Is taking a break in a relationship healthy? This is a thought that most of us have pondered at some point. “Do breaks in relationships work or this time away will only drift us further apart?” Well, when a relationship is blossoming, it feels as though nothing can go wrong. Then reality hits you like a truck and you realize holding a relationship together isn’t a cakewalk, especially if the bickering never stops.
If you’re ignoring the glaring reasons for taking a break in a relationship, you’re basically writing its obituary. No, your problems won’t magically go away after a break. That’s a rather unrealistic expectation. But temporary separation can help you see the relationship problems from a new perspective and find the root cause of the complications between you and your partner. So, how do you decide which red flags are big enough to warrant taking space in a relationship?
And how long should a relationship break be? What’s the healthy way to go about it? Should you set some ground rules? We’re here to address all your questions with insights from emotional wellness and mindfulness coach Pooja Priyamvada (certified in Psychological and Mental Health First Aid from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the University of Sydney), who specializes in counseling for extramarital affairs, breakups, separation, grief, and loss, to name a few.
What Is Meant By Taking A Break In A Relationship?
Table of Contents
Spending time apart or taking a break does not mean breaking up for good. It means the two of you are simply staying away from each other to analyze the complications that have emerged in the relationship. You decide the end date. You set your own relationship break rules. And if you don’t want to end up like Ross and Rachel in an on-and-off relationship, you must have absolute clarity on what this relationship break means for both of you.
The reasons for taking a break in a relationship can vary from couple to couple. For some, trust issues can be a reason to hit the pause button. For others, it can be incessant fighting and bickering. There are no right or wrong reasons here. Even if you’ve been mulling over “Can taking a break save a relationship?” then that too is just as valid a reason as any.
“Relationship breaks essentially mean maintaining a certain distance and then reconnecting with a partner after time apart. It may or may not involve physical separation. This time is necessary to recoup from a bad phase or incident in any relationship. If you are wondering how to save your relationship from a breakup, this is one way to handle it,” explains Pooja.
If you are adamant about taking a temporary break, make sure you mean it. Once it’s out in the air, it’ll cast considerable doubts over your relationship. Plus you don’t get many shots at this. Taking multiple breaks in a relationship can ruin the foundation of trust between two partners. Remember, you’ll hear all sorts of advice on how to deal with taking a break in a relationship but the only real answer will come from communicating with your partner. Improving communication will do half the work for you.
Are there any alternatives to taking a break in a relationship?
According to a study, 6%–18% of US couples who are still married have separated at some point in their marriage. So, you are not out of line to think about how to take a healthy break in a marriage. Taking time off for self-care and personal growth sounds like a sensible choice. If anything, it will only be keeping your relationship fresh. But it’s also important that you are on the same page about this decision and are willing to come back to your partner after the clarity break.
Taking a relationship break doesn’t entitle you to storm out and sleep with different people within the next two hours. But the possibility of you or your partner losing interest in the relationship or getting involved with someone else cannot be ruled out. If that thought scares you, you may want to explore the alternatives to taking a break in a relationship:
- Set some healthy relationship boundaries and stick to them. Respect your partner’s personal space
- Have a heart-to-heart with your partner. Lay all your issues out on the table. Talk about it in a rational way without losing your cool
- Self-reflection is important. Think about how you are contributing to your relationship problems and where you can take responsibility for your actions
- Focus on couples activities. Try to prioritize spending some quality time with your partner. Perhaps consider couple’s therapy. In turn, it will help you rebuild the foundation of your relationship
- If the reasons to stay together don’t seem strong enough, consider breaking up
Related Reading: Millennials – Top 6 Relationship Problems And Solutions
Is taking a break from a relationship to work on myself a good idea?
“I’ve been thinking of taking a break from a relationship to work on myself. Is it a good idea?” Well, there are times in life when it becomes a necessity to recognize who you are outside of a relationship. If you are too scared to be alone and briskly jump from one relationship to another, it hardly gives you any time to heal or to acknowledge your relationship insecurities.
