Contrary to what Ross and Rachel's experience might have lead you to believe, pressing pause on your partnership can sometimes be a positive way to tackle seemingly insurmountable issues in your relationship. But there are some caveats – taking a break from your relationship needs to be done properly in order to have any benefits for you both.
We spoke to Super Switch relationship psychologist Jacqui Manning to find out the pros and cons of a relationship break, and how to do it right.
Why go on a relationship break?
There's no doubting it – monogamy can be hard. And when saving your relationship is a priority, sometimes there's nothing you won't try. Relationships have to hit a pretty low point for a break to seem like the answer and manning says that she's seen plenty of reasons for the decision.
"Common reasons people consider a break can include ongoing conflict they can't resolve, one or both parties feelings have changed, something has happened to cause a loss of trust, they may need to work something out personally or consider if they are still wanting the same kind of future together, for example do they want kids or marriage," she says.
Can going on a break help your relationship?
"If it's done with open and honest communication, respect, and a willingness to do deep work on themselves to bring awareness to their contribution to the relationship problems, a break can turn out to be a positive step for some couples," Manning says.
A period of time apart, done positively, can give both partners breathing space to have some perspective on the relationship and work on the parts of themselves that are causing issues (hello, emotional baggage).
Sometimes you need space to see solutions emerge that may have been clouded by the conflict or constant issues. But Manning says the implications need to be carefully considered.
When is going on a break a bad idea?
Taking a break from your relationship isn't the best idea if you're after a 'hall pass' or you're just struggling to split with your significant other.
"On the negative side it can prolong pain, misunderstandings and provide an environment for doubt and mistrust," Manning explains.
"Some people aren't sure how to break up from their relationship so a break becomes a stepping stone, but if one party truly wants to break up with the other then they have to make the decision as honestly and quickly as possible, rather than stringing the other one along with hope they will stay together," Manning says.
So what are the dos and don'ts of going on a break?
Manning says that both parties should understand what has brought them to this point and decide together how spending time apart is going to look and feel. Work together with your partner to lay down some ground rules like:
- What is your agreed time-frame?
- What are the boundaries for when you're apart?
- What kind of communication would work for you while you're apart and how regular should it be?
- When will you come together to decide the next step?
- Will you be dating other people?
"It's important to be clear and specific about these so both people have a shared understanding about what's acceptable and what's not," Manning advises. "If you breach the set boundaries then that is of the same seriousness as if you were together as normal."
"The idea of seeing or even talking with other people is likely to come up and what's a deal-breaker is going to be an individual choice, so make sure you're on the same page as to if it's allowed and if it happens, if you want to hear about it or not."
And if you haven't considered relationship therapy in the first place, now's the time.
Is it possible to tag these articles with The Super Switch airs Wednesdays on Channel 7 and is available on www.7plus.com.au