Over the weekend, my partner of ten years confessed they no longer love me and have decided to move out. I'm very much struggling with the pain of that confession, and as a consequence I'm having difficulty maintaining my composure at work (and as you can surely imagine, having a much more difficult time focusing on my job).

Thankfully I've not used any of my vacation time this year, and it ought to be no problem asking for some time off to try to get myself together. That said, I'm somewhat at a loss of how to ask my boss if it's okay.

Early on he requested I give him at least a weeks notice prior to requesting vacation time; that said, this horrifying turn of events with my partner was quite sudden, and I'm not sure how to communicate an extreme and immediate emotional need without revealing too much about my personal life.

I need some time to cry this out and I don't want to draw my boss into the details, but I don't know how to professionally communicate that I'm going through a period of very extreme emotional turmoil. Frankly, even if I wanted to talk to him about it I wouldn't be able to do so without crying.

How can I tactfully express this to my boss?

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    Pretty much; I could be perfectly blunt about it, but without communicating what the real issue is I'm afraid I'd be denied, and communicating the issue is rather daunting...
    – user44121
    Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 19:51
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    I'm afraid I'll get emotional talking about it...and that scenario is highly uncomfortable for me, not to mention for my poor boss.
    – user44121
    Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 21:23
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    I agree. You should be able to say something along the lines "Something has happened in my private life that I am not ready to share, but as I fear it might influence my work in the coming week, I would really appreciate if I could have some of my unused free time now?" Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 21:50
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    @JoeStrazzere You sound like the kind of boss we should all be so lucky to have. I was in a similar situation when I was getting a divorce and my boss told me to put in a vacation request, which I did and he immediately denied. Gladly, I no longer work there.
    – DLS3141
    Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 23:08
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    I asked my boss directly and he gave me time off immediately. I didn't even had to disclose any details, I just said that my SO dumped me and I cannot focus on my work anymore, to what he replied: "I understand, take your time off".
    – roman
    Commented Nov 22, 2015 at 22:43

5 Answers 5


Any boss should understand that things come up. The one week notice request doesn't appear to be written in stone.

Just say you have a personal matter to attend to and request the time off you feel you need. Depending on your relationship with your boss, mentioning the break up isn't going to be a bad thing, but likely not needed.

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    Maybe even word it urgent personal matter that I need to deal with immediately.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 20:23
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    I have used "a personal matter" before and when my manager expressed sincere concern for my well-being I said I'd rather not go into details, but I'll be OK after a few days off. I had no trouble getting approval. My manager trusted me though, and knew I wouldn't ask for something trivial.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 21:43
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    @JoeStrazzere: “leaving it vague and non-specific makes it much harder to understand. If I were the boss in this scenario, I'd feel much better understanding the real situation.” I’m sure you would, but (and maybe this is a British cultural thing) that doesn’t make it your business. People should have a right to privacy. Commented Nov 18, 2015 at 11:41
  • @JoeStrazzere: sure, that makes sense. Of course, sometimes the thing that people need most is for work to just leave them alone for a bit. If someone put me in an Employee Assistance Program after a break-up, however much training the program staffers had, I’d feel roughly a million times worse. Commented Nov 18, 2015 at 11:52
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    "Family emergency" is a good way to convey 'I need some time for personal reasons, sorry about the short notice - this won't be common' but without implying anything else particularly.
    – Sobrique
    Commented Nov 18, 2015 at 17:11

I would avoid getting into personal details.

This will heavily depend on the company culture, the size of the company, as well as your relationship with your boss and team-mates, however generally speaking people are not interested in dealing with someone who is emotionally compromised. There are two good reasons to conceal your situation:

  • Admitting that you don't feel up to doing your work because of a relationship problem might label you as a flaky employee, or someone who should not be promoted because they can't handle their emotions.

  • Sadly not everyone will agree that your relationship problems constitute a good reason to take off time (I am not in this camp, simply pointing it out). If you really want time off, but your boss does not feel it is a good reason, he might give it to you begrudgingly, but again, label you as flaky or unreliable.

I've witnessed someone go through this exact thing (this is in Canada, so it need not apply to your own situation): her husband of 10+ years left her, and she was left absolutely devastated. The pain obviously carried over to the workplace, and after a few emotional displays, she was placed on leave. The office gossip was not kind, let me tell you. When she came back, she was visibly emotionally shaky. This person got some sympathy for a little while, but then many people turned against her: they are there to get a job done and go home to their own problems and family, they didn't want to deal with someone else's drama. It ended with her quitting, and I don't blame her.

