In an ideal world, everyone in the relationship would be on board with the idea of taking a short time period apart in which you could both reflect on how things are going, and what needs to change if you want to move forward. Alas, the world is not ideal, and, in my experience, usually only one person in the relationship badly, badly wants to take a break. The other person usually does not want to take a break. In fact, their eyes are screaming, OMG DON’T LEAVE ME I’M GONNA GRAB ON WITH BOTH HANDS AND PULL YOU CLOSER THAN EVER BECAUSE I THINK YOU’RE ABOUT TO LEAVE ME DON’T LEAVE MEEEEEEEE from the very moment you bring up the subject.
The person who does not want to take a break is operating out of fear—they’re afraid of losing you and/or being alone. What we need to do is help them see that a break is a move that stems from love—you want to be with them and continue on in the relationship—you’re just having a really hard time with the way things are right now, and you need some time to collect your thoughts and figure out what happens next. So, what are the steps to successfully arranging a break with your S.O. so nobody panics?
Examine your motives.
Why do you want to take a break? Are you guys fighting too much? Are you feeling a lot of pressure to do something you don’t want to do, such as have sex before you’re ready, check in way more often than you’d like to, or spend every last waking second with your babe? If so, what would taking a break solve? (And: Do you actually just want to break up? If this is the case, do not use “taking a break” as an easy out—it’s really unfair, plus it will actually prolong the difficulty and pain of the split. Just break up.)
Write down your reasons.
If you definitely, definitely want to try to stay together with your S.O., but just need some space for a while, write down why on a piece of paper, or in an email to yourself. List all your reasons as if you were talking to your person. It doesn’t have to be eloquent; you’re not going to show this to anybody. Your reasons could be anything: “I feel like you get really jealous whenever I talk to any other guys/girls, even if they’re just my friends,” or, “You always want a bite of my food, but then won’t ever give me a bite of your food.” These are your reasons, and you can feel how you feel! A written list will help you remain firm in your resolve to take a break when it’s time to discuss a break with your partner.
Initiate the convo.
Ask your S.O. if you can have a chat. Now, no one likes to hear, “I think we need to talk,” re: relationships, but you do need to talk! Just say, “Can I talk to you for a minute?” during a peaceful moment. If you’re super, super nervous to ask your partner to take a break, that could be a red flag worth thinking about. It’s hard to be with someone who freaks the heck out when you ask for something you need.
Explain what you need using “we” words.
You guys are a team. A relationship-team. You, personally, are not having a problem in the relationship—you both are! Whether it’s fighting, generally being shitty to each other, or someone not getting enough space, it’s everybody in the relationship’s problem, not just yours.
You could try saying something like, “We’ve been getting into a lot of stupid fights lately, and it’s really stressful for both of us, and taking up tons of our time. We love each other, right? And we want to stay together. [Wait for copious nodding/agreement from your S.O.] I’d like us to stay together, and I think we could both use a little bit of space so we can chill out and get our heads together.”
Look at all those “we” words! You are so clearly in this together! This is really just a team meeting, is what it is. A team meeting for the relationship team of You Both.
Understand that your partner might not understand at first.
They might protest. They might try to argue with you. They might try to go on the offensive and attempt a preemptive break-up with you, which is what they might think you’re doing to them. Shhhh. Do not panic. Your partner is acting out of fear. Calm this fear by slowly and quietly repeating, “I love you”—if you do, that is—and then continue, “I do not want to break up. I want us to fix our problems and stay together. I think a short break would help us. I do not want to break up.” Repeat, verbatim, if your person is looking panicky or glassy-eyed. I find, if you are the one who wants to take a break and your partner does not, that you’ll need to repeat this several times before the message sinks in.
If your partner escalates to actual shouting, tries to turn this calm conversation into a screaming fight, or tries to break up with you after you say everything above…calmly stop the conversation and leave. Your partner is not in a place to do this. You could try again soon, or…perhaps now would be a good time to think about whether or not you’re OK with getting shouted at for asking for something you need. Are you OK with not being listened to, even when you asked for something peacefully and offered plenty of reassurance?
