Relationships are wonderful, sure, but they’re tricky too. It’s something that requires a ridiculously huge, possibly life-long commitment to someone else, not just physically, but also mentally, emotionally, and even on a spiritual level. With an investment this high, some people even liken being in a relationship to being cooped up in a cage.
It’s no wonder, then, that in today’s age of self-realization and individual empowerment, it’s becoming more common for couples to want to take a ‘break’ at some point. In a sense, it’s the perfect solution. In the bubble of a ‘break’, you get the freedom of singleness and the space to figure yourself out, but at the same time, you retain the security of a relationship… or so you think.
It might sound perfect, but if not done properly, a ‘break’ can be one of the riskiest places to go in a relationship. Think Rachel and Ross from the episode of Friends, where a misunderstanding of what a ‘break’ meant led straight to a breakup.
That might be fiction, but it hits pretty close to reality. If your partner has a different interpretation of what ‘taking a break’ means, it can lead to way more drama, heartache, and toxicity in the end.
In fact, in a study conducted in 2009 on on-off relationships, researchers studied and compared couples who took ‘breaks’ and couples who didn’t. Interestingly, they found that these so-called ‘on-off’ couples who took more ‘breaks’ were much more likely to experience negative effects, including communication issues and a lack of certainty for the future. So much for relationship security.
That being said, it’s not so much that ‘breaks’ are bad in themselves — they can actually be very beneficial to a relationship, or at the very least be beneficial to you as an individual. Undoubtedly, they’re a great way to help you evaluate your goals and preferences and to ultimately figure out if the relationship is something worthwhile in the long run. Stepping out of a relationship you don’t want is a victory, after all.
So ‘breaks’ can be a good thing, and it all depends on how you go about doing it. Well, if you want to know the dos and don’ts of a ‘break’ for the best possible outcome, you’ve come to the right place. We collate some of the best advice from relationship experts on how to successfully navigate a ‘break’ and steer it towards a healthy outcome.
Step 1 – Set (And Agree On) The Rules
Look, if Friends was any indication, the absolute worst way to start a ‘break’ is to just say “We should take a break” and leave it there, expecting things to work out just fine in a couple of weeks.
For a successful ‘break’, you need to communicate with your partner and set up some ground rules. These rules should be as clear as possible and outline some boundaries. The first boundary is between you and your partner. Will you see each other? Will you stay on each other’s social media? What about texting?
The second boundary to clarify is the one between you and other people. Will you be allowed to date other people? Can you have sex with someone else? Can you talk about the break to your friends and families?
Yes, it is a difficult conversation to have, but defining what a ‘break’ means and laying the ground rules is crucial to avoiding the traps of resentment, guilt, and hurt. Take it from Rachel and Ross and their seven seasons of intense drama.
Step 2 – Look Within
Now that you’re ‘single’, it’s time to look at your reflection and ask yourself the important questions about yourself and what you want. Questions that only you can answer for yourself, without a partner’s influence.
In a relationship, your thoughts, goals, and decisions can easily be influenced by your partner’s own thoughts, goals, and decisions. It can be simple things, like watching the bad sitcom that your partner adores, to the big things, like moving to your partner’s state just because.
If any of these decisions have caused you unhappiness, now’s the time to process them and seek clarity on what you want for yourself and what you cannot compromise. It’s also good to think about your future and where you see yourself five years from now. Is that picture with or without your partner? Are you happy there?
If these questions get too overwhelming, don’t hesitate in employing the help of a therapist or counseller. If there’s any right time to start thinking about these things, it’s during the ‘break’.
Step 3 – Look At The Relationship
The breathing space is also a good time to reflect on the relationship itself. Relationship Lisa Brateman, LCSW, said that during a break, you’re “removed from the situation of toxicity”, and can “promote self-awareness”.
Put simply, it means that taking a step back means you have more time and space to look at the relationship critically. Your partner has been a big part of your life for the past few weeks, months, and even years — so how do you feel now, without their presence in your life? What does that say about your place in the relationship? There are no right or wrong answers.
After the ‘break’, things in the relationship have to change. Especially if both of you decide to continue on, there are definitely things to keep learning and improve. As Chicago-based relationship expert Anita Chlipala, LMFT, once pointed out, sometimes relationships break down not because they were not compatible, but because they lacked skills or information to make it work.
So while you’re on a ‘break’, think about what these missing skills or information are, and maybe come up with some practical ways to see it through.
Step 4 – Step Out Of The Limbo
After the time you’ve agreed on with your partner passes, it’s time to come back and take the next step. It’s time to redefine the relationship.
By this point, you and your partner should have reassessed and evaluated the relationship on each of your own terms. Now it’s time to come together and answer the big question: To stay together, or to break up? If you’re not ready, alternative steps forward include extending the ‘break’ or perhaps going for couples therapy.
So there you have it, the steps to make a ‘break’ work. Regardless of which way the outcome goes, a ‘break’ is meant to give you space to ask questions and think about what you want out of the relationship — even if it means ending it. Take the opportunity to find yourself and if you’re up for it, start interacting with new people.
This article from Her Aspiration will be a great read to start. If you decide to continue on after the ‘break’, that’s great too! You’ve got a set of things you know you have to work on with your partner and can look forward to making positive changes in your relationship for a lasting, fruitful journey together.
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