Taking time off from a relationship
March 3, 2013 4:40 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend and I have been dating for five months. After a big fight this weekend, we've decided to take a week off from seeing each other. Has this strategy EVER improved a relationship? &How do I best manage anxiety this week?

The main problems from my perspective have been my unpredictable moods: bursting into tears unexpectedly, being unable to explain what I'm upset about, sometimes blaming my upset on things in our relationship that wouldn't otherwise be problems. He's felt blindsided by sudden conflict in a relationship that he thought was going well and was comfortable in. At this point, we've had three "big" fights (fights where we've actively talked about whether or not the relationship is stable and whether or not we should continue it)--the most recent on Friday. His biggest concern is that such fights will continue. We both know that conflict is part of every relationship. I'm confident that, as my body adjusts to chemical/hormonal changes and I drag myself out this depressive episode (which I more or less have, at this point), I'll be better able to manage my emotions, resulting in less conflict. He's less confident.

After a long talk today, he admitted that he's been feeling down, too, and needs time to sort out how he feels about his own life and work (is dealing with a sick parent and low motivation regarding his work -- does not have a history of depression) -- and how he feels about the role of our relationship in his currently stressful life. We've agreed to go for a week without seeing each other so that we can both have some time to figure out where we stand and how we might want to move forward.

My partner is a great source of joy in my life. I genuinely hope that, at the end of this week, we're able to recalibrate and move forward. I know a favorite adage on the green is that "things should be easy." At the same time, I suffer from major depression, PTSD, general anxiety -- this is a lot for me to deal with, and for a partner to deal with -- I don't know how "easy" things will ever be for me. I have no intention of taking time off from dating or to waiting until I'm "better" to find love. I feel that I'm currently capable of giving, and deserving of receiving, love.

Questions:

1. Has taking a short break ever helped you and your partner to gain perspective on a relationship and then move forward? Or are these types of breaks usually indicative that the relationship is already over?

2. If this type of break has worked for you, what has made it work? Have you gone no-contact, or checked in with a text every day? What have you done to think through the problems independently?

3. How have you dealt with the anxiety of not knowing what's to come, and of having a constant presence in your life dramatically scaled back?

For the record, am in therapy, am medicated, actively discuss my meds with my psychiatrist and believe they're where they should be. Already know the tricks of keep distracted, get exercise, etc.

TL;DR: Has taking time off from a relationship ever worked for you? How did you manage your emotions during the time off?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
1. Has taking a short break ever helped you and your partner to gain perspective on a relationship and then move forward? Or are these types of breaks usually indicative that the relationship is already over?

No one can ever really know how it will work for you, but personally I can say that sometimes a short break is a good idea and can work. So at least there's one person out there who doesn't necessarily believe your relationship is doomed.

2. If this type of break has worked for you, what has made it work? Have you gone no-contact, or checked in with a text every day? What have you done to think through the problems independently?


For me (or for us, I guess) we went no contact, for the most part. There was a text now and then but we took a month long break. I would think no contact, if you're just taking a week long break, would be the way to go so both you and he can get perspective. It worked because we both realized during that time that we each had some shit to work out INDEPENDENTLY of each other but that we really did care for each other and wanted to stick it out. It worked because, in the end, love, I guess.

3. How have you dealt with the anxiety of not knowing what's to come, and of having a constant presence in your life dramatically scaled back?

By just continuing to get up everyday. By realizing (and actively trying really hard to do so) that it might not work but that it was okay if it didn't. I mean, you wouldn't be taking a break without reason here. There are issues, you admit so yourself, and a week might give you both time to formulate and really think through what it is you want.

You're right and I don't always agree with the adage you've noticed here as well, that it should always be this easy peasy thing. It's not...or at least it never has been for me. BUT. That doesn't mean that I haven't had worthwhile relationships that I'm truly grateful for even though they might not have worked out in the end.

Good luck.
posted by youandiandaflame at 4:52 PM on March 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


1. Yes.

2. What worked? Getting my own head straight about what I wanted and put a plan on place to fix the things that were my problems to fix.

