Should You Take A Break From Your Relationship? Here’s How To Tell
There are few phrases scarier in a relationship than “We need to talk,” and “Let’s take a break” is one of them. But if it was good enough for Ross and Rachel, then it should be good enough for you, right?
Seriously, if it feels like you and your partner are hanging on by a thread, consider ditching the entire relationship…at least for a little while.
According to Dr Ann Rosen Spector, a clinical psychologist in Philadelphia, one of the best ways to repair a relationship is to put some distance between you and your partner by taking a break. “Separation can be very healing,” she says. “When a situation is complicated, having distance to get clarity is important.” And a break is the way to get it.
Therapist Hatty J. Lee, completely agrees. Deciding to go on a relationship break can give you and your S.O. the temporary time away from each other that you need, especially when you’ve been feeling stuck.
What is a relationship break?
Taking a break is a temporary chance for people in a relationship to explore what not being together feels like, spend time on personal growth, and look at their relationship from a distance. “So many couples think a healthy relationship means being together all the time, but that’s not true,” says Spector. Attaching yourself to another person — while it might work for some — can be the perfect setup for a toxic relationship down the road, especially if there are disagreements you can’t seem to let go of.
Breaks are for partners who care about each other but can’t see eye-to-eye. They require you and your partner take a significant amount of time to weigh how you feel being separated versus how you feel together. Then — and only then — you can determine which is better.
And although separation is much easier said than done, it’s essential to what Spector calls a “relationship renovation,” or a chance to break unhealthy patterns. Breaks allow couples to see the partnership from a new perspective, acknowledge personal doubts and wrongdoings, determine changes that need to be made (like perhaps one person is putting in more effort than the other), and then decide if the relationship is even worth continuing. In Spector’s experience, couples usually realize it is.
But remember: Relationship breaks are not one-size-fits-all (because that would just be too easy). The way you carve out time away from your partner totally depends on the kind of the relationship you’re in. Does one person depend on the other financially? Are there children in the picture? Is this a long-distance relationship? The nitty-gritty makes all the difference and must be **seriously** considered beforehand or else the break might just turn into a breakup.
Gotcha. How do I know if a break is right for my relationship?
“Breaks must be done with clear rules and for the right reasons,” says Spector. A break is not the answer if you are just too afraid to end the relationship, definitely know you want to see other people, or are seeking to punish your partner for whatever reason. In those cases, you should be upfront with your partner about how you’re feeling — it’s likely that you need a more permanent fix to your problem.
But if you’re in it for the long haul and you’re just having a hard time communicating, a break could be just what you two need. But you each must be willing to use the time apart to be honest with yourselves and really reflect on what you can do to make forever a possibility. This is going to require some planning.
I’m listening. How do I plan a relationship break?
First, don’t give yourselves too much time apart. The time frame is often where Lee sees couples go wrong. She doesn’t recommend anything longer than four to six weeks.
“From a clinical perspective, I imagine you’re in crisis of the relationship,” Lee says. “So clinically what we know is that you experience crisis for up to four to six weeks at the most, where you’ll either adapt to the crisis and figure something out, maybe cope with it in an unhealthy way, or you’ll develop the skills to move forward.” The key is to be responsive, rather than reactive, Lee says.
But know that no break will look like just like another. Both Lee and Spector have seen wildly different yet successful kinds of breaks. Maybe your guidelines include not seeing each other on the weekends because living separately is too expensive and that’s enough to give your relationship the breather it needs. Or maybe your break calls for month-long total radio silence and you actually take the opportunity to talk to other people. It’s up to you to determine what will work for you. But Spector does warn: “The more [conditions] you add, the more complicated breaks can become.”
Make sure to consider these other conditions when coming up with your break guidelines:
- Should you involve a relationship therapist?
- Will you contact or see each other during the break, if ever? Lee recommends little to no contact to avoid the opportunity for more failed expectations.
- Will you discuss what you did while you were apart?
- Will you date and sleep with other people?
- Should you and how will you explain your break to your families, friends, and children?
WTH am I supposed to do on a relationship break?
So you’ve figured out what not to do on your break. Now here’s what you can do.
Lee tells her couples to try “engaging in activities that nurture you and reconnect you with the parts of yourself that you feel disconnected from.” The key to a good break is to find what you’ve been missing.
Maybe you sign up for that 7 a.m. yoga class you used to make time for. Or try journaling to help you evaluate the things you love and the things you want to change about the relationship. Make sure your expectations are valid and realistic, Lee says.
Sometimes couples discover that the needs they’ve been expecting from their partner are actually needs that haven’t been met from relationships in the past (think: in your childhood, from caregivers, etc.) Those needs aren’t always appropriate for you to expect from your S.O., Lee says.
K, break’s over. Now what?
Tbh, sometimes couples come back from breaks and one person hasn’t taken responsibility for their actions, or someone realizes they want to call it quits, Spector says. But typically, if you both commit to honest self-reflection during the break and compare how you felt during the separation to being together, your relationship ends up stronger. Thanks to what Spector calls “a step back from the relationship,” partners will have had time to consider what they need from the relationship and what they need to do to make sure their partner is feeling fulfilled, too.
Of course, just because you’ve spent time apart doesn’t mean your issues will have disappeared. But the separation will give you and your partner the chance to approach your relationship with fresh eyes, and if you’re both on board for putting in the effort to fix what was broken, move forward. Hopefully way sooner than Ross and Rachel finally did.
This article was originally published on www.womenshealthmag.com