Anxiety and Ending Relationships – Interview with Robert Taibbi

We like to imagine that everything is perfect in our relationship, whether it be familial, friendship, or romantic, but there may come a point when you realise the relationship isn’t working. However, trying to leave can be incredibly difficult to do, not to mention the added dread that anxiety can bring to such situations. I found an article by Robert Taibbi titled How to End a Relationship Without Regrets which covered the topic well, but left me with questions on how this applies to anxiety. Bob is the author of 10 books, including books based on couples and family therapy and agreed to be interviewed on what you should do before ending a relationship, from making the decision, to having the conversation, and how anxiety may make these steps harder.


What is the overall advice you would give to someone as they try to end a relationship?

You want to be clear and sensitive. Clear that the relationship is over, sensitive to the other’s feelings. It is also a time to decide you what need to feel that there is enough closure – that you have a chance to say what you need to say or hear what you need to hear – and able to do what you need to do to leave without major regrets.


How do you know if ending the relationship is a good idea? How do you know it’s a bad or unhealthy relationship?

Every longer-term relationship has its ups and downs. What you are most looking for is a few things: Do I feel safe enough to be able to speak up about both the intimate and angry parts of me? Can the other person listen without making me feel dismissed or that my feelings are wrong? Can we work together to solve problems, however big or small, that works for both of us? Finally, what is your primary feeling most of the time – happy, anxious, supported, something else? On a good day would you be willing to live this way forever? On a bad day, could you continue to accept it?


How would you advise someone with anxiety on how to make or commit to the decision? How do you convince someone it’s ok if they must leave?

Anxiety tends to make you feel like everything is important, as well as make you worry about the future. There is rational and irrational anxiety. Rational anxiety is about a problem – you’re worried that your partner is workaholic or has a scary temper or is irresponsible with money. If a real problem, do something to solve the problem, take action. If it is irrational anxiety – that the relationship is doomed fail because your parents divorced, that terrible things are likely to happen – this is about your anxious mind taking over. Here you don’t want to mentally get lost in the weeds of these worries, but instead use them as a sign of stress and take steps to reduce it.

I’m not sure you can convince some that it’s okay – they need to come to their own decision. A more productive conversation is about the problem under the problem, i.e., what is keeping them ambivalent or afraid to act? Helping them sort this out can be helpful.


How would you stop someone with anxiety from feeling guilty about making the decision? How do you get them to accept that they aren’t at fault?

Knowing that you are hurting someone else will usually create some guilt. But guilt usually tied to breaking some rule. It may be a “should”, a rule learned from parents, for example, that you should stay in relationships or not hurt others. It may guilt about violating their own set of values. It may be guilt that they didn’t try hard enough or weren’t clearer earlier. I always say to folks that you always are doing the best you can at the time and hindsight punishing of yourself isn’t helpful. If there is something that they can do to relieve some of their guilt – without changing their minds – apologizing to the person, for example, for past hurts, do it. You can only do the best you can do.


What advice do you have for the conversation about ending a relationship? How do you make it cause as little damage or sadness as possible to the other party?

Have a conversation – no texts, voice-mails, etc. Help the other person understand how your feelings and why your feelings have changed. Talk about you, not them; talk about soft emotions like worry, hurt, sadness, rather than anger. Talk about what you appreciated about the other and the relationship. The goal is to talk completely, say what you need to get off your chests, say to help the person understand you, talk about lessons learned so they know what to take away from the relationship.


How does this translate to someone that suffers with anxiety, and is there specific advice you could offer them?

The anxiety will probably make the conversation more difficult, but the aims are still the same. Here I would suggest that they think about and write out what it is they want to say most so they don’t feel the pressure to make it up on the spot. I’ve also suggested being thoughts down in a letter or email because it gives you space to sort out what you want to say and gives the reader a chance to re-read and process it. That said, it’s important to then follow up with a real-time conversation.

