David Schwimmer and his wife Zoe Buckman said that they're taking some time off from their 10-year marriage, according to Us Weekly. Yesterday, they told Us Weekly that they're doing it to "determine the future of our relationship," and that their main focus is their daughter's happiness and privacy. This particular couple's motivation and method for going on a break is entirely their business, but tons of couples take breaks — and experts say they can work. "Taking a break can promote self-awareness when you're removed from the situation of toxicity, and what's not going right," says Lisa Brateman, LCSW, a psychotherapist and relationship specialist in New York City. "A break means some part of the relationship has to change, or it won't survive."
Taking a break can sound like someone is just buying time before an inevitable breakup, but some couples break up and then end up in committed long-term relationships or married. "It wasn't that they weren't a good fit, they just needed some information and skills to make their relationship work," says Anita Chlipala, LMFT, a relationship expert in Chicago. Relationships can be all-consuming, so sometimes what you need is separation to get perspective, says Jasmine Diaz, a dating expert in Los Angeles. Needing time to yourself doesn't mean that you and your partner are incompatible or inevitably doomed, either. But Brateman says that you shouldn't call a breakup a "break," because that's just more confusing. "Many people use that because they feel the other person could be blindsided, so they want a softer way to go about it," she says.
The purgatorial time when you're apart can be really stressful and uncertain, so ground rules are necessary, Chlipala says. And you both have to actually follow them: "If you and your partner are not genuinely interested in resolving your issues, then a breakup would be the most logical step," Diaz says. "Couples who are interested in this level of relationship repair must be seriously committed to the process." Everyone's relationship is unique, but if you're considering a break, here are a few universal tips that can help you get through your time apart:
Have a reason why.
Just thinking about being apart can make you feel shook, so be clear with your partner what the point of the break is, Chlipala says. "There should be a purpose to the break, and there should be things both partners should work on," she says. Maybe you need time to recoup, figure some things out, or get therapy, Brateman suggests. Not articulating the issue to your partner will just lead to more anxiety and confusion. You can think about it this way: After the break, both partners should be able to answer the question, "What will be different?" Chlipala says.
Agree on ground rules.
You can't expect your partner to exist in a vacuum during the break, and you shouldn't be expected to, either. First off, there should be clearly defined expectations around dating or having sex with other people, Chlipala says. "If and when you get back together, you don't want trust issues or feeling betrayed to become a new problem to tackle because of unspoken expectations," she says. If someone's going on a break because they want to see other people, that complicates the situation, Brateman says. "You're not going to be thinking about the other person, because the relationship you're in is fun and easy — because it's new," she says. You have to come to a consensus and agree on it, because "a break is a negotiation," Brateman says.
Decide if you'll communicate.
Whether or not you communicate during the break is up to you and contingent on your own relationship dynamic, Brateman says. It's possible that you're taking a break because of communication issues, so talking from time to time might actually help, Diaz says. But do whatever works for you and your relationship. "If it hurts or makes things worse to talk, don't do it," Chlipala says. The same can be said for checking up on your partner on social media — it probably won't make you feel better and will just feed into whatever narrative you've created.
Set a date to reassess.
Even if you've decided not to talk during the break, you should both pick an eventual date to check in, Chlipala says. "It might also help to give a deadline, so to speak, to complete the goals of the breakup in the first place," she says. If you choose not to communicate at all, and you don't pick a day to finally touch-base, then that defeats the purpose of going on a break, and you might as well just break up, Diaz says. "This is why establishing clear ground rules is essential to any progress you will have," she says. When you do eventually meet, you should try to be open to the possibility that the relationship might be over; and more importantly, be true to yourself, Brateman says. "Don't go crazy trying to change in order to make this relationship last, because inevitably it might not," she says. "People work too hard on relationships that will fail."