Can two people plan to take a break from a relationship?
October 11, 2010 12:29 PM   Subscribe

I really want to take a break from this relationship, maybe in the next six months or so. My boyfriend is slogging through the process of sorting out his mental health issues, and I'd like to let him know that I want the break, but I don't want to force it on him right now. Is that a bad idea?

It's been a long three and a half years, and over half of our relationship has been spent working through the issues and aftermath of mental illness. I never signed up for this, but I did what I could to help, and now even though he's improving, I'm starting to feel trapped. He's not hopeless, by any means, but I don't know if I have the fortitude and attention span to stay supportive during the doldrums of the healing process, and I know that things will never be the same as they were (which doesn't mean that they couldn't be good.).

In reality, the only reason I would even consider taking a break is because I feel like he could handle it, which both of us should recognize as kind of a silver lining, in a way.

He's 24 and has never lived on his own before (he moved out to my city from his parent's house in the Midwest), so this could be an issue even if we hadn't gone on the roller coaster of craziness. I've read a lot about codependency lately (thanks to a friend's suggestion), and a lot of it rang true for me, so I keep telling myself that he is a grown person and probably in a place where he can make his own decisions again.

But what if he's not?

I think he's in a better place right now than he has been for a while, but every week or so there'll be a relapse and he'll meet me after work all loopy, with his eyes darting around and stuff, and then I'll carefully mention that he should take his pills a little earlier tonight, and then he does and everything's fine. He'd probably take his pills anyway, eventually, right? I'm attentive to his medication issues, and much of the tweaking to doses and times and such has been because I bring up things to the doctor.

He's going to school out here, I'm going to school, we both work. I think it's awesome that he got signed up for school, even if they're online classes. I can see him starting to really apply his brain to problems, and he has a good brain.

I'm a sparky sort of person, and I love quick wit and cleverness and drinking in bars. Maybe I love those things too much. I feel selfish and shallow about how much I miss doing that kind of thing with him, and how obviously different my conversation style is with him compared to even how I talk with our roommates.

So should I let him know? Is that weirdly codependent, to tell him I want to take a break but want him to help plan it because I don't want to wreck his life? Is even bringing it up manipulative, 'cause it's like I'm warning him to shape up or something?
posted by brisquette to Human Relations (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
What does "taking a break" mean? Not seeing one another as much? Not being affectionate? Screwing other people? Getting into other relationships, whether casual or long-term?

People will disagree with me, hopefully, but I say shit or get off the pot. If you want to break up with him, break up with him. If you want to stay together and establish greater boundaries, do so. You're not locked in here, but you shouldn't be putting him into a liminal state that is conceived and defined by you. Doing so is the definition of manipulative.

As far as his mental health being a part of this? The only person responsible for his state is himself. You did not, in fact, sign up to make sure he takes his pills, contacting his doctor, etc. In fact, you doing so may very well be preventing him from establishing a self-supportive routine. I'm not putting you down, of course, it's very hard to watch a significant other suffer without trying to help somehow, but there should be hard-and-fast boundaries to it (as I mentioned above.)
posted by griphus at 12:40 PM on October 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


Is that weirdly codependent, to tell him I want to take a break but want him to help plan it because I don't want to wreck his life?

I don't know how "weird" it is, but yes, it is co-dependent. The point of taking a break is for the two of you to be alone. That can't happen if you're still running his life.

I keep telling myself that he is a grown person and probably in a place where he can make his own decisions again. But what if he's not?

Of course he is- everyone makes their own decisions. He might not make the decisions you want him to make, but if you're ending the relationship, that's not your concern.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:41 PM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's okay to want to take a break from a person while they figure their stuff out, especially if you're the kind of person who doesn't deal with that kind of stuff very well.

However, if you were him and in his shoes, how would you want to be treated by him, especially if you were in a vulnerable position?

It doesn't really sound like you love him enough to be there for him and I think you should probably think about ending the relationship. It's not fair to be like, "Well, I'll be serious with you again when you're all better."

But remember, if you don't have it in you, you don't have it in you, and that's not bad. It's just not what you're willing to do, and that's okay. People don't have the capacity to deal with certain kinds of problems and issues, and you don't have to fake having that ability, because that would just make it all worse.
posted by anniecat at 12:47 PM on October 11, 2010


[few comments removd - please ease up on answering questions that weren't asked, especially in all-caps fashion, thanks]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:55 PM on October 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think it will be worse if you "plan" to take a break at some point in the future, because you'll both know that date and it will affect your interactions. The only way I could see that actually working is if you had a date where one of you was moving, etc. Planning to take a break in the future just sounds like it's asking for lots of resentment during the time in between.

