Etiquette for Breaking Off an Engagement

Etiquette for When the Wedding Does Not Happen

Woman moving out
Breaking up is always difficult, regardless of the circumstances. kali9 / Getty Images

Have you ever broken an engagement Have you ever had a major breakup of any type? It happens to the best people, and sometimes there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. However, you can control your reaction afterward.

Breakups aren't fun for anyone--whether you're the one being broken up with or the one who decides to end the relationship. You've probably seen people react in ways that are embarrassing to everyone around them.

Experiencing a Painful Breakup

If you have ever been through a broken engagement, you know the wretched feelings that happen as soon as it's over. Not only do you have your own emotions to deal with, but all of the well meaning people in your life want details. To make matters worse, they are likely to ask nosy questions or say something out of line.

Your Reaction

When the people you work with learn about the breakup, you may find yourself the topic of conversation and gossip. While there is no way to stop the office big mouth, you can politely tell people that yes, you have broken the engagement, but you'd rather not discuss it. It's a good idea to come up with a plan on how to respond to questions as soon as you dry your tears.

First of all, you need to remember that not all engagements end in marriage. An engagement period is a good time to learn how your prospective partner reacts in stressful situations, and the breakup will multiply that exponentially.

There are no easy answers or a one-size-fits-all solution. However, there are some general rules and guidelines that can make this as painless as possible. Even if you never see the other person again, it’s always a good idea to keep things fair and honest.

Following your everyday good manners during this difficult time will keep you from having regrets later. You may not want anything to do with the person now, but burning bridges can damage the potential of future relationships with the ex or with other people of influence in your life.


Just as you would announce an engagement, you would want to let everyone know that the wedding has been called off. However, a celebratory party is generally not in order at a time like this. There are other ways to announce your breakup without making what you just went through seem trite.

Discuss your split with the clergy member or wedding officiant. This person needs to know before anyone else so he or she can take the wedding off what is probably a very busy schedule. Some clergy members may request at least one counseling session after the breakup.

It’s never a good idea to play the blame game, unless one of you did something in public that can’t be ignored. If possible, tell people that it was a mutual decision to agree to part ways.

When someone asks for more information, in the politest way you can, say it isn’t open for discussion and that you have others to contact. Don’t allow yourself to be pulled into a lengthy discussion. Do whatever you can to change the subject.

However, if one of you had a public affair or did something inexcusable, there is no way around people knowing the facts. It’s still best if you don’t perpetuate the discussion, or you may have a more difficult time getting your life back.

What you and your former partner can do to let friends and family know:

  • Call groups of friends together and tell everyone at the same time.
  • Divide the list and each of you call your half.
  • If the wedding guest number is too large to handle it between the two of you, enlist the help of other wedding party members and family.

Contacting Vendors

You’ll want to contact all the vendors, including your caterer, photographer, videographer, florist, cake decorator, and anyone else you have hired to provide a service during your wedding or reception. You probably won’t get your deposit back, and you may still be liable for part of the payment to secure the services.

Engagement Ring

Most of the time, engagement rings are considered gifts contingent on a wedding taking place. The bride should return it upon breaking off the engagement. However, if the ring was offered as a birthday or holiday gift, it is hers to keep. If there is a disagreement over the ring and who gets it, you should seek legal counsel.

State laws vary over the conditions of who gets the ring. In some states, if the groom breaks the engagement, the bride may keep the ring. But if the bride breaks things off, she must give back the ring. Other states consider the ring an outright gift.

Wedding Gifts

As soon as possible after the breakup, all wedding gifts should be returned in the original packaging. This is one reason it is never a good idea to use a wedding gift before the ceremony.

When you send the gift back, enclose a thank you note and let the person know that the wedding will not take place. It is not necessary to give a reason or detailed explanation. This includes all monetary gifts.

Personal Belongings

Many couples combine their belongings before the wedding. If the two of you are splitting on good terms, and you are certain that no one will argue over what belongs to whom, get together to divide your things. However, if there is any doubt about how the other person will react, ask a family member or friend to be present or to return the other person’s belongings.

After It's Over

Breakups are never pleasant, and broken engagements are the worst. You've been planning to spend the rest of your life with the other person, and now it's come to an abrupt end. The hard feelings you have at this time may seem insurmountable. However, as each day passes, things will seem clearer.

Allow yourself to grieve for the broken relationship, but don't dwell on anything you can't change. Focus on living your life to the best of your ability, and eventually, you'll find your new normal.