Clearly it is hard to end relationships, especially ones you have dedicated time to, and someone you may still care deeply for. However, it can be in the best interest of yourself or the other party to leave. Staying in an unhealthy or unhappy relationship just because you feel a sense of commitment, is never a good thing. Making the decision to leave can be an incredibly hard thing to do, but trust that you know yourself well enough to do the right thing. If you have anxiety, then it is something that will inevitably make it harder to leave, especially having the conversation, but planning and careful consideration is a technique that can be applied to most situations involving uncomfortable conversations. As Robert says, you can’t really convince someone it’s ok, but you can encourage them to trust their decisions. I trust your decisions.


Robert Taibbi

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  1. I loved how the author went into detail about everything. I’ve had issues like this before. I wish i only came across this article before. It was very knowledgeable. I learned a few tips from this. I liked how the interviewer linked everything. Another question to ask yourself would be “does the relationship bring out the best in me?”

  2. This is interesting, because I never thought of how anxiety could make a person struggle more to end a relationship- mostly, I’ve just seen anxiety cause relationships to never happen, or I’ve seen the person with anxiety get cast out.
    I would like to know how anxiety changes the dynamics of relationships, and if it rubs off on the other person in a relationship.

  3. Many people I know with the anxiety are afraid that they will regret the decision even if they have lots of reasons why they are not happy in relationship. This article is very useful for those people, because it gives them the real advices, not just the regular unspecific advices. I like the way rational and irrational anxiety is explained, because I think that many people have rational anxiety, and they are usually handling it really well. But irrational anxiety is really hard, because there is a reason for it, but you can’t do anything about it. After reading this article, it got me thinking, how do people with anxiety act around family? Is there some connection between some anxiety behavior and learned helplessness?

  4. I wish I’d read this article 2 years ago! I was in a toxic relationship that my partner ended and even just thinking about breaking up with him made my anxiety rise to the surface and scared me more than I could describe. If I had asked myself those questions, I might have realised that I had to end the relationship myself instead of living unhappily for months. The article was very clear and it opened my eyes about a lot of things that I will be sure to take into account in the future.

  5. I always get the deepest sense of foreboding when it comes to relationships because they can honestly be so hard especially from someone who suffers from anxiety, so I personally really appreciate this article. It can be so hard to end something especially when you have a strong loyalty complex and really don’t want to hurt someone. What kind of advice would you give someone who has that anxiety and ultimately comes to the decision to end things but still can’t follow through? How do we ultimately complete the task because often I reach a decision and will put it off as long as possible. I don’t really think it’s procrastination but fear of the consequences are so real.

  6. This article is immensely detailed, and holds information and solutions that can help a reader that is possibly in the painful situation of ending a relationship. Many months ago, I was struggling trying to figure out whether I should stay in the relationship that I was in, or if I should end it. I had a horrible gut feeling for about a month or two before I had finally ended the relationship, which I knew derived from the relationship itself. Like every breakup, it was immensely painful. Some of the things this article covered, like guilt, is something I can relate to. For quite some time after the break up, I had felt a huge amount of guilt and regret. In the end, though, I knew it was the best decision to make, even though it would hurt my ex partner, as well as myself. If I had read this article during my time of pain, I know it would have aided me tremendously.

  7. This is such an important topic and yet it’s one not discussed enough. Like many others who have commented said, I wish I had read this article before, as it would have been helpful when ending some hard relationships.

    I would love to see this be the start of a series of articles. Maybe some ones to follow where the author talks about how to handle yourself after ending the relationship, maybe a compilation of questions to ask yourself before ending the relationship with suggestions from readers.

    My question to the author and Robert Taibbi: is it always wrong to discuss ending the relationship over text or phone call? Or a letter? If there is a right time, when is it?

  8. These are actually really practical and useful tips, thank you for sharing these with us! However, sometimes we have made ourselves clear, yet the other party still reacts in an adverse manner. After doing necessary measures, the guilt still remains. I guess, with time, we slowly move on.

  9. This article is helpful for people dealing with anxiety and relationships that aren’t working out for them. You don’t really see articles that explain in-depth tips and reasons for why people think certain ways. It’s extremely helpful for people who are helping them get through a tough relationship as well. If most people would take the time to understand that communication is important, many things could be resolved, even if the relationship must end anyway. It isn’t just communicating, but knowing how to communicate that really does anything. This article has great insight.

