For some, taking a temporary step back from their partner means ripping off the band-aid slowly on a clearly failing relationship. For others, it’s actually helpful and will make a couple stronger. But what does it really mean to take a relationship break and what rules do you need to follow if you decide to try it?
What is a break in a relationship?
- It means pressing pause on your relationship. You don’t want to end things entirely because you still love your partner and think things could work. However, lately, things have been way too intense and you feel like if you don’t take a breather soon, you’re going to spontaneously combust. A relationship break is a temporary pause, not a permanent stop.
- It’s time that should be used wisely. A relationship break shouldn’t be used simply to cool off when you’re angry with your partner. Instead, it’s time for you to really think about what the major issues are between you and if you really do want to continue things with them. You might find that with time away, you’re happier, more productive, and have some clarity on the fact that it’s time to move on. On the other hand, you could realize that you really do love your partner and want to go the extra mile to getting things back on track.
- It’s a way of offering your partner grace. Maybe you’re not the one who wanted to take a relationship break and you hate that you have to play by someone else’s rules. However, relationships, particularly successful ones, are all about compromise. If your partner tells you they need some time to work out what’s going on in their head, give it to them. Do so without getting angry, accusing them of anything, or guilt-tripping them out of taking the time and space they need. Offer them this because you trust them and care about them. They will be thankful for it (and so will you in the long run).
- Taking a relationship break requires ground rules. Even if you’re both on the same page about taking a short hiatus from your relationship, there need to be some ground rules set if you ever hope to get back together. After all, you don’t want to come back to things in a few weeks or months to find out your partner has been cheating, nor do you want to resume your relationship without having had the processing time and space you really needed.
- It shouldn’t be used in place of a breakup. If you’re 99% sure that you no longer want to be with your partner and that the issues between you can’t be resolved with a bit of time apart, don’t decide to take a break in order to avoid the awkwardness and upset of just ending things altogether. It’s unfair to you and it’s definitely unfair to your partner. Have the courage and the decency to break up properly so you can both use your time to get over one another and move on.
Signs you need to press pause on your relationship
- You’re constantly arguing or at odds. This is one of the most common reasons couples who do truly care for each other decide to take a relationship break. Things were going well for a long time, but lately, they’ve been rocky and you just can’t seem to see eye to eye. Taking a step back is a good way to assess whether the issues you’re having can be fixed. It also gives you a chance to cool off.
- You feel stuck or stagnant in your relationship. You don’t necessarily want to break up, but you also don’t feel like things are going anywhere right now. You’re in a rut and you don’t know what to do about it. Time apart to think clearly and consider your options may be the best thing you can do.
- You don’t trust your partner. This may not just be one of the signs you need to take a break in your relationship but a sign that you maybe headed towards a breakup. If your partner betrayed you in some way, it makes sense that the trust is gone. Whether or not it can be rebuilt depends on what you want and how much your partner is willing to work on making it happen. In the meantime, stepping back to reevaluate might be a good thing.
- You’re feeling emotionally drained. There are many reasons this might happen in a relationship. Maybe you have a lot going on in your life outside of your relationship that’s taxing. It could be that things feel really heavy in your relationship because your partner is very high-maintenance and you’ve been neglecting your own needs.
- You’re beginning to wonder if you have different goals or values. If you disagree about the big stuff (or are simply no longer on the same page about it), a relationship break is one of the first steps in determining how big of a deal this really is.
How to ask for a relationship break and set rules
- Be honest and upfront. Honesty is one of the most basic rules of a relationship, and that’s especially the case if you’re asking for a break. Don’t beat around the bush or try and water it down. Be straight up about what you’re thinking. There’s no sense in lying now!
- Choose your timing wisely. Mid-fight isn’t necessarily the best time to ask for a relationship break. You want to ask from a neutral place rather than when emotions are overly heightened. Also, try not to choose a day when you know they have a lot going on or are stressed out, upset, etc. Timing can affect how well or poorly this request goes.
- Express your needs. When you ask for a relationship break, tell your partner why you feel it’s needed and what you hope it will accomplish. Let them know why this feels like the only way forward. They may not agree, but if they care about you, they should listen to and respond to what you’re saying.
