Taking a break in a relationship

Something needs to change in your relationship but you’re not really sure what. That’s what we’re here for. Maybe time and space away from each other might be exactly what you need to figure things out. It won’t be easy, but it’ll be worth it in the long run. The Mix talks you through taking a break in a relationship.

A young woman is thinking about taking a break in a relationship. This is a full-body image.

Why take a break in a relationship?

We’d be so bold as to say that no relationship runs smoothly all the time. You’re individuals, after all, with needs and interests of your own. This means that learning how to negotiate any differences is vital for you to function as a couple. Unfortunately, sometimes those differences can leave you both feeling as if there’s no option but to go your separate ways and decide on taking a break in the relationship. Before you do though, just remember that it’s a big decision; one you need to make with your head as much as your heart.

In some cases, going on a break (or trial separation) is totally the right thing to do. It can let you step back from the relationship and pinpoint the problems. From that vantage point, both of you can question your future together.

How to arrange going on a break

Strange as this sounds, a break from your relationship usually requires planning. Unless you sit down face to face and discuss how it’s going to work, you could be looking at a more long term situation. Alternatively, you might find the problems you had are still there when you get back together.

Even if you’ve reached the point where you’re finding it hard to get along, you still need to communicate. It’s vital to stay calm, be prepared to listen and keep a constructive attitude. Lead by example. Show your partner you’re ready to handle this in a mature way and your partner is likely to do the same. Here are some key points to consider:

  1. Spend time identifying why you could benefit from the break. Just a warning that this will involve flagging up what’s gone wrong. So be sure to keep calm and avoid blame.
  2. Agree on a time frame. You could be looking at anything from a weekend to a month or more. There’s no real timeline on how long it takes to get things in perspective and make the relationship work again. Basically, just go with whatever feels right for the both of you.
  3. Establish rules for contact. During the break, some couples might find the occasional call to one another comforting. Others may want a clean (albeit temporary) break. Again, go with whatever works for you. Just be sure to agree on it in advance and set clear boundaries.
  4. Commit to the time apart. If you’re tempted to view this break as an opportunity to sleep with other people, think about the consequences first. If anything, it risks complicating a sensitive situation. So if there’s hope for the relationship then agree not to shag or date other people for the duration. Consider setting some ground rules for acceptable behaviour to avoid misunderstandings. The last thing you need is a Ross and Rachel situation on your hands.

Making a break in a relationship work

Even if you’ve thoroughly negotiated a break that suits you both, it can still come as a shock when it actually happens. Good preparation is the key to softening the impact. Remember, you should be filling that time and space constructively – not wallowing about them.

  1. Surround yourself with family and friends. Opening up to people who care, and want the best for you, for whatever amount of time you’re apart is the best way of getting your emotions out into the universe. You’re bound to feel wobbly at first. So lean on them for support.
  2. Get back in touch with yourself. Often a relationship runs into trouble because you both feel suffocated by each other. This break should remind you that you also have a life of your own. You’re your own person. That’s why you need to seize this opportunity to get to know what YOU like and what YOU want.
  3. Evaluate from a distance. By reconnecting with yourself, it’s easier to identify what the major problems were in the relationship. Has it genuinely broken down? Or do you feel like the spark can be revived now that you’ve had a minute to yourself?
  4. Consider what changes are needed. If you think the relationship is worth fighting for, you’ll have to tackle your problems head on. Ask yourself what needs to change in order for things to improve. And make sure you do everything you can on your end to make those changes. You might even come up with some deal breakers e.g. you don’t wanna do long distance.

After taking a break

Only you’ll truly know how you feel about the relationship. For some, being apart might’ve woken them up to what they stand to lose. Others could realise being single is what they’ve desperately needed. Whatever your conclusion is, here’s how to talk positively:

  1. Review the relationship together. Agree on a time and place. Once you’re there, give each other the opportunity to share how you both feel following the break.
  2. Keep an open mind. You may not know how your partner feels until they speak. So avoid going in with expectations or assumptions. That way, whatever the outcome, you reduce the risk of being disappointed and/or disappointing them.
  3. Deciding to give it another shot? Be sure to establish ways to overcome your difficulties. Also agree to let each other know how things are going on a regular basis. For example, if you had communication problems previously, let them know when the communication is going well (or when it’s not). By doing this, you can address any problems together as they arise. You might even wanna try couples therapy to help you along the way.
  4.  Going your separate ways? Then you’re doing so having handled a difficult situation to the best of your abilities. It won’t guarantee you’ll stay friends. But at least no one’s starting a bonfire anytime soon (we hope).

Next Steps

  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Nishika Melwani

Updated on 20-Jun-2022