Taking a break from your relationship? Here are the dos and don’ts

Taking a break from a relationship isn't as simple as spending time apart. It involves some mutually agreed upon boundaries and lots of introspection. Fuse
“We were on a break” is a phrase that persists in popular culture — despite the fact that it’s been over a decade since Ross Geller has bellowed them out in defence of his actions. Now, in a case of life imitating art, David Schwimmer and his wife have announced that they’re taking a break from their marriage to “determine the future of [their] relationship,” Us Weekly reports.

“The essence of a break is to give time to each member of a couple to reevaluate what they want,” says Lesley Edwards, a dating expert and relationship coach in Toronto.

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This can be a healing time for a couple or it can determine definitively if they should break up — either way, it can be a positive way to reach a final decision. But there are considerations to bear in mind when embarking on this type of scenario.

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“It’s important to spend time by yourself to reflect on what’s happening in your relationship and what you want the outcome to be,” says Laura Bilotta, a Toronto-based matchmaker and dating coach. “Before deciding on taking a break, however, you need to set boundaries and discuss how it will play out.”

Have a conversation

You shouldn’t request a break in a moment of anger, sit down with your partner and have a frank discussion about why it’s necessary.

“Determine what the break will mean to you and what it will mean to your partner,” Bilotta says.

Do you need space? Does one of you want to see other people? This will help set expectations and hopefully set the path for a smooth break. This is also the time to discuss logistics like how long the break should last and whether you should remain in contact.

Set a reasonable time frame

Six months is a break up, not a break, the experts say. Anything from one week to a month should be enough time for one or both parties to determine whether they should stay together.

“You may decide halfway through the agreed upon time that you want to be with that person, but you should respect the time frame,” Edwards says. “You’ve reflected and reached a decision but the other person may need more time.”

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Cut off communication

A break is exactly that, Edwards says. “You both need space, full stop. You can’t remain in touch and continue checking in with each other.”

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This is a time to reflect and figure out if you want that other person in your life, and to determine whether or not they’re contributing to your happiness.

“That person was filling a big part of your life, whether it was emotional or physical, and when they’re no longer there it creates a natural void. And there’s a tendency to go back to that person to fill that void,” Edwards says. “You have to consciously focus on your own healing and answering your own questions.”

It’s difficult to do that when the person raising those questions is still hanging around — not to mention that it defeats the point of the break altogether.

Be honest

Don’t lie to yourself, Bilotta says. Be frank about your feelings, or potential lack thereof, for the other person.

“If you don’t miss them, acknowledge that, and if you don’t want to be together, say it. There’s no point in taking a break if you’re not going to be honest about how you’re truly feeling.”

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To date or not to date?

In a nutshell: no. Agreeing to see other people creates a potential minefield of conflict, jealousy and insecurity, both during the break and any subsequent reunion. Besides, that’s not what a break is about.

“This is the time to be reflecting on your own relationship,” Bilotta says. “If you’re interested in dating other people, then maybe the real message is that the person you’re with isn’t the one you want.”

Edwards agrees, and says that bringing another person, or people, into the mix will only further confuse things.

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“Other people will interfere with your clarity,” she says. “If there’s a flicker of possibility for you and your partner, you don’t want to muddy that by involving someone else.”

Don’t use this reason to take a break — it doesn’t apply

Self-help books list timing as one of the most important factors in finding love, but Edwards thinks the “wrong time” is the wrong reason for taking a break.

“If someone says that the timing is off, that doesn’t warrant a break; it calls for taking things slow.”

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She says slowing down a new relationship that’s getting intense decreases the fear response.

“The right person triggers fear in you way more than if it’s the wrong person,” she says. “This isn’t the time to take a break, but to be cautious and see if there’s something worth pursuing.”

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