Do Breaks In Relationships Work? 5 Different Ways Couples Take A Time Out From Each Other
At some point in your relationship, you might feel the need to take a break from your partner. The need for a break comes when you reach a juncture where things aren't working and, honestly, you're not sure what else to do. If absence makes the heart grow fonder, then maybe time apart is exactly what your relationship needs to continue to grow. Or maybe it's less about absence and more about needing space to figure out what you need and want, not just for your relationship, but for yourself.
“When a couple takes a break in a relationship, it’s usually because one person isn’t sure about the value of the future of the relationship,” New York–based relationship and etiquette expert of Relationship Advice Forum, April Masini, tells Bustle. “The break is either to clear [their] head, test the waters and see what else is out there, see if the partner is missed on the break, or use the break as a slow advance to a full on break up.”
But Masini says a break can often lead to a breakup. "It’s very tough to take a break and not have derivative problems added to the mix as a result of that break — and these usually lead to a breakup," she says. "In addition, the break is usually either an excuse for a breakup, or a prelude to one. Breaks are more often than not, the step before a breakup."
The exception? When one of you just needs some breathing room for the weekend, whether it's in the form of a girls' trip or a visit to your parents'. "It’s short, and meant to relive a little stress that isn’t major. That kind of break is very healthy in a relationship, and doesn’t necessarily lead to a breakup — in fact, it can strengthen the relationship," Masini says.
Since the reasons for taking a break in a relationship vary, so do the types of breaks that couples can have. Here are five different types of breaks you and your partner can take, according to Masini.
1. The Blackout Break
In keeping with the "heart will grow fonder with absence" theory, some breaks need to be legit breaks — as in, no contact at all sort of breaks. Sometimes when we're forced to go completely without our partner that we can clearly see what it is that we want and need. We might realize life without them just can't exist or that life with them just can't exist.
"This is a name I’ve coined for couples who take breaks where there is no contact," Masini says. "They don’t see each other, they don’t talk, text or email each other, and they even cut off with each other on social media. It’s a clear no-contact break, and it’s a way for couples to really see what it’s like for them to be single."
While most people may already know what it's like to be single, when you've been with someone long enough, you can forget what comes with the single territory. So, dipping your toe back into it can give you a new perspective.
"Typically, these breaks lead to breakups," Masini says, "but on rare occasions, both people miss each other so much, the black out lets them see that they don’t want a break, they want to work through their problems."
2. The Break Where You Don't Discuss Dating Other People
When it comes to taking a break, it's probably a good idea if you and your partner come up with some parameters. Actually, a very good idea. For example, are you going to date other people when you're apart? If you don't discuss it and your partner pulls a Ross Geller and sleeps with someone while you're on a break then, well, we've all seen Friends: "We were on a break!"
"When couples take a break from each other, the third rail is always the issue of whether or not they’ll date other people on that break," Masini says. "Sometimes this topic is not discussed ahead of time, which is what I call the 'break with a tacit no dating clause'."
Basically, you both want to be on the same page as to the "rules" of the break, because yelling, "We were on a break!" for several seasons of your life to justify your one-night stand while on your break, is really exhausting.
"The problem is that when the couple finds out that one or both of them has dated and slept with someone else during the break, the relationship ends because it feels like there’s been cheating and betrayal," Masini says.
3. The "Monogamy" Break
On the flip side of the break with a tacit "no dating" rule, is a break in which it's clearly discussed that there will absolutely not be any dating or sleeping with other people. So, should one partner not abide by this rule, then rekindling after a break becomes extremely difficult. But it's also these couples who, according to Masini, don't really want to break up anyway.
"Some couples take a break with an agreement that they won’t date or sleep with anyone else during that break," Masini says. "This is the kind of break that couples take because they basically need a time out from each other. Maybe bickering has reached a boiling point, or there is stress that escalates to the point that a couple can’t function without a break."
There's absolutely nothing wrong with a couple needing to step away from each other and take a breather. It allows for more than the usual type of space you find in a relationship and can help clarify how you each feel about each other and the future.
"These breaks are taken because a couple doesn’t want to breakup," Masini says, "so they throw in an agreement not to date or sleep with anyone else, as insurance against a break up during the break."
4. The Prelude To A Breakup Break
Similar to dipping your foot in the deep end of a pool, the prelude is a way to sort of ease into a breakup under the guise of it just being a break. It's like implanting the idea, so as to make the ending easier on both partners.
"Some people don’t have the tools to break up, so they create derivative relationship dynamics that will lead to a break up," Masini says. "They may or may not realize what they’re doing. Sometimes it’s unconscious."
For some couples, actively breaking up just isn't something they're capable of doing because, well, breaking up isn't easy. Whether this inability is tied to an emotional bond, a fear of the unknown, or something else, it's these couples who needs to slowly making their way to the breakup without rocking the boat. For them, the best way to do that is to sort of delude themselves into thinking their break is temporary, when it's actually anything but that.
"The break that couples take in order to get out of the relationship, is a step toward a breakup that makes the actual breakup less dramatic, less painful, and expected," Masini says.
It's this sort of break that can also leave each partner blameless which, honestly, can be a good a thing.
5. The Fake-Out Break
For those who get a little heated in arguments, there's "the fake-out break," as Masini calls it. You know, that thing where one or both partners throw their arms up in the air, say something they'll regret later, and storm out of the apartment.
"Some couples decide on a break in the heat of the moment," Masini says. "As soon as the break occurs, one or both of them realize they didn’t want it and were just being dramatic when they called for it."
It's basically when people exclaim they want a break, mid-argument, but don't really mean it. Even as they're dramatically packing their bags, they don't mean it and even if they get out the door with their baggage, they'll be back in like an hour. But this can also lead to a cycle of fake-out breaks.
"The fake break is quickly short-lived and may result in a reunion… that leads to more of the same (fake-out breaks) that may or may not lead to a permanent break," Masini says.
But in some cases this fake-out break is the real deal, as opposed to an immediate, emotionally-charge response. It's with these situations that sometimes couples realize they need each other, want to work it out, and settle into forever together.
Taking a break in a relationship is very common and can actually be healthy. It gives you a chance to see what you might not be able to see while you're inside the relationship, so it's like getting an extra set of eyes. There's no telling where the break will lead until you take it — it could be a a step to breaking up or a chance for some much-needed breathing room. But no matter the direction it takes your relationship, it's important to trust that what's meant to be is meant to be.
This article was originally published on December 11, 2017. It was updated on June 3, 2019.