Do Relationship Breaks Work? How to Take a Break and Do it Right (Including When, How, and How Long) July 20, 2022 16:57 Updated Relationship Breaks - Do They Really Work? When to Take a Break in a Relationship How to Ask for a Break in a Relationship Relationship Break Rules - How to Do it Right The Benefits of Taking a Break in a Relationship Relationship Break FAQs Do breaks help relationships that are struggling? Unfortunately, there is no short, simple answer to this important question. Done right, though, and for the right reasons, taking a break in a relationship can be healthy for both partners. But done the wrong way, there can be little to differentiate a break vs a breakup. Read on as we look at the reasons to take a break in a relationship, and how to step back without breaking up. Relationship Breaks - Do They Really Work? There are few things worse than truly caring for someone, but knowing that something in your relationship is not right. You want to be with that person, but staying might also feel impossible. A break might feel like the only way that you can get the distance you need to make necessary decisions and changes without giving up on someone important to you. It is a little disheartening that the most recognizable image of a relationship break in pop culture is Ross Gellar screaming, “We were on a break!” in Friends. This is an example of exactly the wrong way to take a break and destroy your relationship, and possibly any potential for a continuing friendship. It is examples like this that make many people believe that taking a break can just end up in breaking up. OkCupid users agree: 59% say they don’t think a break can save a relationship. But therapists and relationship experts agree that, under the right circumstances, and done the right way, a break can be a healthy way to deal with issues and strengthen a relationship. If it is not meant to be, it can also be a way to end the relationship in a positive way that lets you retain your friendship. However, it’s important to remember that a break is not a holiday. You can’t just take some time away and then pick up right where you left off and expect everything to be better. You need to do the work. When to Take a Break in a Relationship Taking space in a relationship is not a cure-all for any relationship problem, but in the right circumstances, it can be a useful strategy for working through challenges. So, when should you take a break, and what are the signs to take a break that you should look out for? Below is a list of good reasons to take a break, though they are not the only reasons. Your relationship has become long-distance If the circumstances for you and your partner have changed, and you find yourself in a long-distance relationship that you are struggling to manage, taking a break can help. Sometimes, if you are both too focused on making your long-distance relationship work, you can struggle to build happy and fulfilling lives in your separate locations. This can undermine your individual happiness as well as your happiness as a couple. If your future plans for living in the same area are unclear, then taking a break can help you both to decide whether finding a way to be together in the same place is a priority. You are neglecting the relationship due to other commitments It often seems that when one thing hits, everything hits. For example, it is exactly when things heat up at work that you may find an elderly family member needs extra support and issues with your partner require your attention. But when you spread yourself too thin, often people feel they end up not doing anything well. So trying to work through relationship issues when you are overly occupied elsewhere can mean that you make things worse, as you constantly let the other person down and feel emotionally unstable. Rather than risk inadvertently damaging your relationship, it can be a good idea to take the time to do what you need to do, and come back to your partner when you can give your relationship the attention it deserves. You want fundamentally different things It is not uncommon to fall in love with someone and start to build a life together only to later discover that you want fundamentally different things. Maybe one of you wants kids and the other doesn’t. One of you wants to focus on travel and experiences, while the other wants to save and invest. To work out these issues, one or both of you may need to make some significant compromises. When you are in a relationship, it can be hard to think about these issues clearly on your own and determine what you want, why you want it, where you are willing to compromise, and where your immovable boundaries are. Time apart can help the two of you decide whether you can make the necessary compromises in order to build a life together. You need to devote time to your mental health and self-care It is not uncommon to love someone and to want to be with them but to not love yourself while you are in that relationship. This could be because your partner is toxic and has a way of gaslighting and manipulating you to get what they want. Or it may be that you are one of those people who subconsciously chooses to suppress your own needs and desires in order to please your partner, even though they aren’t asking you to do that. Either way, if you don’t do something to remedy the situation, you can find yourself trapped and unhappy, even when you are with someone who you love dearly. Taking some time out for yourself can give you the space you need to look after and reconnect with yourself. You might decide that, despite there being a lot of love in the relationship, it is unhealthy for you. Or you may be able to identify changes that you and your partner can make which will be easier to implement with a fresh start. When Not to Take a Break (and Just Break Up) While there are good reasons to take a break, there are also situations when it is almost certainly the wrong move! Principal among them is if you or your partner is interested in someone else and want to take a break to explore that connection. In this situation, a break is