When your partner proposed, you were ecstatic. They got down on one knee and asked you to be their spouse forever and you happily accepted. However, as time has gone on, you suddenly realized you don’t actually want to marry them. Whatever the reason behind the decision, you can’t say “I do” when you really, really don’t. Here’s how to break off an engagement in the most respectful and least painful way possible.
When is breaking off your engagement the best decision?
When you say yes to a marriage proposal, you do so with the highest of hopes. Your intentions are to spend the rest of your life with this person, meaning you see them as your forever person. No one gets engaged thinking they’ll break up before they even make it down the aisle. That being said, some couples truly shouldn’t say “I do.” In fact, doing so would be one of the biggest mistakes they could make. So, how do you know when you should break off your engagement and give back the ring?
It goes without saying that deciding to marry someone is a big decision. It’s also one you should be excited about. If you’re second-guessing your future with this person, that’s a red flag. “If you’re even contemplating not marrying your fiancé, it’s probably a sign to pause and think about the decision,” clinical psychologist Traci Williams, PsyD, ABPP, CFT-I, tells Bolde. “It’s important to ask yourself why you feel the way you do. There can be several reasons; you might not feel ready for the role of spouse or future parent, you are afraid of the long-term commitment, or you see red flags in your partner that concern you. Either way, stop and think before you proceed.”
There are other circumstances in which breaking off your engagement is the right decision. For instance, if you discovered your partner has cheated (or you have), or you’ve uncovered major lies, getting married is not recommended.
How to break off an engagement in a respectful way
- Figure out what you want to do. A lot of this is about you since you’re the one making the decision. Deciding to break off an engagement is a big decision, so it’s important that you have your ducks in a row and that you really think things through. Spend time reflecting on your choice and determining whether there are any other avenues you might be better off taking. Once you’ve solidified the plan in your mind, it’s time to act.
- Have an open and honest conversation with your partner. There’s no use beating around the bush. You owe it to yourself and your fiance(e) to say exactly how you’re feeling. Williams recommends having this conversation either alone or with a therapist present. “Start the conversation on a positive note, describing what you enjoy about your fiancé and your relationship. Then proceed to describe your concerns using ‘I feel’ and ‘I think’ statements. This keeps the responsibility for this decision on you and reduces the chance of your partner becoming defensive,” she advises. “Describe what you would like to have happen next for the both of you, then invite your partner to share their thoughts. Be prepared for their emotional reaction including irritation, sadness, or shock. During your conversation, decide together if and how to share the news with family, friends, and social media.”
- Avoid finger-pointing and blaming. Even if it’s your partner’s actions that led to your decision to break off the engagement, now’s not the time to point fingers. While you should air your grievances, avoid blaming them for the breakdown of your relationship at the moment. That will only heighten the already high emotions the conversation is likely to bring about. Instead, stick to actionable facts so you can move forward.
- Stick to your guns. If your partner truly cares about you, they won’t want to let you go without a fight. They might try to convince you to stay. Maybe they promise to change or ask what they can do to get you to stay. Chances are, if you’re at a point where you don’t want to marry them, you’ve already thought this through. In that case, you know there’s nothing that can be done to salvage the relationship. Certainly not enough to be getting married anytime soon. Don’t let them talk you out of doing what you know is right.
- Return the engagement ring. You have to. It’s not a gift you can keep for free and pawn after breaking things off. It was a representation of your impending marriage, which is no longer happening. As much as it pains you and no matter how beautiful it is, give it back.
- Suggest a plan moving forward. Do you want to continue seeing one another and just take marriage off the table? Are you open to attending couples therapy to work through the major issues in your relationship? Is it time to close the book on your relationship as a whole and move on? Whatever you have in mind, share it with your (ex-)fiance(e). Just be aware that they may not be on the same page.
Things NOT to do when ending an engagement
- Don’t drag it out. If ever there was a time to cut to the chase, it’s now. Don’t hem and haw or drop hints for weeks before breaking the news. Once you know that marrying them is not something you can or want to do, you need to tell them. They deserve to know, so respect them enough to tell them immediately.
- Don’t be needlessly cruel. Telling them that they’re not good enough for you or that you would be miserable with them for the rest of your life is unnecessary (and probably not true). Don’t let your emotions cloud reality or your sense of compassion. Keep things as simple and straightforward as you can. Practice kindness above all else. You’d want the same if you were in their shoes.
- Don’t involve other people in the breakup. Try to keep your besties, your mom, their family, their buddies, etc. out of it. The relationship is between the two of you. Breaking off the engagement is likely to cause plenty of tension and aggro between yourself and the other people in their life (and vice versa). Don’t make it worse by getting other people involved that have nothing to do with things.
Should you continue the relationship even if you don’t want to get married?
This really depends on your particular circumstances and individual desires. If you both decide there’s something worth salvaging and are prepared to do the work, it might be worth a try. However, in some cases, calling it quits entirely is the better choice.
“Whether or not you should continue in your relationship after breaking off an engagement depends on why the engagement broke off in the first place as well as the nature of the communication leading up to the end,” says Jordanne Sculler, LMHC, LPC. “If both partners feel that ey can and want to work on the relationship with the same goal in mind, continuing in a relationship without the pressure of engagement would be the best way to proceed.”
Only you know what’s right for you. A frank and open conversation with your partner will provide clarity and a way forward (if there is one).