How a brief break-up can benefit your relationship, according to science

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You spend most of your time together with them, thinking about them, talking about them. It’s kind of ridiculous how much you love them. Your relationship is beautiful and filled with smiles and laughter. You couldn’t be any happier.

But sometimes, life pulls us in different directions, and a couple may ponder if they are truly meant for each other. It might be a simple argument that sparks it. Or perhaps you’re just skeptical about putting all your eggs in one basket, even if it’s the best basket you’ve ever seen. Maybe it’s time for a break.

A 2013 study conducted by researchers Sarah Halpern-Meekin, Wendy Manning, Peggy Giordano and Monica Longmore, which accumulated data on 792 daters, showed that about half of older teenagers and young adults break up briefly and spend time alone before getting back together with previous dating partners.

A time for self-discovery and personal growth

When we were younger, we aspired to grow up quick and become adults because we thought we would have things figured out, and find peace and happiness. Fast forward a decade or two later, life still feels as uncertain as ever, and relationships are no exception. Young adulthood can often feel like a vulnerable and tumultuous time, which may lead you to start existentially questioning your many prospects. It is because of this that taking a break in relationships is more common than you think, especially among young adults when it becomes a critical time of introspection, self-actualisation and self-improvement.

Rebecca Hendrix, a New York-based marriage and family therapist, identifies self-discovery and personal growth as important landmarks in the journey through life. However, these breakthroughs may come as direct oppositions towards long-term commitment. This is where taking a break comes in.

Many other therapists also agree that pressing pause on a relationship is a chance to rediscover yourself, build appreciation for your significant other, and ultimately learn traits such as compromise and sacrifice to strengthen your relationship. Hendrix explains, “I think it can be really healthy to separate, have some life experiences, date other people, go to grad school. When you are ready, you’ll probably think of that person first.”

After knowing more about yourself, your expectations, desires and dreams, you can return to your partner with a fresh set of eyes and ears, and become capable of bringing more to the table as far as your relationship goes.

It’s all about space

Giving each other space is something I’ve often heard as the secret to a successful relationship. You may want to shower your partner with all the love you’ve got, but you shouldn’t smother them with it. A study conducted by Terri Orbuch, a psychologist and research professor at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, supports this notion. Data from the study evidences that having enough space or privacy in a relationship is essential for a couple’s happiness.

Furthermore, Steve Ward, a relationship expert and CEO of matchmaking service Master Matchmakers, believes that taking a break from a relationship is a welcome reprieve and provides valuable space for couples to refocus and assess their feelings within the relationship.

“Breaks are sometimes necessary to create space and allow someone to come to the realisation that they are happier, more productive, and better off with someone than without them,” Ward adds. “In many cases, a little space will give them time to refocus and see that it’s up to themselves, not their partners, to create personal satisfaction and happiness.”

Before actually going on a break, it is important for couples to discuss what they want to achieve from the break and establish some ground rules. This will prevent misunderstandings from arising, and ensure that you don’t end up doing something you might later regret. Taking a break isn’t the same as breaking up. Going on a break doesn’t mean cutting off communication completely, and it isn’t an excuse for you to sleep around either.

Ultimately, while not without their risks, breaks can be a useful change of pace in a relationship. Spending time apart from your lover can show you what you’re missing when they are not by your side. Just wait, and see how long you can go without smelling her hair, or nuzzling his chest.