  10. Based on Bowlby’s theory of childhood attachment, I would assume that those with anxious-preoccupied or fearful-avoidant styles of attachment would have more difficulty with anxiety in romantic relationships. In knowing that the actions and beliefs of those with varying attachment styles differ, my question to Taibbi would be is there much of a difference in the emotional reaction between these types? Are those with attachment styles that aren’t secure more anxious or is there no net difference in there emotional responses?

    1. That is an interesting point to bring up. Bowlby’s theory makes sense in relation to this topic.

  11. Wow. I feel like this article doesn’t only apply to just romantic relationships but just about relationships in general. Being in a long term relationship myself, it gives me chills to even think about my relationship ending and it must be worse for those who suffer from any form of anxiety. My parents are divorced so from time to time I do worry about whether or not my relationship will last or not. The article helped me realize that its an irrational anxiety I have. Thank you for providing extra links at the bottom! Will check them out!

  12. This article is extremely important for the youth of today since many of us are not aware of the symptoms of toxic relationships. For those who suffer from anxiety, leaving someone you “love” brings on immense feelings of guilt/regret. However, Mr. Taibbi does an amazing job at tackling the subject. He gives practical advice in detailed answers.

    Your questions were well worded and therefore, this article is nicely written in a way that is easy to follow. I did want to know a bit about the aftermath that comes with ending a toxic relationship while suffering from anxiety though. Also, a follow up question to his answer about talking to the person face to face rather than through a text or call would be: “What if the person suffers from severe anxiety? How should they prevent a panic attack when talking to the person?” In conclusion, I thoroughly enjoyed this interview and will apply his advice to my future relationships.

  13. As someone with anxiety, I’m really going to be remembering these tips. They’re incredibly useful, and the author goes very into depth with them – which is very appreciated. I’ve run into this problem many times, and it’s given me many panic attacks, so I’m very thankful for finding this article. Irrational anxiety is incredibly hard to deal with, and I’d love to see more articles going into such depth to help people with it overcome challenges in life that are blown way out of proportion due to their anxiety. I’d also like to suggest that someone with irrational anxiety who’s ending a relationship bring a friend with them for support, because sometimes your own encouragement isn’t enough, and having someone to help you is needed too.

  14. I really like how you gave an encouraging conclusion to this interview, this shows a sense of hope towards people who are in turbulent relationships, as it is the sort of things they need to hear when in such a situation.
    In terms of the article, I think you did a good job as you were thorough with the questions you asked to Robert Taibbi.
    Keep it up!

  15. This article is very insightful and helpful, especially for people suffering from anxiety.
    Ending a relationship is never easy, but the article stresses the importance of communication between the partners, and I was very happy to observe that the article comes back to that often.
    The interview was conducted very well and is very inclusive of people with anxiety, Taibbi being able to give advice that is specifically tailored to the needs and concerns of people suffering from anxiety. The advice he gives is well thought out, especially regarding the guilt people with anxiety feel when it comes to relationships.
    Speaking from experience and as a person suffering from mild anxiety, it can be difficult to maintain relationships because I constantly feel as if I have to make sure that every thing goes right so that they won’t want to leave me; and if something goes wrong, I usually assume it was my fault. I once ended a relationship because I felt as if my partner only dated me out of pity despite their reassurances that I was wrong. It was a difficult breakup, and I didn’t know better at that time.
    However, this article could help people (especially people with anxiety), not only on what to do when they want to end a relationship, but for them to properly asses the terms and reasons for wanting to end said relationship. It takes a lot of self-reflection to do so and this article gives good advice on how others can take the next step.

  16. I wish everyone could know the information in this article. The message of it is useful to anyone and everyone. At some point in life everyone will go through a break up of some kind and people need to know that it is ok to walk away from people and relationships if it is in your best interest. Even if it’s not in the best interest of the other person or the other person will be hurt by you leaving, it is still ok to leave if it’s what is good for you.

    I would have loved a question about what someone should do if the person they are breaking up with has a negative reaction because going into a conversation calm and confidant can be taken away from you so quickly once someone has a negative or even frightening reaction.

    Overall the questions were thoughtful and invoked useful and informative answers. Articles with questions regarding this topic will always be useful and I encourage you to keep asking hard questions like this because they are helpful to everyone and it is a topic that you can never get too much help and reassurance on. Thanks for writing.

