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

You’re Interested in Someone Else
While this probably doesn’t bode well for your relationship overall, there are times when you develop small crushes on guys who aren’t your boyfriend. “I had been spending a lot of time with a guy in my class, and I started to really like him,” says Monica. “Nothing happened, but I decided to take a break from my boyfriend so that I could figure out why I was interested in other guys because that wasn’t fair to me, my boyfriend, or our relationship. In the end, I didn’t end up with the new guy, but the break showed me that I was okay without my boyfriend, so we officially ended things, too.”

Personal Crisis
There are times when things happen that are completely out of your control, like a death in the family, a personal trauma, an academic mishap, etc. During these crises, it may be worthwhile to spend time apart from your boyfriend to focus on your own life. Relationships require hard work and dedication, and your time may be better spent on yourself during a personal crisis.

Then What? 
It can be tough to approach taking a break with your partner since it tends to have a negative connotation. “Honesty is very important,” says Coleman. “While it’s not always necessary to share every small negative thought, it is important to be clear about what you believe the issue is and why you are proposing taking a break. Openness in discussing how this break will work is important. This allows the partner to decide what they really want and can handle.”
It’s important that you and your boyfriend define what taking a break will mean for you. “The terms need to be spelled out, even though they may not be completely followed,” says Coleman. “Certain things should be discussed and agreed upon if possible.” Here are a few questions you should ask:

  • Are we free to date other people?
  • Are we free to hook up with other people?
  • Are there limits on how far we can go sexually with other people?
  • How long will our break last?
  • Will we talk during our break?
  • When will we reevaluate what we want?
  • Why are we doing this?
  • What is your expectation for me, for you, and for our relationship?

“Men and women do not necessarily see taking a break differently,” says Coleman. “Men may be guiltier of suggesting a break when they really want out, and women have great instincts about these things. Therefore, if a guy proposes taking a break, a woman often hears this as his saying he wants to break up. I think this is true most of the time. However, women are guilty of this as well, but are more likely to tell their partner that they are unhappy and considering ending the relationship.”
Coleman explains that taking a break can be a positive thing. It allows you to focus on yourself, evaluate your honest feelings about the relationship, and to date others if you meet someone you have an attraction to. “If they go through the process and come out knowing they want to be together, they will be stronger for it,” says Coleman.
However, Coleman also cautions that taking a break is sometimes used as a way to avoid being honest with someone or is entered into with falsely stated intentions. “In my experience, taking a break usually ends in a breakup,” says Coleman. “People take breaks and meet someone more compatible with them or someone they develop strong feelings for. A space is created and someone new comes along and fills it. I always caution couples about this when they are considering a break.” Yet, Coleman counters that as long as the partners are open and honest and have a clear goal for taking a break, it can be a positive thing.
You can continue a successful relationship after taking a break just as long as you honored your word, you truly evaluated what you wanted from the relationship, and you are ready to move forward as a couple with a renewed sense of commitment. Good luck, collegiettes!
College students from across the country
Toni Coleman, relationship coach and psychotherapist, LCSW, CMC