Can taking a break from a relationship ever work?

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Taking a break

Can taking a break make you appreciate each other again? Or is it two people in denial about the end of a relationship? One writer’s own break changed her views. Here’s why it worked for her – and when it doesn’t

Whenever I heard someone say they were taking a break from their relationship, I used to roll my eyes. ‘Accept it, it’s over’ I’d think. Surely, if you don’t get on now, you never will? Time apart may refresh romance but it won’t change the fundamentals of a relationship – shared values, interest and respect.

I thought that taking a break could only mean one of two things. Either they want to see other people without sacrificing the cosiness of a committed relationship, or they know they’re wildly unsuited but neither is brave enough to go it alone.

But I now see that my theory was too reductive.

18 months ago, I met a wonderful man, 10 years older than me. After a few dates, everything felt right, except for one thing: timing. He had separated from his wife just four months previously. From date one, he was open about the trauma the unexpected split had caused. Understandably, his emotions were all over the place. He was rediscovering himself as well as discovering the modern novelty of online dating!

Baggage rarely matters in the early days of dating. It’s all about cocktails, long walks, and picking out your best outfits. Deep down, I knew he was in no position to fall in love. But we had fun, great sex and beautiful conversations.

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Taking a break

Inevitably, those chats deepened and, before we knew it, we were having ‘the talk’ – the one where you’re open about how you really feel. Uh oh. I wasn’t necessarily looking for a full-time commitment but I did want someone who, like me, had done the dating rounds, grown tired of it, and could now appreciate a special connection.

He, on the other hand, still saw dating as a novelty after 18 years of monogamy. We concluded this was never going to work. Like many couples, we called it a break to ease the blow. If, after three months, we felt the same about each other, then perhaps there really was something special there.

Three months later, we reunited with the same magic we had at the beginning. Of course, this tale is still inconclusive because who knows what lies ahead. But I’m no longer so judgemental about couples who take a break.

Taking a break can give you the time you need to get to a different place of readiness. However, there are a few essential questions you should consider before taking the plunge:

Timing vs. compatibility

Be honest about why you need the relationship break. Are you fundamentally not suited? Character clashes will never go away. My break worked because our differences were focused on our readiness for a relationship. A break can give you time to recover from hurt, reflect on what you really want, reach a personal goal, or even travel.

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What’s a realistic time frame?

A relationship break can allow you to make the most of the single life and feel sated, but you may need significantly longer than three months. Assess your circumstances objectively. If you got together at 18 and feel you both need to explore your independence, will a six-month break really be enough?

Can you let them go?

Taking a break means just that. You should both be prepared to date other people, or take that job opportunity on the other side of the world. Yes, it may mean that one of you will meet someone else or that your life moves somewhere else. If you cling to the thought that you’ll get back together, it isn’t truly a break.

Can they let you go?

A relationship break works both ways. If they want a break but still text, call and like everything on your social media channels, it’s not fair. It’s the equivalent of poking you for attention. Hearing them say they miss you may be flattering, but it’s also a convenient way to stop you mentally moving on. If you agree to taking a break, go and enjoy life without them – you never know what you might discover.

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