The Do's and Don'ts of Taking a Break in a Relationship

Sometimes, in a serious relationship there comes a time when you and your partner feel the need to take a break, and put your relationship on pause. This can happen for a variety of different reasons, maybe responsibilities at work or school are really picking up and taking energy away from the relationship, maybe you and your partner are forced to be long distance and need to take some time apart, maybe one of you needs to take some time away to prioritize mental health and self care, or maybe you need some space to evaluate if there is a long term future for the relationship. There are a lot different, healthy reasons that can lead you to take a break from your relationship. When both partners are on the same page about taking a break, it can offer a degree of freedom and opportunity for self improvement that can make the relationship stronger when you get back together. But, it’s important to note that taking a break doesn’t always work out. Taking a break can often jeopardize trust and communication in a relationship if you and your partner are not honest with each other or communicating well. Sometimes taking a break can be the beginning of the end of your relationship... sometimes it can be the exact thing you need.

Here are some Do’s and Don’ts you should consider if you and your partner decide that taking a break is the best decision for your relationship:

Do discuss the break in person

Taking a break is a huge decision in any relationship. A decision that should be discussed in person with your partner. It can be really hard to have potentially difficult conversations in person, especially when texting and talking on the phone is so easy and less intimidating. As tempting as it can be to have these conversations over text, it’s really important to have this discussion in person. Talking about it face to face and discussing the ground rules (more on that below) will make sure that there are no misunderstandings. Breaks require a huge amount of communication and honesty, if you aren’t able to discuss taking a break in person, then a break may not be right for you in the first place. If you are a long distance couple deciding to take a break, this point obviously does not apply to you. But you should still try to do your best to make the discussion seem in person. Using things like FaceTime or Zoom can help facilitate this.

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Do set ground rules

Breaks will look different for different couples, so it’s important that you and your partner discuss ground rules so that you are both on the same page about what the break entails. Will you stay in communication? Or go cold turkey? Will you have routine check-ins to see how your partner is feeling? Does the break mean that you are also opening the relationship up? Is your partner allowed to sleep with other people? Establishing these rules from the beginning and following the rules will help maintain trust in your relationship, even when you are on a break. It’s fine for these ground rules to evolve over the course of the break (perhaps not talking to each other at all was too intense), as long as you are clearly communicating the terms and expectations of the break.

Do take time to explore the causes of the break

As we said before, there are a lot of different reasons that couples decide to take a break. If you are on a break, do take time to explore the causes of the break. Are life events preventing you from prioritizing your relationship? Will those external pressures change any time soon? Do you have the power to shift your priorities? Or are you on a break because you are in a prolonged slump? Or do you need time to focus on yourself? Identifying the stressors in your relationship that led to the break and then exploring how to address these stressors is integral to making the relationship work after the break.

Do make the time away count

Coming to the decision to take a break can be very difficult as a couple, so if you do decide to take some time apart, it’s important to make that time count. Do you need to finish a project up and work and then focus on shifting your priorities to your relationship? Are you feeling sexually frustrated in your relationship and need time to explore your sexuality? Do you need to see a therapist in order to sort out your personal mental health before focusing more on your relationship? Make sure that you are taking your time apart to do something productive that can positively impact your relationship after the break is over. Or, alternatively, end your relationship if there are irreconcilable differences or things that cannot be overcome.

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Do consider what you want the relationship to look like if you get back together

Breaks are a great time for both reflection and forward thinking. While you are on a break, it’s important to think about what you want the future of your relationship to look like, and how it will be different from things before the break. What kind of changes will inspire you to continue to commit to the partner and the relationship? A break doesn’t just end for things to go back to normal, so it’s important to consider what needs to happen to make the relationship work. This could look like a list of changes that need to happen, like move to the same city, go to couples therapy or have weekly check-ins.

Don’t set a definitive time frame

If you and your partner decided to take a break, it’s important to set ground rules, but it’s important that you leave the time frame of your break more open. If you are taking space from the relationship to work through specific things it’s hard to know exactly how much time you will need. Creating a definitive time frame might create added pressure during the break, which can cause stress and make it more difficult to reconcile differences and end the break. Instead of creating a definitive time frame, you and your partner should plan on checking in with one another to talk about when you are ready for the break to be over. It’s fine to have a general idea of a timeline for the break, perhaps “after this semester of school” or “after this big project is over at work”, but you should leave the exact timeline open for discussion throughout the break.

Don’t have unrealistic expectations

Many relationships can recover from taking a break and actually turn out to be stronger than before, but that is not always the case. If you and your partner are unable to set clear boundaries and rules in the beginning, or are unable to stick to those things during the break, then your relationship might not make it. When going into a break it’s important to have realistic expectations about the future of the relationship. Taking a break is not going to fix underlying problems in your relationship unless you put some serious work in during your time apart. A lot of couples think that taking time apart will make their relationship strong (think of the often misguided adage that distance makes the heart grow fonder), but that is not always the case, and you need to brace yourself in case things go south.

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Don’t use this time vindictively

Sometimes a huge fight or some sort of breach of trust will lead couples to take a break. If this is the case for you, it’s important not to try and get back at your partner while you are on the break. If they cheated on you, a break is not the time to sleep around, unless you have okayed that in your ground rules. Breaks should be a period of healing that can lead to reconciliation, not a period of retribution.

Don’t take a break to avoid a breakup

Sometimes people are tempted to take a break from the relationship when they should actually just end the relationship. While some issues can be resolved by taking some time apart, not everything can. Some relationship issues boil down to irreconcilable differences that cannot be solved with a break. While it might seem easier and less painful to take a break and slowly let things fizzle out, that just drags the relationship out longer.

Don’t force getting back together

Sometimes breaks end if you and your partner decide not to get back together. While it’s never good to take a break to avoid a breakup, sometimes breaks naturally lead to breakups even if that’s not the direction you saw it going. If your time and space away from the relationship offers clarity and reveals that it was not a sustainable relationship, then you should end things. Don’t feel pressure to get back with your partner if you come to the realization that there isn’t a future together as a couple.

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