Thursday, June 07, 2012

Do "relationship timeouts" ever really work?


I was talking to a girlfriend of mine the other day. She said she and her man have been verbally sparring and generally not vibing lately. They've been together for about three years, not married yet and things are getting a little choppy. It's clearly past time for everyone to put their cards on the table and see who is all in. Instead, they decided that what they need is a little break from one and other. She asked, "Do you think it will work?" And by work, she meant did I think that the two of them being apart for a while would eventually bring them closer together. Well, let's talk about this for a minute.

I'm not sure I understand relationship breaks. I've tried this twice and both times at the end of the "break" period we were done. In my cases, the break was really just a prelude to the break up. Sometimes a break is a chance to get the other person used to the idea of being without you. It's a relationship purgatory, if you will, where eventually you go to the happy place or the unhappy place. Sometimes it's a wake-up call. But mostly (in my experience) it's a stopgap because neither party is completely ready to pull the plug or stay together. It's an uncomfortable place to be. 

Another complicated thing about breaks - what are the rules? Are you still seeing each other, are you seeing other people? Do you talk, text, tweet? Are you going to share what happened on the break with each other after the break is over? Does what happened on the break, stay on the break? How long is the break? Do both parties have to agree to the break? Is it like a performance improvement plan and there are things that need to be upgraded prior to continuing? 

Then again, there are definitely times in a relationship when you want to throw a flag on the play and penalize somebody. At that time, it's best to separate the players until things cool down. Maybe a break is an opportunity to step back and gain perspective? Or an opportunity to miss the water when the well runs dry? Or the chance for the mice to play while the cat is away? Once I start typing in metaphors, it's time to move on. 

To me, once you get to the point in a relationship where you feel you need a physical and mental break - that's problematic. But does problematic necessarily mean catastrophic? The best advice I could give her was to put some clear cut parameters around the break. Set a time frame and rules of engagement. Have some sort of plan in place for after the break. If everything is going to be just the same as it was before the break, what's the point? 

What I'm asking, BougieLand - what are your thoughts on relationship breaks? Have you done this? How did it go? Do we know of any that resulted in the couple getting back together and working it out? Please share...

45 comments:

TrulyPC said...

I did the relationship break in my early dating life and it was just a prelude to the end.  I vowed after being in that limbo not to do it again because it just made the inevitable more excruciating.  Communication is a big deal with me and I try to be completely open about where I am and what I am thinking in the relationship and I expect the same in return.  That level of truth is not always easy or reciprocated.  

Anonymous said...

Yes. You get some space, get time to breath and think it out. Some couples are together every free moment they have. Couples take breaks and possibly date other people. From my experiences you either run into people who lack even the slightest characteristics of a maybe and the ones you consider dating. Communication in a relationship is key but so is space and breathing room.

Michele said...

In my experience, the "break" is the prelude to the inevitable break up.  As you said, if two people are to the point where they need to be away from each other -- there is a problem.  If you are in a relationship and you have issues that can only be resolved by being away from each other, then go ahead and be away from each other -- permanently.

ASmith said...

I've done the "break" once and vowed never to do it again.  Firstly, it wasn't my idea and I agreed to it because it was presented like "we can take a break or we can break up" I was young(er) and dumb(er) then so I didn't know I could be awesome sauce and say "sir, we need to break up if that's how you're feeling..."

Anyway, the break period was non-helpful.  It didn't give me any clarification on anything, it just drove me crazy because WHAT ARE THE RULES?  You can't come up with rules for this time period that make any good sense (IMO) because every set of rules I've ever heard sound a lot like having your cake and eating it too and one person is usually miserable while the other person is taking advantage.

So.  In sum, A.Smith doesn't do breaks.  Either we work thru the rough patch or we go our separate ways.  Relationships take work and either we're working on it or we're not, there is no medium on this one.

ClayJones said...

We did a trial separation. Most ridiculous waste of time ever. Just drew out an already long and painful process. Moral? I don't do breaks, trials, timeouts, pauses, none of that. You wanna go, go. If we get back together down the line - more fool us. 

Andrea M said...

My grandmother said - Once you leave the bed, the marriage is dead. 
there it is

Jubi The Great said...

I've never had a break end with us coming back together & continuing the relationship. Its always been the precursor to the breakup. Its like "breakup lite" - you're not exactly sure you want to make a clean break, but you know you're ready to end whatever turmoil is occuring in the relationship.

You mentioned that its time for them for lay their cards out on the table but instead they went for the "let's take a break" - I wonder why they are unwilling to be open & honest with each other after 3years together...

GuessImJay said...

