Em is a millennial writer with a special interest in social sciences, dating, and what makes people click (and tick!).
Can Breaking Up Save Your Relationship?
The short answer is no, breaking up can't and won't save your relationship. What breaking up can do is help give you and your significant other personal space to grow outside the confines of your current relationship, and that growth might make you realize you're meant to be together. If that happens, your old relationship won't be saved—a new one, with different perspectives and boundaries, will have to take its place.
A few years back I was in a relationship that I desperately wanted to work out. However, I knew that if we kept up the way we were, things weren't going to last. He was going a whole day away for college and I was attached to my job, friends, and family at home. I was thinking about marriage, and he was totally freaked out about that idea. Because of this, we decided to take a break and see where things went, with the ultimate hope that we could save ourselves from being apart forever.
Unfortunately (or fortunately?) for us, splitting up did not bring us closer. In the end, we went our separate ways, and these days we connect only for the occasional Facebook catch up. Still, there's a lot of instances where this type of thing can actually be really good for a couple and bond them more, mending the ties that were once broken between them.
Here's how to break up for the better, why it might work to bring you back together and how it could backfire.
You may find that what was important to you in the context of a future with this person, becomes much less so when you end the relationship.
Time Apart Means Seeing the Other Person More Clearly
When you're not spending every day in each other's face, it's actually easier to see the other person for who they are and how they've grown in your time together. With that boyfriend I just mentioned, I often found myself irritated with how independent he was, never accepting help from other people or admitting that he couldn't do everything himself.
As we spent time apart, I found myself impressed with his ability to take initiative and handle things on his own. My view of him came into balance, and I saw that his stubborn independence could be a really cool thing. Likewise, he often thought I was too careful but as time went on he saw how my careful personality has left me with few regrets and caused me to be a solid, trustworthy person.
How It Could Backfire
Okay, so we did learn to appreciate each other a lot more but I'm going to be honest, we didn't see the positive aspects of one another so clearly in the first phase of our split. In fact, that initial time apart only seemed to reinforce my negative attributes for him as he explored other friendships and relationships and found himself picking apart aspects of my personality that had been grinding at him subconsciously.
It wasn't until years apart and a couple failed relationships that he was able to come around and, perhaps through some rose-colored glasses and through the lenses of deep hindsight, see me as the mature and thoughtful woman I am as opposed to the skittish and scared girl he first viewed me as.
If you're hoping a split will help your partner to see the awesome parts of you that you see (or vice versa) you may be disappointed at first as you both come down from the pressure that the relationship, and your clashing personality traits had put on your lives, finding the space a huge relief.
Getting to know yourself better also means getting to know your own faults better, and truly facing them head on without the influence of another person swaying your perspective.
You'll Get to Know Yourself Better
I learned some pretty shocking things about myself during our split:
- I'm really good at hula hooping (we always just watched Netflix together and weren't very active when we were together).
- I love riding my bike (Again, not very active when we were together and we drove everywhere).
- I need a lot of quiet, alone time. I don't like to constantly chit chat or have small talk, something I felt like I had to keep up with when he called me on his lunch breaks.
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This is probably the single most gratifying aspect of taking a break—you get a lot of freedom to get to know yourself. Remember, in all this time that you've been with your partner, you've probably been bending and shaping yourself to fill their gaps, to balance the relationship, to maintain the status quo.
This isn't a bad trait to have, it's what most of us do in long-term relationships and marriages. But this can also rip at your identity, especially if you're young or have only dated one or two people and don't have a strong sense of self going into the relationship. Instead of recognizing that you have to take time to work on yourself, you may have slipped into believing that this magical relationship you landed in would heal all of your past hurts, anxieties and dilemmas that existed before your bond with your partner. As Dr. Lisa Firestone says in this article for Psychology Today,
"Within this illusion of fusion, or fantasy bond, both individuals begin to deteriorate as they repeat their early attachment patterns and retreat to childish or parental [her emphasis] ways of relating."
How It Could Backfire
I don't believe that getting to know yourself better can ever truly backfire. It can be painful, but growth often is, and as you get to know yourself better, you may find that there are things about yourself you're not happy with. Maybe you'll realize that all of this time you've been blaming your partner for not being present enough for you, you were actually exhibiting signs of codependency. Indeed, getting to know yourself better also means getting to know your own faults better, and truly facing them head on without the influence of another person swaying your perspective.
Or, perhaps, you'll learn that you've been lying to yourself and your partner that you want to get married and start a family when what you really want is to backpack through Europe for three months.
Getting to know yourself better—or your ex getting to know their self better—could very well result in one or both of you realizing that your hopes and dreams simply don't line up anymore.
