Based on Drs John and Julie Gottman’s pioneering research, EliteSingles breaks down how you can utilize the Gottman Institute’s theory to map out your own relationship road map.
For some relationships, a time comes when you reach an impasse. As much as you love each other, you can’t find a way forward together. Not wanting to break it off entirely, you may choose to take a relationship break instead. Knowing when to take a relationship break and how to handle it is not always easy. Our dating experts weigh in on some of the critical questions you face.
Relationship break vs break up
Starting off, it is important to note the difference between a relationship break and a breakup. A relationship break is like pressing pause on your relationship. It doesn’t mean that the song has stopped playing, but rather that you are taking some time out to clear your head.
In contrast, a breakup is a conscious decision to end the relationship – pressing stop and exiting the playlist. The issues you are facing in the relationship and your motivation for needing the space apart should be guiding factors when choosing between a relationship break and, a more final, break up.
What does taking a break in a relationship mean?
The idea of taking a relationship break can be a confusing concept –staying together but taking time apart is an apparent contradiction. So what does taking a break in a relationship really mean and does it make any sense for you and your partner?
A relationship break is that thorny stage when you reach a tipping point in your relationship between saying goodbye or choosing for better or worse. Sitting in an awkward middle space trying to decide which way to go, it is a time of reflection and decisions. A relationship break may be needed when no matter how hard you try, it just isn’t working and you are losing your connection, but still love each other; love each other enough to hold on.
A relationship break means actively creating the space to step out of the complexity and friction. It gives you time to sort through your own set of mixed emotions. The truth of the matter is that if you have reached this place, then there are there are serious issues causing antagonism and frustration. And you need to figure out how you feel and if it can be resolved. A relationship break means creating a safe setting to understand the true measure of your partner and relationship, and delve into your own feelings to get to the heart of the matter.
Why take a relationship break?
“Love doesn’t need to be perfect. It just needs to be true”
When you reach the point that every comment can instigate a reaction and each other’s company becomes aggravating, it can be difficult to see the wood from the trees. As your personal edges become red hot with the friction, any little spark can set off a fiery response. In this environment, heated with emotions running high and defenses firmly erected, it is near impossible to create positive resolutions and make clear decisions.
If you have arrived at this stage in your relationship, but are not quite ready to walk away, it may be just the time for a relationship break. Why? It gives you the space to cool off. It gives you the time to calm down. It gives you the distance to analyze the confusion and understand the key issues underlying the conflict. And the greatest benefit? Within the safe confines of remaining committed, a relationship break is without the additional apprehension and stress of ending your relationship.
Identify the structure
You both should be crystal clear on what is acceptable and not acceptable during the break. For example, in terms of commitment you could agree that you are still in a relationship for all intents and purposes – agree to no liaison with other people. You could agree that a once a week check in to know your partner is ok is sensible, or agree that if something significant happens – good or bad – in each other’s lives, you will let each other know. Be respectful to each other in your requests and fears.
Define the time
Before you make the move apart, decide on the duration of the break. If the time apart is undefined, it can create unnecessary anxiety, and even be used in power play dynamics. Agree on a time period, but remember it does not need to be set in stone. Knowing how long your break will be provides a small foothold of security in all the questions, and is an important step in mapping out your break
Communication during the break
Although questions will arise, you may miss each other terribly, and your natural instincts may want to reach out and make contact, keep communication to a minimum during the break or cut all communication. Reducing or removing communication creates a necessary vacuum. Although it is challenging, it is for the overall good – be it to realize you will fight for each other or that it is better for you to walk away.
Stick to it
The very purpose is to have a break from each other. If you have decided to go down this road, stick it out. There is a reason you felt you needed it. Focus on your own autonomy and identity, engaging with yourself as an individual outside the relationship and to appreciate your relationship for all it really is or isn’t.
A very useful tool is taking notes during your relationship break. Actively recording your thoughts, process and feelings on paper create a body of information to look back on at the end of the break. The insights, and even epiphanies, can hold the answer, pointing which way you may want to go at the end of your relationship break. Journaling is a healthy habit to build into your daily routine too and encourages a greater level of self-awareness.
When starting a relationship break it is essential for you and your partner to set out your relationship break rules. Outlining the boundaries for your behavior during the time apart generates security and understanding needed to navigate the uncertain territory. Here are basic guidelines for relationship break rules to facilitate a positive time apart. Remember in this time apart to focus on your own identity and needs specifically – it is also about who you are and what you want!
How to deal with taking a break in a relationship
During your relationship break, you need to care for your own well-being. To gain insight into your relationship, partner and self, you need to be in a safe emotional environment. Here are some steps you can take to create that safe space for yourself:
- Be number one:
Set aside time to look after yourself. Make time for activities you enjoy – read, be creative, rest. Look inward. This is your time to discover the route you want to follow. Take care of yourself as you would your best friend when they go through a tough time. Accepting and appreciating yourself builds self-awareness and gives you the inner strength to make the right decision.
- Social support:
Reach out to your family and friends, and spend time with other people in your life. Remind yourself you have more than your partner you care for and who cares for you. Engaging with your social network opens you to relationships beyond your intimate one. Your partner relationship should be an addition to your life, not filling a gap.
- Get active:
Physical activity releases feel-good hormones which will give you a beneficial boost in this emotionally challenging time. Getting into shape will also improve your confidence and is one of the ways you can start to make deposits into your own well-being.
Relationships break: reboot the system
“We come to love not by finding a perfect person but by learning to see an imperfect person perfectly”, Sam Keen
During your relationship break, cross the great divide. Challenge yourself to understand both sides and also see it from your partner’s point of view. If the differences can be resolved, you need to reconceptualize how you experience each other. Instead of being threatened by your differences, see how you can be expanded by them, together a stronger team for it.
It is near impossible to start a new chapter if you’re looking backward. To reboot your relationship, rewrite the narrative. Honest and difficult conversations are the stepping stones you can take back to emotional intimacy. So be realistic about your needs and weaknesses, but also take responsibility for the role you have played, opening the door to rebuilding your relationship from the roots up.
If deep down your gut instinct just knows that something isn’t right in your relationship and you don’t fit together anymore, be brave enough to walk away. You owe it to yourself to never compromise your choice of a life partner.
However, be realistic. You can’t expect perfection! Human beings are flawed by their very nature. But you should expect, and deserve, good, even great. Can you be great together? If the answer is yes – put in the hard work and fight! Fight for all you’re worth because to love and be loved in return is one of life’s greatest experiences.