Long-distance relationships don’t have to be fraught. They can often be just as happy and fulfilling as a geographically close relationship, especially in the short term.1 But what do you do when these kinds of relationships break down?
Working out when and how to end a long-distance relationship is tricky, so I’m going to guide you through the process in this article. We’ll look at how you know that it’s time to end your long-distance relationship, how to do it well, and how to take care of yourself afterward.
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The first sign that it might be time for a long-distance breakup is that you’ve been thinking about it for a while. We all have doubts now and again, but we usually remember what it is we value about our relationship and decide that the reasons to stay outweigh any difficulties.
If you keep feeling as though you should maybe end your long-distance relationship, take those feelings seriously.
Communication is key to any relationship, and it’s even more important (and challenging) in a long-distance relationship.2 If you’re struggling to communicate well with your long-distance partner, it might be time to reassess your relationship.
There are lots of things that can make your communication more difficult. You might both be busy and not have as much time available for each other. Alternatively, you might find that it becomes increasingly hard to open up as you feel the distance between you.
Short-term difficulties with communication are normal and we all have to put some work into improving our communication skills from time to time. The problem comes when we’re not making significant improvements in our communication, despite our best efforts.
Long-distance relationships aren’t always sustainable in the long run. Some people are happy to stay long-distance forever, but most people want to know that there’s going to be a clear endpoint and that they’ll live closer to each other in the future.3
If your ideal relationship involves cohabiting, or at least living close to your partner, it’s important to know when you might be able to achieve that kind of future. If you don’t see a way that you’ll be able to live closer together in the foreseeable future, it’s worth asking whether this relationship is right for you.
There’s no right or wrong answer to this question. Some people will be happy to continue long-distance indefinitely. But if you’re not, it’s a completely valid reason to need to end your relationship, despite how much you love your partner.
Obviously, if you practice ethical non-monogamy, this isn’t really a problem at all. For those in monogamous relationships, however, falling for someone else can be one of the most painful reasons to end a long-distance relationship. It’s also entirely valid.
If you realize that you’re starting to fall for someone else (and it’s not just a crush or infatuation), it’s a clear sign that there’s something missing in your current relationship. This doesn’t mean that you should automatically call it a day with your long-distance partner, but something is going to need to change.
Make sure that you deal with your feelings around your current relationship before acting on your attraction to someone else. It’s really easy to fall into the belief that “the grass is always greener,” so really try to focus on deciding what to do about your current relationship without focusing on your new attraction.
Just like a healthy, geographically close relationship, long-distance relationships shouldn’t get in the way of your normal, day-to-day life. If you find yourself missing out on opportunities or not being able to spend time doing things you enjoy because of your relationship, it’s time to rethink.
This is especially common when you’re dating someone in a different time zone and it’s a difficult balance to strike.4 You want to make sure that you’re working on your relationship and making time for your partner, but you also don’t want to miss out on living your own life.
Try to get a clear idea of how many things you’re missing out on because you’re trying to make time for your partner. You might not have realized just how many different activities you’re missing out on, from drinks after work to a weekend away with friends.
In my experience, realizing how many opportunities you’re passing up can help you to understand some lingering resentment around your relationship. Talking it through with your partner can help, for example, by showing that they’re making those same sacrifices.
Ultimately, however, you need to decide whether this relationship is an overall benefit for your life at this point in time.
A really strong sign that it’s time for your long-distance relationship to break up is that you’ve tried to work things out and you’re not seeing a meaningful difference. This is painful, especially if you’ve both been trying hard to find a solution.
If things haven’t been right for a while and your attempts to fix them haven’t been successful, it might be time to decide that it’s less painful for both of you to just end things now.
Ask yourself what makes you happy about your relationship. What positives does it bring into your life? If you struggle to think of much, or if you realize that you haven’t really thought about why you’re dating your partner, your relationship might have become a habit.
A relationship that has become a habit is unlikely to be meeting your need for connection.5 For example, in a healthy relationship, you might be excited to talk to your partner over the weekend because you want to share your happiness about something your boss said at work and ask for their advice about a tricky situation with a friend.
This is a different feeling from calling them on Saturday morning because that’s the time that you always talk. You’re not feeling an emotional connection. It starts to feel as though you’re going through the motions.
If your relationship has become a habit, it’s worth thinking about whether it would be better to break up instead.
Even once you know you need to end your long-distance relationship, it’s hard to know how to go about it. After all, you probably still care about your soon-to-be ex and don’t want to hurt them.
Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to have a breakup without hurting someone’s feelings. Here are the best ways to end a long-distance relationship as kindly as you can.
The general rule for ending a relationship is that you want it to be personal. We usually say that you should try to break up in a face-to-face conversation because that’s the most personal type of interaction.
Long-distance relationships are slightly different because you will probably have had most of your conversations over the phone or via video calls.6 If this is the case, it’s completely reasonable to choose these communication methods to end the relationship.
It’s not necessary to travel to see your partner face-to-face to end your long-distance relationship. In fact, it can make it worse because your partner might have got their hopes up for a lovely visit.
This should probably go without saying, but don’t talk about your intention to end your long-distance relationship on social media before you’ve talked to them, even if your account is pretty locked down.
It’s ok to talk to your friends for support and to work through your thoughts, but these conversations need to be as private as possible. Don’t take any chances that your partner will find out about your planned conversation from anyone other than you.