3. You just deal. It's a week. Spending it fretting is just avoiding doing the work that you need to do. Are you feeling like your free-floating anxiety and random emotional outbursts are chemical or hormonal? Is this what you're working on with your doctor? You have agency here. Spend the week as productive as you can. If you want to keep this relationship, then I'd use it to think about the relationship.
posted by amanda at 4:55 PM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


My husband and I took a two-week break about a year into our relationship. We were fighting almost daily, he was dealing with an ailing grandparent, and I was a mess on bad birth control. We were supposed to be 100% no contact, but I texted him a few times (he didn't answer). It was my first relationship. I was a mess. It gave us both some necessary breathing room, though. The fights didn't stop completely after that--we're both stubborn and opinionated and I come from a family where conflict is status quo--but it helped underscore that we both really wanted to be with each other. Eight years later, we're still here and like each other lots.

I know a favorite adage on the green is that "things should be easy."

Is it? I've been here awhile and I've never heard (or thought) that. Relationships are a lot of work, especially if you have issues with anxiety. Honestly, if there's been one thing that's helped my own relationship is that I've dedicated the past five years or so to being less crazy. It's good you're in therapy, but you need to start making conscious decisions to be kind, to slow down your emotional reactions, to treat your significant other well. This is not easy at all for me--like I said, family full of conflict, and outbursts are the way that my family members seek validation. It's hard work, but worthwhile work. Our life is much more peaceful than I ever imagined. It feels really good, stable, sane. But it wasn't easy to achieve, and it hasn't been easy to keep.

Doesn't mean it's not worth it, though.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:59 PM on March 3, 2013 [16 favorites]


Hey, that sounds rough.

So, one thing. You're actually not "partners," though I get why you're using the term. You're two people who are still getting to know each other, five months in: still learning how to talk, and still figuring out what's behind the idealized and projected faces that we all put on each other.

In my experience, it's only between 14 and 18 months in when you really begin speaking another person's language. That's when it becomes less confusing: then you often actually understand their values, and their shorthand, and their triggers of fears and frustrations.

Yes, sometimes this taking a break thing has worked! (Also, I ran into someone recently who is marrying the person from whom they took a two-year break.) The point of this break, for me, to answer your second question, has been that you get to feel, and feel it on your own, which provides clarity. This is what we call in the trade "getting your mind right." One thing I personally think about a lot is how I make choices about where to take my feelings. (The big answer to a relationship for me is what and with whom I share things—and when. Not everything gets dumped on my spouse, because not all of what goes on inside me is necessary for him to deal with. Particularly when it's raw.) See some friends. Do some writing. Do some reading. Get some exercise. Take it easy.

My personal comfort level would not allow me to be in a relationship with what sounds like this much fighting early on, but it is not possible for anyone here to assess what this is like for you two.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 5:11 PM on March 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


1. Has taking a short break ever helped you and your partner to gain perspective on a relationship and then move forward? Or are these types of breaks usually indicative that the relationship is already over?

We broke up for about a week four years into our relationship. Communication had broken down and I had a chemical imbalance that I was starting to even out.

2. If this type of break has worked for you, what has made it work? Have you gone no-contact, or checked in with a text every day? What have you done to think through the problems independently?

We still talked daily, but we didn't talk about our relationship. We both missed each other but we made a pact to give ourselves a week before we discuss anything about our relationship.

We saw more of our friends for a bit, we talked to other people and gained perspective. When we came back to discuss our issues, much of the fuel on the fire had dissipated and we could have a rational conversation.

3. How have you dealt with the anxiety of not knowing what's to come, and of having a constant presence in your life dramatically scaled back?

Distraction. Work out, cook food, visit friends, do whatever it takes to keep yourself busy - while still giving yourself time to think about why you are in the state that you are.

Relationships are unique and nobody but you two can really understand whether this is the end or the beginning of a better relationship, but keep an open mind, be as honest as you can be and if you both want it to work, you can find a way.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 5:44 PM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ever is a long time and a lot of people.

In my not-expert opinion:

It typically does not help. It typically is a very bad sign.

But this thread is going to be filled with exceptions, because their are a lot of people out here and a lot of dating has happened.

This has never worked for me so... 20-0 (or there about) on "breaks" really just being "break-ups". And that includes a multi-year deeply in love situation where one person "just had to figure things out"

I know a favorite adage on the green is that "things should be easy."

