Taking a relationship break – the beginning or the end?
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!