I recently got out of a long-term relationship. We were together for many years in a rewarding and committed partnership. We shared some of life’s most pivotal moments: the birth of a child and the death of a loved one; job changes and house moves; incredible triumphs and crushing blows. In many ways, we grew up together, taking on different roles over time and building new opportunities for the future.

The majority of our time together was mutually satisfying and passionate, with each of us appreciating our individual strengths and the need for continual growth and experimentation. We communicated openly, shared ideas, and gave unvarnished feedback. But like many successful long-term relationships, ours eventually ran its course. After 18 years together, I consciously uncoupled with my job.

Looking back, there were clear signs: daydreaming of being somewhere other than the same familiar conference room, feeling pangs of envy when a friend accepted a new job in a different industry, suppressing an eye roll after hearing a common corporate catchphrase in a meeting (fun fact: eye rolls are one of the best predictors of divorce). But then an immediate opportunity would emerge, bringing with it a much-needed spark, or a business challenge would arise and unite us against an invisible enemy once again.

Our partnership worked well—until one day it didn’t. Last fall we started to talk about what was next as part of succession planning and possible new roles I might take at the firm. It was a natural moment to reflect on what I had accomplished, where I could add most value, and most important, what I wanted to do next. I knew deep down inside that I was ready for a switch and something completely new, even if I didn’t know exactly what it looked like. And with that came the realization that my long-term work relationship had come to an end.


I’ve always used dating analogies to explain or describe what occurs in the workplace. Maybe it’s because I have a 16-year-old daughter (or because I still have unresolved feelings from junior year), but I have found that applying lessons from love life to work life makes it easier to interpret what’s happening. It also helps bring much-needed humor when discussing complicated workplace situations, including the one I found myself in.

When I told my boss I was leaving the company for a new challenge, I started by saying that I wanted to “consciously uncouple”—one of my all-time favorite lines that I practiced over the course of a weekend. Marriage therapist Katherine Woodward Thomas first coined the term, but Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin made it famous when they announced the dissolution of their marriage.

As the phrase suggests, it means separating from a situation in a thoughtful, planned, and considered way with minimal disruption and negative feelings. Although it’s mostly used in reference to romantic relationships, it also applies to work situations. For many of us, jobs are more than a place to go each day to earn a paycheck. They are commitments we invest considerable time, energy, and emotion in. When this changes after a lengthy period of time, regardless of the reason, it can feel very much like a breakup.

As I began to share the news of my conscious uncoupling with friends and colleagues, I was inundated with questions: what led to my decision, when I knew it was time, and how I approached these discussions. I won’t pretend that I followed a step-by-step process (I didn’t) and that there weren’t tears and moments of doubt (there were). But looking back a few months later, I learned some valuable lessons that may be helpful if you find yourself re-evaluating a long-term work relationship.


This isn’t something that happens during a burst of emotion or in fit of anger. It’s a conscious decision to make a major change that will impact you, your family, your colleagues, and—depending on your job—clients, partners, and investors.

Think through the implications in advance and talk through the decision with those directly affected. You also need to talk to those you work with or report to, which may sound counterintuitive. This includes proactively discussing when the transition will happen, how and when it will be communicated and to whom, and any special considerations, such as informing clients or managing upcoming milestones.

In my case, we agreed to an extended period that would allow us to work through the details together and successfully transition clients and major projects, so my departure would cause as few disruptions as possible. This extended transition also helped other colleagues adjust to the change, so by the time I walked out the door for the last time, most people had processed the news and were clear on changes in roles and responsibilities.


Before consciously uncoupling with your employer, there are a few other options worth considering.

Explore an open relationship

If you’ve worked at your company or in your industry for a long time, it’s natural to feel a lack of excitement every day. If this becomes the norm, it can be a signal that you need to reinvigorate the relationship or remember what excited you in the first place. This can be as simple as flirting (like taking on a new project or hobby in addition to maintaining your day job) to fuel a passion or enhance your creativity. It can also include having something on the side, like a startup business you get off the ground during off-hours. Openly incorporating new experiences into your long-term work life is an effective way to fill a void or add some excitement without completely disrupting other aspects of your life.

Try taking a break

My previous employer generously offered three-week sabbaticals to long-term employees as a chance to periodically recharge. These professional hall passes allowed people to have new adventures or to take a real break from work and come back ready to recommit.

Many organizations will let employees in good standing take a prolonged break (some paid, some not) to do things like work on a political campaign, teach a course for a semester, or reduce their work schedule to earn a degree or certification to build new skills. And some employers loan out employees to organizations for set periods of time so they can benefit from having in-residence expertise. There are many different ways to take a break and make it a win-win for everyone. If this is an option, take it. Sometimes that’s all you need to reignite the flame or get much-needed perspective.


If the suggestions above aren’t enough, or if you just know it’s time to go, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Make clear that it’s not them, it’s you

Millions of people (including yours truly) have used the old adage “it’s not you, it’s me” when ending a relationship. Taking all the responsibility can alleviate an otherwise painful situation. While it’s not always the real reason behind wanting to end a romantic relationship, it is often true in work breakups. The job and company I loved for many years was no longer eliciting the same excitement. It wasn’t them—it was just time for me to make a change. That doesn’t make anyone the bad guy; it happens sometimes. When it does, it’s important to be honest, take responsibility for wanting a change, and treat your departure respectfully to honor the experiences you’ve shared.

You can stay friends, but it takes effort

If, like me, you’ve spent countless hours working alongside or traveling with colleagues over long periods of time, chances are some have become your friends. If you’re fortunate, this includes a mix of direct reports, clients, managers, mentors, and other professional partners you’ve encountered along the way. With thoughtful planning and communication, you can preserve these relationships and carry them into your next professional journey.

After informing people that you are moving on to your next adventure, let key contacts know how much they have meant to you, personally and professionally, and that you want to stay in touch. This can be a bit awkward at first, just like after a breakup. Some colleagues might feel uncomfortable or unsure of how to interact in this new and unfamiliar construct, others will want to maintain the same level of interaction, and some may want to give you space. The onus is on you, the leaver, to make the effort and reset the ground rules so people know what to expect.

If you leave on good terms, it’s also possible to stay friends with your employer on an organizational level. Many companies set up official alumni networks or host former employees at industry events. Some include previous employees in select marketing and recruitment efforts or ask alums to participate on panels. These companies understand that employees who leave on good terms often go on to become clients, referrals, or business partners.

Try being friends with benefits

If you were a valuable contributor and you depart as part of a thoughtful transition, that can leave the door open for future projects or consulting engagements. This type of arrangement can be mutually beneficial because both parties know what they are getting into, and there doesn’t have to be a longer-term commitment on either end. I’ve known several colleagues who have left their full-time job only to take on a project or a part-time assignment down the road. If both parties are upfront about expectations, this type of arrangement can be convenient and rewarding without strings attached. But just like a romantic relationship, if one party has any lingering hope for something more, this won’t work—and can negate all the positive aspects of consciously uncoupling in the first place.

Looking back, I don’t take for granted how fortunate I was to have a professional environment where I was able to learn, experiment, experience, and grow. I am also deeply grateful for the many friendships I’ve made over the years, which I continue to cherish and enjoy.

After being in a committed work relationship for so long, I am now playing the field and exploring different startup opportunities, industries, and business models. I am especially enjoying hanging out (aka consulting) and even learning a few new moves (but that’s a topic for another time). In the end, it wasn’t them, it was meand consciously uncoupling with my long-term work relationship was absolutely the right decision.