You probably know them — couples who are taking a break in their relationship and maybe you’ve done it before, too. But, not so fast — there’s lots of misconceptions about couples who are on a break, like now they’ll be happy and carefree without the other person. (If only it were that easy!)
“If a couple decides to take a break, they need to connect beforehand and discuss: Why?” Rosalind Sedacca, CLC, and author of 99 Things Women Wish They Knew Before Dating After 40, 50 & Yes, 60!tells Bustle. “What are you each hoping to learn, achieve, and understand from this experience? Discuss and put your answers in writing. Reflect on your personal challenges, goals, and aspirations. Most important of all, ask yourself, ‘How will I know I want to get back together again?’”
Sedacca gives examples: “I’ll be confident you’re sincere about looking for meaningful employment” or “You’ll have attended a three-month rehab program and come out committed to sobriety.”
What Exactly Happens During A Break?
Did you and your significant other discuss the boundaries of it? Will you just both think and wallow in your single-ness? Will you date other people and see who else is out there? “If it is decided that taking a ‘break’ is the best option, there should be timeframes and boundaries discussed, and a talk about what is hoped to be gained from this time apart,” Rachel Needle, Psy.D., licensed psychologist and certified sex therapist in West Palm Beach, Florida, tells Bustle.
And then there are the times a break is code for a breakup (but maybe you’re not ready to add the “up” part yet, so taking a “break” is easier… at least for now). I know I’ve been guilty of the break-but-I-really-mean-breakup, and maybe you have, too. “Often, the desire to ‘separate’ is really the desire to break up but you don’t have the nerve to say that outright,” Sedacca says. “When you establish boundaries and issues you want to address in advance, you then have guidelines for measuring results. That makes it much easier to know whether reconnecting is in both of your interests — and why!”
As someone who’s been there and definitely knows, and has seen plenty of people on relationship “breaks,” too, here are some myths about couples who are taking a break.
1. It Means You’re Breaking Up
“At times, taking a ‘break’ might actually be the healthy thing to do,” says Dr. Needle. “But taking a ‘break’ does not mean breaking up. If you decide that you do not want to end the relationship but that you cannot continue on the road you are on, then taking a break with a plan in mind — i.e., attending therapy together or working on specific issues within yourself and/or the relationship — can lead to a healthier relationship. Being away from your partner also gives you the opportunity to see what, if anything, you miss about your partner.” Exactly!
2. You Won’t Date During The Break
Maybe you don’t plan on dating during the break, but then you think: Why not? If things weren’t working with “X,” maybe there’s a “Y” you’ll be more compatible with. Or not. I think there’s pluses and minuses to dating other people while you’re apart from your recent SO, but the main point will still be: Do I miss “X”? “Sometimes, a break can refocus a couple on what’s good about their partnership,” Tina B. Tessina, PhD (aka “Dr. Romance”), psychotherapist, and author of The Commuter Marriage: Keep Your Relationship Close While You’re Far Apart, tells Bustle. Yep. Like if you work on your issues, and your partner works on theirs, and then you come back together, it could be better than ever. Then again, if only one of you wants to reconnect after the break’s over, that’s another story.
3. Your Partner Won’t Date During The Break
This is the worst — if you’re chilling out thinking about things, solo, and then you find out your sort-of partner is dating other people. Yes, maybe it was “allowed,” but it’s still painful. How could they?! Then again, maybe you and your SO never discussed the “rules” of the break, but you assumed that you’d both be contemplating things on your own, and not while dating other people.
“Sometimes, taking a break in order to date others complicates the relationship because the new partner might not want to let go and does not appreciate their role as the ‘break partner,’” Danine Manette, speaker, criminal investigator, and author of ULTIMATE BETRAYAL: Recognizing, Uncovering, and Dealing With Infidelity, tells Bustle. “There can also be jealousy and hurt feelings which linger following a break — when either or both parties spent intimate time with another person during the break.”
4. You Won’t Miss Your Partner
Whether or not you end up back together, there’s no doubt you’ll miss your partner — the good and the bad (OK, maybe the good more than the bad). “It allows each person time for self-reflection and provides much needed clarity as to whether this is a relationship they are still interested in being in,” says Manette. “If more couples took the mature approach of stepping away from the relationship for a while instead of cheating, then there would be a whole lot more healthy relationships.”
5. You’ll Fall More (Or Less) In Love
I think one of two things are bound to happen during “the break” — you’ll miss your partner so much, you’ll do anything to get back together, no matter what it takes. Or, you’ll realize your life is fine — better, in fact — without them. “Taking a break is risky,” Shanon Lee, writer, filmmaker, activist and media personality, tells Bustle. “There is no guarantee that your relationship will survive a separation. But, once you decide a break is the best option, you cannot let your fear of the unknown overshadow the benefits of experiencing individual personal growth. There is a chance that you will reunite and your relationship will be stronger for it.”
6. You’ll Get Back Together And All Your Previous Problems Will Magically Be Gone
Yep, like magic, all your past problems will be gone — “the break” solved everything! Of course, this is not true. “Don’t take a break to avoid working on issues,” says Dr. Tessina. “Instead, use it to get some space and refocus on what you want out of your relationship.” Yep. How many times did you and so-and-so get back together, only to have the same issues?
“If a couple decides to get back together, unless they actively work on the issues that led to the ‘break,’ the cycle will likely continue,” says Dr. Needle. “Something will need to change and the relationship worked on it order for things to be different moving forward. It is a good idea to seek couples therapy early rather than waiting until things are so bad that it is harder to reconnect and recover.”
Remember, breaks are different for every relationship — just make sure to discuss what it may mean for yours.