I'm in this camp. I think they should be. I've never fought with my wife, and we've weathered my anxiety and depression and 3 cross country moves and a toddler.

HOWEVER. Being an adult human being IS NOT easy. I find it horribly hard, I need a lot of time, effort and meds to get it right. And If I wasn't handling that shit i'd be ruining my otherwise healthy marriage and my life along with it.
posted by French Fry at 5:47 PM on March 3, 2013 [8 favorites]


One of my brothers got married in October to someone with whom he had taken about a YEAR break, while she finished college and figured out what she wanted in life. They're still newlyweds, ya know, but they seem remarkably happy and relate more healthfully than do any of our other siblings' (and most of our friends') relationships. So, it's all kind of contextual.

That said I cannot favorite PhoBWanKenobi's comment enough on the whole "consciously dedicate yourself to being less crazy" thing. Trust me, this is incredibly hard for me too, but the point of taking a break isn't for the week (or month, or summer, or whatever) to fly by as fast as possible by distracting yourself - the point is to re-center, collect your mind and emotions, and take a hard look at where you are and where you WANT to be and whether or not it's going to be possible for you to get there. Whether that be getting back together (with some new perspectives and strategies for resolving or avoiding the prior issues - you can't just jump back together same as you were and expect that to work) or breaking up permanently.

I am on a break with my SO right now, with much longer history and many more complicated issues to work out, and this is what I am doing personally; but I think that a mindful approach is useful for anyone.
posted by celtalitha at 5:48 PM on March 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm confident that, as my body adjusts to chemical/hormonal changes and I drag myself out this depressive episode (which I more or less have, at this point), I'll be better able to manage my emotions, resulting in less conflict. He's less confident.

This sounds like a lot of pressure for you to "be less depressed" and "have less anxiety" in order to save the relationship ... which is likely to heighten your anxiety while you try to make that happen and exacerbate your depression if it doesn't.

Take care of yourself. 5 months is not a long time, you will be ok if it turns out that this relationship with this guy at this time isn't right for you.
posted by headnsouth at 6:12 PM on March 3, 2013 [8 favorites]


If you are having trouble so early on, things most likely do not work in such situations. From experience, some men usually drift off from the relationship as the negatives speak louder than the positives. You may get together later in life but frankly at this time with all these issues, most likely he may believe that it is not worth it and the time off will help him to clear his head and restart fresh with another or just be by himself.

You should stop all contact as that gives you time to figure out what worked and didnt work for you.
posted by pakora1 at 6:24 PM on March 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


I was dating a smart, beautiful woman and things were going well, but it hadn't quite. Clicked. I was haunted by some baggage from a past relationship and it was preventing me from really investing in this new one.

We decided to take 3 weeks off, meet up afterwards and see how things were. We had zero contact. I took that time to get my head on straight, make peace with things that had happened and resolve to make it work with this new relationship. 7 months later, we're still at it. We never would have survived without the break.

Sometimes you just need to hit the reset button and get back on the right foot. Or maybe its not meant to be. But at the very least, it worked for me.
posted by GilloD at 6:25 PM on March 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Correlation does not equal causality.

The reason people who "take a break" almost always break up is because one or both *wanted to break up,* and "take a break" was a way to soft-pedal it. But the break isn't causing the break-up, it *is* the break-up.

So if you both genuinely still want to be together, no, a break is not automatic relationship death. And if one or both of you wants to break up, you will, whether you take a break or not.

Good luck.
posted by drjimmy11 at 6:29 PM on March 3, 2013 [16 favorites]


Relationships don't need to be "easy" but three "is this relationship worth pursuing" arguments in five months of dating tells me that maybe one or both of you is not ready to be in this relationship.
posted by crankylex at 7:02 PM on March 3, 2013


My then-girlfriend, now-wife and I took a break for about a year and a half, early in our relationship. The break ended in 2005, and we've been together ever since. We didn't really plan it as a break -- more of a break-up. But it worked for us!
posted by novalis_dt at 7:14 PM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Every time I thought I needed a break, we needed to break up, but I was trying to find another solution.
posted by salvia at 8:20 PM on March 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Easy" is quite relative -- I don't think it has been used here in the past in the sense of "effort-free." Relationships, good relationships, involve work, sometimes lots of work. It may not feel like that when things are just right with life and fetching somebody a meal or taking their car in or planning a top-notch movie night or whatever is just a thing, but when you are under stress, as you both are, effort expended for another person can stand out as a thing that is adding to your own burden, rather than just the routine caretaking optimal for a partner/relationship.

