“I’m breaking up with you to work on myself.” If you haven’t told a partner that yourself before, then you’ve almost certainly had it said to you a time or two, and with good reason. It’s the kind of reason that sounds noble and well-adjusted, making it hard to argue with. But it’s also vague enough not to tell you very much about the actual thinking behind it.
The truth is breakups suck and breaking up with someone in order to work on oneself means something different for everyone and can vary a lot from one situation to the next. Sometimes even the person saying it isn’t really sure what they mean by it, but the following are some likely possibilities.
They’re trying to let you down easy.
Although some people are fine with listing every single one of their former partner’s flaws on their way out the door, most aren’t comfortable being that harsh. They definitely want to break up, but they prefer to do it in a way that’s as easy as possible for everyone involved.
Saying they want to break up because they need to work on themselves is really just a different way to say, “It’s not you, it’s me.” Pretending to take the blame in this way makes it less likely that you’ll harbor any bad feelings toward them. It’s also one of the better ways to avoid further confrontation when someone really doesn’t want to get into the details of why they don’t want to date a particular person anymore.
They’ve already met someone new.
Sometimes it’s not that the relationship is really all that bad and more that there’s someone new in a person’s life. Maybe they’ve already started seeing the person, and maybe they haven’t. But either way, they know they’d rather explore this new possibility than keep working on their current relationship.
Again, saying they want to work on themselves is a great way to avoid actually being direct about there being someone else. (So is saying they need space.) It’s also a fairly efficient way to leave the door open a crack. If things don’t work out with the new person, they can always try to come back to you.
They want to date around for a while.
Sometimes it’s less that a person’s developed feelings for someone else and would rather be in a relationship with them and more that they just want to be free to see what else is out there. There are lots of reasons why they might be thinking this way, and none of them actually have anything to do with their current partner or relationship.
Sometimes people settle down really early in life and come to wonder what they might have missed out on as they get older. Or if there are many differences between themselves and their partner – like age, interests, or values – they might wonder what things might be like with someone who’s more like them.
In cases like those, the person likely really does just want some time to find answers to those questions. Sure, they might come to realize that they prefer being single or would rather be with someone else. But other times, they realize they were happier before. Ending things this way can help ensure their former partner stays on the table as a possible future option.
They feel smothered and would rather be alone.
Everyone knows what it’s like to be in a relationship with someone who needs more attention than they can reasonably give. Their partner might be insecure, needing constant reassurance that they’re loved, wanted, and chosen. Or they might be the type who gets jealous easily or expects to monopolize every second of someone’s free time.
The thing is relationships are hard and they take a lot of effort, even when the person you’re with is a great fit for you. But if that other person is too clingy, too needy, or just plain isn’t pulling their weight in the relationship, things can be downright insufferable. When that’s the case, it can be hard to find enough time and energy for oneself, making a breakup look pretty darned good.
They want to work on being a better partner.
Sometimes when a person says they want to take a step back from a relationship so they can focus on doing some shadow work on their own, they genuinely mean it. Many people come to realize they’re still working their way through issues from their childhood and upbringing. Others know they have too much going on in their professional life or just really need to work on some personal issues.
In cases like those, a step back can really help when it comes to gaining perspective and growing as a person. Self-aware people are more loving, more attentive, and just plain better at being the type of person their partner deserves.
They want to have it both ways.
And sometimes people say they want to end things so they can work on themselves because they want a way to have their freedom back without definitively giving up the partner they already have. Not everyone who wants to break up is desperately unhappy or hates their partner. Some just secretly think they can do better and want an opportunity to find out whether that’s the case.
It’s also possible that while they like the idea of moving on themselves, they don’t really want their ex to do the same and know that this sort of reasoning for a breakup leaves room for possibility. They worry that if they make things more final or otherwise burn their bridges, their ex will find someone else who’s sure about them and treats them the way they deserve to be treated.
Breakups suck so, if you’ve recently had an ex tell you they need to break up with you so they can work on themselves, it makes sense that you’d be wondering how final such a breakup really is. Consider the above possibilities along with what you already know about your ex for additional insight.