“No relationship can survive without trust, honesty, and communication, no matter how close you are.”
~ J. Sterling
What is known for a fact is that a couple is made up of two individuals. The key word being individuals.
Meaning, each person has their backgrounds, experiences, ideas, and definitions, which they bring to the relationship. This is why couples therapists continuously stress the notion of open communication within a relationship.
To work towards a common goal, we first have to understand where our partner is coming from and what they mean when discussing specific topics.
The idea of a “break” within a relationship can potentially be a very loaded concept. And can mean something different to each individual. If you find yourself confronted with the request for a break, then fall back on your communication skills to help you understand and cope with what your partner is telling you.
When a break is initiated, we first want to make sure it is not an impulsive act.
Meaning, not in direct response to an argument or a conflict and not being used to demonstrate power over an individual.
If this is the case, then the act of asking for a break would be seen as a consequence to conflict or a way to end conflict because the partner may respond in fear of losing the other person and therefore “back off” of their initial feelings and/or concede in hopes that they won’t be left.
If this is not the case and your partner is coming to you after much thought about their need for a break, do not hesitate to ask questions and ask for clarification.
- How long do they intend the break to be?
- Is there anything directly motivating them to ask for a break?
- Is there anything you can do as their partner to allow them to feel safer in the relationship?
- What is going on in their life that is overwhelming them that halting the relationship will allow them relief?
- What is the status of the relationship while on the break?
- What is the intention of the break, and how should each act?
When posed with the request, try to respond reasonably.
Many people will go to a worst-case scenario and instantly jump into grief stages. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. This is not a necessary reaction. A human response, yes, but not essential and not productive. Be empathetic to your partner and also be strategic.
Now, what if you disagree with your partner’s request for a break?
This is ok too. If this is not what you envisioned for the relationship and find that the two of you are on completely different pages, you don’t need to agree to a break.
You have power within the relationship as well.
It may not be what you want at that moment, but it may be what is best for your future, and you may choose to move on from the relationship.
Always remember, just because your partner asks for something doesn’t mean you need to agree with it.
We don’t always understand where our partners are coming from, but what contributes to a healthy relationship is to respect where they are coming from and vice versa.
If a break is not in your idea of a future for this relationship, don’t try to convince them to “stay”.
If that happens, I guarantee you; this will not be the last time you hear the request for a break. Evaluate where you are in your life and your individual needs and if they don’t match with your partners at that point in your relationship, then decide what the best next step for yourself is and communicate that effectively.
Lori D’Elia, MA, LMFT, CPC – www.deliafamilysolutions.com
Your man says he wants a break. Now what? First, let your adrenaline cool off. Sweat it out. Vent to a girlfriend. Do NOT text him. Wait.
Adrenaline flips a dimmer switch on the brain. Literally. Adrenaline must be released in order for the brain to return to normal functioning. Once you can think you can reason through your decisions and your words.
Step 1: Define the Term
How was it spoken? When? The nature of the request matters.
For example, demanding a break during (or after) a conflict might mask frustration that’s better addressed by working on your communication.
Whereas, a break prompted by talk of moving your relationship to the next level can reveal unresolved baggage or fear.
His request may have been unclear. Try not to get stuck in this step. It’s meant to be a quick(ish) scan for any obvious root cause.
Step 2: Define the Relationship
- How would you describe your relationship? Which aspects are worth fighting to save? Which aspects would you change?
- Would your man’s answers sound similar?
- How might a break enhance or interfere with your relationship development?
Consider processing this step with a loved one who can help you conduct honest assessments.
Step 3: Define the Break
A productive break occurs when you agree to separate for a period of time in order to focus on individual growth so you can return to each other stronger.
If you choose to move forward with a break, then it’s important to determine its length and boundaries.
Clear goals will give the break a strong sense of purpose. Incorporate resources and accountability as needed.
Laura Frederick, LMFT – www.laurafrederickmft.com
Maybe I’m being overly cynical, but I think that when someone tells you they want a “break” they are too afraid to just say that they want to break up.
I know that it’s possible that they really aren’t sure about the viability of the relationship and want time away to think about it, but if there are problems in the relationship, how can you address them if you are “on a break”?
I’m not a fan of separations in general.
That’s mostly because they seldom accomplish anything in terms of working on a relationship.
If you are away from the relationship you are simply avoiding the issues. You can’t evaluate it and you can’t fix it if you’re not in it. Essentially, you’ve just run away and avoided the situation.
He is also probably going to feel a lot better on his break because the stressors of the relationship are no longer there.
- While that’s a nice break for him, what about you?
- Is he comparing how he feels during the break with how he feels when you are together?
- Guess what comes out on top in that comparison?
If it were a fair comparison, it would be different, but how you feel on your own compared with how you feel with your partner is really apples and oranges.
While he is on a “break”, what are you supposed to be doing?
You are in a very vulnerable position waiting for him to make up his mind. He might come back, but he just as easily could make the break permanent.
I think generally a “break” is a cop-out.
Relationships are sometimes work, but that work can ultimately produce a rich and fulfilling experience of intimacy that can’t occur when a person is on his own.
You can’t actually take a break from a relationship. You’re either in or out.
If you’re in, you need to deal with issues as they arise and work at making it better. It’s wrong to leave your partner wondering what you are going to do. If you’re done, then say so and move on
Sally LeBoy, MFT – www.sallyleboymft.com
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