Before you lose the ‘me’ and entirely become an ‘us,’ one last attempt to sort out your personal issues and protect your individuality might do you good in the long run. If that means taking a few months off and going backpacking in Western Europe or joining art school to follow your passion, so be it. In case you are planning on taking a break from a relationship to find yourself, here are a few suggestions on how to execute this time apart:
- Set a time limit for how long this break is going to last – for a couple of days or the long term?
- Clarify your terms with your partner – will you still stay committed to one another during the break? Or is the relationship over?
- What about communication? Will you keep in touch over the phone or will you follow the no-contact rule religiously?
- Be honest with yourself. Are you 100% sure that this is the right choice? Which aspects of your life are you willing to work on?
9 Signs You Need To Take A Break In Your Relationship
From how long should a relationship break be to how to execute taking a break in a relationship when you live together, there can be myriad little details to iron out when you’re at the cusp of such an important – and ominous-sounding – decision. However, before getting into the details, the first order of business should be to ascertain whether your circumstances warrant a relationship break.
Don’t go about saying you want a break just because your partner watched your favorite show without you. However, when there are serious signs that you badly need this space in a relationship, it may be time to stop looking the other way. And what are those signs? Here’s when taking a pause in a relationship is a good idea:
1. A fight is always on the horizon
Sometimes taking a break from a toxic relationship turns out to be the best thing for your mental health. If being together with your partner looks like a series of difficult conversations, how on earth would you survive so much negativity? Tell me, do the following scenarios resonate with you?
- Doesn’t matter what you say, a fight always seems to emerge out of thin air
- You’re left wondering what you even did wrong, but by that time, it’ll be too late. The screaming match has already begun
- You feel like you’re always treading on thin ice or that you have to think twice before saying anything
- You two have no idea how to reconnect after a fight, so you hope the silent treatment will do the trick
- It seems like you can recall way more bad memories of your relationship than good ones
When you reach that stage, don’t feel guilty for wanting a break from relationship because it won’t mean a thing if, in the process of saving it, you lose your peace of mind.
2. You two are on-again, off-again
When your friends reply with an “again?!!” to the news of you breaking up with your partner, you know you don’t really have the strongest relationship. You are the official poster couple for back-and-forth relationships. The fights are always imminent, and when a few of them go especially bad, you’re blocking each other on social media. Only to get back together after a week since you are always worried, “What does taking a break mean to a girl? If I give her space, will she come back?”
Figure out what you want and it will help your relationship and your mental health. The benefits of allowing enough space in a relationship far outweigh the risks in such volatile dynamics. You should know that taking a break from a long-term relationship is better than being caught in that vicious cycle of an on-again-off-again relationship which leaves you mentally exhausted.
“When there is an established pattern of intense intimacy, conflict, break away, and then reconciliation, one needs to rethink the relationship and why it is falling into this toxic pattern. Can a break save a relationship? The short answer is ‘yes.’ At least, at this juncture it can offer each partner time and space to rework priorities and probably narrow down underlying areas of conflict and find their possible resolutions,” says Pooja.
3. You can’t envision a ‘happily ever after’ with your partner
One of the most basic ‘taking a break in a relationship’ rules is re-shifting focus on your own needs. If you have a niggling feeling that even after being together for a long term, something is amiss in your relationship or you can’t see a real future with the way things currently are, you should rethink how you want to proceed. But there are times when we hesitate to move forward due to many external factors. Sometimes we can’t decide between “take a break or break up?”.
Sexual tension can sometimes keep people in toxic relationships, despite knowing there’s no real future there. They’ll be willing to overlook the bad things just because the good things feel like they’re worth the pain. But when you realize you can’t go on like this, you know you need to take a break. Eventually, you’ll have to communicate your thoughts with your partner and face the difficult conversations no matter how much you want to stall them.
4. Take a break in the relationship if you just can’t look past that deal-breaker
A few months into your relationship and you realize your partner’s political views could not be further away from yours. Or maybe you found out they’re into a few things you just can’t look past. Perhaps there’s a fight that keeps recurring because of it. You may even force yourself to turn a blind eye to it, but it always comes back to instigate another fight. To us, it seems like the right time for a relationship break. Who knows it might actually strengthen your bond and you come back unscathed as one of the relationship-break success stories.
