How to Break up Online

When is it appropriate to end a relationship electronically?

Smart phones with broken heart on screen

Jamie Grill / Getty ImagesĀ 

For many years, unwritten online etiquette dictated that breaking up with someone through text, instant message (IM), or other electronic methods was disrespectful, cowardly, and very uncool. But, because we now spend so much time online, there are certain circumstances under which breaking up there is seen as okay. A face-to-face conversation is preferred, but you should consider breaking up online if your relationship is...

  • Abusive. This reason is one of the best for using an online method to end a relationship. If the potential for physical harm is high, breaking up online could not only protect you, it might even save your life.
  • Short-term. If you've only been on a few dates, or have been seeing each other for just a few weeks, you don't necessarily owe your partner a face-to-face breakup.
  • Long-distance. While some long-distance relationships can be sustained, others just don't work out. In this type of relationship, you likely depend on the internet for communication anyway, so you can end it the same way.
  • Formed online. If you met a person in a chat room, social app, or elsewhere online, and the relationship isn't serious, you can end it using the web-based communication tool of your choice.

There may be additional scenarios in which it's okay to break up online. Generally, the more serious the relationship, the more you should consider breaking up in person, or at least over the phone.

While your relationship might meet the above criteria, remember that others may not see breaking up online as appropriate, potentially resulting in damage to your reputation among people you want to respect you. If you're sensitive to how you're perceived by others, think carefully before you proceed.

How to Break up Through IM or Text

If you communicate with your partner frequently through IM or text, this method might be the most comfortable way to end the relationship.

  1. Be straightforward about your intentions. In person, you might sugarcoat the situation, but here you should be brief in expressing your desire to stop seeing your partner.

  2. Outline your expectations regarding communication moving forward. If you wish to be left alone, let them know it.

  3. Be prepared to respond to questions, and possibly to have a follow-up phone call.

  4. Save any threatening messages that you might receive in return, in case you need to present them to law enforcement later.

Prior to your breakup via IM or text, be sure to enable chat history within your client.

How to Break up Through Email

If your reasons for breaking up are a little more complex, or you have other things to say, email might be a better choice than IM or text.

  1. Express your desire to end the relationship and your reasons why, in addition to anything positive you'd like to say about the time you spent with your partner.

  2. Mention your expectations regarding future communications.

  3. Make suggestions for how any belongings will be retrieved if you've left them at each other's homes.

    If possible, retrieve your belongings and return theirs before you write the email to avoid having to see your ex-partner soon after the breakup.

  4. Keep email replies, especially any that threaten harm, in case you need to show them to law enforcement.

How to Break up Through Video Chat

If you believe you should give someone a face-to-face conversation but don't feel comfortable doing it in person, a video chat might be a good option.

  1. With a face-to-face call, even if it's online, you might feel pressured to ease the blow of a breakup. But, remember to be honest about how you feel. Don't make concessions such as friendship if you don't intend to follow through.

    Since you're not in person, you can surround yourself with written reminders (such as, "This is for the best!") of why you're breaking up or how you want the conversation to go.

  2. If you want to record the conversation for legal reasons, be sure to check your state and local laws regarding recording. In some places, you need to have the other person's consent.

  3. Be prepared for technical difficulties and think ahead about how you'll contact the person again (phone? text?) if you get disconnected.

Online Breakup DON'Ts

Here are a few more tips:

  • Never use public sections of Twitter, Facebook, or chat rooms, or group IM to end a relationship. Communications should be private between you and your partner.
  • If you plan to keep records of your breakup conversation, don't say or write anything that might be incriminating to you.
  • If your ex wants to keep communicating, but you don't want to be contacted by them, don't be afraid to use the blocking functions of online applications to prevent the receipt of additional messages/calls/posts.