I wonder if the

fights where we've actively talked about whether or not the relationship is stable and whether or not we should continue it

reflect perhaps too-high stakes? Are you maybe in the "oh, @#$*, if I don't get it together partner-wise in the next few years I die childless" stage of life? I know it might be a bit easier said than done, but try to dial back a bit and just enjoy things in the moment more rather than constantly re-assessing whether or not it will succeed over the longer term. A brief happy relationship where you enjoy a person's company is still a good thing even if you don't end up married, and if even if you are looking only for permanency and have no interest in casual dating, putting that much pressure on yourselves so early in isn't a good route to permanency.

Hard to really gauge what's going on in these "fights," so here's more idle speculation which may or may not apply: if you are in the middle of a bout of doubt there is no need to voice that stuff every time, and if you are in an argument you should keep what you do vocalise to stuff you know you are going to be okay with living with later on. Do not sling mud you can't wash off, if you see what I mean. Save serious scraps for actual serious issues; "is this stable" is a pretty counter-productive thing to fight about. I would spend your hiatus here strategising about ways to make your conflicts productive and non-hurtful.

I think a break can be a positive thing. Strive for calm acceptance: if the relationship isn't meant to be, how nice to be handling that in a calm fashion which can leave the door open for friendship. If it is meant to be, well, the reunion's going to feel awesome.

In re. 2, you might want to consider how much contact is the current norm. If you are regularly spending the night together flinging out the odd text will still register as a break; if you just hang out on Saturdays you can probably not check in.

I do recommend reaching out to friends/family, particularly ones that like both of you but who can still manage to be objective about your boyfriend. Prioritise the people who have good relationship habits themselves and start inviting them over for dinner, so you can keep busy, get a little bit of aw-poor-you, and talk things out with sympathetic audiences.
posted by kmennie at 8:39 PM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


At the same time, I suffer from major depression, PTSD, general anxiety -- this is a lot for me to deal with, and for a partner to deal with -- I don't know how "easy" things will ever be for me. I have no intention of taking time off from dating or to waiting until I'm "better" to find love. I feel that I'm currently capable of giving, and deserving of receiving, love.

I just want to say something about this theme that was woven through your question in a bunch of places, even though there wasn't a direct question about it - that there is conflict in every relationship and how you have these things going on that might mean things will never be "easy" for you.

I have also dealt with major anxiety on and off since I was a child, and in my early 20's I had the worst flare-up of my adult life. I was a total wreck and for the first time my day-to-day functioning was impaired. I was having my anxiety triggered by things like being stuck in a small windowless room under florescent light. As luck would have it I was also in a difficult academic program where... guess what kind of rooms I had to be in all the time.

At this time I began to date a guy. There was no hiding what a wreck I was and I didn't even try. It was the weirdest thing, but I feel like he was actually attracted by how vulnerable I was and it triggered all these feelings of affection and protection in him. He acted like he found it to be the most adorable thing ever and even though that sounds really condescending it was not at all, it was amazing. Sometimes he would bring me to class and wait for me while he did his own work, and it made everything so much less anxiety-inducing because I knew he was right outside the door. One day I was somewhere random in town and just overcome by stress, and felt like I just needed to sit down somewhere private and cry for a while, so I did. He came and found me, I still do not know how. He started laughing like I was just being super silly, collected me up, and brought me home.

We did not fight, he was not bothered by my issues, and we loved each other. I am not saying all people should have reacted the way he did. He supported me far, far beyond what I would call a "reasonable" level of support. I am just saying that it is POSSIBLE to find the right person who fits with you, even if you feel like a wreck and you have problems dealing with life at that time. Just because you have problems doesn't mean any relationship you have will always have to be a relationship of conflict where the other person feels being with you is a hardship. It's just not true. Even if most people would feel that way, you don't have to expect everyone would. If someone does find it to be a hardship, unless you feel pretty confident that you have everything all straightened out permanently, it might be best to use the time off to meet other people and see who else is out there.
posted by cairdeas at 8:56 PM on March 3, 2013 [7 favorites]


1: it depends on the reasons for the break, but it could work. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't, as with anything

2: yes; went no contact. And it's also not worked, also going no contact. If you're still in contact, it's not really a break.