Additionally, it doesn't sound as though you really want to get back together with this guy- it sounds like you want to ease him into a breakup. This is fine, but I wouldn't dangle the possibility of you getting back together; I'd just frame it as a break, but you'd still like to be supportive of him and his efforts and have coffee weekly or something of the sort.

It sounds as though you need to be honest about what you actually want from this break before you can communicate it to him, and then I'd be gentle, honest, and firm. You are also going to have to be on board with him being on his own, however, and be able to curb your need to take responsibility for him and his well-being (I'd actually recommend this even if you wanted to stay together).
posted by questionsandanchors at 12:57 PM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


"I want to take a break" sounds suspiciously like "I'd like to break up, but I don't want to take responsibility for the consequences, so let's behave like we broke up without having the actual breaking up moment", or maybe "I think I'd like to break up, but I'm not really certain, so I'll see how I like it and if it doesn't suit me we'll get back together". Or perhaps "I'd like to break up while you're mental, and I'll probably come back if you stop being crazy". Or, "You can't find physical comfort with me any more, but since we're only on a break, you aren't allowed to find it with anyone else either".

None of these are fair on your boyfriend.
posted by emilyw at 1:19 PM on October 11, 2010 [10 favorites]


I'd just break up. He can find someone who can be okay with his issues and you can find someone who will be less of a strain.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:46 PM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Break" is a myth. Either you break up for good or you stay in, but you can't temporarily break up, kinda sorta, with someone. It doesn't work. Limbo sucks donkey balls. As does arguing over what the appropriate behavior is during a break (i.e. can you date or not).

And frankly, it sounds like you really want out for good. A "break" is not breaking up gently and slowly.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:46 PM on October 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm not saying this as a criticism of you, just an observation: all of your descriptions of him make it sound like you really, really ... look down on him. I'm sure you're basically respectful and caring toward him, but it sounds more like the kind of respect and care that an adult has toward a child.

This whole paragraph indicates a huge problem:

I'm a sparky sort of person, and I love quick wit and cleverness and drinking in bars. Maybe I love those things too much. I feel selfish and shallow about how much I miss doing that kind of thing with him, and how obviously different my conversation style is with him compared to even how I talk with our roommates.

I think I know what you mean even though you're sort of tip-toeing around the point. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think what you mean is: You love "quick wit and cleverness." He does not possess "quick wit and cleverness." This is a big deal to you. And yet ... you have come up with the critical adjectives "selfish and shallow" to describe what you would be like if you straightforwardly admitted and acted on the fact that you two aren't a great match. I would recommend eliminating those adjectives from the analysis. They're so easy to apply to anyone in almost any situation, because everyone is "selfish" and "shallow." All too often, those are code words for "wanting what you really want."

Now, I haven't said anything specifically about his mental issues or the idea of a "break" in the relationship. That's not because I'm trying to deemphasize them; I just think we should also emphasize the simple fact that you seem quite unenthusiastic about the relationship. And you don't seem to view him as an equal. I'm not saying these are good or bad things. I'm just stating them as facts. Maybe he isn't your equal; it's fine to recognize this. More to the point, it's how you feel. Don't belittle your feelings by attaching critical adjectives to them. Do what you really want to do. Again: Do what you really want to do.

You don't need a brilliant rationalization or a brilliant plan for what to do. You are allowed to simply leave the relationship if you don't want to be in it anymore.
posted by John Cohen at 1:53 PM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


My vision of the break has been 6 months to a year. He can do stuff his way, in his own place, and learn the ins and outs of taking care of himself living his own life. He's comfortable enough with introversion that it might be hard for him to establish other personal relationships if he knows I'm going to be there for everything. I guess I don't want to be "a couple" with him for a while, because I want both of us to put some thought and effort into intentionally being together, instead of just being together out of habit.

I seriously do think that we could end up together in the future because the good times we spent were totally awesome, but he's got to be his own person for that to happen with any amount of success, and it's hard for anyone to truly understand what it takes to take care of themselves unless they've lived alone.

As far as "how would I want to be treated," I'm not kicking him when he's down; I truly believe that the worst of it is behind us. Lately I've seen more sparks of the funny brilliant person I started out with, and then we go back to another couple lackluster days. Even the lackluster days are great, though, compared with some of the weird times we've had.

Maybe I just want to sit down and let him know that he's made it to a good place. The next step is for me to stop breathing down his neck, and for him to manage the everyday details without relying on me.
posted by brisquette at 2:01 PM on October 11, 2010


My vision of the break has been 6 months to a year...I guess I don't want to be "a couple" with him for a while, because I want both of us to put some thought and effort into intentionally being together, instead of just being together out of habit.

Would you be truly broken up- could he see other people? Could you? Would you? I don't know if what you've envisioned is fair to either of you. Building a timeline to get back together into a "break" will keep you from being truly free to live life separately from each other.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:04 PM on October 11, 2010


Either break up or don't. Going on a break is stupid. Way too many variables, most of which have been mentioned already.

