The words, “We were on a break,” echo in popular culture decades after the iconic Ross and Rachel fight in Friends. But what exactly do they mean? How can one partner be taking a break in a relationship without the other partner knowing? And most importantly, how can you come back from something like that?
Real life isn’t a television show. Relationships take hard work and commitment to make them work, but sometimes you need a little bit of time apart to reassess if your relationship is what you want. There can be any number of reasons you may consider taking a break in a relationship.
The critical thing to remember is that taking a break in a relationship doesn’t always mean it’s a precursor to a breakup. Many relationships have hit the play button after a pause to come back together, reinvigorated in passion for each other and a commitment to a stronger future. Let’s explore some of the reasons you or your partner may consider taking a break in a relationship and how to make the most of your break while setting clear expectations for what it means to you.
If you take a break in the right way, you’ll never be surprised by your partner’s actions. You will have outlined boundaries from the start, so there will be no Ross and Rachel-like drama once your break is over. Instead, you’ll be left with a clear path ahead, whether moving forward together or apart.
How to Tell If Someone is Taking a Break in a Relationship?
If you’re taking a break in a relationship, you’re taking a temporary step away from a romantic relationship. The keyword here is temporary. It is a temporary break. You and your partner fully intend to come back together to assess if the time apart helped strengthen your relationship or if you now realize it’s best to part ways for good.
Breaks aren’t always the kiss of death for relationships. They can help you realize that you want to be with your partner. If you suspect your partner is pulling away and considering taking a break in a relationship, it’s best to discuss it with them directly. You can set boundaries for the break. Once apart, take time to understand the reasons that led to this situation and take steps to address any issues that are in your control. You must take responsibilities for your actions that may have led to taking a break in a relationship.
Suppose you’re the one considering taking a break in a relationship. To start, set clear boundaries with your partner. You may want to spend time physically apart, which could be challenging if you live together. You could also limit your communication, see other people, or seek help from a relationship expert or therapist. Taking a break in a relationship can give you the perspective you need to maintain a healthy relationship or the distance to realize you are in an unhealthy relationship.
It’s up to you and your partner to work through any issues during the break lest they bubble up to cause trouble later. Taking a break in a relationship won’t fix any pre-existing problems. Everything will still be there once you get back together, so you must work on them if you have any hope of a future together.
Reasons for Taking a Break in a Relationship
There are many reasons you could be considering taking a break in a relationship. Maybe you and your partner got too serious too fast, and you’re worried the blush of first love blinded you. Perhaps there are trust issues and fundamental problems that you need some perspective to work through. You could be under a lot of stress, and your relationship is the only aspect of your life that you feel like you can control.
Your reasons for taking a break in a relationship are yours, but here are 6 of the most common indicators. If you or your partner are dealing with any of these, it may be a hint that taking a break in a relationship is in your future. The good news is that you can work through most of these with time, patience, and the help of a professional relationship coach.
Infidelity is one of the biggest causes of taking a break in a relationship. You or your partner has cheated on the other person. It doesn’t matter if it is a one-night stand, a long-term affair, or an emotional relationship. Something happened that has broken the trust in your relationship, and time apart is the best way to understand if you can move forward.
If you’re married, taking a break in a relationship would be called a separation. It’s a formal period apart to see if you want to sever your ties with your spouse. You don’t have to go through the same formal steps to petition for separation in a relationship, but that doesn’t mean it’s not as serious.
If infidelity is the reason for taking a break in a relationship, do not act out to even the score with your partner. It will not make you feel better. Take the time apart to heal and consider if you can trust your partner again. It’s okay if the answer is no. No one said you couldn’t break up after a temporary break if that’s what’s right for you.
If you’re facing a huge change in your life, you may consider taking a break in a relationship. This could be a new career move taking more of your time and attention than a previous role, or it could be a cross-country move that you’ve uprooted your entire life to make. Whatever the case, you’re feeling unstable and need time for your surroundings to settle down. Your relationship could be adding unwanted stress to the situation, so you may want to pause until you feel more prepared for a commitment.
Life changes don’t always have to be positive either. Perhaps you lost your job, or someone close to you passed away. If you’re considering taking a break in a relationship, know that your reasons, whatever they may be, are valid. You are allowed to feel your feelings and process them in ways that work for you.
If you have a pattern of pushing people away when times get tough, consider seeking professional help. A therapist can help you work through the emotional trauma that causes these self-destructive behaviors.
Perhaps you’re having doubts about your relationship, but you’re unsure if you want to break up. Doubts are completely normal parts of the human condition. After all, settling down with one partner for the rest of your life is a huge decision. Don’t take it lightly.
If you’re taking a break in a relationship based on doubts, consider the root cause of your doubts. Are they based on fundamental issues neither are willing to compromise on, no matter how many times you’ve discussed them? For example, if you want children but your partner doesn’t, that is a serious consideration that could impact your future. Or are your doubts based on panic? Are you acting out because you’re scared?
Avoid engaging in self-sabotaging behaviors. They will reinforce the doubts as truths when all they are in reality is a cycle of self-harming behaviors. If you don’t think you’re good enough and then engage in behaviors that undermine your self-worth, you perpetuate the cycle.
Rushed Into It
Love can happen fast, so if you feel like you’ve rushed into a relationship, take the time to step back and re-evaluate your relationship. Some people believe in love at first sight. They’re planning the wedding after the first date, mapping out their happily ever after before the check comes. That can be stressful to others who are less sure about their future.