3: yes, and that was the reason for the break a lot of the time. You can't rely on one person so heavily... but that's my own issue.
posted by RainyJay at 7:42 AM on March 4, 2013


I know a favorite adage on the green is that "things should be easy."

I understand the point of this, but I have to say based on personal experience that relationships requires effort and dare I say, work. No offense, but anybody that thinks "if a relationship requires work, it's not the right relationship" is fooling themselves.

At the same time, I suffer from major depression, PTSD, general anxiety -- this is a lot for me to deal with, and for a partner to deal with -- I don't know how "easy" things will ever be for me. I have no intention of taking time off from dating or to waiting until I'm "better" to find love. I feel that I'm currently capable of giving, and deserving of receiving, love.


Kudos to you for realizing this. This is my story too. I know that I have a lot of issues to sort through, but that fact makes me no less lovable and no less deserving of a loving, nurturing relationship. Furthermore, everybody is "broken" to one degree or another. I personally believe that people get better at being in relationships by being in relationships. A lot of people subscribe to the notion that by being alone long enough and working on yourself long enough then you can magically arrive at the place where relationships are going to be relatively effortless. I have been in recovery from substance abuse for a long time and recovery from PTSD for a few years now, and I can honestly say that relationships are still my biggest challenge.

To answer your question, I, personally, have no idea if your relationship will endure a break or endure emotional difficulties like what you describe. Whatever the outcome is, I do know that you deserve to have a mutually loving and supportive relationship with someone who loves you and accepts you exactly for who you are. Best to you.
posted by strelitzia at 9:01 AM on March 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Re. the "easy" thing. No relationship is "easy". Every relationship takes a metric ton of work. They just do. The "easy" thing people talk about I think is in reference to how easy it is to put in that work. I love my fiance more than breathing, he loves me just as much, and we are actually remarkably well suited for each other. But we have lots of challenges and issues that we have to deal with, and we still have to work at it. The thing is that we both WANT to put the work in because we know this is something awesome that we have, and so so worth doing what we need to keep it. Because I know I am investing effort and energy into something wonderful it doesn't feel so much like work. If I didn't think our relationship was so awesome, or if I didn't think it had a future, all the work and effort it takes to keep a relationship on track would seem wasted and way more hard.


In regards to the break, yes sometimes it does work. The distance and time can remind the couple how much they want/need/miss each other, and they then become much more invested and wanting to do all the work to keep it. The distance and time can also, however, give people much needed head space to see things for what they really are, which isn't always positive. In the midst of a failing relationship it can be really hard to see an exit, and it can be just as hard to know you even should be looking for one. Once the distance is established by the "break" it is a lot simpler and easier to end if.

Really, no one here is going to be able to tell you if your relationship will benefit or suffer from the break. Only time will tell. But it does work out sometimes.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:02 AM on March 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


We broke up for 9 months after a year together. We'll celebrate our 10 year wedding anniversary this fall. I think a break can definitely be valuable in helping you mentally understand what is "hard" because of a flaw in the relationship and what is "hard" because of either you or because somethings are just hard.
posted by dadici at 2:47 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


My husband and I still take breaks from one another; usually a week when I'm at my parents', and a week when he's visiting friends in another city. We go minimal contact. There are some people who have told me that they think it's weird as hell, but we find it works. We generally use the time to just be alone for awhile and work on whatever we're working on for our own growth at the moment. We find now that we look forward to our breaks and then look forward to ending the break.

As for the easy thing, I've noticed that too on the Green, but I don't necessarily agree with it. Then again, like you I have anxiety issues, so that may have something to do with it. My relationship with my husband is 85-90% awesome and 10-15% ohmygodwhatthehelljusthappened, and I'm ok with that ratio. You have to decide what you're ok with as well.
posted by RogueTech at 8:57 PM on March 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


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