Think carefully about when to have your breakup conversation, but don’t wait too long. Once you’ve made the decision to end your long-distance relationship, you owe it to your partner to tell them as soon as possible.
Try to find a time when you know your partner has some free time afterward to deal with their feelings. Depending on their personality, it might be good to think about whether their support network is available or whether they might be able to spend some time alone.
Make sure that you think about your own well-being as well. If possible, have your own support network ready to look after you when you’ve finished the conversation.
When you start telling your partner that you want to end your relationship, it’s important to be honest as well as kind. Start out by telling them that your relationship isn’t working for you and that you need to break up.
This can feel harsh or cruel, but it’s almost always better than trying to talk around the topic to avoid hurting their feelings. Being honest gives them a degree of certainty and lets them deal with the situation as it really is.
Half-way measures, such as “taking a break” or a “trial separation” are usually just a way to postpone a breakup, which just prolongs the hurt. Only use these measures if you have a clear plan for what you’re going to be doing during the trial period to try to fix your relationship.7
When you tell your partner that you want to break up with them, it’s important to talk about it but it isn’t actually a negotiation. You’re telling them that the relationship is over, not asking them to work with you to end it.
It’s normal for your partner to promise to change or to do something different in order to keep the relationship, but that’s why we work on our relationship before we make the decision to end it. If they didn’t make those changes to make your relationship healthier, they probably won’t make them now.
Stay firm in your decision to end your long-distance relationship. It can sometimes help to write down your reasons for ending the relationship to remind you during such an emotionally-charged conversation.
Just because you’re breaking up with someone doesn’t mean that you don't need to listen to their feelings. We all need to feel heard, and your ex will probably find your breakup easier to deal with if they’ve been able to talk about their feelings.
Try to listen to them with empathy and care. This is someone you’ve cared about for a long time. Just because your relationship is ending doesn’t mean that you don’t care about them at all anymore. Give them as much kindness and compassion as you can.
Having said that, you don’t have to continue to listen to your ex if they start lashing out or being hurtful. Being upset and hurt is no excuse for hurting someone else and you don’t need to tolerate poor treatment from them.
If you need to end the call to look after your emotional well-being, that’s completely ok.
You might find that you have some of his things still at your place and that you’ve left some of yours at his. Ideally, you wouldn’t leave anything that you couldn’t bear to be without. You can usually arrange some way of returning each other's things, however.
Try to be generous and kind in this. Although we might jokingly refer to it as a “hostage exchange,” it can bring home to your ex that your relationship is actually, finally over. If it takes them a few weeks to feel ready to send things back to you, try to give them that space.
If you know that you’re planning to end your long-distance relationship, you’re able to put together a plan for how to look after yourself once you’ve done it. Think about what you’re going to need to help yourself feel better and make sure it’s available.
This might mean giving yourself a couple of days to yourself, arranging a walk with close friends, or just having some comfort food and a good movie to take your mind off things.
Your friends might not realize that you need to grieve a long-distance relationship just as much as you would one that was geographically close. For example, they might see that your normal routine is pretty much the same now that you’re single.
Long-distance relationships are real and they are important. Even if you were the one to make the decision to break up, it’s still ok to feel sad and need time to get over it.
It will often take time for you to heal properly from a relationship, especially if you were together for a long time. Most people find that it helps to have a ‘clean break’, where they don’t contact their ex, at least for a period of time.
This might be more helpful in a long-distance relationship than one where you saw each other every day.
Sending the odd text to check in with someone you used to hang out with daily is still a clear change in your relationship. If you always talked mostly via text or on the phone, staying in touch can feel like you’re still together.
Not everyone will want a clean break, but it’s ok to take it if you need it.
Most people feel lonely after a breakup. While it’s not a good idea to leap straight into a new relationship (more on that in a moment), it is often helpful to surround yourself with people who care about you.
Be clear to them about what you need, and what you don’t. Sometimes, close friends can want to badmouth your ex to make you feel better. If that makes you feel uncomfortable, ask them not to. Be as clear as you can about what will actually make you feel better and what they can do to help.
A breakup is rarely fun, but it doesn’t have to be awful. It’s ok if you feel a new sense of freedom and happiness. This can be a great opportunity to rediscover old hobbies and activities that make you happy but that you might have let slide.
For example, you might have loved going to open mic nights but stopped because they conflicted with the time when you could talk to your ex. Try going back and remembering how much you enjoyed it.
This might sound obvious, but try to avoid the temptation to leap straight into another relationship before you’ve had a chance to really sort through your feelings and heal from this one.
Breakups are a chance to really pay attention to yourself and your needs, without focusing on someone else or having to make compromises. Use that time to look after yourself.
There are two main guidelines around how to end your relationship. Use the normal type of contact for your relationship. If you were long-distance, this is probably phone or video. If there’s a choice, choose the more personal option. Phone is fine but video is usually better.
A long-distance relationship is exactly like any other relationship. It needs to meet your needs and those of your partner. If your needs aren’t getting met, and there’s little chance of that changing soon, it’s probably time to consider ending it.
Although breakups are usually best done in person, that’s more difficult in a long-distance relationship. It’s ok to decide to do it over the phone or on video call rather than making a special trip out to visit them.
Ending a long-distance relationship is uncomfortable, but it can be the best decision for both of you. You don’t need to feel guilty about breaking up with someone, especially if you follow these tips to do it kindly and with compassion.
Was this article useful? Let me know in the comments and don’t forget to share it with anyone else who isn’t sure what to do about their long-distance relationship.