Illustration by Leeay.

Illustration by Leeay.

Here at Rookie, I feel like we do a fair amount of chattin’ about the preliminary steps of dating, like: How do you let someone know you like them? What will that first kiss be like? and, How do you handle yourself when you’re doing more than just kissing? We’ve also had a few good heart-to-hearts about the tail ends of dating, such as: How do you break up with someone? and, How do you get over someone when you’re broken up?

These are all good things to know, and, personally, I love talking about this stuff! I could do it all day. The world of crushes and first loves and second loves and 11,333rd loves is an endlessly diverting one: There is nothing like the feeling of falling in or being in like/love to turn you into a happy zombie solely focused on inhaling your new partner’s soul. There is also nothing like the messiness and drama of breaking up to capture your attention for weeks and months on end.

But…what about the middle part? The actually-being-in-a-relationship part? The part where you’re in love with someone, you’re dating steadily, it’s been a while, and you’re actively working on your relationship as a team? Or, as my friend Mikal would say: “You mean, the boring part.”

Wrong! There is nothing boring about being in a functional, steady relationship, unless you are actually bored in said relationship. Long-term relationships can be v. v. interesting—you’re learning about all the little infinities your person contains. A relationship, just like being single and dating around, has its extreme highs and extreme lows, and following the plotline of your story with someone can be fascinating. I think it takes guts to say, “You know what? I love you, and I’m gonna stick around,” to someone else. Sticking with a person to see where you guys go together ain’t easy…

…Especially when both loving parties seem to have a magical and unique ability to annoy the crap out of each other. Here’s the dirty secret of many committed couples: You love each other, but damn, sometimes the person you love and are committed to is about to get smothered in their sleep if they do that one thing ONE MORE TIME.

That’s part of the Circle of Love I want to talk about today. The uncute part. The part that is not surprise flowers and butterflies in your stomach and sweet late nights dawdling at diners. Specifically, what do you do when you love your boyfriend/girlfriend/partner, but you guys are falling into some rotten habits or patterns that are putting a huge strain on your relationship?

What kind of rotten habits and patterns am I talking about? Ho ho ho…it is sad how quickly I can come up with examples. Rotten relationship habits and patterns include, but are not limited to: Someone texting too much and always expecting instant replies, not texting enough and making their Significant Other (S.O.) feel gross and anxious on purpose, text-fighting (ugh), fighting over chat (UGH!), calling too much for no particular reason “just to talk” and getting upset if the other person doesn’t feel like talking right at that moment, a partner calling in a way that feels like they’re “checking up” on the other person in the relationship (like if you say you’re going to a friend’s house and your S.O. calls to “say hi” but really to make sure you’re at your friend’s house), both of you picking fights about stupid things, fighting with each other way too much (way too much is when you are stressed out by the fighting and/or fantasizing about breaking up), someone wanting to spend every single last second of free time with the other person, someone getting upset and not understanding if the other person wants to do something (anything!) alone, one person insisting you both hang out instead of the other person doing something they want or need to do regularly (like writing, doing homework, or going running), or just both of you generally doing things that you know irritate each other, because one of you is mad about something from before, endlessly, in a cycle of nonsense.

Rrrrr. None of these are good or healthy behaviors in a relationship, and I hope that none of them are currently going on with you in yours. However, LET’S JUST SAY, HYPOTHETICALLY, that one (or even a few) of the above-mentioned rotten behaviors are going on with you and your partner in your relationship, and have been steadily worsening, despite your best efforts to stop said behavior. But! Let’s also say your partner’s good qualities heavily outweigh their completely irritating qualities. Let’s say you honestly love your partner, and you do not actually want to break up, but you feel like if you have one more really intense text fight, you’re gonna break up with him/her due to the sheer stress. CAN YOU LIVE???

What the fuck do you do?

Well! Some people might tell you that you have two options:

1. End it anyway. You and your partner are obviously showing your true colors, now that you’re comfortable in the relationship, and it’s clear you guys are not actually compatible, so end it now before you get in any deeper.

2. Stick with it. Fight through the awful, shitty behavior that you are both turning into patterns in your relationship, and work hard to change these terrible habits. True love doesn’t quit. Or give up. Ever.

But…but…both of these options suck! You love this person. They are simply currently driving you up the wall, or vice versa, or both. But the love is there!

For you, the person in a relationship who is torn up about what to do re: intense fighting and unbearable drama with a person you honestly love and don’t want to break up with, might I suggest a severely under-publicized additional option?

3. Take a break. Ya heard me: Just…take a break. It’s OK. Step back from the problem so you can get a handle on what’s going on. Get off the relationship merry-go-round. You can take a break from your significant other without it turning into a breakup. I’ve done it multiple times. I know others who have successfully done it, too. Taking a break can be such an important and underused relationship helper-outter!

Think about it: You get breaks at school. You get breaks at work—something that this relationship is increasingly starting to feel like. Taking a break is like hitting the “reset” button with your S.O.: It can give you both badly-needed breathing room to re-examine how you feel about your relationship and assess what your next move is going to be.

But…how do you do it? A lot of people panic when their significant other says, “We need to take a break.” Instead of the words “take a break,” they automatically hear, We are breaking up. I am prolonging the breakup by saying I need a break, but it is over. Na-uh. It’s not over. You are taking a time-out. Like an intermission at a play—in the midst of all the drama, everyone takes a few minutes to pee and grab a snack, and you come right back to the action refreshed.