Sex & Relationships

7 Signs Your Relationship “Break” Might Turn Into A Breakup

It doesn’t always go according to plan.

by Laken Howard
Originally Published: 
What does a break mean in a relationship? It might progress to a breakup.
Johnce/E+/Getty Images

Ask anyone you know, and chances are they’ll have an opinion on relationship breaks. Some people are firmly in the camp that taking a break from your relationship is a bad idea, while others believe it can be essential to getting the self-reflection you need to grow as a couple. But what does a break mean in a relationship, anyway? What makes it different from a breakup? It’s one thing to communicate your feelings and ask for what you need from your partner, but does it really help to temporarily call it quits while you think things through?

There are many valid reasons why a couple may choose to take a break, and as it turns out, it does not automatically mean you’re doomed for a permanent breakup. According to relationship expert Susan Winter, “Breaks can be for the purpose of reflection and reconfiguration, or time devoted to personal development. Time apart from each other can be a positive thing if the relationship is healthy and not suffering from ongoing, unresolved issues,” she says. “Coming back into each other’s arms after structured ‘me time’ apart can reignite a stagnant romance.” It’s a case-by-case basis, and the intent behind the break, as well as the strength of your relationship, matters. After all, “When a couple is already distanced, more distance does not create closeness,” Winter explains.

If you genuinely just want a little time apart to think about the relationship or work on yourself, there are ways to successfully take a break from your relationship without dooming it. For starters, both parties have to agree that the break is desirable. “The time spent apart must be structured and purposeful for it to be beneficial to the relationship,” Winter tells Bustle. “Establish an end date. This is also mutually agreed upon. For most couples, several weeks is enough time to reset their thinking and come to new discoveries.”

The key is open communication and setting clear boundaries — like how much (if any) contact you want during the break — so both partners are on the same page and know what to expect. "If you don't work out the issues with each other, they will still be sitting right there when you are done with your break," Pella Weisman, licensed psychotherapist and dating coach, tells Bustle.

But alas, even the most well-intentioned breaks don't always go according to plan. If you're worried about whether your break could turn into a permanent breakup, here are seven signs to watch out for.


One Of You Is Secretly Dating Around During The Break


Don't get me wrong: The stipulations of your break are totally up to you and your partner, and if you're both truly, honestly comfortable with the idea of dating or sleeping with other people while apart, then do so! And obviously, if you’re in a non-monogamous relationship to start, this can involve dating other people and doesn’t reflect on the strength of your connection.

But if you and your partner are in a decidedly monogamous relationship and did not clarify that dating during the break is OK, it’s a little shady. And if you specifically chose to go on a break just to "see what else is out there," that might not bode well for the future of your relationship — especially if only one of you is interested in dating around.

"If one or both partners chooses a break for the purpose of dating other people, it’s never a good sign for the future of the relationship," Jonathan Bennett, dating and relationship coach and owner of The Popular Man, tells Bustle. "People in strong relationships don’t feel the need to 'test the waters' by dating someone else."


You're Not On The Same Page

For a break to be successful, both partners need to be on the same page. This starts with discussing and agreeing to boundaries — for example, are you going to talk at all during this time? — but it's also important to check in with yourself and make sure that you're actually OK with the break, and not just continuing to go along with it in the hopes of winning your partner back at the end.

"Both partners have to truly want a break," Bennett says. "In most cases, one partner wants a break and the other partner only reluctantly goes along. Even if both partners agree to a break and the ground rules, it doesn’t mean they will feel the same way after being apart for a few days. If one partner embraces the break and enjoys it and the other one gets sad and mopey and wants to get back together, then a future breakup is likely."


One Of You Is Moving On (And Not Just Romantically)

Breaks are supposed to be a time to work on yourself and figure out what you need and want in a relationship, but if you notice that your partner is doing a massive overhaul of their life, it could be a sign that, when the break is over, there won't be room for you in it.

"If one partner uses the break to move on with his or her life, then there’s a good chance that person intends to break up eventually," Bennett says. "This could be applying for new jobs, looking for new apartments, or getting back on Tinder. If your partner seems to be setting the stage for a breakup by moving on in various ways, then the breakup is coming... it’s just a matter of when."


Your Partner Refuses To Communicate With You

If you took a break to get some space and reevaluate your relationship without distraction, you may ultimately start to figure out what your connection is lacking. At that point, communication during a relationship break becomes vital. You have to actually talk about the issues with your partner if you want to eventually resolve things and officially get back together.

"The difference between a break and a breakup is if you actually discuss the possibility of [taking] a certain amount of time of apart and then discuss where you both are at," Stef Safran, owner of Chicago-based matchmaking company Stef and the City, tells Bustle. "If your partner refuses to communicate and discuss the issues that brought you on a break in the first place, that isn't a good sign."


You Feel You Aren't Being Heard


In a healthy relationship (even while on a break) both partners should feel able to express their feelings, opinions, and desires without judgment. If you reach out to your partner to express a concern or ask for something you need in the relationship, only to be met with indifference (or worse, silence), that might mean it's not the right relationship for you long-term.

"Really think through the issues you are having: Are they workable issues, or are they very real issues that make the relationship more 'work' than fun?" Safran asks. "Relationships require tune-ups from time to time. If you are with someone who won't deal with issues now, you need to decide if this is the right relationship for you to be in."


You Don’t Have An End Date

Successful breaks start with clear boundaries and time frames. If you plan to just “wing it” until one of you reaches back out, it’s not looking good.

“A breakup is likely if your partner gives you a vague non-response to ‘How long will this separation last?’ Vagueness regarding the end date is code for ‘I’m not coming back, and this is my way of avoiding drama by doing a slow fade,’” Winter tells Bustle. On that note, vagueness in any regard when it comes to your communication isn’t a good sign. Dodging important questions and letting the relationship dwindle out only strings the other person along and wastes their time.


You’re Unclear On The Point Of The Break

As mentioned before, both partners need to be on board with the whole break thing. That means you both must be clear on why you’ve decided it’s necessary.

“If there’s no reason for the break other than discontent, you’re most likely looking at the prelude to a breakup,” Winter says. And even after discussing the reasons your partner wants the break, if you’re not in agreement with those reasons, it could also be a sign a breakup is on the horizon.

Taking a break from your relationship can be a great way to give both partners some much-needed time to grow as individuals before rejoining forces as a couple. There's no shame in admitting that things need work; in fact, it's much healthier to be upfront about what is and is not working in your relationship, and to attempt to work through those issues together. Although not every couple can survive a break, as long as you both genuinely want to make things work and can openly communicate during the break, there's no reason that you shouldn't have a happily ever after.


Susan Winter, relationship expert and author

Jonathan Bennett, dating and relationship coach and owner of The Popular Man

Pella Weisman, licensed psychotherapist and dating coach

Stef Safran, owner of Chicago-based matchmaking company Stef and the City

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