My girlfriend Alice and I have been together for the past 4 years, we're both 20 years old. I've recently decided to end our relationship for reasons related to some traits of her personality (e.g. anxious, lacking self-confidence, not quite lighthearted) and decreased physical attraction. But I can't do it right away because if I did, she would not be able to take her exams. Therefore I plan to tell her just a few days after them.

The thing is Alice suspects nothing at all. We have had contrasts but they've always been superficially temporary, as I try to be kind to her, even because she suffers from lack of self-esteem. In other words, she doesn't expect these problems are going to lead to a break-up. However, she irrationally fears it: despite me trying to push her to be more self-confident, she's always told me about being not enough for me, and that I shall leave her - even when I didn't want to. Relatedly, Alice has also often said that if I were to leave her, she wouldn't know how to live anymore, and even talked about suicide. I am pretty sure she won't do anything dangerous, but this is obviously not a healthy attitude from her - I've always tried to correct this, and even suggested to go to a doctor, but she always minimized, and after all she has me. I hope she'll have the courage to go after the break-up.

Also, Alice has an apartment way larger than mine, and we almost live together there.

Now, I still care for her, so I'm trying to find the best possible way. For example I definitely won't leave her alone before seeing her calm enough. Besides, I'll make sure her flatmate is at home when it happens, so that she can support Alice after I go, and anyway prevent her from hurting herself.

I will avoid telling her about what might be wrong with her, and focus on the fact that I have changed, and I need to recollect myself because my feelings for her are not as intense as before.

Here's my question:

If I were to prepare Alice through a longer period of time, how should I do it? It seems to me that stopping going to her apartment and remaining in a sort of limbo for days is in its own right, by contrast, something so big that might even worsen or elongate her suffering over all.

Also, I want to tell Alice that if she'll be willing, I will do whatever is in my power to help her get over this moment, and even stay friends with her when she does, if she wants to. How can I do so without running the risk of actually making it harder for her to go forward?

  • 1
    How long a time are you talking about? A week, month, several months? (I'm guessing some folks might give different answers if the exam is two weeks away versus six months.)
    – 1006a
    Commented Feb 8, 2018 at 18:12
  • 3
    How did it go? Did any of these answers help you out? Commented Aug 21, 2018 at 9:36

10 Answers 10


While you may be right to wait until after her exams (to do otherwise might be a bit callous), don't keep putting it off. In my experience there is always a reason to delay a breakup - upcoming holidays, Christmas, Valentine's Day etc. - and the more you have this mindset the harder it becomes.

If, like me, you are naturally sensitive to others' feelings then initiating a break-up is perhaps the hardest thing to do. I would spend hours fretting over how they would feel, the hurt etc. and just talk myself out of it. You need to stop thinking like that and start thinking that not only is it the right thing to do, but you are doing her a favour in the long run by freeing her to be with someone who can appreciate and care for her in a way that you no longer are able.

For some reason I think a lot of women are better at initiating break-ups than men (it's stereo-typically the case), not because they are less caring, but perversely because they trust their feelings more and perhaps know that it's the right thing to do so they just do it.

I actually think what you say just needs to be short and to the point. Trying to sugar-coat it and offering to stay friends etc. in my experience just leaves them wiggle room to talk you out of it or try and re-kindle the relationship down the line.

In short: wait for her exams to finish, then do it as soon as you can. Be polite but firm and clear. Yes it will hurt for both of you, but the sooner it happens the sooner you can both begin to heal and ultimately move on with your lives. Time is precious and dragging these things out is actually just wasting both of your lives.


I don't think trying to "prepare" her is a good idea at all. She'll realize right away that something is wrong, and then you'll just be stringing her along, and leaving her to imagine all sorts of possible scenarios without knowing what's actually going on. No one wants to go through that.

I'd suggest waiting until after her exams, and then just tell her. Definitely make it clear that you still care about her and want to support her through this - that's good of you to want to do that - but be firm about your decision. One thing that might be helpful to tell her is that you're simply not the right guy for her and she's known that all along on some level, and that's part of what has made her anxious. She might need counseling to help her through this, and help with general self esteem issues, but she should be free to find someone she's less fearful of losing.

