What does “taking a break” really mean?

Plot twists happen. What matters is how you respond to them. Let’s look at one of these classic relationship detours that often takes the unknowing partner on a tailspin, “You think we should take a break!”

The Lead Up

They all of a sudden start becoming distant. Maybe it’s still new so you don’t want to overreact or jump to conclusions – or at least you shouldn’t. Not because you don’t have a reason to, but because you may not get the outcome you really want using that strategy. There are a few essential factors to consider if your partner claims that they need a break from the relationship when things were going well (so you thought). Before you let your ego take over, stop before you react and determine:

  1. What factual observations can you make about any change in their behavior?
  2. Are the changes in their behavior within the acceptable range for a long term relationship (LTR)?
  3. Know how you feel about making an on going commitment to the relationship given these types of fluctuations in behavior.
  4. If you are willing to stay in it, figure out what needs to be addressed for both of you to be content again.
  5. Don’t forget they have needs too and they may not always align with yours, but that is OKAY. Your needs are just as important; know what they are and what you need to clarify as your MUST HAVES.
  6. Never approach a problem solving conversation (aka, confrontation) with the attitude that it’s “your way or the highway!”
  7. Listen to your partner’s needs to actually learn what is important to them and what they are asking for – don’t make it all about you.
  8. Don’t jump to conclusions or jump down their throat.
  9. Consider that taking a break may not be the worst thing in the world.
  10. Clarify the reasons for taking a break. If they are rational, temporary, and factual then there’s no need to overreact.
  11. If you’re feeling panicky maybe it’s more about you being scared to be alone or just feeling hurt and rejected.

Be Mentally Strong!

Rejection almost always stings. You can work through it and remind yourself that people have their own issues, and taking responsibility for them is actually positive. Just because you have a significant other, doesn’t mean that life is all of a sudden smooth sailing. They have a life too and you are going to have to do things you don’t want to do sometimes. So you have to learn to be flexible and ride out some complicated turn of events, especially if you expect to navigate a relationship long-term.

Reality Check

I know some of you will always think the worst, but maybe it has nothing to do with commitment phobia or a wandering eye. It could very well be a career priority, a family obligation, or even just a simple re-evaluation to make sure it’s worth re-prioritizing their life for the relationship. Sure, the movies and love stories you were exposed to growing up told you that when you really love someone, you won’t ever doubt your feelings for them. Hogwash.

There’s more to consider than feelings. Feelings are fleeting. Commitment and partnership makeup a complex dynamic that requires thorough evaluation. Plus, after the glitz and novelty of youth wears off we realize that romance isn’t the only priority worth pursuing. For those of us who have big careers, passions, travel plans, or family complications, an LTR can be quite tedious; especially if we are forgetting to take care of ourselves in the middle of all that.

Above all else, make sure you are taking care of you and they are taking care of themselves. Imagine having a partner who was so insensitive and self absorbed that no matter how overwhelmed you felt managing your responsibilities and the relationship, they refused to be flexible. If this is the case they clearly believe that their need to be attached is more important than your need to gain perspective.

The Upside

Relationships require effort to maintain and time to enjoy. So, whether you are swept away in the fun bits or barely juggling your significant other’s needs with the full plate you already maintain – it could be the mature and insightful thing to do – to take a break and regroup yourself to determine if some reorganizing and reprioritizing is in order.

Once you establish that the reason for the break is real and rational, take some time to connect with your feelings. You may not have the luxury of a responsive partner. In that case, use this time to go full steam into all the projects and priorities you have on your own. Reflect on where the relationship was before it halted, and assess whether you would have done anything differently knowing “the break” was going to happen. Would you have been firmer with your own boundaries, held back, been more open, listened better, did more for your partner, or even yourself? Those can be your reminders when the next opportunity comes around. You can’t take for granted that they will come back to you, but if you care for them and the relationship is important to you, be true to that intention during “the break”.

What NOT to do

Don’t act out like a rebellious teenager trying to self soothe. Go slowly and focus your energy on your goals. Stay open. Maybe you will meet someone who you wouldn’t have otherwise met, but don’t pursue new relationships. You should know what you want even more now if you’ve taken the time to reflect and connect with yourself. I’m betting you want… “someone decisive, attentive, and assertive who makes you feel important.” Wait for that.

Maybe your (ex)partner will return, but maybe they won’t. Your energy shouldn’t be aimed at repressing your feelings for them, getting some kind of revenge, or numbing out with meaningless sex. If you were happy before the relationship, the relationship would have merely been the icing on the cake anyway, and returning to a happy single life – even if not so temporary – isn’t all that horrible.

The Caveat

If on the other hand, your partner wants a break because they want to step out and try some other options without repercussions – – – that is not a break, that is a breakup! If you have that sneaking suspicion that they are just avoiding the hard conversation, or are trying to find a loop hole to have their cake and eat it too, grow some balls and walk away without any strings. If you are stuck in a cycle of taking back or going back to someone who cannot commit to a relationship with integrity, than you are the one who needs to change. It doesn’t matter how hard it is, you MUST be alone for a while and do some self improvement. Jumping into another relationship isn’t the answer either, but it may take away the loneliness.

Whether it ends up working out or not is not the end game. The end game is always, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, how to use this as an opportunity to grow.

Email: drbabelovelife@gmail.com with your private comments or questions


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