Jaime and Joe had one of those summertime romances that only exist in New York, filled with drinks that turn into lengthy dinners, evenings out with friends, and even trips to the gym that somehow still felt incredibly romantic. But for Jaime, who was a late twentysomething working in public relations at the time, the relationship wasn’t just a summer fling. It felt like the start of something serious, until she sensed Joe pulling away. And then came the dreaded phone call. He couldn’t commit. He was overwhelmed with work. It was the quintessential “It’s not you, it’s me” speech.
But those who come out on the other side of time apart gain a sense of confidence and gratitude that couldn't be won any other way.
Before You Go On A Break
Discuss parameters and boundaries.
How often will you communicate, if at all? Are you seeing other people? Are you sleeping with other people? Are you going to tell each other about it? Chances are, the boundaries of what you’re comfortable with will be different from your partner, so it’s important to hash these things out from the beginning, says Matt Lundquist, a clinical social worker in New York. “To leave those things up to chance, chances are it probably won’t work out,” he says.
Talk openly about jealously.
If you and your significant other are open to dating other people on your break, there are plenty of opportunities for jealousy to creep in. Maybe you see an Instagram of them with their arm around someone else or a cryptic tweet with heart emoji sent to someone you don’t recognize.
Acknowledging that these moments will come up and the best ways to deal with them is an important step to avoid unnecessary heartbreak. “We all have to find ways to make peace with the fact that we’re not the only partner our partners have had,” says Jack Worthy, a couples counselor in New York.
Spending time apart is a great opportunity for self-discovery. “If you spend your time pining away, that’s not going to yield a lot of happiness,” Worthy says. Learn how to be happy as a single person and organize your time outside of a relationship. The next time you enter into a relationship, you and your partner can add to that happiness, not create it from scratch.
Should we get back together?
How do you know when rekindling a relationship is the right choice and when it’s better to cut ties for good? Lundquist often sees people who are unable to move on simply because they’re not willing to deal with the fact that the relationship is over. This can lead to an unhealthy pattern of breaking up and getting back together where nothing ever changes.
To avoid that kind of tumultuous situation, there are a few questions you can ask yourself to decide whether you should get back together. Worthy advises that if you’ve spent honest time apart and you still miss the other person, it may be worth revisiting the relationship. Ultimately you have to ask yourself if your life is better with that person in it. During your break, he suggests asking yourself: Am I sad? Do I miss this person? Do I want to reach out to this person or not? Do I actually feel a lot freer?
Nearly half of all young adults in relationships will break up and spend time solo before getting back together again at least once.
It’s easy to fall into the familiarity trap. Familiarity bias isn’t just talked about in Psych 101 classes. It happens in real life, so you need to make sure enough time has passed for you to work on the areas in which you need to grow, instead of expecting a reunion to fix it. “Most of what goes wrong in relationships is that one or both people are trying to get needs met from a romantic partner that would be better met by someone like a therapist or by some self-discovery,” Lundquist says. “If that’s the case, you need to press the reset button long enough to do that.” The hard part is that "reset" takes a few weeks for some and a few years for others.
Of course we can never really know what might've happened had things played out differently. But those who come out on the other side of time apart gain a sense of confidence and gratitude that couldn't be won any other way. “Now, there’s so much more trust in the strength of the relationship because we’ve put it through so much,” Isabelle says. “But I think that’s what’s so nice about the relationship now. I just have such faith in it and I know it can withstand anything.”
In hindsight, Jaime says she wouldn’t trade those seven years of self-discovery and career building for anything. “I don’t think it could have worked any other time but now,” she says. “I don’t think either of us was ready. Timing is everything.”
*Name has been changed for privacy.
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