“We’re Just On a Break”: What It Means, When to Do It & If It’ll Work

As we all know, relationships aren’t always cut and dry. Sometimes, couples need time apart to reconsider the relationship. However, this time apart does not mean they are breaking up, it means they are ‘taking a break.’ That clarifies it, right? The term ‘taking a break’ is probably purposely ambiguous – it can mean whatever you want it to mean in terms of your own relationship. So when do you take a break instead of break up? Does anyone ever take a break and then continue with a successful relationship? With the help of relationship coach and psychotherapist, Toni Coleman, LCSW, CMC, we are answering these tricky questions!

Define Taking a Break

Since the term is so ambiguous, I polled a few college students from across the country to hear what they believe is the definition of taking a break:
“It means that a couple has taken time off, but they will probably get back together in a few weeks.” – Claire, University of Missouri
“I think it means that the couple is essentially broken up, but one person is still holding on so they keep the label for a little while to make it easier.” – Will, University of Michigan
“I just think it’s an excuse to hook up with other people, but still have a relationship as a backup plan.” – Edgar, Fashion Institute of Technology
“It means that one person needs to explore his/her options, whether it be through hooking up with other people, finding a new hobby, focusing on his/herself. Whatever it is, they can’t do it while in a relationship, so they need some time.” – Monica, Washington University 
Clearly, the meaning of taking a break varies from couple to couple, and there is no one “true” definition. “Taking a break means agreeing that you will not see each other for a specified, or even unspecified, period of time,” says Coleman. “Usually this includes an agreement that both are okay with the other seeing other people. Sometimes it is not stated, but one or both individuals have this intent and assume it is understood.”

When Do You Take a Break?

“In general, taking a break should not be used unless one or both individuals have real doubts, or there is an issue that points to a basic problem or potential problem that taking a break could actually help to clarify and offer information to help them decide their rightness or wrongness for one another,” says Coleman. While there is no hard and fast rule for when a couple should take a break, there are a few situations that merit taking time off from your relationship.
You’ve Only Been With Each Other, and You’re Considering Marriage

Even though we’re young, there are couples who are talking about marriage. If you’ve been with your boyfriend for years, and have only been with him, it might be worth it to consider taking a break. “My boyfriend and I took a break to make sure that we were the ‘one’ for each other,” says Hannah, a student at the University of San Diego. “I wanted to see other people so I could be sure that my relationship with my boyfriend was everything I thought it was. It worked for us – we ended up back together after a few months of seeing other people who were wrong for us.”
There Was Infidelity
Even in the most committed relationships, mistakes happen. If you or your boyfriend cheats, it could be time to take a break to reevaluate what you want from the relationship. Cheating is a breach of trust, and it will take time to rebuild that. You need to make sure that you are willing to forgive, and you could benefit from some time apart from your boyfriend to make that decision.
“If a break is agreed upon after infidelity, it is often because there is insecurity about the health and potential for the relationship, and taking a break will help both people to decide if they are happier with or without one another,” says Coleman. “Often, one is and one is not and taking a break will highlight this.”

You’ll Be Apart For An Extended Period of Time
There are tons of amazing opportunities that pop up during college, and some of these require an extended period of time apart from your boyfriend. Whether it be studying abroad, an internship in another city, a service trip, etc., extended time apart puts a huge strain on not only your relationship, but also on each of you as individuals. It might be a good time to take a break if only to fully take advantage of whatever you are doing during that time apart.
“If both agree that dating long distance won’t work well for them, then taking a break and seeing how they feel on their own, which often includes dating others, can be a way to test the strength of their connection and desire to make the relationship work, in spite of some temporary distance,” says Coleman.