Anyway, it is never easy to do these things but it's much better than letting it drag out, once you're sure of your decision.


You can't prepare someone for a breakup.

Relationships are complicated things with lots of emotional symbolism. A large portion of the emotional toll of a breakup is in the change of label from dating to not dating. This is a binary distinction that you can't ease into.

You are right to think that slowly growing distant from her is just going to make things worse before the breakup. Imagine if someone wanted to break up with you. Would you prefer that they slowly retreat from you without explanation, or that they tell you up front they no longer want to date you? It's better to end it now than to reveal later that you've only been staying with them because you didn't think they were emotionally stable enough to handle it.

You've decided you want to break up with her. Now is the time to do it.


Let her know you still care for her

From how your question is worded "Now, I still care for her", you still like her as a friend, just not as a potential wife persay. I think you are right to hesitate to tell her before her exams, since she might react poorly to that and mess them up because of stress. However, don't lead her on. 2 or 3 days after they end, let her know that:

1. You really appreciate her in that she (insert something you like/appreciate about her).

2. You still care about her.

Then, let her know the positive things you liked about the relationship (aside from physical attraction, many/most girls have serious doubts their body, therefore, either don't bring it up or let her know that that wasn't the cause for breaking up, as that will contribute majorly to any stress she feels)

Finally, tell her that you want to breakup with her because it just wasn't working out for you. (use a specific you reason (make it your fault)) Be open, but not rude, abrasive, or mean (It sounds like you weren't planning on it, but still be careful not to come across that way). Tell her that you still wish to remain good friends and you hope the best for her. Follow up with her on the following days to make sure the 'bond' between you guys doesn't get poisoned by her thoughts and fears. Additionally, if she does make any serious hints/threats/propositions that she is going to kill herself, call 1-800-273-8255 (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) or use the online Lifeline Chat. Do not hesitate to do this if she is serious.

I hope all goes well!


The best way for her to heal would be to minimize time with you. Hanging out together will possibly make her hope that there might be opportunity to get back together.

But she shouldn't be alone - so, one way you can help her is that after breaking off the relationship you call some of her friends, tell them what happened and ask them to be supportive.

Maybe you can become friends later, after she emotionally heals.

Do not attempt to "prepare" her. Choose a moment and make a clean cut.

When I was 19, my boyfriend at the time disappeared for 3 days, and didn't answer my phone calls. When we finally talked, he ended the relationship. The worst part was being in the dark for 3 days. You can't start healing until you know it's over.

Edited to add: I re-read your question, and I want to say that your relationship seems to be very unhealthy. Your girlfriend is not ready for a relationship, and she should be in therapy.

If the exams are close, it's probably kind to wait until after the exam, but any other prolonging is bad for both of you. You are obviously unhappy, so it's clear why it's bad for you. But she's not really happy either. If she's continuously anxious and insecure -- that can't be fun. By staying in this relationship, you are enabling her. She needs to start working on her issues. She needs to learn how to be a person that can be in a functional happy relationship.

And everyone else reading this: If someone says "you will leave me" and you say: "no I won't" -- and then they want to repeat that conversation more than once? End it!

If someone says: "I love you so much I can't live without you" -- that's not romantic. It's a suicide threat and emotional blackmail.


What we have here is a self fulfilling prophecy

My friend does this all the time. It can be tiring but she has a group of friends who support and call her out on it. However, she's self aware about her anxiety about her relationship and get boyfriend is willing to work with her through these issues.

It sounds like you're not prepared or able to be that support anymore. It's tiring being the only support to the issues she's having. She's creating her own self fulfilling prophecy by consistently putting herself down even when you try to prove the opposite. This can incite a sense of distrust on your end. It's difficult to be in a relationship where you have to constantly prove yourself to the other person.

There's little preparation for a break up.

Unfortunately, you can't control her actions or emotions after and using suicide as a threat is a red flag and emotional manipulation. When you approach the break up, I would actually sit her down about these other anxiety and self harming issues. These are too great for you to handle alone and you're not obligated to which is part of the reason you want to break up.

