What Really Happens When You "Take A Break" From A Relationship


When couples hit a roadblock, they usually weigh the pros and cons of staying together and breaking up. But there's a third option that's rarely granted any thought: taking a break. As Chris Armstrong, a dating and relationships coach tells Bustle, breaks in relationships are usually about one of two things: someone needs to reflect internally on things like commitment or insecurity issues, or someone needs to reflect externally and figure out whether the relationship is right.

While some couples realize down the road that their breaks should've been breakups, others recover from them and go on to enjoy happy, healthy relationships. To find out which of these scenarios seems most common and which others might occur, I asked people what happened when they took breaks from relationships.

This is just a small sample, though, so it might help to look at data. One study in the Journal of Marriage and Family found that only a third of couples who got back together after breaking up stayed together. Another study in Personal Relationships found that relationships were lower-quality after couples spent time apart. So, the prognosis isn't great. Ross and Rachel may have given us false hope.

A lot of these stories are in line with the idea that couples on breaks are really better broken up. But as you can see from the others, couples really can bounce back after breaks. In case you're considering it, here are just a few things that can happen when a couple takes a break.


Christine, 26

"I was in a long-term relationship that ended after two breaks for 'space.' After the second break that lasted a month, we were together for three months before ending things for good. Basically, I took away that breaks are the beginning of the end and in that last relationship, we should have broken up for good the first time. ... I think if you're in a healthy relationship, you're able to discuss your problems and come to a conclusion together and not have to pause a relationship to decide if you still want to be in it. ... In the future, I know that if the guy suggests a break or if I feel like I should take a break from the relationship, it's not the relationship for me and I'd end things."


Sage, 25

"I am a recent newlywed and dated my now husband for eight years prior to our wedding. During those eight years, we were on and off for a variety of reasons. We dated steadily for three years then took a two-year break while we both lived abroad. We dated again for another year and then took a break to date other people. Finally, we got back together and ended up getting married. During our breaks, it was incredibly painful and heart-breaking. However, in hindsight, it was the best thing that could have happened and shaped me to who I am now. While that sounds cliche, I firmly believe it was necessary for our relationship."


Gwen, 35

"Immediately after I left, it was like my eyes were just open. I started to recognize more of the overall dysfunction of our relationship. ... I had been in it for so long that I couldn't see it — nor could I accurately see either of us in it. ... Seven months in to the separation, I maintained a hard line about what I decided were my most minimum requirements for marriage, and that he wasn't meeting those criteria. I told him that until he was, we didn't have a starting point to move forward from. He said, "Let's just call it what it is and divorce."


Adrienne, 32

"Our break was the beginning of admitting we were fundamentally broken. I needed space, yes, but mostly I needed the distance to be able to breathe and admit I was done."


Carol, 67

"We kept in contact. After all, the love was still there. ... After being separated for two and half years, he asked to visit me so we could talk and figure out relationship. I agreed to take it one step at a time. I never knew what was going on with him. In the end, it didn't really matter. What mattered was that I realized I was strong, was resilient. I also realized that life was too short to be unhappy or accept anything less than what I desired. Mar 3, 2017, we celebrated 44 years of marriage and I can really say that I'm happy. I think he would say that as well."


Chelly, 37

"It was extremely painful. We didn't see each other for the entire year. I had casually dated but my boyfriend (now fiancé) actually began a new but short lived relationship. What I learned was how much I was neglecting myself while trying to please him, and he learned that he took so much for granted and what qualities in a person are the most important."


Violette, 45

"We maintained a friendship and still loved each other. [We] both needed to heal and grow and then found our way back to each other."


Jessica, 30

"At first, I was very devastated. Like, crying every night and not thinking that I would be able to survive without the relationship. But after a few weeks of wallowing, I prayed and made a decision to focus on myself. I started doing the things I put on the back burner during the relationship. Most importantly, I became very clear about who I was and the partner I wanted to be with in the future. In July, my ex reached out to me, but I was not really trying to hear anything he had to say.
In August, I allowed him to take me on a date. We slowly began rebuilding our friendship. By October, I realized that I was ready to be in a relationship again. Today, we have an incredible friendship, and our relationship is stronger than ever. I say that the breakup was the best thing that could have ever happened to us. It gave us the opportunity to gain clarity about what we wanted, and we are stronger because of it. For anyone who is having a lot of strife in their relationship, I would strongly consider a break."


Chelsea, 29

"What I learned from my on-again, off-again relationship was that a life of smallness, a love of smallness, and a smaller you starts with breaking up and making up. It starts with the cycle of recommitting yourself to someone who has let you down. Repeatedly. It starts with allowing the letdown to be alright. It starts with you normalizing it.
Recommitting myself to him came a place of weakness, of having no other options, or not making myself available to other options. Essentially, I knew that I was recommitting to him because I couldn’t commit to myself. I just never felt ready to. I never felt ready to go at it alone. Getting back together then was my way of either falling back in love or buying myself the time I needed to ready myself.
What I learned in the aftermath is, we will never feel ready, and that’s why feelings alone can’t be the deciding factor. They can’t be what inspire us to make the boldest and bravest and best moves of our life. Our reality needs to inspire us. Our history needs to inspire us. Our intuition. And also, sometimes, our fear. To overcome the fear of breaking up, you have to just do it. You have to stop thinking about it. You have to stop reasoning with it. To overcome fear, you have to show yourself that you can do the damn thing."


Nora, 48

"I'm a very loyal person and not good at being half-in at anything, so I put my life on hold. Set-ups came and went, as did chance encounters, and a number of other dating opportunities — all of which I politely declined. His difficulties escalated instead of being resolved, and eventually, we broke up permanently. This hiatus was an important window of time from the perspective of age, career, and the state of the world. I faced choices such as whether or not to buy real estate during the downturn, wondered if I wanted another child, and considered pursuing a dream a job out of state. He figured into all of these decisions, and by the time our break had turned into break-up, it was too late for any of them. ... Now, I believe in the clean break. Forward is always better than backwards."


Hilary, 40

"I had been dating my boyfriend for six months when I decided that I loved him, but he didn't seem motivated in his own life. I told him we needed a break. I dated other men for three months. Then, one day, the phone rang. It was him. He said that he was suddenly inspired to call me — that we should stay friends and spend time together even though we weren't dating. I went to his house a couple of days later. It was raining. He had been watching for me because he brought a large flattened piece of cardboard out with him to shelter me as I walked inside. We spent time together as friends for a few weeks. I fell back in love with him and decided that career ambition was not the most important thing in a good relationship. We've been married 15 years."


Carina, 27

"He met someone else, while still talking to me during the break. When we got together again to give the relationship a second chance, he was actually in two relationships, with me and with the other woman. He told us both that the he was just friends with the other woman. In my situation, it might have been easier for him to cover his tracks because it was a long-distance relationship. ... I still suspected something, but he later confirmed all the used pretexts when he told me he was cheating on me."


Isabelle, 35

"We didn't talk for about six weeks. When we finally did talk, he announced he wasn't sure how he felt about me anymore. I cut the cord, because what choice did I have, but was furious he made me do the breaking up. The lesson I learned is that a break is something you do when you're feeling tired. It's not part of a relationship. If someone isn't certain they want to be with you, then they don't. I'd advise any woman to just rip the band-aid off. Being in limbo is awful. If he wants you back, he can do what you need him to do to get back together with you."

So, should you take a break? It really depends. If you hope it'll solve all of you and your partner's problems, you'll probably be disappointed. But if the timing's just not right, it may one day be. And as Miley Cyrus says, a break could be an opportunity for personal growth.