Is going on a break good or bad?

“I think we should take a break!”

It’s the phrase that everyone in a relationship dreads to hear from their girlfriend or boyfriend, and rightly so! Going on a break is rarely as innocent as it sounds and is indubitably the result of one or more problems manifesting in a relationship.

If a couple are going through a bad patch in their relationship then going on a break seems like an easy temporary solution for a confusing situation. As this article will explain, it can end up being either the inspiration for rectifying the relationship or it can be the immediate demise of the relationship. It depends solely on how it is approached and the real reasoning behind it.

This article will list a few common reasons for wanting to go on a break along with advice for both people involved before offering some alternative routes of action that stem from more assertive behaviour than what going on a break represents…

Reasons for going on a break:

The ultimatum of going on a break is rarely a mutual decision, but it is often a mutual feeling! At the very least it is evidence of someone taking control over problems in the relationship. Even if there is one notable event that acts as a catalyst for the decision, the thoughts and feelings of going on a break have probably been brewing for some time.

Below are some of the most common reasons for couples feeling the need to take time away from each other. Although the reasons listed may seem unique in both their cause and sentiment, they all derive from the same overall feeling: dissatisfaction with the current relationship setup.

Constant arguments or negative feelings:

Arguments and negative feelings in a relationship are something that, theoretically, can be flipped in an instant. Once you get into the habit of arguing, it is very hard to rewire your internal feelings and not let them affect your future interactions. Although going on a break provides time for reflection, once back together again it usually isn’t long before a couple slip back into their old way of behaving.

Some ideas to solve these issues more proactively are listed in the article Dealing with arguments in a relationship.

Seemingly unsolvable problems in the relationship:

These problems refer to extensions of the arguments and negative feelings mentioned above. These problems can be characterised by an apparent incompatibility or by inconsolable differences.

Once again, reflection and time apart can help two people understand what a relationship means to them. The important thing is that if two people are to get back together in such a situation, both people need to realise that they are equally responsible in making the effort to implement changes.

Below is a clip from the popular American sitcom Friends that highlights many of these factors. Sometimes it is easier to recognise problems in your own relationship by analysing those in others.

The relationship simply isn’t working:

The relationship not working for one or both people is another common reason for going on a break, but it is rarely explained or even understood as the cause by the instigator.

I have seen many instances where someone knows deep down that they should move on from a relationship, but they think that going on a break might achieve one of two things: they think it will inspire the relationship to suddenly be more fulfilling; they simply don’t want to fully lose the investment of a relationship until they have some future dating options lined up. Either way, it is unashamedly ignoring the ONLY reason to stay in a relationship.

The short advice to give here is to never date someone due to convenience or a lack of options. Doing so is a surefire way to head down the path of the number one relationship killer!

Unsure of the foundations of the relationship:

This is not such a common occurrence as the other examples but is still one that happens occasionally, whereby someone feels that their current relationship is in some way holding them back, either from experiencing other aspects of life, or discovering their life purpose. Perhaps it could even be that someone is happy in their relationship but still feels deep down that there could be someone more perfect for them.

This is something that was specifically brought to my attention by a reader who recently emailed me asking for advice in her relationship. I have received her permission to paraphrase her email here:

“I have been with my boyfriend for four years now and most of that time we have been very happy together. The problem is that we are each other’s first serious relationship and I’ve recently been thinking whether I am missing out on experiencing other relationships while I am still young. There are many times when I don’t feel I am fully happy in our relationship at the moment but I don’t know any different. Before settling down and having kids etc I want to know this relationship is really the right one for me. How can I know that if I have nothing to compare it to?”

I personally replied to this person in great detail but the overriding point is that a decision must be made if you ever feel yourself caught in limbo with your relationship. No one wants to feel regret for having potentially missed opportunities with love, yet it is illogical to reject something that adds happiness to our lives, however slight. This particular example highlights that going on a break achieves neither of those things!

The psychology of going on a break:

The main point behind going on a break is that there are doubts about the relationship. Doubts in a relationship are never without substance and it is the uncertainty and indecisiveness behind those doubts that will affect the relationship whether you stay together or not.

Something to remember if you do find yourself on a break is that just like shortly after a break-up, you will invariably feel the loss of being newly single. Keeping the relationship in perspective during this time and understanding the reasons for the break are what is going to be the success behind reconciliation.

There are obviously many cases of couples who have successfully reconciled after time apart – I work with couples where this is the case all the time – and the key component is that they always use it as a learning experience and employ awareness and constructive communication to make sure the things that need to be changed actually get addressed.

Much love,


10 replies
  1. Sabrina Chapman
    Sabrina Chapman says:

    I thoroughly enjoy reading your posts…its so nice to hear a perspective that gives sound reasonable advice that will not leave you sorry….keep it coming!

