What Is a Break in a Relationship?

Relationship Rules
25 Apr 2023
11 min read
Taking a Relationship Break - What it Means

At times, our partners may ask for a relationship break to deal with a crisis. They may sound argumentative; but for you, it can be scary. It’s hard to predict whether this will lead to a breakup or a temporary setback before entering a new level in the relationship. In the meantime, you might wonder what to do: should you wait alone for their decision or live your love life as a single person? All these questions are mostly left without their answers.

It doesn’t feel pleasant to wait patiently for someone to clear their mind. Indeed, it’s much more comfortable to be the one whom someone is waiting for. But that’s why most people avoid healthy relationships, right? We tend to escape the pain before it catches up with us. To make it through a relationship break in a healthy way, follow this guide. We’ll explain what to do, how to set the ground rules, and what the pros and cons of this decision are.

Related reading: How to Reconnect After a Relationship Break: 16 Tips to Function as a Couple Again

What Is a Relationship Break?

“Taking a break can mean anything from a weekend of vacation in different places to moving into separate homes for an agreed period.”

Dr. Jeannelle Perkins-Muhammad, LMFT

Each couple has its own understanding of what a relationship break means. There are different ways to handle it and different changes to expect from this decision. Since both married and unmarried couples may take a break from one another, it’s up to you to decide what will it mean for you.

For example, one couple may decide that this temporary separation means they are no longer bound to the standard expectations of commitment. Both of them are free to date or have sex with others. But another couple may establish firmer boundaries. To them, a break in a relationship is a time to do some relationship work or focus on personal goals. They remain exclusive to one another as long as they are taking a break. Either way, it’s important to make acceptable behavior clear in each case.

Reasons for a relationship break

Why Do Couples Take a Relationship Break in Healthy Relationships?

In family studies, taking a healthy relationship break usually happens for two major reasons: a couple decides to spend time working on personal goals and minor relationship issues or wants to test run of a more permanent end to their relationship.

Some couples will take a break because they are facing minor relationship challenges and feel as if time apart may change that. Alternatively, they may be on the same page but simply want to take a healthy break for other reasons. They may each decide to spend time working on career goals or their education. To them, it’s simply a healthy way to take the focus off their relationship and put it on something else.

However, a relationship break can be a last resort decision to save a couple from a breakup. In such cases, it’s crucial to articulate the needs and expectations clearly, so both partners can use this time to work on themselves and their relationship. When two people decide to remain exclusive in the end, a break can be a mutual agreement to overcome current difficulties and move their relationship beyond the crisis.

Of course, you and your partner may decide that taking a break is best for your couple for some other reason. Just remember: this is a good decision as long as you plan it carefully. Ideally, you need to think things through before you press pause on your relationship.

The Pros & Cons of Relationship Breaks

Is it a good idea to plan a break in a relationship? That depends. Before making a decision, consider asking a relationship counselor or family therapist to guide you through the process and review these pros & cons.

The Benefits of Taking a Break

If healthy relationships are your goal, sometimes you have to step back. Whether you decide to take this approach on your own or under the advice of a licensed marriage counselor, here are just a few of the benefits you may experience.

Time to work on yourself

When you love somebody, everything begins to revolve around that relationship. By taking breaks, you can put some of that perspective back on you. Without the distraction of a relationship, you can engage in deeper levels of self-care, take responsibilities you’ve been ignoring, and work at moving your career forward.

If you are a student, you may treat taking a relationship break as an excuse to double down on your educational pursuits. For example, you may intensify your work on your master’s degree or go for that job as assistant editor of the school paper. By focusing on your own needs, you can return to your relationship with a sense of personal satisfaction and gratitude.

Take the relationship break time to see other people

Time to focus on other relationships

When was the last time you had a weekend with your friends or spent the weekend at your parents house? Some people believe that their romantic relationship should have a primary focus, but you may begin to feel resentful if you aren’t able to nurture friendships or spend time with family. If you are able to take a break, you will have time to strengthen these important connections and give your partner the space to do the same.

Clarity about your relationship

If you have doubts about your relationship, you can take a break to figure things out. With limited communication, you will certainly have time to think about things. That can give you time to gain some new perspective. For example, you may decide that you want an open relationship. Just be aware that what you want or need in a relationship may be a deal breaker for your partner.

Likewise, you may return with renewed commitment. This could bring you and your partner closer, and encourage both of you to re-evaluate where your future is. Are you ready for marriage or moving in together? Taking a relationship break is a great way to find this out.

Relationship break can be the time for reflection

The opportunity to reflect on your partnership

As you’re taking a break, consider how you feel without regular contact with the person you love. When relationships are toxic, it often takes time apart to really understand how bad things are. That is the fresh perspective you may need to make some difficult but important decisions.

During your break, ask yourself some honest questions, and consult a relationship expert if you can. Do you feel better about yourself when your partner is a daily presence or when they are absent? Sometimes, you may feel more lonely with the wrong partner than by yourself.

