two people holding hands but they're about to let go of each other
Illustration by Marta Pucci

Can a Break Help a Relationship? Let's Find Out

Photo of Dr Katherine Hertlein
Reviewed by Dr Katherine Hertlein,
created by Blueheart
created by Josh Green
created by Sophie Browness
Date published:
Last updated:
Photo of Dr Katherine Hertlein
Reviewed by Dr Laura Vowels,
created by Blueheart
created by Josh Green
created by Sophie Browness
Date published:
Last updated:


  • There are many reasons a couple might decide to take a break.
  • Making the decision to try a temporary split does not mean your relationship is doomed to fail.
  • It's important to work out what you want to gain from the split - it could be time out to think, to reconnect with yourself or to examine the relationship, for example.
  • Do not broach the subject of a break in the heat of an argument. 
  • If you want your relationship to have the best chance of success post-break, set some ground rules and be open and honest about how you're both feeling. 

It’s the age-old question. One destined to divide even the closest of partnerships or friendship groups. Were Ross and Rachel really on a break? Of course all’s well that ended well there (#spoileralert), but is that always the case?

Can a break ever help a relationship or does it usually lead to one or both partners realizing the grass is greener elsewhere?

If you’re starting to feel like hitting the pause button, allowing yourself some time apart to take stock, work out what comes next and then come back together with a renewed sense of passion and excitement, read on.

Let’s explore the idea of ‘taking a break’ from your romantic relationship and whether it is ever actually a good idea.  

Why do couples take a break?

Every couple is different, and every romantic relationship has tough patches. But it’s the response each couple has to their situation that determines how things pan out. What leads one couple to give therapy a go, one to simply struggle through and another to suggest a break is the right way forward? And what gets them to the place where they need a ‘break’ in the first place?

Some find they’ve started arguing a lot, they’ve had some ups and downs and are ready to exit that emotional rollercoaster for a little while. For others, one or both parties may have started having doubts about the relationship. Perhaps they simply have cold feet about the commitment required, or they might be worried their partner is not ‘the one’ after all. In some cases there may even be external pressures applied by family and friends.

And of course, there’s the situation where one party has cheated on the other. In this case there may be difficult feelings that need processing on both sides. Taking a break could be a good way to try to repair the broken relationship and work out whether it's what you both want in this case.

What do you want to gain from your break?

If you’ve recently decided on a temporary split with your partner, or you’re considering whether it might be a good idea, the most important thing is to think about what you both want to gain from it.

Space to think is a great reason to take a little time apart. When we’re stuck in the heat of a situation we often struggle to step back and look at the bigger picture. Taking some time out can offer the chance to look deep inside ourselves, truly understand how we are feeling and what we are thinking. And, in a perfect world, will also give us the breathing space to make a plan of action for how things can be improved in the future. 

Reconnecting with yourself is another important reason for some alone time. If you’ve been in a relationship for a long time – or if you’ve jumped from one relationship to another without pause, it’s easy to lose your sense of self and forget who you are. Take some time to practice some self-love and get back in touch with your thoughts and feelings.

 Finally, you might want some time out to examine your relationship, either alone or with the help of a relationship therapist. This can be particularly useful if you’re feeling there may be something wrong, or if you or your partner has cheated in the past. You’ll need to spend time unpacking what’s gone before, getting to the bottom of how you feel about it and deciding whether you can truly move on and get past it.

How to broach the subject of a break with your partner?

Triggering a temporary break in a sensitive and non-anxiety-inducing way is never easy. But we can’t stress enough how important it is not to spit out the words “we need a break” during an argument.

If it’s something you’ve been considering, it’s best to bring it up with your partner when you’re both relatively relaxed and not tired or distracted with other things. Explain your thoughts behind what you need from the break, and point out that the reason you want to try it is to give yourselves a long and healthy relationship in the future. It’s an opportunity to work out what you both want and have a fresh start when you come back together. It's a chance to mend your broken relationship. 

Try to stay calm and don’t expect your partner to immediately agree. They may need time to process their thoughts and work out how they feel about the idea.

Give them that time.

How to stack the odds in your favor and make the break work for you

Of course, in some relationships a temporary break will ultimately lead to a permanent split. While this may be a difficult thought, there’s an argument that it could be the right decision. Sometimes, sad though it is, there is no way back and going your separate ways is better for not only you but also for any children involved. 

There are, however, ways to improve your odds of a positive outcome and future relationship stability, if you’re both invested in making things work:

  1. Be honest and open about why you’re taking the break and what you both hope to achieve from it. Try to keep emotions and accusations out of the conversation as they're not helpful here.
  2. Discuss how long the break will be. It could be anywhere from 1 week to 6 months, but draw a line in the sand after which you will meet to check in on how it’s going and how you are both feeling.
  3. Talk about your definition of the term ‘break’. Do you envisage that you will be seeing other people, or do you both agree that this will be time spent alone? If there are children involved, agree who they will be living with / how they will be splitting their time and stick to your agreement.
  4. Decide how much contact will be allowed during the time? And respect one another's wishes. 
  5. Commit to honest reflection when you meet again. And even if great communication doesn’t come naturally, take this as an opportunity to improve in that area. 
  6. Regardless of the ultimate decision about whether you will stay together, commit to maintaining a civil relationship and doing your best to understand one another’s feelings and motivations. 

Taking a break does not mean your relationship is doomed to fail. Think of Prince Charles and Camilla, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez. Sometimes time apart can be exactly what is needed to press the reset switch and commit to a healthy relationship in the future. 

However, it’s important to set some boundaries if you don’t want your time apart to lead to a permanent break-up. Set time limits, ground rules, and really try to reflect on why this has happened, what your part is, and what you can commit to doing to improve things down the line.

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