I remember someone suggesting "Let's just take a break" and me responded, "Let's just call it quits" - I think you have a good point, if you're to the point where you are wanting to be free of the other person, just be free of them already. especially if you are not married. 

kiesh said...

If they need a "break" after three years of being together clearly it's time to move on. They are just delaying the inevitable. It sounds like they are just not ready to let go...but 3 years can turn into 5-6 wasted ones REAL quick.

CaliGirlED said...

"...I was young(er) and dumb(er) then so I didn't know I could be awesome sauce..." <----THIS statement right here can be applied to a lot of the shiggity of my past! SMH

CaliGirlED said...

 My friend's husband told her BEFORE the marriage, "I will always lay my head in my own bed!"

CaliGirlED said...

Neither One Of Us (wants to be the first to say goodbye) by Gladys Knight comes to mind. I've never had the "let's take a break" talk before, but I initiated several breaks just by simply not calling or accepting calls while I was hotter than fish grease. Agreed to or not, breaks in relationships make no sense. I mean if you set rules, who makes sure you follow them? Are you checking in with each other periodically, still dating each other during the break? Is there an agreed upon goal to be reached after the break is over? My head is spinning, I must stop!....CaliGirl won't be participating in any breaks. As Bernadine said, "Get yo shit, get yo shit and get out!"

Grace said...

I'm more concerned about the fact that after three years they don't know what the other one wants and can't articulate it. What will the break change about that? Color me confused.

GrownAzzMan said...

Perfect soundtrack for this post. Now it will be in my head all day though...

GrownAzzMan said...

I don't do breaks. That limbo phase is not the business. Is you is or is you aint? When you know the answer proceed accordingly.

blackprofessor said...

I have done the faux relationship break.  We broke up, kept stirring cocoa, kept dealing with each other and kept talking about our ish!  At some point, we had a come to Jesus talk and that finally ended things.  Would I do that again? No! That was a very immature and ineffective way of dealing with issues.  If we can't work through issues together as a couple, then that probably answers the question.

TypeALady said...

Yep, breaks are definitely not the business.  When you find yourself reprising the role of a Terry McMillan character, clearly it's time to bounce.  Not that I would know anything about that per se...*whistling*

CaliGirlED said...

Me either. I don't know anything about calling his sister to say come get your brother's stuff off the front porch before it gets stolen. *whistles with you*

TypeALady said...

BOOM!

CaliGirlED said...

 I remember singing and crying that song when my high school sweetheart and I were near "that time"! I sung it once at a Karaoke night and my boyfriend at the time asked me, "Is there something you want to tell me?" LOL!!! I just love that song!

CaliGirlED said...

"Is you is or is you aint?"...<----THIS!!!

Or like my friend's aunt in NOLA said, "If you gon be out here you got to be out here!"

TypeALady said...

^^^This right here is why you are one of my faves...*whistles in both harmony and perfect pitch*

Anonymous said...

Really its about what God wants you to do. Pray on it and he will tell you what to do either thru people or you'll get a feeling to do what ever God wants you to do.

CaliGirlED said...

 *lays out at harmony and perfect pitch* YES!!!

Angela said...

I don't do breaks. I give  everything I have while in the relationship. Once I'm on E, it's over--no looking back.

Mo said...

I did the let's take a brake right out of undergrad, it lasted one week. I realized I was being selfish, dragging the poor guy through the mud as I try to  figure things out. Like you said, what is the other partner doing during the break? In our case he did not want the break I  wanted it,  I looked at  myself  in the mirror and could not live with  that level of selfishness, called him back and we agreed to end it. I promise  myself to NEVER pull that move again. Ever.

Jasmin said...

I've never understood the purpose of breaks. If communication is the problem (which it can be in any kind of relationship), how would restricting it further make things better.

I'm sure some people honestly think that space would help their relationships, but when I hear "break" my mind immediately hears "I want to explore if I can get someone else without losing my spare."

Side note: It's nice to finally participate in a Bougieland comment thread on time (I'm a teacher on the West Coast), but I wish it wasn't because I'm back home for my dad's funeral. I'd appreciate any prayers, Bougieland.

Lady4Real said...

Bernie Mac said, "When black people break, they break!" The only break I know of in a relationship is a break-up. We either together or we aren't. I've never known a break to work. I've very rarely seen seperations in a marriage work out. If we can't work it out through mature conversation, counseling or prayer then we need to say, "good-bye". Relationships are work but unlike a job you don't get to take lunch breaks or vacations, you shouldn't being working so hard that you need to, so if you ready to take a lunch break or vacation maybe its time to submit your letter of resignation.

Lady4Real said...

truer words have never been spoken.