On that, Pooja says, “This can be hugely personal for each couple. For instance, let’s talk about boundaries regarding infidelity. Some might consider flirting with others a strict no-no, while there can be couples who are okay with their partners sexting with others as long as it doesn’t get physical. Whatever the threshold or rules set by both partners in a relationship, if they are being overstepped to such an extent that you can’t accept it at all, it would be a great indicator for taking some time off for introspection, and reconciliation – if any.”
Related Reading: 12 Ways To Fix A Toxic Relationship
5. A few days without communication seem to sail by
Yes, there are certain disadvantages of taking a break in a relationship, and no one sees themselves willingly leaving a good relationship to be single. But when not talking to your partner feels easier than trying to get through to them, a brief separation might offer you the headspace to decide pragmatically whether this person is worth holding on to or if you should move forward with dignity. We are with you if you are thinking about taking a break from a long-term relationship because:
- You feel that the relationship is doing you more harm than good and there is more angst than joy in your bond
- Right after your inevitable ugly fights, you always give each other the silent treatment
- The days when you’re not talking to each other feel a lot better than when you do
- Every message your partner sends makes you want to lock your phone again and keep it away
- You don’t look forward to solving any fights and you might even have thought about breaking up a lot of times
6. The expectations don’t match
Perhaps one person in a long-distance relationship thought you’ll be talking over the phone all the time but the other presumes a ‘textlationship’ will do just fine. Or maybe you were looking for something casual, but then, your partner shows up with a dozen roses along with tickets to a concert that is six months away. Forget taking space in a relationship, you’d want to run away when that happens.
Flo, an antique store owner from Utah, shares, “Utilize this time to figure out this mismatch of expectations in your relationship. When this happened to me recently, and the guy wanted some space, I kept thinking: What does taking a break mean to a guy? If he wants a break, will he come back? He DID come back, and this time we knew exactly what we wanted as individuals and were able to talk about it without fear or judgment.”
This is why it is a good idea to directly communicate with your partner about the kind of involvement you are looking for rather than taking multiple breaks in a relationship. “A healthy relationship is not just about looking at each other lovingly but looking together at the same goals in the same direction. If this is missing, there will be an obvious mismatch of expectations from self, from the partner, and the relationship, leading to conflicts. Partners need to step away for a bit to understand this bitterness and see this situation under a microscope individually,” says Pooja.
7. Jealousy, insecurity, and trust issues get too much to handle
Considering taking a break in a relationship when you live together can be a big deal. After all, you will be disrupting your lives and stepping out of your comfort zone. Often, couples let issues fester because moving away and being on their own feels far more daunting. However, is taking a break in a relationship healthy in the following scenarios? Yes.
- Issues such as jealousy, insecurity, and lack of trust have grown to the extent that you feel overwhelmed all the time
- Being questioned about minor details of your life constantly is leaving you suffocated
- Partner projects their insecurities on you
- You’re sacrificing your mental health to stay in a relationship with a controlling partner
Then declaring “We’re on a break” is valid, irrespective of how long you’ve been together or how serious you’re about each other.
8. If you feel like you’re being wronged, it’s time to take some space from your partner
A common trait of a toxic relationship is that one partner has no regard for what the other one has to say. If that’s the case, you’ll start feeling like your opinion doesn’t matter and what you want or expect is often overlooked. It can feel belittling and will simply leave you unhappy, wondering “I need a break to rethink my place in this relationship but what if my partner takes it otherwise! What does taking a break mean to a guy (or a girl)?”
Relationships are meant to make you happier and enrich your life. If yours fails to meet this simple criterion, nobody would blame you for taking a break from a toxic relationship. Don’t drag your feet on this decision. Sometimes, you’ve got to put yourself first, and feeling unvalued in your relationship is a good reason to do so. Have a candid conversation with your partner, let them know how you feel without leveling any accusations, and ask for some time off.
Related Reading: Is Your Jealous Boyfriend Being Possessive And Controlling?