Related reading: Gaslighting Phrases Everyone Should Know About

Also, how your partner behaves during these breaks is very important. Do they respect your clear boundaries about taking time apart? Do they instead disrespect your space and autonomy and insist on making demands on you despite the fact you are taking a break? These answers are important for you.

The Drawbacks to Taking a Break

It isn’t always easy to take a relationship break. Things may not go the way you want. Before you dive in, talk to a couples therapist, and consider these drawbacks.

Your stress levels may increase

Not everybody has a positive experience when they take a relationship break – especially when they spend this time feeling anxious. They worry about their partner, and what will happen when the break ends. If you already suffer from depression or anxiety, consider setting up a few sessions with your family therapist. They may be able to help you navigate this in a healthy way.

You could be delaying the inevitable

Is your relationship already over? If one partner has already decided they are done with things, this break may not fix things. Instead, once the end date arrives, they may make the decision that it’s time to call things off entirely.

Related reading: Future Faking – A Lousy Dating Strategy

Be honest with yourself. Are they suggesting you take a break to avoid dealing with things ending permanently? Perhaps you are the partner who wants out of the relationship but doesn’t want to play the role of villain. Don’t give each other false hope when you should just breakup.

It isn’t a substitute for couples therapy

It can be good to take a break, but this isn’t a fix for everything. Sometimes you need to work with a licensed marriage counselor or another expert to fix things within your relationship. This process isn’t a good idea if you are using your break to avoid dealing with the things that are wrong in your relationship. Sometimes you must deal with relationship challenges no matter how ugly they are.

How to prepare yourself for a relationship break

How to Know If You’ll Benefit from a Relationship Break: Setting Ground Rules

Not every relationship is helped by taking a break, but some are. Here are some tips for determining if you and your partner should take a break:

  • You bicker about small things often
  • Both of you agree you feel ambivalent
  • There are things that you can both work on outside of your relationship

Taking breaks from your primary relationship can give you time to reflect, and help many couples find the answers they need.

A break in a relationship does not mean that you are breaking up for good, but rather you are spending some time apart in order to see if the relationship is worth keeping up with or not. This means that it is ok to set up boundaries and rules during the relationship break that you and your partner have decided to take. Here are a few rules that can allow you to effectively set ground rules and reasonable boundaries during your break.

Choose how much contact you want with each other

“The length of the break needs to be articulated and understood by both parties. More important is that the length of time needs to be proportional to the goal or match purpose for the break.”

 E.J. Smith, a licensed counselor

Taking a break does not necessarily mean that you and your partner have to stop communicating with each other. However, it does mean that your contact is going to be limited.

Discuss with your partner exactly how much contact you are willing to have with each other, as well as all of the factors that will relate to it. For example, things like work schedules, children, and pets will likely affect the amount of contact that you have with each other.

Discuss dating others during your break

Being on a break does not mean that you have broken up. However, it does mean that you and your partner are no longer exclusive to each other. While it would be unreasonable to expect your partner not to date others, you both can choose reasonable boundaries while you go through a break in your relationship.

For example, a reasonable boundary would be requesting that your partner is tested constantly for STDs. Or that they do not post those dates or relationships onto any social network until you both have decided not to date anymore. It’s up to you to decide what works best for you both.

Clear deadline is essential for a relationship break

Establish a time limit

A break should not last very long. A few weeks to a couple of months should be efficient enough to have time, stop fighting, and not feel lonely. Of course, each life is different, and some people take a break from their partners and allow themselves to have space for much longer than others.

Talk with your partner in a calm manner and establish a reasonable time limit for your break. Depending on where your life is headed or how much you want your partner back in your space, you can choose if you want to break up for good or not.

Respect each other

Being in an on-again-off-again relationship can be incredibly exhausting. Just remember: your feelings and expectations as well as your partners are valid.

While taking time for yourself to move forward is necessary, a breakup is still emotionally taxing. Taking a break is not a point in time when you need your ugly feelings to make you or your partner feel worse. Stay calm and respectful, and remember that a break in your relationship is not a breakup. Even if it feels like it.

Relationship Break: Reuniting or Splitting For Good?

Taking a break is a decision that one or both partners will choose when they get to a point where they aren’t sure where the relationship is moving forward. However, they also aren’t sure if they need to break up. So what should you do when you get to the point where you choose if you are going to stay a couple or if you are going to go your separate ways?

If you choose the option to stay together, sit down together and discuss exactly what went wrong in your relationship. What can both you and your partner do to make it better in the future? You may have trouble making your thoughts and ideas make sense. So, it will be a good idea to write down your thoughts before discussing them.

If you select the option to end your relationship then the short answer to what you should do is you should essentially go about it the same way you should go about staying together. Discussing your problems and where your relationship failed will allow you both to reflect on your imperfections. Relationship and family studies show that effective communication will ultimately improve your relationships both current and future as they allow you to learn how to effectively listen to the concerns of others.

Relationships Author
Geoffrey Williams
After taking a required Intro to Psychology course as an undergrad, I have never looked back. Since my doctoral program, I have specialized in adult relationship therapy. Through my studies and clinicals, I wrote several articles for professional journals and currently in the midst of writing a book.
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