People can break up and get back together. There's nothing wrong with that. But planning how long the break will last? That's just weird.

Break up with him until he can handle life if that's what you want to do. Nobody will blame you. I've known plenty of people who broke up because one party really felt like the other needed to grow up. They got back together when that happened and everything was fine.

But going on a break just leaves too many things open. Will he be cheating on you if he sees someone else? Does that matter? If he starts to go out with someone else, will you expect him to leave that relationship to get back with you?
posted by theichibun at 2:16 PM on October 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


This actually sounds like one of the only good times to stop living together but stay in a relationship.

If he has his own space and bills and schedule, he will have to re-establish his independence, but that wouldn't prevent he two of you from going on dates and sleeping over occasionally and being part of his life.

Either that, or actually break up.
posted by freshwater at 2:42 PM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Telling oneself "I need a break" is another way of saying "My subconscious knows I need to get out of this relationship but my conscious mind is not ready to deal with the emotional weight of that admission."

I read a comment by jessamyn a while back where she mentioned she and an ex agreed to meet up five years after the break-up to "check in" and how silly the idea of getting back together seemed when that five years passed. At the end of my first relationship my ex and I agreed to do the same after two years (I read the first part of her story, and was sure that the second part would never happen to me). A year-and-a-half later I'm also laughing at the idea--I now have the time and distance to realize that relationship desperately needed to end and there were things he and I needed that the other could not provide. Tacking an endpoint to the breakup was simply a way to soften the blow.

Tack an endpoint if you must--but treat the intervening time period as if you're truly broken up and will never get back together with him. Sever contact. Grow on your own. Both of you see other people. Any other way will go badly.
posted by schroedinger at 2:51 PM on October 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Maybe I just want to sit down and let him know that he's made it to a good place. The next step is for me to stop breathing down his neck, and for him to manage the everyday details without relying on me.

This is a nice, loving idea. Breaking up temporarily (that's what you mean by 'taking a break', right?) is not a nice, loving idea. It is a rejection of him, even if it is only meant to be temporary, and that is extremely damaging to a relationship.

I honestly don't think the idea of having separate apartments is any more weird than having separate bedrooms, which lots of people do. If you moved out but kept dating, you could leave the relationship intact and give him a chance to grow independence.
posted by emyd at 2:53 PM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Even based on your response, I think you should plan on breaking up with him (as it is going to be quite a break to not be living together or be a couple) and let him know how proud you are of him but that you each need time as individuals right now to have a successful LTR later- whether that's with each other or not.

Putting a timeline on it won't really allow for either of you to explore other friendships or routines, as ThePinkSuperhero said, and it really doesn't acknowledge that you'll both be different people in six months to a year- especially him as that's exactly what you're hoping on his part! You might not be a good fit then, or you might have different needs and desires completely. Additionally, whenever I've broken up with someone, I've remembered all of these things that I wanted to do that I put out of my mind because it didn't fit with our life together. However, if I had been hanging onto the idea of getting back together with someone, I wouldn't have applied for out-of-town internships or planned trips with my friends six months out, for example.

In order for both of you to make good life decisions and be open to opportunities, whether that's with other people, careers, classes, or anything life may bring, you both need permission to be individuals without strings holding you back. And if you do get back together, it needs to be because it's what both of you truly want and not because you decided you would six months earlier.
posted by questionsandanchors at 4:10 PM on October 11, 2010


I think you have been very supportive and helped him back on his feet, but now it is time for you to move on and focus on yourself. You deserve happiness and a partner that is a good match for you.

I don't think you should drag this out and make it complex - you should just tell him that you would like to be friends - then you can still be there for him to some degree, but also have your freedom. It sounds like you are more friends than partners already.
posted by meepmeow at 4:46 PM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


What's interesting here is how half of your comments are about your own wants and needs (great!) and half are caretaking or condescending-sounding statements about him (boo!). Work to erase that latter group from your thinking. Take action on the basis of your own wants. Do not take a break with him because:
- you know he can handle it
- to tell him he's made it to a good place
- so he can learn to live on his own

It sounds like there are a few reasons you want a break:
- you are worn out and don't have the stamina for this long healing process
- you miss having fun
- you don't want a partner you have to take care of
- you don't seem to be able to stop taking care of him without getting some distance from this relationship

I generally agree that breaks are a ticket to drama and pain and that break ups are better. Also, I think that second list there is full of good reasons to break up with him. They are not selfish reasons. They are about you being a healthy and learning human being. Everybody has needs, and part of having an adult relationship is about being honest about your needs. If you think you can get your needs met in the relationship and can tell him honestly about them, then stay; otherwise, yeah, I'd break up.
posted by salvia at 10:40 PM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


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