“How do you feel about couples taking a break? My girl suggested it, but I don’t know how I feel about people being able to check in and out of a relationship when they feel like it. Does it say something about my self respect if I let her take a break?” —R.Y.
Taking a break isn’t an indictment of your self-respect, but it does seem to indicate that there are some glaring issues in your relationship that you may be overlooking. The most obvious concern is poor communication. You and your lady seem to be facing an unnamed conflict that you aren’t able to resolve via communication—and I’m sure you’ve tried—or compromise. The suggestion of a break is the result of ongoing frustration and an attempt to avoid a major issue.
Here’s one of the problems with breaks: They don’t solve anything—and they often make the problems worse. The idea is that you take some space to clear your head. But if it’s a conflict between two people, it will take both of them to resolve it. On break, you’re free to do as you please as a single person, including dating and having sex with other people.
The relationship and the problems in it tend to be placed on the back burner. You’re not focused on solving the issues anymore; you’re focused on getting freedom from a situation that’s been bogging you down for weeks or months or even years. Problems don’t get solved by avoiding them.
The other glaring issue here is that there are no real rules for breaks. You’re technically single, but there’s the idea that you’ll “work it out” someday—not likely with no effort to solve the issue—so you’re not supposed to really behave like a single person. See how ridiculous—and gray—that sounds?
Breaks also have the potential to get very messy. There is no way I could broach this topic without bringing up pop-culture examples of “breaks” where the situations have gone awry. On Monday, Entertainment Weekly reported that basketball player Dwyane Wade had fathered a child while allegedly “on break” from his then-girlfriend actress Gabrielle Union. (The couple are now engaged.) And two days later, TMZ alleged that rapper Ludacris had a new daughter by another woman while also “on break” from his long-term girlfriend, Eudoxie Agnan.
While I’m not sure these celebs were actually “on break” when they had sex with other women—the excuse sounds like a way too convenient cover-up for cheating and an effort to help significant others, who both stayed, to save face—it’s notable that “on break” is being toted as a justifiable excuse for condomless sex and creating a child with another woman while in a long-term relationship. Because the couple is not technically together, the guy may have used bad judgment but technically hasn’t done anything wrong because there weren’t clear boundaries. (I’d like to think that “don’t make a child with someone else” should be understood; it clearly is not.) The gray area works great for partners who screw up while “on break,” but it's not so great for the partners who certainly weren’t expecting to add new children—or their mothers—to the relationship dynamic if and when they reunited.
I’m clearly no fan of breaks, but if you agree to one, set ground rules with your partner that include how long the break will last and what’s permissible behavior—or not—during your time apart.
I actually suggest that instead of agreeing to a break, you tell your girlfriend that you want to refocus on tackling the issues that are shaking up your relationship. What is it that she wants? What do you want? And what creative ways can you compromise to make each other happy? If you can’t find a solution that works for you both, agree to disagree or actually break up and go your separate ways.
Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor at The Root, a life coach and the author of the upcoming book Don’t Waste Your Pretty: The Go-to Guide for Making Smarter Decisions in Life & Love. She answers your dating and relationship questions on The Root each week. Feel free to ask anything at firstname.lastname@example.org.