  17. Through viewing your article and interview, it’s evident that you certainly did you research in not only the topic but in the studies and findings of Taibbi. There is a definite tone of intelligence and intrigue in your questions and commentary. I feel that the only thing that could improve this article would be refraining from more colloquial speech and perhaps use more citations and references to studies.

  18. I’ve definitely had my fair share of breakups, both either tame or practically insane on both ends. I wish there was more of an emphasis on taking care of yourself. Whether it’s just you who has anxiety, the other party, or both. The one person that matters in the relationship is you. The person you need to take care of before or after the break up is and always will be you. The other person is not your responsibility to take care of, no matter how guilty or emotional you feel. Your happiness and both physical/mental well being is most important in this case.

    Another thing that I wished was emphasized was that break-ups are not supposed to be a surprise. That is what makes having anxiety worse about break-ups. I have those anxious thoughts that my significant other will break up with me tomorrow, or the next day – but what makes those thoughts simply thoughts is that I won’t go through a break-up by surprise. A good relationship talks about the concerns, and that they as a partnership will work through them together. If it fails, then a breakup happens with absolutely no surprises. So although I thought that there were few flaws here and there to the focus of the article, I still learned quite a lot and it was a good read! Great job!

  19. This article strikes me as interesting mainly because its a very specific topic to talk about but is a topic more and more people are actually facing. To end a relationship with all the good memory’s of the past and the possible good memories of the future can be rough even with anxiety but I also feel after reading this article that if you can go past through the anxiety and confess then he or she has reached one closer step to taking away her anxiety. It all takes baby steps. Great article!

  20. Cutting ties with someone is not an easy feat. When it comes to ending relationships we usually take the ‘it’s me, not you’ approach which leaves both parties with bitter feelings. Closure is important for both the partners.

    Having the ‘talk’ is not easy at all especially if you suffer from anxiety. It makes the situation worse than it actually is. This article is very informative and the fact it focuses on anxiety is also a plus point because this what all of us are feeling; anxiety. Our brains are going haywire and we can not string together a comprehensive sentence let alone speak about what we are truly feeling.

    Writing down everything prior to the actual conversation helps too since I have advised a number of my friends to do the same.

    All in all, we need to be sure of what we want and our partner is aware of what we expect in a relationship and to make sure our partner also informs us of his needs, after that if things do not work out, it will be easy to go our separate ways.

  21. First I’d like to comment on the topic. Break-ups are often awful. It is usually considered to be more awful for the person that gets broken up with, but I’m not so sure about that. They are hurt and there’s no going around it but the person who indicated break-up is the one that suffers whole range of emotions, questioning and responsibility. I’m really not sure who’s burden is worse. Personally, I had to be the person who breaks up recently and seeing pain in his eyes caused me quite a sharp painful feeling. I think this article is great for those moments when you need to remind yourself it’s not your fault, we often tend to overlook that.
    Now onto the article itself. I feel like there are quite a few mistakes which draw attention from the content. However, I really like the fact that author threw in a small personal paragraph at the end. It made the article ten times better, in my opinion.
    I’d like to emphasise how much I love the final two sentences. It might be just what I needed right now, thank you!

  22. This article is helpful for people with anxiety that wish to end a relationship. An important point in this article is that when breaking up with your partner, you should have a conversation. In this day and age and because of the prevalence of technology, people are not as good at having conversation. This is why I think that people have a harder time staying in relationships to be honest. People are unable to have face-to-face conversation and this makes it harder for people to face problems they have with the other person and things escalate quickly. Another issue is people will resort to sending a message or a non-personal way for breaking up with someone. This leads many people to have great resentment to the partner that they broke up with instead of what could be a more amicable separation. I would have liked if this article expanded on the important of conversation and not using messaging and media to break up with someone.

  23. This was a nice article but to me it seems a little unrealistic. Unless both parties mutually agree that it’s time to break up, there will never be a such thing as a peaceful breakup. It is important for people suffering from anxiety to realize that. It’s nice to be sensitive to your partner but you have to be sensitive to yourself first. There is no way to sugarcoat the process. Sometimes you just had to sit down and speak. Take your time make sure you’re ready and then speak.

