Does Going on a Relationship Break Ever Work?

A woman hugging a man after they agree to go on a relationship break.

When you and your partner get into one fight, you make up and move on. But what should you do when the fights don’t stop for weeks or months? Some friends might tell you to break up. Others would say to stick it through. Maybe you’ll land somewhere in the middle—cue the relationship break.

Putting a pause on your relationship may seem like a good idea, but everybody knows couples that take a break don’t always get back together as intended. So, if you’re having problems, is a break the right solution for you?

Before we can answer that, first let’s define what a break is:

A relationship break is when both members of a couple agree not to see each other for a period of time with the intention of getting back together.

That period of time can be specified or unspecified, and whether or not they see other people is at their discretion. This differs from a breakup in that with a breakup the intention is to split up and stay apart. So, if we’re trying to figure out if breaks work, we have to define a successful break as one that results in a couple reuniting stronger than before.

Does that that ever happen? Well, psychologists and dating coaches alike are split on the matter. Some say a break is a strict negative and others believe that it can have benefits, but most agree that it works in fewer situations than it succeeds. That low degree of success is probably at least in part due to the tendency for people to go on a relationship break for the wrong reasons.

If you’re still considering a break ask yourself these questions before you have the talk with your partner:

1. Are you proposing a break just to avoid your partner’s or your own negative behavior?
Many resort to a relationship break to avoid contemptuous behavior, nasty fights, abuse, or any number of other toxic behaviors. While those are all perfectly valid reasons to want distance from your partner, a break is not your solution, because the behavior will still be present when the break is over. The options you need to consider in the circumstances described above are therapy or a full clean breakup.

2. Are you proposing a break, because you’re afraid to break up with them?
Many people push for a relationship break as a sort of slow motion breakup. They’re afraid to suggest an actual breakup, because they’re afraid to hurt their partner or be alone. While this thinking is understandable, it doesn’t serve anybody in the long-term. If what you need is to break up, then you need to break up. Otherwise, you’re prolonging the pain and putting off the healing process that both you and your partner need.

3. Are you proposing a break, because you don’t know how to communicate with your partner?
Oftentimes, when a couple has been fighting constantly over the course of weeks or months, the lines of respectful communication become severed. It may be difficult to ask your partner for the conversation you need. It may be difficult to talk at all. I’m not saying the situation is easy, but going on a break won’t fix this problem—it’ll grow the distance between you further. The answer here is to talk no matter how hard it may seem.

If you’ve answered no to all three questions, then a relationship break might be right decision for you. There are three main reasons to go on a break. First, you want to see if you’ll miss your partner during your time apart. Second, you want to see if you’re missing a connection that you can find with other people. Third, your relationship needs space and this is practice for it. If these are the problems you’re hoping to solve, then a break is an option you can evaluate to solve your relationship woes.

Remember that breaks are not a one-step solution, and they can do damage to the relationship even in the best of circumstances. If you feel the time off can benefit your relationship, by all means give it a shot, but make sure to give it a cold hard think before you do.

Alex Bocknek

Alex Bocknek is the senior editor of The Date Mix and works at Zoosk, the online dating service. He’s also a recovering music critic and an aspiring fiction writer (probably lost) on the way to an independent bookstore near you. He can be found occasionally musing about politics, philosophy, and love in the modern world.

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