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Gimme a Break

Broken HeartsDo you remember on Friends when Rachel kept telling Ross that he cheated on her and he'd respond, "But we were on a break."? Why so much confusion? They didn't set the ground rules for their break. But, we'll get to that in a moment.

So, your partner has just told you that they want to take a break from the relationship. Great, it's the first step down the road to "Break-Up-ville", right? Not necessarily.

The Temporary Break can actually be the best thing for couples that haven't committed to each other for lifeā€¦just yet.

So, you've been dating your significant other for four years, fell in love early on, may be your first (and only) true love. Then, because of a move, going to college or just plain out of the blue, they tell you they want to have some time away from "us" for a bit. It can be heart wrenching not knowing exactly what they are thinking, why they want the break, and when it will end. But, a break and a break-up are two very different things.

A break-up means it's time to call this relationship quits. Yet, a break means, "I don't want to end this yet, but I want to figure some things out." Figuring things out is a crucial part of any relationship, before you become fully committed. You don't want to be in the midst of a long-term, committed relationship and start to have to "figure things out" with children, a mortgage and a mini-van.

The reason a break can be so important is because it lets partners have time to reflect on their relationship without the distractions of the relationship itself clouding their vision. It gives them time and space to decide what they want from the relationship, from their partner and from themselves.

Sometimes one, or both, partners decide that the best route is to end the relationship. If that happens, you may feel inclined to blame the break. But, in reality, the break was just the bridge that got you to the inevitable a little faster. Because, if the relationship wasn't meant to be, it would have ended anyway at some point, maybe making it even more difficult to get through down the road.

Often, though, relationships flourish after a break. The break is kind of like cleaning out the fridge and starting fresh again. You get rid of all that spoiled milk, wilted lettuce and moldy cheese. Suddenly, the refrigerator doesn't look so daunting, and you can start building your fresh food supplies again.

Avoid the "Ross and Rachel" errors, and be sure you set the ground rules when you are on a break: Are you allowed to talk, email or hang-out with one another? Do you still list each other on MySpace? Is talking about "us" off limits? Can you date others? If so, to what degree? When will you come back together to reassess the relationship?

I had two sets of friends who dated the same partners all throughout high school. Once they got to college, both sets agreed to take breaks for a couple of years. The partners dated other people, but eventually found their ways back to each other. Both sets have been happily married over ten years and have children. When asked what made their relationships so strong, they always say that it was the break.

Had they not had the time away from each other, time to reflect, time to experience others, they would never had known exactly what they were looking for was right in front of them. And, they never wonder if they've chosen the right partner, because they've had the opportunity to experience others.