    • Samuel McCrohan
      Samuel McCrohan says:

      Hi Sabrina, thanks a lot! 🙂

      I hope you don’t mind but I thought I would repost your response on twitter regarding this article, as it highlights an important point:

      “re: today’s article the only breaks i take are permanent ones if we cant work it out together we damn sure cant work it out apart” – @immoralthings

      People going through problems in their relationship often have the distorted view that sanctioned time apart will make things easier. You can be together and still take time alone to rationalise feelings but the difference is that the relationship is still real and you can communicate as such with your partner during that time.

      By definition, a ‘break’ is different to breaking-up and then getting back together later in life but the sentiment is essentially the same. If ‘taking a break’ really is the only option left then perhaps the problems of the relationship are inconsolable.

      It’s great to have an authoritative stance in situations like this as Sabrina suggests, as it will greatly avoid any confusion or uncertainty surrounding the relationship and your happiness.

      Thanks for commenting Sabrina and I hope you don’t mind me reposting your ‘tweet’. 🙂


  2. Eva
    Eva says:

    I have always been from the point of view that going on a break is a bad thing, but you have shown here that it can sometimes be a good option in some situations. I personally think it would be difficult to reconcile after the temporary break up, but obviously it works for some!

    Oh and I agree with Sabrina : ) x x x

    • Samuel McCrohan
      Samuel McCrohan says:

      Hi Eva,

      Yes it depends wholly on the type of person and how they deal with certain strains in a relationship. There isn’t a categorical answer for all relationships, which is why I always gather as much contextual detail and background information from couples who come to me with issues of this sort before giving personalised advice.

      Thanks for commenting, 🙂


    • Samuel McCrohan
      Samuel McCrohan says:

      Hey sweetie!

      It took me a while to get what you were referring to but thanks! 🙂

      For everyone else, Heidi is referring to a moderately famous person who has requested my coaching services (I’m afraid I won’t reveal a name though for confidentiality and professional reasons).

      Sam xxx

  3. Elena
    Elena says:

    Reading about this topic was very informative. No one ever wants a break if they’re with their ideal mate but sometimes it’s better to take a step back and reflect than plow forward in misery. You brought an interesting perspective to a complex subject.

    • Samuel McCrohan
      Samuel McCrohan says:

      Hi Elena,

      I like your perspective. A lot of people who think they are with their ‘ideal mate’ would rather accept the bad aspects of the relationship as a given, which ironically drives a relationship to these conclusions anyway. Every relationship has the potential to be fulfilling and you’re right, doing something is better than doing nothing, even if that something isn’t ideal, such as a break.

      Hope you’re having a good weekend and thanks a lot commenting, 🙂


  4. Elsie
    Elsie says:

    Hi Sam,

    Great article but I wanted to get your opinion of going on a break for different reasons than the ones you stated.

    I am due to have major surgery (in 5 months) that will keep me bed-bound for a few weeks and then I’ll have to recover which can take up to 3 months. I haven’t told my boyfriend yet but this is going to be an extremely challenging time for me.

    I feel selfish asking my boyfriend to stay with me as I will really not be able to do anything and don’t want him to have to take care of me. I love him but I don’t want to lose him so can I ask him to go on a break so he can enjoy himself without having to think about me and then if we still want to, get back together in a few months? Besides feeling selfish, I don’t want to have to worry about him seeing someone else and this way, at least I can justify it.


    • Samuel McCrohan
      Samuel McCrohan says:

      Hi Elsie,

      It is a very noble proposition that you are describing. I do think that the reality of it playing out as you imagine is unlikely though. If two people want to be together then any alternative setup is always going to be inauthentic, regardless of the circumstances.

      The thing you need to do is talk to your boyfriend about all of this, without holding back any personal feelings, as soon as you feel comfortable doing so. It is fine to discuss some of the thoughts you have mentioned here, but try not to make assumptions about what your boyfriend’s reaction will be now and over the next nine months.

      Although your situation is somewhat unique, it is the sort of thing that is best dealt with as you go. It is impossible to predict how either of you are going to feel about the relationship in five months time, so concentrate on what you both want now.

      The true act of selflessness with a situation like this is to not put any pressure or obligation on your boyfriend to do anything, but to fully let him be a part of the changes if he wants to be.

      Communicating along the way is going to be far more important than it has perhaps been in the past. Let that be the only fundamental change in your relationship though. If you make an effort to keep the positive aspects of your relationship fresh, it will be far easier for both of you to make wholehearted decisions about the relationship.

      Thanks for reading the website and I hope the surgery goes well,


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