11 Sep 2012

What Does “Taking A Break” Actually Mean?

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When a couple says that they are taking a break in their relationship, it’s an odd thing. It’s one of those popular phrases that really seems to be fraught with meaning, but when you ask people what it really means, you get lots of different answers. Naturally, we all pretend that we know exactly what we’re talking about, nod our heads knowingly, and proceed to give advice – at least that’s what I do. But like all such cliches, it would sharpen our minds and improve our relationships if we could try to figure out the real, practical meaning of a too-often used saying. So, what does it really mean to take a break?

Common Meanings

To take a break in the usual sense of the phrase is to stop working temporarily, usually for a specified amount of time. Anyone who has worked at a blue collar or minimum wage job knows how precious and important such a break is, and how scrutinized it is by the management – the time taken on the hiatus is all-important. In a more general sense, we use the phrase to mean that we are stopping some behavior, activity, or process, again with the understanding that it may be only temporary. But there’s no guarantee of that either – we also understand that if someone says they are taking a break from mountain-climbing, there is a good chance that they are actually giving up the sport, but just aren’t ready to admit it yet.

Relationship Meaning

Sometimes we assume that this is the case when a person in a romantic relationship tells us that they have decided to take a break. While being as considerate and supportive as we can, deep down we are thinking that what this really means is that it’s over for the formerly loving couple, but nothing has been decided for absolute certainty; but we fully expect the pronouncement within a short time of the break that it has turned into a break-up. On the other hand, I suppose there are those people who hear that a couple is taking a break from each other and assume that they both need a rest from the hard work of being together. And we all assume that for one or both of the partners, wanting to “see other people” is a big part of the taking a break process.

Different For Men And Women?

That kind of assumption raises the question of gender differences in meaning. When a guy tells another guy that he and his lover are taking a break from each other, I believe (from talking to my male friends and my partner) that they both know that what he is actually saying is, that he wants to play the field, to sow some wild oats, to avoid commitment, to be single and free again. A man does not think, “oh, my friend wants to stop working so hard on his relationship for a while and reconnect with himself.” Nor does he believe that his friend wants to find another partner to settle down with, after the break is over. Women, on the other hand, see the process as a real hiatus, a time to take stock of themselves and what they are looking for in a mate – and when the temporary break is over, she’ll know how to proceed.

Take A Break

There is nothing wrong with the idea of the partners in a relationship needing a break from each other. Some couples take separate vacations to have alone time and the space they need once in a while. When we “take a break” from each other, however, it usually means a return, however brief, to the single state of being. As long as both partners agree on what they actually mean by taking a break, it can be a very healthy thing to do.


Grace Pamer is a full time romance and relationship writer. She writes romance and marriage proposal tip columns for various publications including YourTango.com and GalTime.com. As seen on FoxNews.com, Cosmopolitan.com, DivineCaroline.com and CanadianLiving.com to name but a few.

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One Response to “What Does “Taking A Break” Actually Mean?”

  1. Reply Mel says:

    “Taking a break” is a conundrum – and yes, you’re absolutely right. The genders see it differently! We all know what happened on “Friends” when Ross and Rachel were “on a break.”

    According to a poll on GirlsAskGuys, asking “Is it right to breakup up with someone if they want to take a break from you?”, 75% of members said “yes.” Hmmm….. is this because of ego, or a true analysis of what a break means and what it could lead to?

    When I saw this question on our site, I tried to be honest with myself – what would I do/think/say if my partner (unexpectedly) asked for a break from me? And truthfully….. I would probably be very hurt, and have a bruised ego. In a long term relationship, I suppose we all need a little space now and then….. but I don’t equate that with a break. Space is making sure you spend time with girlfriends, my mom, exercising alone, and every once in a while, vacationing without him (usually “girl trips”).

    But a break is something else entirely. It is saying that you don’t want to be around your partner on the same regular basis. Is it because you’re having problems in the relationship? Is it because you’re questioning your own commitment? Is it because you’ve found yourself with a wandering eye?

    I think the most important thing is to be clear and honest right off the bat – what do you hope to achieve with this break? Will other people come into the picture? And what can you expect at the end?

    Great post, thanks for the insight!


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