Assuming all has gone well with asking for a break and reassuring your partner that you do not want to break up, you are now going to nip any remaining fear of a break in the bud. Because you’re going to…
Set a clear timeline for the break to start and end.
How long do you need? Do you need a weekend to yourself? Do you need the entire week of school or work? Do you need seven whole days, two solid weeks, an entire month for this break? Think about how long your heart wants to take a break from hurting, and ask for the time you actually need. A clear break period with definitive start- and end-times will soothe a freaking-out S.O. And I mean clear, as in “Our break will start at midnight tonight and end at 5 PM this Saturday—I will text you when it’s over.”
Set clear expectations and boundaries.
If you want to take a break, your S.O. needs to know what to expect! You can’t just leave “a break” undefined, because that leads to a few hours of peace and then 14 sad texts at 1 AM that say “I miss you :( Can I call you?” and, “I know you’re reading these and I just want to come over, this is so stupid, why are you doing this?” NOPE. Your guidelines can look like anything you want, because it’s your life, but set some. For the record, my guidelines during a break look like this:
No Instagram-tagging or commenting
No Facebook or FB messaging
No showing up at work
No showing up at my house
No showing up at places it’s a good bet I’ll be
Radio silence. When I take a break, I want NO CONTACT WHATSOEVER, so I can kind of pretend I’m a person who is not romantically attached to another person. It’s a way to check in with myself and see how I’m feeling about everything. But you may not be like that—maybe you think emailing back and forth is OK, or maybe you want to send each other a goodnight text each night. All kinds of boundaries work when taking a break, as long as they are crystal clear and agreed upon by both people. And if you notice your S.O. is not respecting (or flagrantly ignoring) your agreed-upon boundaries? Well hey, there’s something else to think about during your break!
If your S.O. does repeatedly ignore your agreed-upon boundaries—say they’re bombing your phone when there’s supposed to be no contact, or sending you shitty messages, or trying to come over—that’s not good, honestly. I suggest one terse reminder, such as one text back that says, “We agreed we weren’t going to talk until Wednesday. Please respect our boundaries. This will be my last text.”
If your S.O. responds angrily or sadly to that: Do what you gotta do, even if that’s blocking their number. Don’t respond again—keep your end of the bargain. It is absolutely not OK to simply ignore boundaries the two of you set together. MAJOR red flag, BB.
Make sure to spell out whether you both can or cannot date other people during this break.
This is vital to talk about, even if the break is a short one, even if it lasts for only one weekend. If you are not both crystal-clear on whether or not you can date or make out/sleep with someone outside the relationship…one of you might be in for a very unexpected, not-so-pleasant surprise when you meet back up. Many people, when they hear, “We are on a break”, think, I am now free to bone someone else, while plenty of other people wouldn’t even pause to consider it as a possible option. Do not gloss over or skip a discussion about whether other people’s bods are off-limits.
Use the time wisely.
If you’ve successfully asked for a break and you’re in the middle of one, now’s the time to think hard: Where is this relationship going? Do you see a future with this person? What are your dealbreakers for behavior you won’t accept anymore? How are you going to change some of your relationship’s bad habits? Come up with some ideas and a plan of attack for when future problems arise. How are you two going to resolve a particular issue the next time around?
End the break by meeting in a public place.
Neutral territory! After the Official Break End-Time, text or call your S.O. and meet up somewhere like a coffee shop, a restaurant, or a park. If the break did the trick—you both followed the boundaries you laid out together! you are feeling refreshed and ready to see your person again! you’ve given your relationship careful thought and are rarin’ to get back into it, this time with new problem-solving solutions!—it will probably feel VERY SUPER AMAZING to see them! You can talk about how the break went, how you’re both feeling, and how you’re going to move ahead in your relationship. You can also kiss and call each other “my li’l puddin’ pop” and gross other people out by climbing into each other’s laps. You’ve earned it! And now you both know that not only are you ready to come back to your relationship more thoughtfully, but that you can take a another break if ever you should need to again in the future, and nobody has to panic: You’ve already successfully done it. ♦