- Give your partner a chance to respond and really listen to what they say. This isn’t all about you. They are part of this relationship too and should get a say on how things go. Listen to what your partner has to say and really think about it. It could provide clarity and even comfort on your situation.
- Set clear boundaries. Going on a relationship break will fail without rules being in place. Deciding on what you want this break to mean and how you want it to go should be decided in advance. This way, no one ends up with any nasty surprises.
- Be empathetic and respectful. Even if you’re absolutely fuming or can’t stand the sight of your partner right now, be respectful. Don’t insult them or belittle them in any way. Instead, respect them as you always have and try to understand where they’re coming from too.
How to communicate during a relationship break
Once you decide to take a relationship break, figuring out how you’ll communicate while it’s happening is key.
- Decide how often you’ll talk (if at all). Will the first couple of weeks of your break mean no communication whatsoever? Or, do you want a quick check-in on a daily basis just to keep a base level of connection? Discuss this before your break so you know what to expect.
- Respect each other’s wishes and needs. Maybe your partner doesn’t want to talk for the first two weeks but you hoped you might stay in touch. It’s important that you respect your partner’s boundaries and needs. However, they should also be willing to meet you halfway. For instance, maybe they agree that you can talk after a week quickly rather than going two weeks. Compromise is key here.
- Avoid blaming or criticizing your partner. If you had to ask for a relationship break, there are clearly issues there. However, even if you think your partner is at fault for whatever’s going wrong, don’t blame or criticize them. Instead, try to talk constructively to get to the bottom of issues. Who would want to come back to someone who seems to hate their guts?
- Consider suggesting counseling. It could very well be that a break won’t be enough to cure what’s wrong with your relationship. After all, won’t the same problems just come back once your break is over? In this case, consider attending couples counseling during or after your break. It can give you both a lot of insight as well as some valuable skills to keep your relationship on the right track.
- Have check-ins semi-regularly to see where you are. Look, going a month or more without a word to each other as you begin living separate lives isn’t a relationship break. That’s more like a breakup. If you care about the longevity of your relationship, it’s important to stay in touch even once a week to check in and see how things are going.
Relationship break rules to follow if you want to get back together
As you begin your relationship break, having these rules in place will give you the best chance of coming back stronger and happier than ever as a couple when it’s over.
- Be honest in your evaluation of the relationship. Do they really make you happy? Have you become better since being in the relationship? What do you like and dislike? A break isn’t party time now that you don’t have someone by your side. Sit down and seriously think about what you want from this relationship, what you can change to get it, and if the relationship is even worth saving.
- Set a deadline. I’ve seen breaks that drag on for months because no one wants to be the first to say “are we good yet?” I get it, it’s an awkward period. The moment you decide to take a break, discuss a solid deadline. Take at least a few weeks. After that, set whatever deadline is best for the two of you. Leaving things open-ended is basically a surefire way to never get back together at all.
- Choose how and when to communicate. Most of us have no clue what a break means in terms of communication. Is it against the rules to still text your partner even while taking a relationship break? How many calls are too many? I know you might not be in the mood to talk at that very moment, but set some communication guidelines. State whether any communication is allowed, what type, and how often.
- Avoid dating at all costs. A break isn’t a free pass. You’re still together. Do you realize how many breaks turn into breakups because of this? On the other hand, if you feel the need to date other people, it’s time to break up anyway. There’s no wiggle room with this rule. Don’t date while on a break — that’s called cheating.
- Don’t give in to urges. Okay, so your bed buddy isn’t around, but you’re still horny. I get it, we’ve all been there. That’s what masturbation is for. Take care of your own urges. Look at number 4 again. Remember, no dating and no sex with others. This will only destroy your relationship and your partner entirely.
- Both parties need to agree. This should be obvious, but saying you want to take a break and expecting the other person to be okay with it isn’t right. Both of you need to agree to the break. If you can’t, you either need to sit down and talk things out now or end it. In most cases, it shouldn’t be that hard to agree on a break if it’s really needed.
- Spend some time apart. You do know what a break means right? At least the basic concept. A break means you spend time apart. Taking a break only to be in each other’s faces 24/7 isn’t going to help anything. There might be situations you can’t avoid, such as work or mutual friends, but otherwise, stay away from each other as much as possible.