...after all she has me...

This is a terrible excuse and horrible emotional manipulation on her part whether she's aware or not.

She is using you to support her self esteem but that has to come from herself. She can't use you to make herself feel better and it's clearly not working anyway.

I know you want to avoid hurting her feelings but her anxiety and low self esteem issues are heightened. Regardless of the other changes in you and your life, she's going to suspect and be paranoid that it's her. And it is. If you care about her then you should give the honest truth so that she can move forward with seeking help.

The truth may hurt but it's what she needs.

Bluntly put: Alice, I've cared for you a lot over the years. I've tried to support you with your self esteem and anxiety. You've become dependant on me for confidence and it's taking it's toll on me. You contradict my genuine affections for you which makes me feel like you don't trust me. I understand you have your anxiety about this but it's affecting me too.

I would even bring up the self fulfilling prophecy. She's anxious about something that wasn't true and created barriers in your relationship to grow in love and honesty. She created her own sense of distrust by not trusting your genuine feelings for her.

Maybe she won't seek help after your break up but I'll tell you now that if you don't offer honesty, she'll repeat the same prophecy over and over wondering if it's her.

Edit: The speech above is not intended as the only thing to say to Alice. The OP mentioned wanting to talk about his personal reasons which is more than fine. However, as someone with anxiety, I can only predict and assume that Alice will still automatically bring up the OPs earlier points.

However, she irrationally fears it: despite me trying to push her to be more self-confident, she's always told me about being not enough for me, and that I shall leave her...

The OP doesn't have to bring that up as part of the reason but Alice is going to come up with even wilder and untrue reasons for being dumped. @sphennings is correct that a break up is not a negotiation but since the OP expressed concern and a wish to be a support after the fact, it would be more productive to tell her that she's creating her own issues. Anyone with anxiety and low self esteem doesn't want to feel this way. I know this.


Here's something to consider in addition to other answers. It would certainly be unwise to try to prepare her by distancing yourself from her beforehand without offering explanation. As I'm sure you could guess, this is highly likely to greatly trigger her insecurities in the run up to her exams, which is exactly what you want to avoid.

Instead of trying to prepare her in an interpersonal way, perhaps you can try and encourage her to prepare herself by seeing a doctor, therapist or counselor before her exams and before you break up with her. I see you have tried to suggest this in the past and she has not. Perhaps you can try again and be more firm. You could even say something along the lines of "I'm sorry but I'm really not qualified/ the best person to help you deal with these issues. I really think it would be a good idea to see a counselor." It could make a great deal of sense for her to seek mental health advice before her exams. It might help her prepare for them better.

To be clear, I suffer from anxiety and low self-esteem myself. And to be honest if I was broken up with and I realized my ex had only encouraged me to seek medical help because they were about to break up with me (what I suggest) this would hurt my feelings. However with hindsight I would be able to see that it didn't actually matter that my feelings were hurt by this in comparison to the huge benefit of now having the support in place to deal with these hurt feelings.

To summarize, it would be incredibly difficult to try to prepare the relationship (i.e. the two of you as a couple) for a break up, in a way that is helpful. Don't bother trying. Instead try to encourage her to prepare herself, by asking her to seek professional advice, which will be beneficial for her regardless.


Can I ask if you've been trying to break up for a time now? Because your description of your relationship makes it sound like she can already tell it's ending. At any rate, it sounds like your relationship is no longer healthy; her insinuating that she might harm herself - even if it's hollow - if you move on is manipulative and unhealthy for both of you: for her it's reinforcing her low self esteem and an unhealthy attachment to you, and for you it's taking away your ability to choose. I'm not trying to criticize her - this is unfortunately not rare - but I do want to call attention to the fact that your relationship is no longer healthy.

I don't think there's anything wrong with waiting until after her exams to break up, but as others have pointed out, there is not much to be gained from delaying things. More than preparing her for the break up, I think you should plan how to break up in a way that makes your feelings clear, perhaps something like:

I still think you're a good person and value the time we've spent together, but I believe it's time to be apart. I feel like both of us need space from each other, and I don't believe we still have the connection we used to.

