Tips for Thought

Should You Take a Break in Your Relationship?

Each relationship is unique and has its set of problems and issues. Nevertheless, most relationship issues can be fixed through time and effort, provided both parties are willing to make ends meet. 

However, there are certain cases where a problem may be so significant that it requires a “cool-off” period or a break from the relationship for some time. Here’s what you need to know about taking a break from a relationship and what entails it.

What is a relationship break?

If you’ve ever seen Friends, you may know the iconic “We were on a break!” debacle between Ross and Rachel. Since the show ended, many popular catchphrases and the like have become a thing of pop culture and public consciousness. One of which is the “relationship break,” which has been debated for years.

Simply put, a relationship break is a “cooling off” period between two partners in a committed relationship. Depending on their definition, a break can mean two things:

1. A break from a relationship where they can date or sleep with whoever they want in the time before they get back together or;

2. A break from a relationship, where both parties are still together but need time apart to cool things off. They will not date or sleep with other people during this period.

There is no right or wrong way to take a break, although it is advisable to be at least clear about what kind of break you’re talking about and why you need it.

Why do people take breaks?

There are many reasons why couples take breaks. Some of the most common ones include the following:

1. They are constantly fighting.

Couples may find it exhausting to realize they are repeatedly fighting the same issues. In some cases, a person may request a break from a relationship to better examine the problem from an outside perspective or to take a breather.

Whatever the case, a break can be an excellent way for a person to examine the relationship’s prospects. Some other aspects you need to reflect on include your communication styles with your partner and whether you can find ways to ease the problem or at least lessen it so the arguments become less frequent.

2. They have issues they want to work with alone.

Some people are more independent than others and would solve things themselves instead of letting it plague the relationship. While it’s best to work things together as a couple, there are some instances where a person may want to do things alone. Some examples are when a person is trying to overcome personal trauma or intends to develop healthier communication skills but needs time to work on it without affecting their partner.

3. They want to punish their partner for hurting them.

Breaks aren’t always good, primarily when people in toxic or codependent relationships use breaks to control, manipulate, or place guilt on their partners. If you or your partner are doing this subconsciously, consider going to couples therapy to find healthier ways to deal with conflict. Otherwise, it may be best to break things off officially to avoid hurting each other further.

4. They want to explore other options.

There are instances when a person wants to explore other options like other partners or their sexuality. This reason can be delicate, especially when the person fails to disclose it to their partner, or they want to be in an open relationship. Either way, it’s not uncommon for people to take breaks because they want to date around or prefer to keep things casual instead.

Is it wrong to take relationship breaks?

A break is not a bad thing in itself, but it depends on the reason. For instance, a break can be beneficial if you:

  • Want to work on inner issues;
  • Improve your communication skills in the relationship or
  • Wish to examine your relationship from a different angle

All these reasons are valid, but if you don’t tell your partner about it, then it could pose a problem.

On the other hand, if you want to take a break because you:

  • Want to punish your partner;
  • Want to explore other options without telling your partner or
  • Want to break up but are waiting for the right time

Then, it may be time to decide whether you want to fix your issues. If a break doesn’t seem feasible, other options are available, like seeking couples therapy.

What happens if my partner wants to take a break?

Having a partner ask for a break can be shocking and painful. The first thing you need to remember is always to keep calm and wait for them to share their reasons. Remember to set terms and conditions to avoid miscommunication if they have considered it and want to state their reasons. Here are some tips to do when either of you wish to take a break:

1. Be honest.

Be honest with yourself about how you view your relationship. What are you hoping for, and why would a break be necessary? On the other hand, why aren’t you okay with a break?

If you’re hurt or upset by your partner asking for a break, communicate it with your partner gently and openly. Take accountability for your feelings and actions before, during, and after the cool-off period. Whether you initiated the break or not, use this as an opportunity to be mindful of your current relationship status.

2. Define what the break means.

A break can mean different things to each person. Whether you’re the one initiating the break or not, it’s essential to be clear on these things:

  • Why is a break necessary?
  • How long will the break be?
  • Are we allowed to communicate or keep contact during the break?
  • Are we allowed to see other people or date around during the break?
  • How will things go after the break is over?
  • Will this break benefit our relationship in the long run?

As uncomfortable as these questions may be, it’s essential to be clear about the scope of the break with your partner. It may be a breakup for one person, but for another, it may mean a time to cool off, but you’re still committed to each other. Make sure to define this period clearly so that both parties can reach an understanding.

3. Set a time limit.

Before going into your cool-off period, agree to make an end date for the break or at least a day to check in on each other. Just because you’re on a break doesn’t mean you stop caring for each other, so keeping the communication line open is essential. Remember not to keep things forceful, as each person will need time to adjust. Always have an end date and a goal of what to do after the break ends; that way, you can move on to the next chapter of your life.

4. Set boundaries and expectations.

Set healthy rules and boundaries during the break. This step is essential to avoid hurting your partner and yourself. Going on a sudden break can be challenging for some people, especially if you live with or co-parent with your partner. When setting expectations, lay out how much time you need apart, whether you will be moving out, or when you can start talking again. There will be instances where an emergency may occur, so keep that in mind.

5. Focus on kindness.

A break can be a delicate situation for both parties, mainly because it could be a sign that the relationship may end. Whatever the outcome, assure each other that the focus of the break is to reflect and find ways to fix the relationship’s issues. Never insult, belittle, or throw accusations at your partner before, during, and after the break. Treat each other with kindness and respect even if you won’t be physically together for a while.

Takeaway: Taking a break from a relationship can be a sensitive topic to bring out. Not every relationship thrives on taking a break, so before considering this option, look at other alternatives like couples therapy. The latter involves a professional who acts as a mediator while a couple works their issues together. Schedule an appointment immediately if you think a therapist is better suited for your problems.