9. You lie to avoid fights
Or you just don’t say certain things because you know it will most definitely result in a fight. You might lie about who you’re spending time with even if you’re doing nothing wrong. A little white lie once in a while does no harm. But in healthy relationships, you should be able to tell your partner anything without being scared of the response. When someone lies in a relationship to make life easier, it only results in worse problems down the line.
If you want to know how to start over with someone, you have to restore faith and honesty in the relationship. If a little distance does the trick, take that chance. “If a person can’t be honest with their partner, it means that they fear them, have lost trust in them, or have simply fallen out of love with them. Can time apart help a relationship like this? Yes, in all three cases, a temporary pause can give both the partners the opportunity to rethink what went wrong and rectify it,” says Pooja, adding, “If the lying continues in order to maintain peace, this is indicative of an abusive or unhealthy relationship in the making.”
6 tips on making a relationship break work
The moment things go out of our comfort zone and we seem to lose control over life or, in this case, a relationship, we feel at a loss. You won’t believe how many 2 a.m. calls I have received from friends in a shaky voice, saying, “Hey, what does taking a break mean to a girl when she says she needs a break?” or “You know, my boyfriend and I are on a break and I miss him. Can you tell me how to deal with taking a break in a relationship?”
So, here’s tip number one, don’t panic. You are fine! Don’t focus on the disadvantages of taking a break in a relationship, rather, make each day count throughout this period. Taking a break in a relationship is healthy. It doesn’t matter whose decision it was to stay away, yours or your partner’s, these six things should be non-negotiables for a healthy break:
- Unless you both are aware of why this break is happening, the whole idea becomes a moot point. So, make sure you have an in-person conversation and clarify it well
- Ground rules are important: Will you date other people? How often will you talk (or not talk) to each other? Are you allowed to do weekly check-ins?
- Setting a tentative time limit will keep you both sane because nobody likes to wait for an indefinite period without any assurance
- During this time, reflect on your problems, both personal and in the relationship. You may try journaling, researching more on the issue, or seeing a therapist to make sense of your emotions
- At the same time, work on your personal goals and see if they still align with your partner’s
- Whether you want to patch things up or turn this break into a final breakup, the decision should be taken mutually after the break is over
- Relationship breaks mean you are temporarily staying away from each other to focus on yourself or to get a fresh perspective on your relationship problems
- If you are always fighting and stuck in an on-again-off-again circle, a short break might be a good idea
- Consider a break if you don’t see a future with your partner or you both manage fine without talking to each other for days on end
- If you both deliberately sidestep your problems, taking a step back to reflect on the same can be helpful
- Set clear boundaries and strict terms and conditions before getting into this arrangement
Now that you are well-versed on how to navigate a break in a relationship, it should not be seen as the end of the road. If ‘taking a break in a relationship’ rules have been well-defined and both partners are on board with the idea, it can be a good way to start over in a relationship. We are sure you will make it to one of those romantic relationship-break success stories!
Of course, you have to be willing to put in the necessary effort to work through your individual issues during this time, introspect, and decide what you want from the relationship. In some cases, a break may help two partners see that they’re better off apart than getting back together. The important thing is, even though the outcome may not be a happily-ever-after, the break will still have served its purpose.
This article has been updated in June 2023.
When you follow the relationship break rules and effectively utilize your break, they can work. Stepping away from a relationship that’s harming you can give you peace of mind and evaluate what would make you happier. Even when you decide during your break that your relationship shouldn’t continue, the break can still be considered successful since it helped you decide how you can be happier.
Breaks in relationships usually last anywhere between a week or a month and can even extend if both partners feel it’s necessary. However, if it lasts an unusually long amount of time like 3–4 months, it’s more likely that’s a breakup than a break. It’s important to establish how long you two want the period to tentatively last. Extending the break because you need more time to assess things is completely normal as well.
Yes, couples can get back together after a break, when it is done right. This period provides couples time to think about how to tackle the problems they’re facing. So, some couples may even end up forming stronger bonds than they previously had. If you decide to work on the relationship after a break, you’ll be able to do so since now you have a better perspective on what the problems are and how to find common ground.