Sometimes, we all just need a little time and space, but when it comes to relationship breaks, things are never that straightforward.
There are all kinds of reasons why two people who love each other might decide they need a break from their relationship, and a break isn’t always just a precursor to a full-on breakup.
If you’re considering taking a break from yours, here are a few questions to ask yourself to make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.
1. Is a breakup a foregone conclusion?
There’s a common perception that taking a break is just the first step on the road to breaking up.
Whilst that’s definitely not always true, the fact that some people do use a break as a kind of stepping stone toward a proper breakup gives breaks a bad reputation.
Plenty of people simply don’t believe that breaks can ever lead to a stronger and healthier relationship.
What’s more, we kid ourselves that our partner will suffer less when we actually end the relationship if a break has given them a chance to get used to the idea.
In reality, that’s just a fantasy that we indulge in to help with the guilt.
If you know deep down that you really want to break up, don’t bother suggesting a break. It’s just a stay of execution.
Your partner is likely to spend the break agonizing over your decision, whilst you know deep down that it’s already a foregone conclusion.
Difficult as it might be, and as much as you might want to just stick your head in the sand, if you want to end things… just do it.
The sooner it’s over, the sooner you can both get on with your lives and be happy again.
2. Why are you really taking a break?
It’s important to be completely honest with yourself about why you’re taking this break from your relationship. You won’t be able to resolve anything unless you can identify the root of the problem.
Is it a communication problem? Have you got money worries? Is there some kind of family trauma affecting you? Do you feel like the relationship is holding you back from other goals, like travelling or moving for a job?
If you can figure out what your exact reasons are for taking a break, it will be easier for you to explain how you’re feeling to your partner.
The clearer you can communicate your reasons, the more likely the relationship is to survive the break, if that’s what you decide you want when you’ve had time for yourself.
Just be sure that your reasons are reasonable.
Perhaps you want to take a break to show your partner that if they don’t make changes to their behavior then things will end.
But consider whether you’ve truly been honest with them and given them a chance to mend their ways before you suggest something as potentially radical as a break.
Or maybe you want to take a break because there are some big things in life that you and your partner don’t agree on, like kids or marriage.
If you know deep down that neither of you will change your minds given time, it might be a breakup you need to consider, not a break.
As well as why, ask yourself “why now?”
Why do you want space from your partner at this moment?
Taking a break isn’t something you should decide upon in the heat of the moment after an argument. Take some time to cool down. You don’t want to regret speaking too soon.
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3. Are you willing to lose them?
Breaks are a risky business. Even if you have some time to reflect and decide that you really want to give your relationship another go, your partner might not feel the same way, even if they didn’t want to take a break to begin with.
With a break, there are no guarantees. If you can’t face the idea of life without your partner, you might want to avoid a break, instead working hard to fix your relationship in other ways, such as through counselling.
Listen to your gut, but don’t rush it into a decision. Give it a little time, and it will tell you whether or not you truly want this person in your life.
How many of the reasons you come up with to stay with this person are truly reasons, rather than justifications, like how tricky a breakup would be logistically?
4. What are the ground rules, and how long will it last?
If you’re going to take a break from your relationship, it should be made clear whether or not seeing other people during the time you’re apart is on the table.
Everyone’s idea of what’s acceptable when they’re on a break is different (just look at Ross and Rachel), so it’s vital that you have that awkward conversation and figure out whether seeing other people during your time apart would be a deal breaker if you then decided to give it another go.
If you decide to open up the relationship, you’ll need to accept that there’s a possibility that either they or you could meet someone else during your time apart.
Even if they don’t meet anyone they fall for, you’d have to be okay with the idea of getting back together knowing they’ve had other partners.
Things such as how long the break will last also need to be made clear. Some people might be comfortable leaving it open-ended, but most prefer to have a set date on which you’ll reassess the situation, so you don’t end up living in limbo without knowing when it’s over.
If it’s longer than a few months, you should probably face facts: it’s a breakup, not a break. A few weeks or a couple of months with your thoughts should be enough for you to figure out where your head is at.
If you decide before the agreed time is up that you really want to be with them, don’t go running back immediately, as that wouldn’t be fair on them. Just because you’ve made your decision, doesn’t mean they don’t need more time alone.
5. Do you want to have contact?
You need to decide whether or not cutting off contact completely during the break would be a positive move for the two of you.
For some people, and under some circumstances, having no contact can mean they have a chance to really see things clearly and gain some perspective.
Contact can cloud your judgment, and distance can be pretty revelatory.
6. What are the practicalities of a break?
If you’re not yet living with your partner, it’s fairly easy to take a break from a practical standpoint.
But what if your relationship has gone further than that? What if you rent a place together or even jointly own somewhere? Who is going to be the one to move out and where will they live?
Will the person who moves out still pay for the place you currently share?
What about the dog? Or the cat? Or even the kids? If you have children together, how are you going to explain it to them and how will it work in terms of seeing them?
The more intertwined your lives are, the more you’re going to have to think about how a break is actually going to work.
7. How are you going to spend your time during the break?
Don’t spend the time you’re apart from your partner moping around at home, indulging your misery in large tubs of ice cream.
Ice cream has its place, but you need to make the most of this time to do things for yourself and to figure out whether you really miss your partner’s presence in your life.
Focus on you. Go out with your friends. Take a spontaneous holiday. Try that evening class you’ve been meaning to go to for as long as you can remember.
Rediscover who you are as a person, independently of your partner. Remind yourself that, wonderful as they might be, they should never be your sole source of happiness.
It’s easier said than done, but be honest with yourself about your feelings, however uncomfortable they might make you feel. Then, when the time comes for you both to reassess things, be honest with your partner.
Your relationship will either come back fighting, or come to and end, allowing both of you to move on to pastures new.
Either way, you’ll know it was the right decision.