- Consider your future. It’s easy to get caught up in the “us” when you’re in a relationship. It’s also easy to lose sight of your own future. Don’t think in terms of “us” right now. Think about your own future. If your partner doesn’t naturally fit in anywhere, there might be a problem. Remember, you need to be happy too. It’s not considered a failure to realize that they don’t feature in your ideal future anymore. It happens.
- Take time to calm down. Breaks usually don’t happen when everything’s nice and calm between the two of you. Take the break as a chance to calm down. Let go of your anger and think about things more clearly. Is it possible you jumped to conclusions? Did you read too much into their words? Could a little work on both sides fix things?
- Figure out if you’re happier or not. I think this is the biggest rule during a break. Are you happier or not? If you suddenly feel free and happy and that feeling doesn’t change, it’s time to end the relationship. If you find yourself feeling miserable without them, then there’s still something worth fighting for.
- Leave others out of it. The two of you might not be talking, but anything you tell your friends and family could still reach their ears. I know you want to complain about what a jerk he is right now. Go back to number 9 and just breathe. If you want to talk to someone, only talk to someone you truly trust that isn’t a mutual friend. It’s okay to get another opinion on what to do. Just remember to do what feels right to you in the end.
- Get your own life together. Breaks aren’t always about the relationship itself. It might seem that way, but sometimes it actually about one or both of you need to get your own life together. We’re all full of insecurities and issues. Whatever’s going on in your life, work on fixing yourself during the break. At least try to acknowledge you’re not perfect and might need to improve yourself before the relationship is able to get any better.
- Make a final decision. The entire purpose of a break is to figure out what to do next. Do you want to stay or go? In the end, it all boils down to one decision. Figure out what you want and talk to your partner about it when the deadline comes. If you still feel undecided and like you don’t know what you want to do, that’s a pretty good indication that it’s time to say goodbye.
How to cope with a relationship break
- Practice self-care. The whole point of taking a step back from your relationship is to get your head together. You can’t do this if you’re feeling all over the place. Do the things that make you feel good. Hit the gym, do some yoga, make healthy meals, get enough sleep, etc. Make sure you’re feeling good in yourself because that’s the priority.
- Focus on growth and evolution. While you’re hoping to eventually find a way through tumultuous times in your relationship, a break exists for you. So, use that time to focus on your own growth. Maybe you schedule a couple of extra sessions with your therapist. Or, perhaps you do some journaling to process your thoughts. Whatever you do, use your time wisely.
- Rely on your support group. Your friends and family members are there to help you. Whether they can provide a listening ear or give you some objective feedback, they’re there to lift you up and keep you going through tough times. They’ll also remind you of who you are and be there to distract you when you need an escape and a smile.
- Take time to reflect on the relationship. That’s what a relationship break is all about, after all. How do you feel being away from them? Is it harder than you thought or easier? Do you feel happier away from them than you do when you’re together? Assessing the differences will help you decide the best way forward.
- Avoid stalking your partner on social media. This should be at the top of the list of rules for a relationship break. It’s natural to wonder what they’re up to, but stalking their every move on Instagram or TikTok is not the move. You’re not going to get anything out of this time if you’re spending it all trying to figure out what they’re up to.
- Try and be patient. It’s hard, and relationship issues don’t get solved overnight. Trust the process, do the work, and see where it leads you.
How to know if a break in your relationship is temporary or permanent
- What’s your communication like? Do you still keep in touch regularly or has it been super easy to put your phone down and say nothing? If you find yourselves drawn to one another and reaching out regularly despite being on a break, that’s a good sign you’re both still invested.
- How long has the break gone on? If you’re only a couple of weeks in and feel like you’re on the road to making progress, that’s cool. However, if your “break” has been going on for a month or more and shows no signs of ending, it could be permanent rather than temporary.
- How are you both behaving throughout the break? Are you back to living like two single people rather than part of a couple with a partner to consider? Have you had a wandering eye or have they? Does it seem as if they were never part of your life at all? Those aren’t good signs, obviously.
- What do you both want from the relationship? Did you both go into this relationship break legitimately planning to work on your own shit and then come back together stronger? If so, and that drive is still strong, you just might make it. However, if your will to keep things going is pretty much nonexistent these days, it may be time to call it a day.
- Do you have plans to come back together? Did you always say that you wanted to get back together? Do you still? If not, it’s okay to admit it’s over, no matter how hard it is.