We all remember Ross Geller yelling, “We were on a break!” on Friends, even if it’s not something any of us want to hear in our personal lives. But a break, if done right, can be beneficial for a couple in a rut — however, it requires clear rules, a bit of time, and equal amounts of dedication by both partners. According to Jennifer Musselman, a California-based marriage and family therapist, a break in a relationship can “retrofit some unhealthy dynamics and habits that unknowingly developed over time. It can bring about more positive feelings and appreciation toward each other and reignite the reason why you coupled in the first place.” To avoid a Rachel-Ross scenario, follow her instructions on how to most effectively take a relationship time out.

Shot of a young couple having relationship problems at home

1. Set a length. And we’re not talking a week or two. Musselman suggests taking at least two or three months apart in order to “recalibrate.” And although this might seem like a long time, especially to couples who aren’t in multi-year relationships, she says there’s a reason: “It’s just enough time to miss your partner and wear rose-colored glasses about all the good times. It’s [also] the perfect amount of time to seek out couples therapy to work on the issues in your relationship.” But before you officially cut off communication, Musselman recommends setting an “in-person check-in date.” This day is reserved for a discussion about the state of your relationship as well as your thoughts about it.

2. Discuss ground rules. Get a pen and paper if you have to, because these guidelines need to be thorough and specific. “Taking a relationship break requires setting clear ground rules for success,” Musselman says. Some questions to consider: May we date other people? Are we allowed to be physically intimate with other partners? How much should we communicate and by what means? (Regarding the last one, Musselman strongly suggests none at all, if possible.) She also notes that if you and your S.O. have children together, your break will most likely require a much longer list of rules and responsibilities.

3. Partake in genuine self-reflection. A break is all about the alone time, so take advantage. Musselman urges those in this position to “go inside yourself” during this time off by doing things you enjoy, such as working out, socializing and engaging in other hobbies, self-reflecting, and even seeking out individual psychotherapy. “But it’s not about filling your life up with noise to avoid loneliness,” Musselman cautions. “It’s about rediscovering and connecting to the part of your soul you might have lost touch with during your relationship.” And if you’re going to turn to friends and family for advice rather than a professional, that’s fine, she says, but make sure your confidants are unbiased and possess an admirable relationship style.

4. Meet to re-evaluate. But don’t necessarily be prepared to switch your Facebook status back to “in a relationship.” Musselman is clear that not all breaks should end in a reunion: “I recommend you do not make any quick decisions about coupling again. And I do think seeking professional help before making that decision and helping to negotiate what that will look like is critical in long-term success. People sometimes have a hard time being honest about where they’re at with their partners, especially if they think it might hurt them,” she says. She emphasizes the importance of meeting in a public place, ideally a therapist’s office, but a quiet cafe or park if nothing else. The point of this meeting is to examine what you’ve each learned about yourselves, your needs, and your relationship. “You need to show up with candor and integrity, with compassion and clarity,” Musselman explains. “That’s why what you do during the break is of the utmost importance.” If both parties didn’t make a point to practice proper self-reflection, success post-break is likely impossible. Healthy relationships require two people are willing to grow.

(Photo via Getty)

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