Chapter 3 - Situations Subchapter: Breaking up

We need to talk

Split frame, on the left panel a couple hold hands and share a speech bubble containing a love heart; on the right, one character takes their stuff away in a box and speaks a broken-heart emoji to another sad looking character.


Relationships begin, and they end. With few exceptions, everyone experiences at least one intimate relationship break-up at some point in their life.

Each relationship that you’ll have will be unique – different person, different connection, different shared goals - and so is each break-up.

A relationship might end abruptly, surprising one or both people involved, or it could be a drawn-out dissolving of the glue that kept you together as a couple.


Knowing when it’s time to break up

There are no rules for knowing when it’s time to break-up, just as there are no rules for why you and your partner decided to begin the relationship. It is personal to the both of you.

In the beginning, there would have been a desire to spend more time with the other person and get to know them better, and a physical attraction. To make plans together as a couple – short term plans like what to do next weekend which might lead to longer terms plans, like moving in together or making a more formal commitment.

Then something changes:

  • one person’s feelings change – they fall out of love with the other person
  • one person becomes interested in someone else
  • external pressures influence the relationship – family, backgrounds, cultural differences, it could be any number of things
  • one or both persons realise their differences are greater than their similarities – you’re just not compatible
  • one or both person’s individual goals have changed
  • one person makes the other person have negative feelings about themselves and the relationship
  • one person is made to feel they are not an equal partner in the relationship
  • one person attempts to influence and dominate the other person
  • the relationship turns abusive.


This change of feeling towards your relationship may have happened quickly, or it may have been a slow process of reflection and examination of the relationship and your place in it.

The decision to break-up may also follow significant shared work as a couple to restore a damaged or unhealthy relationship.


Split-frame, the left has a character holding a picture frame of a couple; the right the picture frame is turned away and a character looks sad.


Other considerations


Social media and online platforms can make both relationships and break-ups more complicated, and possibly keep emotions in flux for longer than might otherwise occur.

  • How do you manage your online personas when you’re a couple, and then when you break-up?
  • How will you manage your friends online? Do you remain friends with people you met through your partner? Do you make an agreement to divvy up the friends? Will you be blamed for the break up and receive harassment or abuse?
  • How will you both navigate shared social spaces when newly broken up and then when forming new relationships?


Peer groups

Friends and social groups can be highly influential. If your friends don’t get along with your partner, you could find yourself in a situation where you’re forced to choose between one and the other.

You may have known a friend for years and your partner for only a few months. Negative comments and a reluctance to socialise with your partner can put a strain on both your relationship with your friend and your partner.

It is worthwhile trying to find out why your friend objects to your partner. Have similar objections occurred in your previous relationships? Is there a common thread?


Social norms

Community and social norms can be a major influence on personal relationships, in particular, who is considered an acceptable partner.

There may be expectations as to who is a good match, and who should be discouraged from dating. It could be that a community has strong views about inter-race relationships, or relationships where one person comes from a more affluent background than the other.

In our society, arranged marriages are not a norm, but there can be long-held family expectations that a child from one family will eventually pair up with a child from another family.

People that are same-sex attracted or gender non-conforming often experience significant family pressure to go against their authentic gender identity and pair up with a person that meets community norms or family expectations.

All of these different situations can put pressure on a relationship. Resisting this pressure can wear a couple out, and they may choose to end an otherwise happy and healthy relationship because the external pressures are simply too great.


Family and culture

Religion, cultural traditions and family expectations can be a major influence, both in relationships beginning and relationships ending.

When a person is made to choose between their family and culture and a relationship, the pressure can feel overwhelming. There is no simple solution, someone will inevitably get hurt.

Try and talk to everyone involved and see if there’s a way to progress without one party feeling as if their wishes are being ignored.


Life changes

Work and study may cause a person to need to:

  • move away, either for a short period or permanently
  • work long or clashing hours
  • prioritise study over relationship time.



Whatever the reason for a relationship ending - and it may not be just the one, it might be a combination of factors - once the decision is made to end a relationship it is best for everyone’s well-being to just get on with it.