It's a sad aspect of our fast paced work environments, and the typically transient nature of the workforce that many people simply don't want to get too involved with their coworker's problems and life - and they certainly shouldn't have to if they don't want to, however we are losing that human touch with one another.


It sounds to me like you already have some reservations about revealing the true reasons for your request to your boss.

If that's your gut feeling, go with it, and don't tell coworkers anything either. Say that you have a personal emergency, and that you need time off immediately. Maybe make up a reason (such as calling in sick), if you think you can get away with the lie, because later, when it comes out that you have split from your partner, people will immediately know why you were away.

Note: I don't generally advocate lying, but it all depends on how reasonable your boss is. Most people would understand, but some people, or the culture of some companies, are really against making allowances for that sort of "personal problem".

Good luck!

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    DO NOT LIE, it is an unnecessary burden; it'll come out and you will lose your job. "Urgent personal reason" without going into detail should be enough if it's a one-time thing.
    – Alexander
    Commented Nov 18, 2015 at 9:35
  • @Alexander - I generally agree that lying is not a good idea, but I also think bending the truth in some situations might be better than outright honesty. This is one of them. Saying "i need time off because my relationship just ended" paints you as an emotional wreck. Saying "I need time off because I don't feel well" does not compromise you, while achieving the same thing. If asked to clarify, reply that it's very personal, and that you'd rather not get into it. Different people will use different levels of evasion.
    – AndreiROM
    Commented Nov 18, 2015 at 14:36
  • Saying "I have an urgent personal reason and need a week off.", and "I would prefer not to discuss the nature of the issue." should be sufficient if it happens once.
    – Alexander
    Commented Nov 18, 2015 at 14:39
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    It's a shame that this is so, but it is. Being vague about why should normally be acceptable though - referring to it as a "family emergency" can be a useful shorthand, since you convey it's both personal and urgent, but without suggesting any consequences on your part.
    – Sobrique
    Commented Nov 18, 2015 at 17:10

Everyone is affected by life events in different ways. This kind of event could easily throw somebody into a depression. Even if you don't have a history of mental illness, I would consider this to be a mental health issue. It is similar to other illnesses that people wouldn't think twice about giving you time off for. Fortunately, today's society is realizing more and more that mental health is important to all of us whether it is a chronic problem or the result of a single life event.

Your health, and thereby your mental health, is very important to you. Ideally, your employer will understand that it is most beneficial for you and the company if you are allowed time off now rather than later. Try being general at first. You can say something as simple as, "I am going through a very difficult time in my life right now, and I would appreciate it if I can have some time off to get things back in order."

If your boss does not realize your need, I would try explaining to him how it would be beneficial to the company. I imagine it will be very hard for you to concentrate at work right now so it might help if you convene this to your boss. Having time off now will allow you to get yourself together and come back to work able to concentrate and perform well.

Even if you can't get time off tomorrow, ask if you can get time off before one week from now. Having to push through a couple days at work and then having time off will be better than time off one week from now. Don't try pushing your boss too hard if you feel like he or she doesn't understand.

I personally have a history of mental illness so situations similar to this have come up in the past for me for various reasons. I was lucky to feel comfortable enough with my manager to tell her exactly what was going on. She was very understanding and allowed me to leave work that day for some time off. In the end it worked out better for both me and the company.

I wish you the best of luck.


Your vacation time is your time, and while it's always good to give some notice before going on vacation, you should also be able to use it as necessary to deal with personal issues. That said, your vacation time is best used for vacation, i.e. some time off to relax and recharge... If you can explain to your boss enough to let him/her know that you're recovering from an emotional shock, they may be able to help you out a bit by offering sick time instead.

Above all, if you normally have a good relationship with your boss, you shouldn't be afraid to ask for a little understanding when you need it. Repay that by being a dependable worker the rest of the time.


If you're in a right state, surely your GP can sign you off work? After all, emotional issues are tied in with your mental health, and a good doctor would be able to refer you to a specialist or perhaps prescribe bedrest - just the time off. In such a case, you would not be lying if placed on official medical leave.

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