If you feel rushed into a commitment, it’s okay to pause. The rush of emotions can blind you to red flags, so taking a break in a relationship can help you identify if you’re overlooking problems in favor of being head over heels in love.
Perhaps the opposite is true. Maybe you’re commitment-phobic, and you lack the maturity for a serious relationship. Instead, you seek surface-level relationships that never get deeper than basic information. You never let people in, and because of it, you’re more likely to consider taking a break in a relationship as a stopgap between a full-on break up because you’re not ready for a serious relationship.
If this is the case, taking a break in a relationship will not fix what’s broken. It will not stop you from flitting from relationship to relationship when the times get tough. If you suspect you may be afraid of commitment, it may be time to seek therapy.
If you suspect you’re in a toxic relationship, you may want to consider taking a break. The distance can help you see if you’re in a bad relationship or facing physical or emotional abuse. An unhealthy relationship will make you feel less than. You will doubt your self-worth, relying on your partner to be your everything. This codependent relationship places your value squarely on your partner’s shoulder. Alone, you are not worthy of love, attention, or care. You could also bring the worst out in each other, and while it may be hard to quit that partner, you must do so for your well-being.
Lean on your support system when taking a break in a relationship, even if your partner has tried to isolate you from them. They will be happy to help you exit an unsafe and harmful situation.
What to Do if You are Taking a Break in a Relationship?
Now that you’ve considered some of the reasons you may be taking a break in a relationship, here are some tips to make the most of it. The best advice is to make your expectations clear from the start, better yourself during the break, and come together to discuss your future.
Understand the Root Cause
Before you take any action, think about why you are taking a break in a relationship. Is your relationship too hard? Do you suspect you may be in a toxic relationship and need distance to understand if it’s salvageable? Maybe you’re just not ready to be in such a serious relationship. Identify the driving force for your uncertainty and if taking a break in a relationship can help you gain the clarity you’re looking to obtain.
Don’t panic and make decisions in haste. Take the time to identify if taking a break in a relationship is right for you or if you should just break up. The last thing you want to do is use the break to delay the inevitable if you’ve already made up your mind.
Talk With Your Partner
Share how you’re feeling with your partner. In-person discussions can help you read their body language, tone, and other social cues you’d miss over text or the phone. If that’s not the case, a phone conversation will work in a pinch. It will be difficult, but share your doubts with your partner. Be honest with how you’re feeling and what you hope to accomplish by taking a break in a relationship.
If you decide you’re taking a break in a relationship, be clear about your expectations. Set clear boundaries that you agree on, no matter how difficult this may be. Will you see other people during the break? Does that include dating, or can the partners engage in sexual activities? Do you want to limit communication?
Another thing to consider is how long your break will be. Time limits are tricky. It shouldn’t be too long that you readjust to being single, but long enough to get distance from your relationship to drive clarity. Some experts suggest three weeks as a good place to start, as it gives you the time you need to process what’s happening, make a plan for what you want to do, and take steps to see your plan through. If it doesn’t feel right, you can always readjust as long as you stay in open communication with your partner.
Reconnect with Yourself
Now that you know what taking a break in a relationship will look like, it’s time to focus on yourself. Now is the time to put your needs first. Evaluate if anything was missing in your relationship that you want to make a priority during the break. Perhaps you felt like you compromised so much that you lost sight of who you are. During the break, be unapologetically you. Eat the second piece of cake. Don’t apologize for going for what you want. Learn to be comfortable in your own company.
As you reflect, reconnect with your wants, needs, and desires. Are there things you want to make a priority moving forward? Relationships are equal partnerships, so now is the time to think about what you want and go for it.
Check-In With Your Partner
This one can be tricky, but check in with your partner to the extent that your boundaries allow. If you’ve cut off all communication, then ignore this step, but if you’re keeping dialogue open, be vulnerable with your partner. Ask them how they’re feeling. Discuss if something doesn’t feel right or if the break is too hard. Be honest with them when they ask your questions.
Taking a break in a relationship doesn’t mean that you magically stop caring for them. Instead, you’re sorting through complicated feelings. The best person who can help you do that is sometimes your partner, but just stick to the agreed-upon boundaries.
Reconvene After Taking a Break in a Relationship
After taking a break in a relationship, you have to come back together to discuss your relationship’s future. Be honest with each other and don’t hide anything that happened during the break. Have difficult conversations about where you see the relationship going, and if you don’t feel comfortable doing it on your own, consider going to couples counseling.
A relationship expert can help you set ground rules for moving forward. Couples therapy is a great way to discuss what may be troubling you with a fair and impartial judge. It’s a safe space where nothing is off the table, and a couples therapist can help guide you through the healing process.
Should I Be Taking a Break in a Relationship?
No one can tell you if you should be taking a break in your relationship or simply breaking up. If your partner initiates the break, listen to their concerns and worth with them if you want to save a failing relationship. Breaks can be a last-ditch effort to save a romantic relationship, but that doesn’t mean it won’t work.
If you’re considering taking a break in a relationship, be honest with yourself and your partner. Dig deep into your intentions and do some soul searching. With hard work, you can salvage your relationship and come out stronger after a break – just like Ross and Rachel, hopefully after fewer seasons of turmoil.