Do Good Relationships Need Breaks?

Taking a break won't save every relationship -- but it could give yours some much needed perspective.
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If you've hit a rocky patch in your relationship but you're not ready to call it quits just yet, taking a break may ultimately be a good thing for you and your partner. Separations are not a necessary part of every solid relationship, but taking a break doesn't mean that your relationship is a bad one either. A break is a good time to consider your true feelings and needs, and determine whether your relationship is one worth saving -- or whether it's already been lost. Following several key guidelines will ensure that your break is as effective for your relationship as possible.

1 Set Ground Rules -- And Follow Them

Agree about your expectations before you embark on a break from your partner. If you or your partner are looking to get more experience with others guilt-free, you need to have an honest conversation about your desires, advises psychotherapist and author Dr. Marny Hall. You also need to decide what and how you will tell the other people in your lives about your separation and divide shared responsibilities fairly, according to marriage and family therapist Sharon Gilchrest O'Neill. Having these conversations first will make it easier to take that break without adding unnecessary complications.

2 Spend Significant Time Apart

Commit to the break you're taking -- if you still spend every afternoon or weekend together, you're not really getting away from your partner. Licensed clinical social worker Robert Taibbi, who has counseled many couples over the years, agrees with Hall that separations should last at least three months to give you both time to see what it means to be outside of the relationship. Of course, you can make exceptions about special dates or therapy sessions, but these should be decided in advance and not just be a continuation of your normal routine.

3 Seek Professional Help

Couples often take breaks to address underlying conflict, and time apart will not fix your problems by itself if your relationship suffers from the effects of infidelity or major personality clashes. Sex and relationship therapist Joe Kort, PhD, says that couples who don't address these problems will only end up repeating the cycle, so see a couples therapist before or during your break. O'Neill suggests that infidelity be addressed in therapy before a separation, so the time you spend apart can be focused on figuring out what you want and not sorting through old hurts.

4 Connect With Yourself

The most important reason to take a break from a relationship about which you feel conflicted or ambivalent is to reconnect with yourself and figure out exactly what you really want. Taibbi explains that many people haven't been single in so long that they have to rediscover what it means to be by themselves. You may end up realizing that what you ultimately want is to strike out on your own -- but you will be a happier person single than in a relationship that wasn't working for you.

A graduate of Oberlin College, Caitlin Duke has written on travel and relationships for She has crisscrossed the country several times, and relishes discovering new points on the map. As a credentialed teacher, she also has a strong background in issues facing families today.