Perhaps you can ask her if she doesn't feel the same disconnect? Because your description of the relationship makes it sound like she feels the disconnect and is somewhat in denial.


Make it as clean as possible.

A breakup is a little like loosing part of your body - and as such it is best to make it as clean as possible. One sharp surgical cut still hurts, but its faster and you´ll recover better than with any alternative.

So if you tell her be clear: You do not love her, and there is absolutely no way of getting back together! There, and in subsequent encounters, don´t leave any doubt that there is no more love from your side. A long as there´s hope, she won´t start getting over you.

There´s no way you can do this and be nice. What you can do is be honest. Any dishonesty will lead to additional wounds in the form of trust issues. As such I´d think long and hard if it is really wise to draw out this relationship. Most people are stronger than one thinks and getting of of a worrying relationship-state can also mean she´ll have more energy to concentrate on her exams.

Look for external support for her. Making sure flatmate/friends/family are there to look out for her afterwards seems like a good plan. Don´t do it before (trust- she´d wanne be the first to know) but right after the breakup. You are the one doing the hurting, you can´t be part of the healing!

Forget about the friendship for now. This can be, in the future, but you both need to be over it first. If you stay in her life, she can´t get over you and you´ll risk keeping her in a dependent state while you have moved on. Also you´ll want to refrain from promises you can´t keep. What if you find a new girl, who is not happy that your ex calls you for emotional support in the middle of your date-night?

Her is a good article about the "getting over" part:

Researchers at the University of Berkeley found that your brain in love is the same as your brain when it's been wired for reward -- the reward, that is, being an interaction with your ex.

The fact that the reward isn't coming doesn't stop your brain from wanting it, from trying to get it. It seems like it's not "love" that's the drug; it's your ex. And you're experiencing some painful withdrawal.

I know the natural reaction is to be nice, to offer support an friendship, to wait for the "right" moment etc. - but if you´re honest all those things really just serve to make yourself feel better. They don´t help your ex!


Option 1: Ask her to give you space.

"Could you give me some space for a few days? I've got a few things I need to sort out on my own."

I've experienced this both ways - I've asked someone this question before and someone has asked me. Both times it lead to the same conclusion (the breakup) which is what you're planning for.

The challenge to overcome here is how accepting she will be of it. If she's the type of person who is reliant on you for comfort, then a few days away from each other might be painstaking for her. All of her negative thoughts/insecurities will begin to surface and she will run every possible scenario through her head about why you need space. If she's close friends with her flatmate, hope that their friendship will provide enough of a distraction.

Another reason you could cite is that you want her to do well on her exams and give her time to focus.

"My sweetie, I know you have exams coming up, and I've got some things I need to sort out. How would you feel if we gave each other some room to focus the next few days? I really want you to do well and I don't want to distract you."

Option 2: Ask her to reserve some time to talk.

A weekend is typically a good point of reference.

"Can we talk this weekend? I want to share some things with you [thoughts/feelings, expectations, future plans] and I want to hear from you as well."

You can use this discussion as a way to bring about your feelings of the breakup, or, use it as a way to prepare her for a subsequent conversation where you would officially breakup.

Make your request serious but lighthearted. Try not to make it sound grim. Set a date and time to meet with her and ask her to reserve 3-4 hours so that you both can have enough time to talk. Try to make sure that she understands you want to have a discussion. The same challenge as Option 1 applies here as well: the time leading up to "the talk" may be painstaking for her. This all depends on your approach.

Another possibility is to start with Option 2 - plan a meeting with her - and then use Option 1 as a discussion topic.

Option 3: Don't prepare her.

Just carry on as usual. The challenge with this is that it may make it harder for you to breakup with her. Continue as usual, let her finish her exams, then let her know you want to talk. I've had abrupt endings to relationships in the midst of important deadlines. It was stressful, but I still got through it successfully. So will she. Most people are more resilient than they are given credit for.

The truth is, there is no "ideal" method to breaking up with someone because having that conversation is not an "ideal" scenario. Nobody likes doing it, especially with someone you care for, so the most important thing is to follow your heart, because nobody can truly know what feels right for you other than you.


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