little better than a guilt-free label for non-monogamy if you’re in a monogamous relationship. Of course anything is possible, but oftentimes—even if you do maintain your relationship post “break”—at least one of you will feel that the trust is broken. You should never use a break as a threat to get what you want in a relationship or to manipulate your partner. This is basically a way of saying “Do what I want or leave,” while still maintaining control over the other person because you haven’t broken up. You should never take a break as an easy way of working toward a breakup. You might think it will soften the blow when you complete the breakup later. But, in reality, you have just given your partner false hope that will cause them more hurt in the long run. Also, if you are considering taking a break during the holiday period, you may want to take a deep breath and wait. The holiday season is one of the most prolific for breakups due to the emotional stress of the season. It is worth waiting for this stressful period to pass before initiating a break so as not to end up with a holiday breakup! How to Ask for a Break in a Relationship Once you have decided that a break is a good idea, how do you tell someone that you need a break? The most important thing is never to agree to take a break while in the heat of an argument. Emotions are running high and you won’t be able to calmly and clearly talk about what you actually mean by taking a break. Also, if either of you is upset by the conflict, you are more likely to go out and do something that can destroy your relationship, with the vengeful excuse that you are on a break, as happened on Friends. Also, you should always speak to your partner personally about the hiatus. Even if you are in a long-distance relationship, don’t be tempted to have the conversation via text message or email. Rather than give them space to think, this gives them space to overthink, to read between the lines, and misinterpret what you want and what you have said. When you are ready to have the conversation with your partner, try to remain calm and don’t let your emotions run away with you. It can help to plan what you want to say, and think about responses to likely questions as you would for a job interview. While things rarely go exactly according to plan, this can help you stay in the right mindset. Explain that the relationship is important to you, which is why you want to take a break rather than break up. And then be specific about what exactly is troubling you and why you think some time apart will help. When both you and your partner are ready to agree to a break, take the time to discuss exactly what that will look like. Some of the most important things to discuss are whether you will be able to see other people, if and how you will stay in contact, and how you will manage any shared responsibilities. Finally, prepare yourself for things not going according to plan. If your partner is having doubts, suggesting a break could be the unintended nudge they need to make the break permanent. Relationship Break Rules - How to Do it Right Once you have made the decision to take some time out, how do you take a break in a relationship without it inevitably ending in a breakup? While there are no strict rules for taking a break in a relationship, as it depends on your individual circumstances, you can learn from the experience of people who have been through it. Establish Clear Rules - How Do Breaks Work in Relationships? Take the time with your partner to establish what exactly being on a break means for you. Does it mean that you are both single, or that you are together but you are just taking some time apart? If you are living together, will one of you move out for a while, or will you try to focus on your separate lives while sharing the same space? If you have shared responsibilities such as bills or pets, how will these be managed on your break? You should treat the process of setting the ground rules for your breakup a bit like establishing a business relationship and rules for all likely situations. Those rules might change over time, but if you both know your responsibilities and what to expect, things are likely to go much more smoothly. Be Careful About Seeing Other People - Is it Cheating if You Are on a Break? If you agree not to see other people, bear in mind that if you choose to sleep with someone else, or even go out with someone else, the other person may consider this cheating and you will need to deal with the consequences. If you do decide that you can both date other people, you should be very careful about who you choose to see. Pursuing shared friends, or going out with that colleague at work that your partner has always been paranoid about, are likely to break the trust that you have in one another and make it impossible to return to the relationship. Know where these uncrossable lines are. Decide How to Communicate - Communicating During a Relationship Break Whether it is a good idea to have contact or not can depend greatly on your reason for taking a break. If you need a time out because your relationship is damaging your mental health, then regular contact can make it very difficult to escape vicious cycles. If the problem is geographic distance, then regular but not excessive contact can be healthy. Set rules for when it is OK to get in touch with one another. If you are limiting contact, you might want to define specific emergencies. If you are talking regularly, you might want to set some topics that are off-limits. For example, if you are seeing other people, this is probably a discussion best avoided. Set Time Parameters - How Long Should a Relationship Break Be? An open-ended break is little better than a breakup. But at the same time, you don’t want to set strict deadlines. For example, if you give yourself three months, then you put a lot of pressure on yourself to sort out problems and make potentially life-changing decisions when you might not be ready yet. You should establish an idea of how long you expect the break to last, such as until you have finished a project at