You love your partner. You love cooking dinner together, you love your Netflix binge-watches, and you love knowing they are always around (even if they annoy you sometimes). But even the most healthy relationships need a break from time to time, especially when you live in the same house. Maintaining healthy boundaries and giving each other space is important — even if you share that space.
"Taking a break for your partner and/or family can be beneficial — not just for you, but for everyone involved," Sarah Melancon, Ph.D., sociologist and clinical sexologist, tells Scary Mommy. "When we are close with others, and especially when we're living together, we quite literally 'feel' each other's energy. Our brain and autonomic nervous system are constantly — and unconsciously — scanning our environment. When we interact with others, our nervous system picks up on the state of their nervous system. Through a process called co-regulation, our nervous systems will seek to be in the same state, at the same time."
This is why it's so easy to pick up on (and react to!) your partner's or your children's stress or emotions. While generally, co-regulating with people we care about feels good, says Melancon, we also need alone time to let go of our relationships with others and just be with ourselves.
Here's why taking a break from your partner will help both you and your relationship.
Why You Should Take a Break From Your Partner
It might sound counterintuitive, but according to Melancon, taking a break from your partner may help increase feelings of sexual desire.
"Relationship therapist Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity (among others), has written about desire in long-term relationships, asserting that as we become more secure in a relationship, desire often fades," Melancon explains. "Discussing who does the dishes is necessary, providing emotional support in times of crisis is important, and getting the kids to bed on time is needed — but none is erotic."
Basically, desire requires distance. As the old saying goes, we can't want something we already have. "Taking some space for yourself can allow you to return to your partner with fresh eyes," Melancon says. "It's nice to miss the person you sleep next to every night, and may help us to want them even more."
Why It's Important to Take a Break as a Mother
Being an overworked mother doesn't help your relationship either, says Melancon, which is why it's particularly essential for moms to take a break.
"While certainly caretaking is part of being a mother, moms are women, too," Melanon says. "We are each an individual person, with our own wants and needs. In particular, mothers are constantly planning, worrying, and taking care of others' needs."
With a partner close by and children constantly seeking our attention, Melancon says it can feel like there is little room to simply be.
"And yet, when we are more deeply connected with who we are, how we feel, and what our body needs — we can be all the more present with those we love," she notes.
Some women may feel taking time is selfish, but as Melancon points out, "We all need to be self-centered at times, as it helps us be better partners and parents when our individual needs are met. As the saying goes, 'You can't pour from an empty cup.'"
Be clear about the timeframe of your break so that your children know what to expect, and honor your word. "Doing what you say you'll do builds trust and will make your breaks easier as your kids understand what's happening," Melancon recommends. "If for any reason you'll be late or something changes, let them know."
How To Communicate With Your Partner About the Break
Communication is vital in all aspects of relationships, including taking a break from each other. Think about it: You don't want to suddenly ghost your partner or give them the cold shoulder. So, talk to them about it.
"Focus the conversation on you and your needs — this break is about recharging your batteries rather than avoiding your partner or family," Melancon advises.
If taking breaks will be new for you, Melancon says it is normal if your partner needs to get used to the idea, but "don't ask permission — your partner isn't your parent. Be kind yet clear that you need some space to take care of yourself."
You can reduce your partner's defensiveness by addressing their concerns or worries. "Be empathetic and understanding," she says. "Offer that they could take breaks too — it's not just about you."
What a Break Might Look Like
After you've spoken with your partner, Melancon says it's crucial to be firm about your needs and flexible in negotiating where/when/how the break will happen, "especially if your partner will need to watch the kids or outside childcare will be needed. This break should be as easy as possible on everyone, so you come back to a happy partner/family."
In terms of what a break might look like, it's essentially spending the evening where each partner does their own separate activities undisturbed. This could include:
- Exploring hobbies and interests. That could mean taking an online class (or actually going to a class in person), learning new things on YouTube, or working on finishing that art project of yours.
- Self-care. Indulge in a bath, or book an in-home massage therapy session. Do an online workout or paint your nails.
- Watching a movie or TV show alone. Is there a TV show you love watching but your partner hates? Now's your time to watch it! Binge Love is Blind or catch up with your fave movie. You don't have to compromise on the Netflix queue!
- Cook for yourself and eat alone. When was the last time you ate alone? There's something so peaceful about eating one meal completely alone and undisturbed by anyone else. Plus, you get to cook whatever you want to eat!
- Going to a coffee shop for an hour or three. Even running out for a coffee at the local corner and treating yourself to an hour to yourself is an excellent break from the everyday.
- Go for a walk alone. Go outside and get some fresh air by yourself and recharge your batteries.
- Book a hotel for the night. Treat yourself to a staycation, even just for the night.
When Taking a Break Means Something Bigger
Sometimes taking a break from your partner could signify a larger issue. Melancon says speaking with a therapist may be a good idea if…
- Coming back is a struggle: "If your breaks don't feel like enough, perhaps more support is needed in other ways. Help around the house, dealing with issues at work, emotional support, sexual connection — there are numerous possibilities."
- You can't honor your word to your partner and/or your kids.
- Your partner becomes possessive or is threatened.
- Your kids have excessive melt-downs or behavioral issues when you leave: "There may be a deeper emotional issue or a problem with the caretaker in charge, for instance."
No matter what, just remember: Asking for what you need is not selfish; it’s healthy.