Spending Time With Other People Can Help You Define Your Priorities
Up until my boyfriend and I split up, we'd been planning on getting married, both certain that was the right direction for our relationship and our lives. When we split up I suddenly realized I wasn't that interested in getting married or being anyone's wife yet and he found that completing his education and travelling was more important to him than anything else at that point.
See, cutting our relationship out of the picture helped us to both realize that without that in the equation, our priorities were actually much different than we had thought they were.
Likewise, you may find that what was important to you in the context of a future with this person, becomes much less so when you end the relationship. Maybe you thought you wanted to move to the west coast with him when it turns out you really want to start a small business in the community you already live in. Maybe she was going to support you so you could be a stay at home parent but as you spend time apart you recognize that you really want to be a preschool teacher, not a housewife.
And maybe, just maybe, those new priorities reignite the relationship and help you two to get back on track with a new perspective and a fresh focus.
How It Could Backfire
Or, one or both of you could come to the distinct conclusion that your changing priorities no longer match up. This is what happened to us. As he spent the next eight weeks after our split pursuing an education in his dream field and I spent time back home exploring the area with my old friends and digging my heels into my own studies, I realized that I really, really didn't want to move away, something I'd have to do if we stayed together, since his field of work required a ton of travel.
Sometimes, time apart will show you that you can't have your cake and eat it too. You may not be able to stay together and still pursue your individual priorities. These days, he's globetrotting his majorly educated butt off—something he always, always dreamed of, and I'm hunkered down in our hometown fulfilling my passions as a writer and planting roots in the town I've always loved. We're happier for realizing our true priorities and though it may feel painful now, if this happens to you, both your worlds will be brighter for it.
You already know that breaking up in the hopes of getting back together isn't all rainbows and butterflies. Here's some potential pitfalls to prepare yourselves for as you consider this route.
Oh, you're going to experience jealousy and unfortunately, one of you may be compelled to use jealousy as a weapon to sway the other into coming back to you quicker.
How to Avoid It:
Don't hang out on each other's social media (unfollow if you have to), don't tell each other when or if you're seeing someone else, or interested in another person. I think you both have to admit that if you take time apart, you will explore with other people. Maybe it'll help you both realize what you had in the other, or force you to see that you're not actually meant for each other. Either way, approach this delicately.
One of You Moves On and The Other Doesn't
In my own scenario, I started casually seeing someone about two months into our break. I say casual because, in the end, it didn't go anywhere but at the time it dragged all of the romantic feelings I had for my ex into the sewer.
I just wasn't in love with him or even in like with him anymore. I'd moved on and that's when our temporary break was officially over. In the infamous words of T-Swift, we are never, ever getting back together. Like, ever.
How to Avoid It:
You shouldn't. If one of you moves on it's a super clear sign that you're not meant to be together, at least not right now.
Breaking Up Just to Save the Relationship Might Mean You Never Fully Explore
Splitting up with the idea that you're going to just land back together means that one of you might stay in limbo waiting while the other goes on exploring. Does that sounds very healthy?
No, it's not.
How to Avoid It:
Get out there! It doesn't mean you have to go wrangle a date right this minute, in fact that's not really very healthy. But go explore your interests, get to know what you love, like and hate about the world without the shadow of your partner skewing your view. Here's some sound advice from life coach Sharon Pope on taking a temporary break from your partner.
Rules for Breaking Up With the Hopes of Getting Back Together
You ready to do this? Here are five rules for breaking up with the intention of getting back together:
- Follow each other with caution. Don't be all over each other's social media. It can ignite jealousy and give your a skewed view that your ex is having more fun without you than they actually are.
- Don't post things cryptically to your ex. Don't be that person posting relationship memes and quotes like "I want a guy who uses his body as a doormat for my problems." You're better than that. Maintain some dignity and self-esteem and if you have something you really want to tell your ex, say it in a private message.
- No "we can't see other people" clauses. Don't expect your partner to be a doll on a shelf. If you're taking a break, you don't belong to each other. If they want to go out on a date with another person, they're free to do that and so are you.
- Resist calling/texting or "hanging out" for the foreseeable future. It might not be a bad idea to instate a timeline for when you can start talking again or how much you can communicate at all. It might be weird not to talk at first so maybe you can agree to text each other twice a week at a certain time. Setting up these boundaries helps you to cut ties and give each other space without feeling like you're totally freefalling.
- If you can't curb your jealousy, cut off all contact. If one or both of you are dealing with overwhelming jealousy then it's time to break off all contact. Jealousy is a natural side effect of taking time apart, but let it take over and it'll sour the whole point of taking a break, which is to get to know yourselves better in the hopes of having a healthier partnership.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Em Clark