If you and your partner can’t seem to agree on anything, you fight over the same things over and over again, and you seem to have more bad days than good, it might be time to consider taking a break from your relationship. Despite what some tend to believe, putting your relationship on pause temporarily doesn’t mean you’ll inevitably breakup. In fact, psychotherapist Parisa Ghanbari tells Bustle, “Taking a break in a relationship can be helpful in stopping and deescalating unhealthy relationship dynamics.” But how can you take a break from a relationship in a way that leads to a positive outcome? According to experts, there are a few key things to keep in mind.
Before you put your relationship on pause, it’s important to have an open conversation with your partner. “Because relationships are collaborative by nature, this means that the decision to take a break should be mutual,” therapist Janine Ilsley, LMSW, tells Bustle. “Although it’s possible that one partner initiates it, the underlying how should always be considered together.”
That means both partners should be 100% on board. “If one partner is not in agreement with the break, it can lead to feelings of resentment and alienation for that partner,” Ghanbari says. And unless you want to end up arguing about it later (à la Ross and Rachel, aka the patron saints of this particular relationship fight), you should also be very clear about what being on a break actually means. For some, dating other people is OK, while others might consider that cheating.
“Be mindful of your language,” Ilsley says. “If the phrase ‘taking a break’ carries a certain charge to it, you may have to find another way to redefine your time apart.” Instead of saying, “I want a break from us,” you may want to ask for space, a relationship hiatus, or time to reevaluate things. That way, your partner won’t have the word “breakup” in the back of their mind.
Most importantly, you and your partner need to agree on a day when you’ll reconnect. This is done to prevent more stress, uncertainty, and fear of abandonment in partners, Ghanbari says.
How To Actually Take A Break From A Relationship
Even if you know that a brief separation is the best move for your relationship right now, it can still feel like an actual breakup. You may find yourself feeling stressed, depressed, lonely, and uncertain about the future. Although it’s completely normal, it’s also important to put yourself in the right mindset. “Taking a break is not a withdrawal,” Ilsley says. “It’s a reorientation inward.”
Breaks are meant to help you figure out what’s going wrong in the relationship, how you’re really feeling, and what you want to do moving forward. You can work out your thoughts through journaling or you can think things through over some long walks in the evening. Being around friends and talking it out can also help you figure out what you really want. In some cases, talking to a professional can help, especially if there are underlying issues that may contribute to unhealthy relationship behavior.
In order to have a successful break, it’s helpful for both partners to take this time to self-reflect. “They can focus on gaining clarity about their individual feelings and relationship needs moving forward, which will help them better communicate their needs and feelings to one another once they get together again,” Ghanbari says. “Being able to clearly and effectively communicate their needs will help them repair conflicts better.”
Psychotherapist and writer, Emily Mendez, M.S. EdS, also suggests using this time to develop healthy coping strategies for when there’s conflict in the relationship. For example, if there are communication issues, try learning some active listening techniques.
“Active listening is at the core of every healthy relationship and can solve a lot of communication issues,” Mendez says. “There are tons of blog posts and YouTube tutorials on how to practice this, and it’s definitely something worth learning during a ‘break.’”
Once the break period is over and you reconnect, be sure to have an open and honest conversation about what you did during your time apart, what you’ve learned, what you want from the relationship and each other, and what needs to change for the future. If you can listen to each other and make the necessary changes, then your break was successful.
Parisa Ghanbari, psychotherapist
Emily Mendez, M.S. EdS, psychotherapist and writer
Janine Ilsley, LMSW, therapist