Breaking up is hard to do—but when you live with your partner, breaking up can seem impossible. Who gets all the jointly purchased furniture? Who stays in the space, and who leaves? What about the dang cat? All of these issues almost make it seem like it’s easier to just stay together and live in misery—but believe us when we say that’s not the best route, and it is totally possible to part ways.
“For many young couples who live together, breaking up is no different than if they were married,” says couples therapist Tara Fields, Ph.D., author of The Love Fix. “It’s easy to get distracted by fighting over things, but at the end of the day it’s important to remember that you loved this person at some point, so making a graceful exit is a better way to do your relationship justice, even if it’s in your past.”
Below, Fields details seven smart ways to keep your wits about you when splitting up with an S.O. who also happens to be your roommate.
Be sure of what you want
If you’re the one doing the breaking up, don’t do it on a whim—it’s a major decision, so take it as seriously as you (hopefully) did when you first moved in together. “It’s really helpful to be clear about your intention,” says Fields. “Check in with yourself and figure out what you really want to result from this decision.”
Do you want to get your own place? Spend some time being single? Remain friendly with your ex? Move on from an unhealthy relationship and figure out the rest later? All are valid—just keep in mind that it will help you get through this volatile situation if you don’t forget your big-picture goals and stay steadfast rather than waffling on what you want.
When communicating with your S.O. about the emotions behind the breakup or the logistics involved with moving out, do your best to be really honest—with him or her, as well as yourself. “It’s really tragic if you never told your partner how you felt, or what you were going through, and didn’t give them a chance to make it better,” says Fields.
Assuming you did communicate that you were unhappy and there were problems, all you can do is explain your decision and be clear that you’ve made up your mind. “Say, ‘I’ve realized I can’t change you or us, so I’ve decided to change what I can control and move out,'” says Fields.
Own the fact that your anger and frustration with your partner or the situation may actually reflect more vulnerable feelings underneath—such as sadness that the relationship you may have hoped would last forever is ending. This will allow you to be softer and more flexible during this tough time.
Examine your motives
As with any breakup, it’s healthy to dig deep on where the relationship went wrong and how you contributed to its collapse. “Have you done everything you can to look at your part and repair things before giving up?” says Fields. “The worst thing is to leave a difficult relationship because you’re ‘trapezing’ into the next one with someone new.”
Because living with an S.O. adds a deeper level of intimacy and commitment—even if it’s just implied—it pays to be mindful of the lessons you can take from the situation and use in the future. Don’t brush those off, because when you don’t face certain issues, they tend to resurface.
Don’t fixate on stuff
When you’re in pain, it’s easier to focus on (or fight about) who gets the couch you bought together rather than the fact that your relationship is over. “Decide what’s more important—that bookshelf or set of dishes, or peace and closure?” says Fields. “Do your best to go buddhist and a place of non-attachment to material items. And when you’re fighting over an object, think about whether you really want it that badly, or whether it’s about wanting to win?” It can also be a way to avoid your sadness, says Fields. Either way, it’s much likelier that you’ll regret being selfish or uncivilized to your ex than you will losing that blender.
Take the high road
Remember that the end of this relationship marks the start of your newly single, independent life. So making a clean break, and ending things on as positive and gracious terms as possible, bodes well for your ability to move on without stewing about unfinished business or regrets. “You don’t want to create moral baggage that you bring with you,” says Fields. “How you react can be an opportunity to increase or erode your self-esteem.” Also, she points out, you’re already on your way out: The time to work on the relationship or spend energy fighting about the issues you had is over. “Uncouple in a way that lets you not bring emotional baggage with you.” It’ll make it easier to move on.
Wait to date
If you’re in the unfortunate situation where one of you can’t move out right away, and are forced to live together for a while after breaking up (which you should avoid if possible!), try to be courteous of each other’s feelings during this time. In other words, don’t invite that Tinder date over. “Until you’ve moved out, it’s cruel and it’s going to backfire,” says Fields. “Anyway, it’s not the healthiest choice to date or sleep with someone immediately after breaking up—but if you do choose to rebound, go to their house; don’t rub salt in your ex’s wound.” Oh, and the no-sex rule applies to your ex too, BTW: “It’s easy to do that as a distraction or because emotions are running high, but do your best to stick with your breakup and move-out intention and plan.”
Take your space
Whether or not you actually have your own new place or not, it’s smart to get some physical and emotional distance as you go through the breakup process with an ex who you’ve lived with. That means that if you’re living together, respect each other’s boundaries, and if you’re not, don’t make excuses to get together and rehash what’s already been decided.
“Make sure you’re not meeting up to get a quick hit of connection to take away the pain of grieving the relationship’s end,” says Fields. Yes, it’ll hurt—no matter how unhappy the relationship, you got used to coexisting in the same space with this person, and it takes time to get over that. Just know that it’s normal and one day you’ll be glad you stuck to your plan.
Originally published September 2016. Updated July 2017.