then it's really important to get help. These types of behaviour count as abuse and abuse usually gets worse over time. See more about abuse and how to get help.

How to finish with someone

You've made the decision and it's time to end it, but how do you do it? 

There’s no set way to break up and it’s impossible to completely avoid upsetting the other person. 

But unless you really don’t care how they’ll feel, it’s worth planning what you’ll say to break the news as kindly as possible.

Consider how you would like to be treated
If they were breaking up with you, would you want them to tell you in person, call you or do it by text? Would you be upset if other people found out about it first?

Choose your words
Try to explain your reasons gently and honestly and avoid saying anything hurtful that you don’t need to say. 

Pick your time and place
Choose a time when they’re more likely to be able to lean on friends or family for support. Avoid humiliating them by telling them in front of friends or in a public place. If you’re going to change your profile on social media, think about when you do it.

Stay safe 
If you're in a situation where you're worried that they might get angry or violent if you end with them, then you need to put your safety first. This might mean not meeting with them in person or having someone else with you. 

Dealing with a break up

If you’ve just broken up with someone, it’s normal to feel a whole range of emotions including sadness, anger, regret, anxiety, relief.

You may not believe it right now but however awful you feel at this moment, you won’t continue to feel this bad forever. Here are some tips to help you cope with the aftermath of a breakup.

Let yourself be sad: Psychologists sometimes compare the experience of going through a break up to a bereavement. The other person hasn’t died but you can still feel this huge sense of loss. With time these feelings of overwhelming sadness will get less intense and happier feelings will return.

Lean on your friends: Don’t sit there thinking “I can’t bother my friends with this”. Get in touch with your friends and make plans to see them. Some friends are good for talking, others are good for making you laugh and others for going out and taking your mind off things. Having fun with friends will remind you that you can have a good time without your ex. 

Be good to yourself: Splitting up with someone can knock your self-confidence so it’s important after a break up to be nice to yourself and take time out to do things you enjoy. You’ll probably find that doing things that make you feel good about yourself will help you get over it a lot quicker. See more tips on how to boost your self-esteem.

Keep busy: If you keep busy by seeing friends and family, focusing on your studies, your work or your hobbies or by taking up a new activity, you’ll have less time to think about your ex. 

Look after your health: If you’re feeling low, getting enough sleep, eating healthily (lots of fruit and veg and not too many sweets and crisps) doing some exercise and avoiding too much alcohol will all help. 

Accept it’s finished: Your heart might be broken, you might still really want to have sex with them, but if it’s over, then it probably really is over. If you’ve been dumped and they’ve made up their mind, it’s tough but you have to accept it’s not going to work.

Keep your distance: Some people can remain friends after a breakup, others find it too hard. Even if you stay friends, having a bit of distance and a bit of time out can be helpful.

Be realistic: There are probably lots of reasons why you broke up and lots of things that weren’t perfect. But it’s easy after a break up to just remember the good things. Get a reality check by remembering the bad times as well. Acknowledging what the relationship was lacking can help you move on.

Move on: We’ve all heard the saying “there are plenty more fish in the sea” and it can be about the worst thing to hear soon after finishing with someone. It may feel like you’ll never meet anyone else but in time you’ll find that you will. Being confident about yourself, doing the things you enjoy and getting out with your friends will all increase your chances of meeting someone.

Try to avoid…

Sex with your ex: It’s easily done but it may cause even more heartache for one of you. And don’t forget STIs and pregnancy are a risk if you have unplanned sex without protection.

Stalking: Doing things like texting them, looking them up on Facebook, and trying to find out if they are with someone new will end up doing your head in. Try instead to focus on your own life and what makes you feel good.

Rebound relationships: New people or new sexual relationships can be fun and can help people get over breakups. But be careful of being on the rebound and falling for someone just because it makes you feel good. A bit of time on your own to get your head together is not a bad thing.

Hiding away: Friends, fun and getting out are what you need when you’re feeling low. It may be tempting to hide away, but try going out even if you have to push yourself. 

Content reproduced with kind permission from University College London's Sexunzipped website.

Page last reviewed: September 2015
Next review due: September 2016