Does 'Taking A Break' Ever End Well? Here's What Marriage Experts Say

Yes, it's possible to get back together after taking a break -- but first you need to establish ground rules.
Timeouts in relationships only work if partners mutually agree on ground rules, experts say.
Graeme Montgomery via Getty Images
Timeouts in relationships only work if partners mutually agree on ground rules, experts say.

Is "taking a break" ever a good idea?

It can be productive, according to Kristin Davin, a New York City-based psychologist, but the pair must be upfront about what calling a timeout on their relationship really means.

"Many couples get back together again," she told HuffPost. "What often adds difficulty is when they don’t discuss what [the ground rules for] the break will look like moving forward; that can make it much more problematic."

Below, Davin and other couples therapists share their advice for a productive and successful break, whether that means reuniting and becoming stronger as a couple or deciding to split.

1. Before asking for a break, do some soul searching and figure out why you need some space.

Before bringing it up with your S.O., give some serious thought to why you're considering broaching the subject, said Liz Higgins, a Dallas, Texas-based couples therapist who works primarily with millennials.

"When taking a timeout, call it for yourself and not for your partner," she said. "This decision all comes down to knowing yourself: If you're feeling stressed and overwhelmed, maybe you really do need time for yourself to evaluate the situation."

2. Ask yourself: Am I taking a break to avoid toxicity?

Perhaps you're still deeply invested in your relationship and see the value of being together. But if you're leaning toward taking a break because you need relief from constant conflict and arguments, ask yourself if the measure is even worth it, said Carin Goldstein, a marriage and family therapist based in Sherman Oaks, California.

"Whatever you're running away from -- hostility, power struggles -- will be right there waiting for you after the break," she said. "If your relationship is toxic, be prepared to swim right back into it upon your return."

3. Establish some ground rules.

Too often, couples take a break but never talk about how it will play out in real, concrete terms, Davin said.

"This option can work if couples have a plan," she said, suggesting people address the following series of questions: "What are the rules? What is the purpose of taking a break? Will we be staying in contact, dating other people, working on ourselves and thinking about getting back together?"

4. Make sure you've come to an agreement on dating other people.

You don't want to hear about a Tinder date your partner went on from a friend. While establishing ground rules for the break, thoroughly discuss your feelings on seeing other people, said Marni Feuerman, a couples therapist based in Boca Raton, Florida.

"Figure out if seeing other people would be a deal breaker for you," she told HuffPost. "It's good to hang out with your friends and pursue interests and hobbies but dating could make the later decision-making process more convoluted."

5. Recognize that sometimes a break brings a couple one step closer to an actual breakup.

Yes, sometimes taking a break is a half measure that eventually leads to the couple splitting up, Feuerman said. If your relationship is in poor shape, a break can only serve as a Band-Aid for so long.

"It can be a healthy choice to step away from the relationship to determine its future path," she said. "On the other hand, it can be a mid-step between being together and breaking up. For many people, proposing a break is a 'softer' way to say they truly wish to just break up."

6. Know that if you communicate and are determined to stay together, a break can do a world of good.

If your relationship is relatively healthy and your intention is to make room for self-growth, taking a break can absolutely strengthen your bond, said R. Scott Gornto, a marriage therapist based in Plano, Texas.

"It can work if the couple is determined to rejoin after the break, set boundaries and establish individual goals to change their own behavior in the relationship."

7. Set a date where you come together and decide what your next step will be.

Agree to check in with each other after a certain period of time, regardless of whether you've determined the fate of your relationship, Feuerman said.

"In general, I would avoid talking about the issues in your relationship during the break. You have probably been discussing this to no end and have ended up taking a break for this reason," she said. "When you do eventually talk, just let each other know how you're working on yourself during the time apart."

8. Don't take a break as a way to postpone the inevitable.

If at any point you realize you'd rather just be single, you owe it to your partner to bring it up, Davin said.

"Sometimes one person wants out and isn’t sure how to go about doing that, so it goes under the radar of ‘I want to take a break,'" she said. "You need to continue to ask yourself: Do I want to take a break or do I really want to end it?"

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