We all love a vacation. Every so often we just need to get away and take a break from everything. But what about your relationship? Have you ever thought about taking a break in your relationship?
The idea of taking a break from your relationship isn’t a new one. It’s even been parodied on TV shows like Friends where Ross famously yells, “We were on a break!” after making some poor and hurtful choices. Even in comedy it’s clear that taking a break in your relationship is not a simple thing to do. In fact, it requires a lot of thought, conversation, and some very clear boundaries if you have any hope of the relationship continuing when break time is over.
What Does it Mean to Take a Break in a Relationship?
Taking a break in a relationship can mean different things for each couple. For some it’s the opportunity to take stock of things and gain some perspective on how to make their relationship better. For others it may be a gentle first step towards a break-up. What the purpose of the “break” is needs to be clearly defined by the two people involved.
There are times in a relationship when a couple may reach a plateau and they can’t find a way forward and aren’t ready to call it off completely. They may still love each other, but not know where to go from here, so instead they opt for some time apart.
Ultimately taking a break from your relationship should begin with positive intentions. Time away from each other can provide needed space for thinking and evaluating, but not if it’s used like a free pass for either physically or emotionally cheating. Unless you have set it up that way, a break doesn’t mean that you are broken up, and you still owe your partner the benefit of respect and fidelity.
Can a Break Make Your Relationship Stronger?
There is not a definite yes or no answer to that question, but there is a very strong maybe. Whether a break helps your relationship get stronger or helps it end depends a lot on why you decided to take it in the first place, and what happens during that time apart.
There are times when taking a break makes sense and can bring a positive result. For instance, if you have gotten to a point as a couple where you and your partner always seem to be at odds, fighting or constantly disagreeing, and are having a hard time finding any enjoyment with each other, then taking a break might be a good idea.
You may find that some time apart allows you to understand and appreciate your partner’s perspective on things. It might also allow you to evaluate your own behavior to determine what part you play in the challenges you are experiencing. The result of this time away from each other and the evaluation you go through can mean that your relationship is stronger on the other side, or it’s possible that you may determine you differences are too great, or even that you need to further evaluate things through couples counseling.
Relationships, especially long ones, go through many ups and downs. For the most part, in a relationship that is healthy and happy, couples weather the downs knowing that there is an up on the other side. Sometimes, however, couples can find themselves in a place where there is just a general feeling of dissatisfaction with one another. This doesn’t mean that you have fallen out of love, or that they want a permanent break-up, but something needs to change. This is another case when taking a break from the relationship may offer a positive result.
Taking some time away from each other might help you see things more clearly and determine what is really causing the dissatisfaction in the relationship. In this scenario it’s often one partner who feels more strongly than the other about the need for a change. There are many reasons for this, and it’s quite possible that the break in the relationship will help that partner (or both) see that what needs to change isn’t really the relationship itself, but the people within it.
Personal dissatisfaction in your own life and achievements can be misinterpreted as problems with your relationship, friendships, even your job. Some time on your own to reflect can allow you to see what changes you personally need to make. Feeling happier and more personally satisfied will translate into more satisfaction in your relationship and everything else around you.
How Do You Make Taking a Break Work?
Making taking a break in a relationship work is tricky. You’re not actively a couple, but you also aren’t broken up. This romantic no-man’s-land can lead to a lot of blurry lines and potential pitfalls.
If you have decided that taking some time apart is what makes sense for your relationship, you will need to do a few things first in order to make sure it goes well – no matter what the ultimate outcome as a couple.
- Be clear and agree on the reason. If you have decided to take this step it should be for productive reasons. Whether you are trying to get past a difficult time, overcome some personal problems, or evaluate compatibility, be able to articulate your reasons for the break and make sure you are each clear – even if your reasons differ.
- Lay out the rules. If you love each other and are trying to figure out what to do next, laying out clear parameters on what is and isn’t acceptable during a “break” is crucial. You will need clear boundaries that you each agree on. This time apart can amplify any insecurity that either partner may be feeling, so knowing that you are each playing by the same rules is important. It’s also important to remember that taking a break doesn’t give you permission to date unless you both have agreed that doing so is okay.
- Set a timeframe. A break from your relationship is a relatively brief period of time – a matter of weeks, or potentially a month or so. A break that goes on for a year is essentially a break-up. So, as a couple, decide how much time is reasonable in order for you figure out what needs to happen next.
- Communicate. Being on a break doesn’t mean you can’t stay in touch. Checking in through email or phone once a week or so can keep the lines of communication open. This can be a slippery slope, however. A weekly check-in can slide into daily texting if you’re not careful. If this is something both of you want, that’s one thing. But over-communication can work against your overall goals, so tread lightly.
- Be ready for the next step – whatever it is. Taking a break from your relationship isn’t likely to fix everything and make all the problems go away. What it might do is allow you to have the right energy and mindset to make things better. Or, it might show you that, although you love each other, you need more help to work through the issues you are facing. Or, sadly for some, it may make it clear that the relationship is over. Whatever the case, when the time you set aside is over, you need to be prepared to face the needed next steps.
Dr. Kurt has worked with a number couples who have tried taking a break in their relationship as a way to fix things. When asked about his perspective he had this to say,
There's a saying that 'time fixes everything.' Unfortunately, despite this being a popular belief it's actually not true. Does time help? Sure. But does it fix things? No. Mistakenly, this concept gets applied to taking a break in a relationship -- 'We just need some time apart' is often the reasoning. Yet time is never enough. If your relationship has gotten to the point that taking a break is being considered then there are much deeper issues that need to be addressed than time alone can solve. Time + effort is the formula that's necessary to make a break productive and successful. So each of you needs to figure out where some effort needs to be applied during the break in addition to getting some time apart.
Taking a break in your relationship isn’t a tactic that will work for everyone. For some the issues that they are facing as a couple need to be worked out together rather than apart. For others, if it is done correctly, there can be benefit from the time and perspective the space can offer.
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