The 5 Rules for Taking a Break in a Relationship (and Why They Work)

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I was talking to a friend who was taking a break in a relationship, and she confided that at first, her partner didn't realize that he couldn't just call and text her like he used to while they were taking time off. "He just didn't get it," she explained to me. That is until she laid down some ground rules. And how did the break work for them? It allowed her to take a step back and realize that while he was a great guy, she didn't see a future with him. Although he was upset, in the long run, it's better for both of them, since not taking a break would have just prolonged the inevitable.

What Is a Break in a Relationship?

A break in a relationship occurs when a couple takes time apart before deciding if they want to stay together or break up for good. Though the terms of the break differ from couple to couple, often couples won't communicate or see each other for a set period of time, while at the same time remaining attached and therefore not dating other people.

However, parting ways is not always the case post-break. "Many couples get back together again," confirms Kristin Davin, a psychologist in New York City. She does say that this all depends on how the couple lays out the guidelines for the break from the beginning so that they can both move forward with similar expectations. If you're curious about taking a break in a relationship and how to go about it the right way, here's how.

Determine Why You Need a Break

Do some soul-searching to explore why you need a break in the first place. Are you feeling like your relationship is lacking excitement? Are you hitting a new stage in your life (moving for work, going to school) that has you thinking you may not work together long-term? The point here is to realize whether your problem is a deal-breaker (like your S.O. doesn't want kids and you do). If that's the case, there's no need for a break—it's time for a break-up. "When taking a timeout, call it for yourself and not for your partner," says Liz Higgins, a couples therapist." This decision all comes down to knowing yourself."

If you're feeling stressed and overwhelmed, it might be time to take a break to give yourself a chance to evaluate the relationship and your needs.

Discuss the Break in Person

Since a break from your relationship involves both partners, the conversation about embarking on one should, too. If at all possible this should take place in person (if you're in a long-distance relationship, that might be the only exception). That way, you'll be able to read body language and signals you usually won't get over the phone. Plus, seeing someone face to face will confirm whether or not the feelings are still there.

Set Some Ground Rules

Be as clear as possible. Bring up the reason you're having the break, how often (or if) you'll stay in touch, and whether you'll date other people during this time. Another important thing to consider is how to treat a break if you live together. "If you share things with this person (e.g. a car, a dog), you will not be able to truly 'take a break' if you are still half invested because of these things," says dating and relationships coach Chris Armstrong. "Remove the co-dependencies you have on each other to the greatest extent you can for the duration that you're on your break."

Don't Set a Definitive Time Frame

Has a recruiter ever told you that you should have an answer about a job in a week, only for the full seven days to pass without hearing from them? It's wise to consider this notion if you or your partner try to put a time limit on your break since you might not be sure which difficulties you may encounter while trying to make sense of your time apart. This will only lead to frustration on both ends as one partner gets angry at another for requesting more time to make up their mind. "The fact is that finding yourself and investigating who you really are is a complicated endeavor that cannot be forecasted in terms of how long it will take," explains Armstrong.

Make Your Time Apart Count

While on your break, take time getting to know yourself out of a relationship. You can pick up hobbies you haven't been doing as frequently, visit with family and friends, and at times allow yourself to feel lonely (often when you're part of a couple you don't get to feel this often). "You need to ask yourself if wanting to escape feeling lonely is a sufficient reason to be with anyone—especially if it's your primary reason for being in a relationship at all," says Dr. Gary Brown, a relationship counselor. Also determine whether you feel the problems in your relationship can be fixed by the break, or if it's best to part ways and move forward alone. Put simply: If you're happier solo than you were together, it's likely time to cut ties.

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