At an impasse, taking a break is an option to consider, but only with careful planning and support.
Any long-term relationship has its challenges. People change. Circumstances change. Someone loses a job or gets sick, or the need for a big move comes up. Change is inevitable.
Every change brings with it opportunities for growth and challenges to face. Each new challenge necessitates re-negotiation and recalibration in a relationship if it’s going to thrive. Successful relationships require constant adjustment.
Sometimes, however, a couple reaches an impasse – a time in their relationship or marriage where they feel stuck and unsure of how to proceed. Sometimes things get so toxic and unhealthy that both partners feel emotionally overwhelmed. At a crossroads like this, couples will often consider taking a break from each other and the relationship.
As a relationship coach, people often ask me if this a good idea or not. My response is always the same - .
When things are particularly strained and painful, taking a break can seem like the smartest and easiest thing to do, but it rarely is. Taking a break can actually be detrimental to your relationship and here are some reasons why:
- Feelings fade: When a couple is apart, it’s easy for the emotional connection between them to dissipate. Especially if your partner is causing you great anguish. Out of sight, out of mind, as the saying goes.
- When you stop investing, things go south: Couples navigating long-distance relationships understand this concept well and quickly discover that they need to work extra hard to keep the connection between them strong. Relationships need constant investment. When we don’t see or interact with each other often enough, things usually go south.
- Relief trumps effort: The relief people feel when taking a break can easily turn into running away from the challenge, instead of working on themselves and the situation.
The only way to prevent these pitfalls is to plan the break carefully. Taking a break without a well-thought out structure in place for what will happen during that break, usually proves disastrous. Rather than a step towards healing, it most often becomes the first step towards ending the relationship.
Before you and your partner consider taking a break, ask yourselves this question: 'What are we trying to accomplish by taking the break?' If you can’t answer this question clearly, then don’t do it!
But if you can answer it satisfactorily, your reflection will set the tone for how helpful or not helpful, your break will be. Remember that the implication of taking a break is that you are planning to get back together at some pre-determined time.
Here are some suggestions on how to make taking a break useful and productive for both partners and for the relationship:
- You are in agreement that taking a break is a good idea: Your success has a lot to do with whether or not a couple has both agreed to take a break. When you’re in agreement, it’s easier to make goals and stick to them. If one partner is pushing for a break, and the other one isn’t into it, that is often a clue that one person is already leaning out of the relationship.
- You create structure: You need to create a well-thought out and mutually agreeable structure for the temporary separation. Details like where will each of you live and who will pay the bills, need to be discussed and decided on before the separation begins. It can be very helpful to work with a therapist or relationship coach who can help you set up a structure like this.
- You begin with a specific time frame: Have a clear time frame about when you’ll start and end the time out. Don’t start the time apart and then ‘see how it goes’. It will always go south.
- You develop mutually agreed upon rules of conduct: Rules of conduct have to be really clear from the beginning. Will you communicate with each other during the time apart? If so, how often and in what ways? This needs to be decided at the outset because you or your partner will most likely change your minds about this several times during the break!
- If you have children together, factor their needs in: If you have children together, it is crucial to consider how the separation will impact them. Their emotional security is your responsibility and first priority!
- You create clear rules of conduct: Decide up front what is allowed and not allowed during the break. Your expectations need to be clearly expressed and negotiated, especially when it comes to seeing other people. Vagueness in this area can be catastrophic.
- Discuss and decide what you each will be working on during the break: Without clear goals and a structure to accomplish them, most of us tend to go to the lowest common denominator. To counteract that, it’s important to clarify your personal and couple goals and what exactly you will be working on during the break.
Separation can be complicated and tricky, and working on your relationship while you continue to live together will almost always bring better results. But in situations where temporary separation really seems like the best course of action, when there is abuse or the threat of abuse, or when one or both partners are depressed or addicted, for example, a structured break can be very beneficial. Couples will always stand a much better chance for healing and success with careful planning and professional support.
Debby Gullery is a relationship coach who loves to teach people simple strategies they can use immediately to improve their most important relationships. She is also passionate about helping single adults prepare for lasting love and commitment. She is the author of ‘Small Steps to Bigger Love’, a practical, easy-to-use book for couples who are seeking to be more intentional and loving. You can reach her at https://www.debbygullery.com.