Is it healthy to take a break in a relationship? Or is the beginning of the end?
“I want a break,” they say.
I doubt there’s a more confusing phrase than this.
What does “taking a break” mean?
A slew of questions follow:
Are you still together? Are you allowed to see other people? Do you still hang out?
Should you or should you not take a break from each other? Here’s what experts say.
(Also, check out our recent article discussing when to leave a relationship. We share 10 key signs to look out for.)
What does a “break” mean?
First, let’s discuss what taking a “break” from a relationship truly means.
Let’s clarify one thing: A break isn’t necessarily a break-up.
According to Steve Ward, a relationship expert and CEO of Master Matchmakers.
“The difference between a break and a breakup are subtle, but stark.
“When on a break, individuals are free to act as if they had a breakup, with one exception: They must answer to their ex and be willing to discuss the progress of their break.
“When the dialogue or communication stops, then it’s a breakup.”
The terms of the break, however, depend upon the couple’s agreement. It’s best if both people establish clear boundaries to avoid hurt, especially if they want to give their relationship a chance to continue.
Clinical psychologist Ann Rosen Spector advises:
“Breaks must be done with clear rules and for the right reasons.”
But she also says you shouldn’t overdo it:
“The more [conditions] you add, the more complicated breaks can become.”
Why people want to take a break in a relationship
When does this ultimatum come about? And why do some people call for it?
There are a number of possibilities:
1. The other person is confused about the value of the relationship.
Uncertainty about the relationship’s future might be the main reason for wanting a break.
According to relationship expert April Masini:
“When a couple takes a break in a relationship, it’s usually because one person isn’t sure about the value of the future of the relationship.
“The break is either to clear [their] head, test the waters and see what else is out there, see if the partner is missed on the break, or use the break as a slow advance to a full on break up.”
Another reason may be that one or both people are curious about other options, one common effect of being in long-term relationships.
“Breaks are initiated because of restlessness. It’s the existential is-the-grass-greener-on-the-other-side question.”
For many couples, there comes a point in the relationship where they feel as if they’ve lost their identities.
This creates a lot of doubt about their individual growth. Which is probably why they may want to take time apart from each other.
According to relationship therapist Simone Bose:
“Sometimes people become very enmeshed in a relationship and lose their sense of self and judgement. They lose their balance in life, and it’s about rebalancing.”
You might even lose self-esteem too and aren’t sure of who you are because you’ve taken on so much of the other person.”
Signs you need to take a break
A break is not something to consider lightly. It shouldn’t be done on a whim or as a means to exercise control.
Taking a break from a relationship should only be done if a healthy outcome is desired. And especially only if both couples agree solidly on it.
Here are some signs that will tell you if you should really take a break from each other:
1. You feel as if things are moving too fast.
In this case, taking a break apart is completely justified. No one should feel as if they’re being rushed in a position they don’t want to be in.
Clinical psychologist Dr. Joshua Klapow says:
“Maybe you need time to process your feelings about the person. You each need to feel like you deeply want to be together.”
Taking a break might be the thing you need to really consider if you’re ready to take the leap.
“A break is often a welcomed reprieve from relationship and a useful inflection point.t provides a valuable space for introspection and focusing on assessing your feelings within the relationship.
“Breaks are sometimes necessary to create space and allow someone to come to the realization that they are happier, more productive, and better off with someone than without them.”
It will benefit both individuals because nothing good comes out of a relationship filled with doubt. And if your partner really respects you, they will understand that you need time alone.
2. You haven’t felt like “yourself” for a long time.
It’s easy to feel like you’ve lost yourself when your life has been intertwined with one person for so long.
A sudden desire to be alone and figure things out can actually be crucial for any relationship. After all, you can’t love another person right if you can’t love yourself first.
“In many cases, a little space will give them time to refocus and see that it’s up to themselves, not their partners, to create personal satisfaction and happiness.”
If it comes to a point that you feel utterly lost and hopeless, a break might just be the one thing you need.
3. You argue all the time, and it’s mostly petty.
All couples fight. But if your arguments have turned unnecessarily petty, it might be best if you took a break from each other.
Even a small break from one another can prove helpful.
“It’s short, and meant to relive a little stress that isn’t major. That kind of break is very healthy in a relationship, and doesn’t necessarily lead to a breakup — in fact, it can strengthen the relationship.”
4. You haven’t had room to breathe lately.
A lot of couples think that it’s healthy to be together all the time. But being too clingy can actually damage your relationship.
Especially if you’re having problems, you might think it’s important to be together a lot. You’re wrong.
“So many couples think a healthy relationship means being together all the time, but that’s not true.
