Research-Backed Advice

How to Manage a Long-Distance Break-Up

Highlight reel (TL;DR)

  • There’s no right way to end a long-distance relationship. Choose text, phone, or in-person, depending on what feels right to you.
  • Keep the conversation focused on your feelings and be concise. There’s no need for elaborate explanations.
  • A clean break with no contact can help you both process your feelings and move on.

Breakups are tough. Ending a relationship after you’ve agreed to keep it going long distance can be especially hard. 

“When considering the end of a relationship, it is important to give thought to not necessarily just one or two smaller issues, but the bigger picture,” says Susan Trotter, Ph.D., relationship expert and coach. 

Read on for signs it’s time for a long-distance breakup and tips for how to handle the break-up conversation.

When to initiate a long-distance break-up

”One or two of these signs alone may not be sufficient for you to end a relationship and, in fact, may signal that you have things to work on together if both of you are still committed to the relationship,” says Trotter.

Take some time to think through the decision to end a long-distance relationship, Trotter recommends. 

Here are some questions to consider when evaluating your long-distance relationship. 

Ultimately, the only person who knows if your relationship is making you happy is you.

1. Do you want to put in the effort?

If you find yourself dreading making your usual end-of-day call or making excuses for why you can’t book the flight when it’s your turn to visit, you might already know that the relationship has run its course, says Jaime Bronstein, licensed relationship therapist and author of the book MAN*ifesting: A Step-By-Step Guide to Attracting the Love that is Meant for You.

“I’m very into intuition, and trusting our gut and trusting our feelings,” Bronstein says. “I think a lot of people try to rationalize and stay in relationships for longer than they need to. They stay in marriages for longer. So even if you can’t even put your finger on it, if it just doesn’t feel right, that’s a huge sign.”

Staying in the relationship too long can lead to feelings of resentment, Bronstein says. You might resent your partner or resent having to be home every night at 9 p.m. for a call.

2. Are you happy?

In any relationship, you have to be honest about whether it makes you happy. If you aren’t fulfilled, you owe it to yourself to find your happiness, Bronstein says.

That might mean breaking up with your long-distance partner. It could also mean that long-distance isn’t working and it’s time to move closer or get help from a therapist.

3. Do you miss your partner?

If you don’t miss your partner when you’re apart, you might be over the relationship. Consider it a red flag if your partner is your fourth or fifth text after getting exciting news or you no longer fall asleep thinking about the day you’ll finally move in together.

Another simple question Trotter recommends asking yourself is whether you still like your partner. More signs are if you don’t have shared interests or want to be intimate.

4. Are you suspicious of your partner?

Trust is a big part of any relationship, but it can be incredibly challenging to maintain trust in a long-distance relationship. So get curious if you get angry when you see that your partner was tagged in someone’s Instagram story or you don’t believe them when they tell you their phone died.

5. Is your partner willing to work on it?

It takes two to make a relationship work, so if you feel your partner pulling away, it’s time to consider whether the relationship is working or not.

“Both parties need to be willing to make a relationship work in order for it to work,” Bronstein says. “If one person is sensing that the other one doesn’t want to make it work, then there’s really nothing to work on.”

Other issues could include:

  • lack of commitment
  • frequent conflict
  • inability to see a future together
  • you don’t feel supported 
  • increased criticism, defensiveness, or feelings of contempt
  • you don’t bring out the best in one another
  • no shared values
  • infidelity

How to initiate a long-distance relationship breakup

There are different ways to approach a long-distance break-up. You can decide what feels best for you and your relationship.

The kindest thing you can do for your partner — and yourself —  is to avoid dragging things out, Bronstein says. If you usually connect over the phone or Facetime, it’s okay to have the conversation that way. A text might also be the best choice if you haven’t been together long, and it’s your usual form of communication.

If it was a more serious relationship, it might feel better to have the conversation in person to give each other time to talk through and process the ending, Trotter says.

The break-up conversation

Need some help on how to have the conversation? Bronstein offers some tips:

  1. You can’t go wrong if you focus on how you feel. “People can’t argue with feelings,” Bronstein says. So, if you aren’t happy, say you aren’t feeling happy.
  2. Don’t offer feedback on what your partner could have done differently. There’s nothing to fix, and grading their performance as a partner will just lead to hurt feelings.
  3. Keep the conversation short. No need to offer details. If your partner asks you why you’re ending the relationship, just say you don’t feel it’s right.

“As much as you might be hurting somebody, know that you deserve a happy life,” Bronstein says. “And ultimately, everybody’s going to be okay in the end because if someone’s not right for you, then you’re not right for them.”

How to get over a long-distance relationship

Whether you initiate the breakup or receive the news, it’s okay to mourn the end of a relationship. Take the time you need to process your feelings and do some self-care, and allow your ex the same.

“It is helpful to set boundaries and not have contact in order to allow each other the time and space to grieve the end of the relationship,” Trotter says.

It’s okay to unfollow each other on social media. If you have friends in common, ask them not to update you on your former partner.

“Breakups are one of the worst things in the whole world,” Bronstein says. “So my best suggestion is to really just speak your truth. And to know that you deserve to be happy. So it is a time to be selfish.”

And ultimately, you’ll both be okay.

Candace Nelson
+ posts

Candace Nelson is a journalist, licensed nutritionist, and advocate for mental health. She believes that scientific research should be easier to read. Since it’s not, Candace makes it her mission to translate. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and cat.