work, sorted out a problem, or finished the probationary period on a job. If you are working on personal issues, this can be harder. You can set a real-time deadline, but make this a time to check in, and not necessarily change the status of your relationship. Make the Time Count - How to Work through a Break in a Relationship Deciding to take a break in a relationship is a big deal. You are essentially asking someone to put their lives on hold and wait for you. And you don’t want to tread water for a period of time and then find yourself in exactly the same position. If you decide to take a break, make sure you make the time and space in your relationship to work through what needs attention. If you are dealing with a specific issue in your relationship, spend time with the issue, speaking to family and friends, and even to a professional if you think that would help. Also, even if your reason for spending time apart isn’t self-care, prioritize working on yourself during this time. The happier you are within yourself, the more you’ll know yourself and what you want. This will help you make better decisions about your relationship. The Benefits of Taking a Break in a Relationship You will hear many different opinions on whether breaks are good for a relationship, and you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons when deciding whether to take a step back in a relationship or not, or whether to just part ways. Consider the following pros and cons of a relationship break. Pros You can find time to work on yourself and reconnect with the people and things in your life that may have taken a back seat to your relationship. You can reassess your personal priorities and determine whether they are adequately acknowledged and reflected in your relationship. You can have the opportunity to decide whether you truly love your partner or if they are just a familiar presence in your life. If you have resentment toward your partner, you can determine whether they are really the source of your unhappiness or if you are projecting other problems onto your partner. If the two of you have fallen into bad habits and cycles, removing yourself can make them easier to break and reset. Cons If you or your partner are drifting apart, adding more space can create a void that may be impossible to close. If you decide to see other people, you may always question who your partner was with during your break if you get back together. You may find that your partner chooses to break up with you, even though you really want to work on the relationship. Relationship Break FAQs Should you talk during a break? Whether you should talk to your partner or not during a break depends on your individual situation. If you are taking time out of a relationship that has become toxic, regular contact can make it challenging to identify and remove the toxins. You should limit contact and define the emergencies that justify getting in touch. However, if you are working through problems like geographic distance or mismatched priorities, regular contact can be healthy. But there are things you should agree not to talk about, such as dating others. And remember your social media! Your partner might be keeping tabs on you this way. Be careful what you post. Even better, most platforms let you “take a break” from a contact if you need to. You can stop seeing each other’s posts for a period of time. If you are concerned about your relationship, social media can be a great place to get some insight into what is really happening. There are a number of social media red flags in relationships to watch out for. Is a break a breakup? The terms of your break determine whether you are on a break or if you’re broken up but open to getting back together. Important factors are whether you choose to see other people or actively work on your issues, perhaps through couple’s counseling. The lines between break and breakup aren’t always clear and depend mostly on your attitude and intentions. How do you take a break in a relationship when you live together? Taking a break when you are living together can be very challenging. Ideally, one of you will have somewhere else to go during the break, and you will come up with a strategy together for dealing with shared responsibilities. It is very challenging to get the distance that you need if you stay in close proximity. You can create artificial space by dramatically changing your routine and designating areas of the home for individual use, making it off-limits to the other person. How long should a break in a relationship last? There is no specific timeline for a break. You might just want a week to clear your head, or you might decide to put things on hold for a year while one of you travels. It depends on the individual situation. You need to give yourself enough time to genuinely work through issues, but not leave it so long that you are just delaying the inevitable. The length of time that you are willing to commit to working through problems may be proportional to the amount of time you have spent together. If you have only been together for a few months, you probably only need a week or two to seriously consider your issues. If you have been together for ten years and you have kids, you might want to spend several months working to see if you can save the relationship. How do you work through a break in a relationship? When working through a break, you can be tempted to focus on the relationship, but in reality, you should be focusing on yourself. This is a time to get back to your authentic self and realign with your priorities. This is the headspace that you need to be in to make positive decisions about your relationship and move past any issues that may have been weighing you down. If you're looking for someone new, download OkCupid today! Related articles When to Define the Relationship and How to Have the “What Are We” Talk? Our Complete Guide for Becoming Exclusive SMS verification 5 Friend Zone Signs - Can You Really Get Out of the Friend Zone? How to delete or disable your account Whatever happened to all the tests and quizzes?