How To Take A Relationship Break & Not Have It End In Disaster
Twenty-three years after Ross first shouted, “We were on a break!” in an episode of Friends, people are still debating what, exactly, taking a break means. Is “a break” just a gentler word for a total, if possibly temporary, breakup, which is how Ross took it? Or is “a break” a period of time in which you don’t see each other, but you don’t sleep with other people, which is what Rachel thought? Ross and Rachel make it clear: If you don’t define what “taking a break” actually means, that break can very quickly turn into a breakup. Not to mention the seven seasons of drama that followed.
So, Ross and Rachel are clearly an example of what not to do. But does taking a relationship break ever work? Ross and Rachel did end up getting back together, after all. But perhaps because no one can agree on what “taking a break” means, there hasn’t been a lot of research into the pros and cons of doing so. But one 2009 study of on-again, off-again relationships among college students found that on-off couples were more likely to report negative experiences, including communication problems and uncertainty, and less likely to report positive feelings, including love and understanding from partners, than other types of couples. And a 2004 study of young adults found that only one-third of couples who broke up and got back together again actually stayed together in the long term.
That said, relationship experts say that there’s a right and a wrong way to take a break — and that taking a break can even be beneficial for a relationship, depending on the situation. And if taking a break does lead to a breakup, who’s to say that that’s a bad outcome? Ending a relationship that’s not working for you is a good thing.
So if you want to take a relationship break that’s actually helpful, here’s how to do it.
Agree on what “a break” means
Learn from Ross and Rachel and define “a break.” Talk with your partner and agree on ground rules: Can you have sex with other people? Can you date other people? How often will you communicate or see each other, if at all? Will you unfollow each other on social media? Can you discuss the break with mutual friends? How about your families? This will be a hard conversation, but setting boundaries before you begin will make the actual break so much easier.
Work out the logistics
When you date someone for a while, your lives become super-interwoven. So in addition to having the “can we kiss other people?” talk, it’s a good idea to also have one big conversation up front where you work out all the details about what the more boring, “adult” stuff will look like post-break. If you live together, work out a schedule for who sleeps on the couch when. Decide whether you guys are still chill sharing a Netflix account. Pick one of you to go to that Zoom happy hour your mutual friends invited you both to last…
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