  24. This article is very informative, easy to understand and relate to.
    I am really curious to know if anxiety contributes to the breakdown of a relationship…

    Overall this article is good, however, it could be even more better with extra proof reading.
    For instance: The wording of the first sentence for the first question is a bit confusing. Answers to questions 4 and 6 could also benefit from proof reading…there are some missing words
    Lastly, the questions asked in the interview could be rephrased. This is specific to the 2nd and 3rd questions…they both consist of two mini questions. I understand why they’ve been put together but maybe you could rephrase the questions to be one question on its own rather than two mini questions in each one. In fact, the second question within the 3rd question sounds too similar to the 4th question of the interview…maybe you could get therefore get rid of the second question within the 3rd question

  25. It’s hard to come to face with things when relationship begins to fade out or stop functioning as it did before. Especially when things used to flow together fluidly in sync where problems seem to hide. Though once that structure is interrupted and life becomes more complicated with each step things begin to lose control. Once what seem permanent is now a question of leaving. Though the thought of not having that person around anymore can or not having full closure can cause so much anxiety. This can leave those gaps of questions that linger in one’s head all day. Such as what if they did was the right choice or how to proceed with living when such a human had become a big part of your life and it’s suddenly not important anymore. How to cope with dealing with yourself alone and facing that fear of making the right choices. Sometimes those choices can be clouded by the mental illnesses we face as human beings. I like the fact that this article showed a light on that anxiety and other mental problems can make these challenges harder. I personally dealt with this within having the ending of a 6 year relationship suddenly end unexpected. But the problems build and in a situation like that you just want to see the better of someone because of their potentials but that can be clouded. Having mental issues and different goals can lead to sometimes a dead end when the communication and self-effort isn’t being put forth equally. I like that the author advises in this article that you must do what’s best for yourself as a person. It will hurt but initially you must find your own happiness and not seek that in others.

  26. This is great, as someone with anxiety I find this very helpful, even just with dealing with everyday stresses in familial and friend relationships. It can be difficult to bring up an issue to anyone, but this does a good job of reassuring a person that they can make the choice for themselves and they will be okay. Some people just need a little extra help navigating around difficult situations like this.

    I noticed a typo in the last paragraph before the picture break where it says “being thoughts” I’m sure that’s supposed to be a different word. Besides that, the structure was great. The questions go in depth, but I do with some of it was a little more specific. The last few sentences though were very comforting. Great article!

  27. I enjoyed reading this because I know what’s it like to be indecisive on a relationship because of my anxiety. And the anxiety pretty much comes from being afraid of the future or the consequences. My main issue was being scared to move on and meet someone new and start over, but hey it’s life. And I’m doing okay.

    In response to the article, I would suggest that proofreading was done thoroughly because I did notice a few typos or missing vocabulary. So it was hard to follow through because I’m having to re-read the sentence over and over again to make sense of it. But overall, the article was in-depth and was interesting to read.

  28. This article is rock solid and I really enjoyed it. I liked the fact that it have the person interviewing room to get defined a healthy relationship and knowing how to navigate that, it defined rational and irrational anxiety and if have a lot of really good points for how to end a relationship which is such a hard decision to make and also to follow through with, without and especially with anxiety and I enjoyed the pointers on how to make that conversation go. I think it can be a little easier said than done when it comes to unhealthy relationships and I would be interested in finding out how to end relationships for those that don’t necessarily have partners who are willing to listen or who aren’t toxic because I know that can definitely cause someone to reconsider due to the difficulty having conversations with that person. Overall though, great read.

  29. Overall, the article was informative and guide-full. I like how Taibbi throughout the interview kept his answers realistic and straightforward, not excluding anyone, not even the self from the overall process of ending relationships. In a monogamist relationship, both parties must understand how they feel and what they need from a relationship, and those two aspects are essential to ending one as well. There was a two terms Taibbi brought up under the question of how an individual with anxiety should stay committed to their decision of ending a relationship, rational and irrational anxiety. The definitions were a bit vague and implied…a direct definition and then providing the examples would enhance comprehension of the overall response to that question.

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