Breakups are never easy. In fact, the only thing ever truly keeping two people together is the decision to be together, regardless of what movies and TV have hammered into our brains about fate. Compatibility and spark only take us so far, and then it’s up to us to look at each other and say, “What now?”
A lot of the time, that “what” starts out strong and then hits a bump in the road when we can either decide to move forward together, split up, or — the middle ground made famous by Ross Geller and Rachel Green — “take a break.” Sometimes, these breaks are temporary, and sometimes they’re permanent, but they always affect us deeply, for better or for worse.
If you’re thinking of taking a break from your partner, consider the following questions first. And know that no matter what you decide, things have a way of working themselves out the way they’re supposed to.
1Why aren’t we compatible right now?
There is no rule book stating “X, Y, and Z are good enough reasons to take a break,” so don’t look at this from that angle, if you can help it. The point is it’s important to really understand what is going on (or not) between the two of you. Is it a communication issue? Family drama? Money? Does it just not “feel” right? Whatever your reasons, they’re valid, but figuring out what they are is a crucial first step.
2What has changed since we got together?
It’s a good idea to consider what the two of you have been through over the time you’ve been an item, both together and separately. Did a big life happenstance occur that drove you apart? Did something happen that caused one of you to withdraw, with the other unsure of what to do? Are you waiting for some kind of sign on how to move forward? The answer can simply be that the passion has just fizzled, which happens. A lot.
3Are these reasons deal-breakers long term?
Next comes the harder part: Are these issues that you can work out in the long run? Stuff like finances, communication, etc. are usually able to be rectified if both parties are willing to put in the work — and in those cases, a break to figure out your respective next moves might be a great decision — but if it’s some truly life-altering that neither of you is willing to budge on (e.g., marriage, kids), it might be more of a sign that a breakup is imminent rather than a break. Which is OK, by the way — this type of incompatibility is natural, as much as it sucks, and neither of you is in the wrong.
4What about this relationship is holding me back from other goals?
A lot of times, when couples take a break, it’s because they want to pursue something that the relationship is keeping them from pursuing. Ask yourself what that thing really, truly is. Is it traveling abroad for an extended period of time? Is it dating other people? Is it moving across the country to pursue a career goal? If the reasons are distance-related, really consider whether a long-distance companionship would work. If your gut tells you no, then that’s probably your answer.
5What is my gut emotion when I consider life without this person romantically?
It’s easy to make a mental list of reasons why you should or shouldn’t be together, but really consider two things: 1. How many of those reasons are life-altering versus circumstantial (for example, if it’s “My clothes are still at his house,” that’s more of a justification to stay together rather than a reason to)? And 2. What is your gut feeling when you consider stepping away?
If the answer to #2 is anything positive — relief, happiness, etc. — that is a good indicator that a break or permanent breakup is probably a good idea. Just be honest with yourself, and don’t mistake jealousy over thinking about your partner with someone else as a sole reason to stay together. Those feelings will likely be there for a long time, regardless of whether you’re together or not (and they’re totally healthy, too).
6Is the break worth potentially losing this person for good?
If your gut feelings answered all our burning questions, life would be a lot easier, wouldn’t it? But unfortunately, we usually have to use both our hearts and heads to come up with the best middle ground. Think about a future without this person as your life partner. Would you feel complete? Honestly, the answer will probably be “No” instinctually since you’re still together, but give it a few days to mull over. If this person honestly makes you a better human, you feel a real connection, and it’s worth putting in the work, really consider this break.
7Are the issues something that could be worked out in counseling?
Couple’s counseling gets a bad rap a lot of the time because social media has often made it seem like couples don’t have problems, but to be honest, there are pretty much no downsides to therapy (except for a financial investment, which is completely worth it). Sometimes, issues are completely related to communication, and a few counseling sessions can fix whatever’s going on. Heck, even celebs are all about couple’s therapy — just ask #marriagegoals spouses extraordinaire Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard!
8What is my end goal?
We know it’s “to be happy,” because that’s all anyone wants at the end of the day. And you and your partner both deserve happiness, whether that’s together or apart. As long as you can be honest with each other (and yourselves) about what will bring you that happiness — and if you’re not sure what that is, see #7, because we really insist on and totally encourage this!
Life will go on whether you and your partner are taking it on together or not, so just remember that breaks can always be just that: a time to reflect and focus on ourselves. And there is nothing but beauty in that.