Let’s face it: No matter how many times we binge-watch Friends and no matter how many years (20!) have passed since that fateful episode aired, the inner romantic in us still wants to blame Chloe, the copy girl, for the demise of Ross and Rachel’s relationship. But even those of us who believe Rachel and Ross were truly each other’s “lobsters” (oh, Phoebe) cannot deny that the true culprit was their communication—or lack thereof.
And since this situation happens all the time IRL (including to David Schwimmer himself), we called on relationship experts to find out what you should ask yourself if you’re thinking about taking a break.
Versus a week ago, a month ago, even six months ago, what's making you want to take a breather now? While this might seem like an obvious question, it should help you decipher whether your desire to take a break is a direct result of a recent argument or of something greater (like a recurring fight that seems to have no end). “Sometimes we will make major life decisions in the heat of battle,” says Gary Brown, Ph.D., a licensed psychotherapist in Los Angeles. “And sometimes when we make decisions based upon intense emotions in the moment, we often wind up regretting them.” So by asking this question you actually buy yourself time to cool down before rushing to the b-word.
That being said, if you can actually pinpoint specific reasons for wanting to take a break, asking this question will help you communicate your emotions to your partner. “Your significant other might want or need to know the answer as to why you want to separate for a bit, and ‘I don’t know’ will almost certainly lead to hurt feelings, increased mistrust, and distance,” says Laura L. Young, L.C.S.W.
Being in a relationship comes with learning how to compromise and work things out together—think finances, communication, scheduling, the list goes on. Before taking a break you need to consider whether or not both of you are willing to work toward change. If so, then a break might be a good opportunity to do so. Taking a break can also send the message that if your partner doesn't finally put in the effort to change something that’s deeply hurting you, such as their constant criticism or their drinking habits, then you’re not going to stay, says Michele Marsh, Ph.D., licensed psychologist and couples therapist in Philadelphia. In this case, it’s best that you’re explicit with your partner about what’s bothering you and give them the chance to fix it before jumping to a break.
When asking this question, you should also think if there are any future "deal breakers," such as marriage or having children, that you and your partner don’t agree on. And if neither party is willing to budge on topics like these, then a break up might be in order (rather than just a break).
Ask yourself what you want to get out of the break, Marsh says. Then consider if this goal would be better achieved alone or while in your relationship. For example, if you feel like you're losing yourself in the relationship, you’d probably need to work on being more independent, making your own decisions, and making sure you have other forms of support. Then you'd need to decide whether you'd like to figure those issues out on your own or start working on it together with your partner. The choice is yours.
Fact: People communicate or express their emotions differently, and these differences can lead to conflicts. Part of being in a relationship is working on these clashes together to arrive at a compromise or just a better understanding. But that’s easier said than done for some people, especially those who are afraid to show emotion or face issues head on, Marsh says. So it’s important to ask yourself, “Have I done this before?” To answer, Marsh recommends looking for patterns in your family life, friendships, and romantic relationships to see if you have a tendency to break things off or leave when the going gets tough. If you start to see a pattern, a break might not be the best option. Instead, Brown suggests seeking counselling to better figure out and work on why you flee so frequently.
Before taking any action picture the future without your partner. How do you feel? (Yep, we’re talking your gut feelings.) At first you might get queasy at the idea, but take some time to think it over. If your answer is the same days later, then maybe a break isn’t the best idea. That being said, Brown also suggests talking to a third party, like a friend, counsellor, or family member, to get a different perspective on your relationship. It’s possible you’re leaning toward a break because you’re bored or looking to date around, but if you can’t come up with a specific reason for why you want to take a break and you don’t feel comfortable with potentially losing your partner, then you should reconsider. Instead try couples counselling to work on the relationship and mull your feelings over, Brown says.
“There is no ‘cookie-cutter’ template on how to initiate asking for or demanding a break from your significant other,” Young says. The same is true for the break itself. There are no concrete guidelines for how long your break should be, if you can talk to your significant other during this time, and whether you can see other people. One thing that's clear, no matter what the circumstances, is that if you’re considering taking a break then you must be open with your partner about your decision and the rules for the break.
This article originally appeared on Women's Health.