Is There Ever a 'Good' Time to Break Up?

Experts weigh in on how to best plan your breakup timing.

A man and a woman sitting near each other, both in dark clothes, looking deep in thought
Photo: Martin DM/Getty Images


I really think my relationship has run its course. My boyfriend and I have been together for three years and live together, but I've realized that we want different things out of life and the spark and romance just isn't there anymore. I thought about ending things earlier, but then COVID hit and the idea of moving out and starting over seemed impossible. Now, the holidays are around the corner, and on top of it all, his mom is sick with COVID and he is so worried. I don't want to abandon him when he needs me (he's a good guy, just not the right guy for me!). I know deep down I want out but I also don’t want to be an asshole! Is there ever a good time to pull the plug? —Trapped


While there is never a good time for a breakup, certain times are certainly worse than others. Usually, we experts recommend not making a major life change during a crisis. While a pandemic qualifies as a crisis, given that things are in general returning to normal (or a "new normal") it's no longer healthy to use it as a delay tactic.

His sick mother, however, is a different story. You do want to be humane about this and wait until you know his mom is out of the woods. It doesn’t sound like you have any ill will towards your soon-to-be-ex, which takes away a sense of urgency. Once you know his mother is OK, I do think it's fair to move forward.

Don't Plan Your Breakup Around Holidays

Even if he has picked out matching Halloween costumes, invited you to his Zoom family Thanksgiving, or is planning to buy a mistletoe to kiss you under for New Year’s Eve, I would not recommend trying to wait through the holidays. Simply put: There are too many of them and that will leave you stuck until mid-February — which is too much time to spend in a relationship that no longer makes you happy.

Staying in a relationship you don't want to be in because you're afraid to hurt your partner will only make you feel resentful. (FYI, so will staying in a relationship because of the “sunk cost fallacy” — just because you've already invested time into the relationship doesn't mean you should continue to invest in this relationship if it isn't the best person for you.) This anger tends to leak out and make us unpleasant, short-tempered, and say things we regret.

End it Sooner Rather Than Later

Bottom line: It sounds like you don't want to end things with your guy on a bad note, which will become more likely the longer you wait. I always recommend ending a relationship with the respect that your time together deserves. (This guide will help you navigate the breakup compassionately, and figure out the aftermath.)

Whether it is an upcoming holiday or another event, it will always be hard to find the "perfect" time to break up. Delaying the inevitable will only make things worse. Give yourself the room to grieve the relationship (even when you are the one doing the breaking up, there is a loss) and focus on self-care before you put yourself back on the market.

An important caveat: If you are in an abusive or toxic relationship then the most important thing is getting out quickly, safely, and with your self-esteem intact. In that case, you want to make a safety plan to strategically leave the relationship with a domestic violence counselor. You can get free counseling from a domestic violence hotline like The National Domestic Violence Hotline 800-799-7233.

In Hump Day, award-winning psychotherapist and TV host Dr. Jenn Mann answers your sex and relationship questions — unjudged and unfiltered.

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