“Separation can be very healing. When a situation is complicated, having distance to get clarity is important.”
Remember, it’s important that you have time to gather your own thoughts. Especially if you’ve been feeling like you need more space than you’re being given.
5. You’ve had “talks” but never seem to come to any conclusion.
People would advise you to simply “talk it out.” They say that everything gets fixed with a good talk.
But sometimes, no amount of talking will fix your issues. A simpler solution might be to take some time apart to collect your thoughts and come back to each other with clearer heads.
According to John Keegan, a dating expert:
“It’s always better to try and talk your problems out with your partner. But sometimes it’s time take some space and see if you guys can come back in a fresh way and reset.”
You’re all talked-out, perhaps now is the time to think about what has been said.
How to take a break
Now that you’ve determined you need a break from each other, it’s time to determine how to establish it.
Why is it so important to talk about it?
To avoid hurt feelings and expectations.
Worse, it might turn into a breakup instead of just a break.
(If you’re interested in finding out more about the stages of a breakup, check out our comprehensive guide.)
Mind how you phrase things
First, plan what you’re going to say. Opening up the subject to an unsuspecting partner might get things out of hand.
“Often times, when people take a break that turns into a full breakup. So don’t say things like ‘I need a break’ or ‘let’s break up’ unless you really mean it.
“Because once you put them out there it begins to chip away at the fragile infrastructure of a relationship.”
Break it gently and never say things out of anger. Talk calmly and in a mature way. Otherwise, it’s easy to misconstrue things.
One of the biggest mistakes is to sugarcoat things. Be honest about why you need a break. It might hurt your partner, but it will make the situation more clear to them.
Dating expert Lesley Edwards says:
“If you don’t miss them, acknowledge that, and if you don’t want to be together, say it. There’s no point in taking a break if you’re not going to be honest about how you’re truly feeling.”
Being on a break is already confusing enough. Don’t make it even more complicated than it really is.
It doesn’t have to be a 10-page ultimatum. But establishing a few rules for the break would make everyone more secure about it.
It will also give both individuals a tangible space to move in, rather than going through it blind.
According to matchmaker Laura Bilotta:
“Determine what the break will mean to you and what it will mean to your partner. You may decide halfway through the agreed upon time that you want to be with that person, but you should respect the time frame.”
Answering key questions about taking a break
1. Should you date or not?
This is perhaps the first question couples ask. Experts weigh heavily against dating while on a break.
This shouldn’t even be about dating. It should be about being in your own space and reflecting on what you want and need from the relationship.
“This is the time to be reflecting on your own relationship. If you’re interested in dating other people, then maybe the real message is that the person you’re with isn’t the one you want.”
It will only add more confusion and even create jealousy and resentment.
“Other people will interfere with your clarity. If there’s a flicker of possibility for you and your partner, you don’t want to muddy that by involving someone else.”
In short? It’s a bad idea.
2. Does it work?
The jury is divided on this one. But this is certain, it depends on the depth of your bond and emotional intelligence as a couple.
According to Ward:
“A break doesn’t always lead to a breakup, but it often will. However, any couple that has ever had a meaningful relationship could reconcile at any time. There’s never a timetable for it: It could happen right away or years in the future.”
But the best thing to do is to first know if what you’re going to do is really necessary and needed.
According to Alex Bocknek, senior editor of The Datemix:
“Remember that breaks are not a one-step solution, and they can do damage to the relationship even in the best of circumstances.
“If you feel the time off can benefit your relationship, by all means give it a shot, but make sure to give it a cold hard think before you do.”
3. What do you do after the break?
Odds are, if you’ve used the break to reflect on your feelings, you’ll know exactly what to do.
There are times when couples go back to each other and one person still refuses to accept the problems or refuse their share of responsibility.
You are the best judge of the situation. If the relationship is still in a toxic state and you both can’t come to an agreement, it might be best to call it quits.
However, if you’ve both gone back with clear minds and a resolution to make it work; including compromising and welcoming change, then you just might make it.
Every relationship is unique and every couple has their own set of issues. You might not always be the best judge to look at things levelly and without bias, but if you are brave enough to look at the situation, you’ll be able to make the best decision.
There’s no telling what will happen. And it’s scary to do something when you don’t know what the outcome would be.
Either way, a break could lead to two things: a time for you to have much-needed breathing room or it could be a step to breaking up.
But here’s an important thing to remember: You are important too.
Your own happiness and well-being is something that shouldn’t take a back seat just so you can continue to be with someone you love.
Because love doesn’t ask you to choose over yourself. Real love nurtures.