Can Taking a Break Save Your Relationship?
Find out if a relationship sabbatical can work
These days, it seems that fewer couples are staying together. Whether you’re married, or dating long-term, some people are turning to sabbaticals to save their relationship.
This can work for some couples because it can take losing someone, or nearly losing them, to move a relationship forward over whatever issues were causing problems.
Yes, it is possible to save your relationship by breaking up. But it’s not for everyone.
How a sabbatical works
When a couple decides to temporarily end their relationship, they have to set guidelines on how the sabbatical will operate.
“It helps them to really regroup, rejuvenate and look within to find their identities,” said Dr. Fran Walfish, a Beverly Hills relationship therapist. “But in a marriage sabbatical, both partners separate for just a defined short amount of time and hope to return to the marriage.”
Stepping back from the stress of a relationship can help a couple regroup, said Toni Coleman, a psychotherapist and relationship coach.
“Taking a break and doing little else will not change anything. In fact, it often leads to a split because once they face their fears around breaking up, they don’t feel motivated to continue working on the problems that led to the break,” Coleman said. “It’s also common for one individual to have an agenda to breakup in order to move on, but their partner does not know this and believes they are on the same page.”
“If a couple takes a break with an agreed upon plan in place—relationship counseling, ‘dating’ in order to get to know each other in a new and better way, individual counseling to address issues that have negatively impacted the relationship, etc— taking a break could be a good idea. Time alone to pursue individual interests and relationships, to work on personal problems/concerns, to experience day-to-day life without the other person, can all help increase insight, help tease out what each has contributed to their joint problems, and help each gain a new and clearer perspective,” she said.
“This plan should have specific objectives and a clear time frame with a built in way to assess progress or lack of it along the way,” Coleman said.
A classic example
Los Angeles based psychologist Dr. Judy Rosenberg said she sees similar cases in her practice all the time.
She gives as an example, a client named “Alice” who was in her early 20’s.
“Alice was asked by her long term boyfriend of three years to take a break. It caused her undue pressure and doubt seeped in as to whether he loved her or not,” Rosenberg said.
“They had light contact during the break period, which lasted about 4-5 months. During this time my patient became quite depressed and although she tried very hard to improve herself through exercise and proper nutrition, his absence made it difficult for her to function. In her case, he missed her and they did get back together again after many months and are now in a committed relationship,” Rosenberg said.
What this shows is that sometimes absence makes the heart grow fonder and the person discovers in that space that they can't live without this individual.
“Other times, the break is a signal that at least one person wants to start moving away from the relationship. It is always best to talk it out, set the intention for the break, and understand that the break can cause stress, triggers of loss, and an emotional disconnect that can later come back to bite as a resentment,” she said.
“Ground rules like monogamy during the break are among some issues to establish. Contact points and reunion time are other things to negotiate. If one partner becomes clear that this relationship is not for them, it is only fair to inform the other,” she said.
Over all, the decision to take a break from a relationship is up to the individuals involved. Rosenberg said things can be resolved by absence, but communication is a better way to fix issues.
But never underestimate how much absence can indeed make the heart grow fonder. And realize what really matters.