Angel Blanca said...

I took a break from a relationship in 2005...we're still on the break. I think, though, that by 2007 he understood I wasn't coming back, as he stopped trying to contact me.

That's my only experience, and I found it quite useful!  In my defense, he was waaaaaay too clingy, and my family told me (repeatedly and ad nauseum) that he was not good enough for me, and one of my former students swore out a hit on him...

Monica said...

Either I want to be with you or I don't. When there is so much negative about the relationship that I can barely remember the positives, its time to go.

Lady Ngo said...

If you need to take a break then you might as well go on ahead and break up. If you can't be mature enough to solve your problems by laying them on the table and working through them, then what is taking a week/month/year apart going to do? Them same issues are gonna be sittin there if/when you decide to come back.

As for rules and what have you, if we're on a break, all that means is we aren't physically kicking it. It doesn't mean that since we're not kicking it that you can go kick with Susie until you decide you wanna come home again. Nah buddy.

The whole break thing is dumb. Either work on it or pack your ish and leave. Simple.

Cocoa Winston said...

My parents' best friends took a six month break from their marriage after 20 years and then got back together. Been together for 5 years since then. Weirdest thing ever. Only time i ever heard of it working.

CaliGirlED said...

 Did they have a don't ask don't tell agreement regarding those 6 months?

CaliGirlED said...

 Get yo.....Oh we already covered that! LOL

thinklikeRiley said...

This one chick was like - I need to press the pause button.
Riley was like  - Imma bout two seconds from a "eat the cake, Ida Mae" moment so we can slow all of this down to a stop. Bye boo.

When you bout to catch a case behind some boolshyt, damn a break. Be out.
So says Riley.

CaliGirlED said...

 Ike Riley? *hollers*

"So says Riley"...DEAD

Rae said...

Ha!!!  This post is the business.  If there is something traumatic that happens - lying, infidelity - then yes maybe a break?  Mostly for all parties involved not to kill each other and take it out on one another.  You're right with the questions - too many things are (or can be) up in the air.    Any time a break is taken normally it's a prelude to a breakup (for me) in the past.  However, I am aware of a couple who needed the time apart, seemed to do well with it and went from there.  I would also add, if they are willing and want it to work, counseling may be in order.  IMO.  And sometimes a break and counseling have to be added in (if they both feel the relationship is worth saving).

Rae said...

 Ha!!!  This got me together!!!

TypeALady said...

You are so silly...

rozb said...

By the time we are asking for a break, I'm usually all the way out of it anyway. Some guys take it as a way to be free to do whatever while still maintaining a hold on the goods. Not falling for the banana in the tailpipe...

MsJamie14 said...

 I was waiting for SOMEONE to give a story like this. Me and two girlfriends were discussing this. All of us have parent that have been married 30+ years. All of them took a "break" at some point of their marriage (for my parents it was when I was an infant). I think when you're married, it doesn't sound completely crazy if you look back 30 years later and feel it helped.

However, if you're single, I personally believe in all or nothing. Save limbo for the party games.

C Nelson said...

As usual, I guess I'm the weird one. Early in our relationship, Paul and I called a break. He was still dealing with his ex, I was still getting back on my feet after mine -- we acknowledged that we loved each other, we wanted to wind up together, but we had things to work on first. We stayed friends, we talked, we played WoW, but we went no further until we'd both closed some doors, had some counseling, and been on our own awhile. It didn't cure everything, and I guess it's different because we weren't sick of each other to start with, but the lack of pressure and expectations really helped while we were setting things in order. 

Marioned said...

It depends on the circumstances.  As some have mentioned committed couples going through changes in life have taken a step back momentarily to get things in order.    Versus a couple that the main issue is not external  but internal to the couple!  Usually, that is the beginning of the end. 

 I have done both.  Job loss and illness had to pause the interaction but true feelinsg and the commitment was expressed and continued.  Just not the daily interaction.   Picked up later a few months and things went well.

JOY2LOVE4LIFE said...

I'm a believer in "it is what it is", and "lets call it a damn day". When I was a kid, and I got a booboo, I had the habit of covering it during the day while I was running around and taking the band-aid off at night so it could breath. What I learned is that things need air to heal, sometimes however it meant waking up and having to deal with the pain of the sheet having gotten stuck to the wound. one thing that I learned is that the scars came quicker that way and fell off a lot sooner.

To me breaks are like bandaids, they are useful only when your in too bad of shape to deal with a clean break. As far as I have seen breaks tend to lead to compromising that at first seems reasonable but ends up being too much down the line. I like things to be done with quickly, no need to endure the torture of "what ifs". 

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