Have you asked your partner for time? The six-point rule for what to do next

If you've made the decision, something's wrong. Here are some tips to help you avoid despair and figure out what you really want.

When a couple is going through relationship problems that can't be solved despite all attempts, the most logical thing to do is to make a preventive separation so you can find out what each of you needs. It's precisely when you say “I need time” or “let's take some time” that it's often a case of a delayed break-up.

“This doesn't mean there's an official breakup, but rather that the couple is taking a break from the relationship for a while,” explains Chicago-based marital therapist Anita Chipala in a recent article in Prevention magazine. Although this may be a sign that something is wrong between you, it's not necessarily negative. Often, couples are saved when they miss each other and observe from a distance what they bring to each other. “When you're in a relationship, it can be hard to see everything objectively,” she explains. “Giving yourself time and space allows you to see the situation from a different angle.”

It's more about how you solve the problems that arise and the approach you take.

Above all, it's about sorting out your emotions, which are sometimes a bit contradictory. You'll see over time whether this is a good decision, because you may also find that you're better off apart than as a couple, and that's not necessarily bad news. The key to success is to think clearly and know what you want or need. Here are the steps to follow, in case you're a little confused or unsure about your decision.

It's not the end of the world

Problems are inevitable, because it's always tricky to share your life with another person on such an intimate, emotional level. “Most relationship problems can't be completely resolved, but that's not such a big deal,” explains couple therapist Kongit Farrell. “What matters is how you solve these problems and the approach you take. So the first rule is not to see this as the end of the relationship, but as a starting point for thinking clearly about what you want from each other and what you hope for in your lives in the long term, separately or together.”

Establish a convincing reason

Before you take a break, it's important for both of you to be clear about why you're taking this time out. “What do you hope to change once the time is up?” asks Chilipala. This is where you need to define the issues that have forced you to pull away from each other. How much time do you want to give each other? Farrell reckons it takes at least a week for “your body and mind to adjust to the absence of someone you've had a relationship with”. “Then you'll need another week to take stock of what you're thinking or feeling, and possibly another week to work out a new plan.”

Set strict rules

This section is the most controversial, because you have to decide whether you can meet other people or how often you should communicate. In the first case, Farrell points out that if you're taking a break, it wouldn't be wise to try to get intimate (or physical) with someone else, as you should be using this time to be with yourself. As for the second, it's also rather tricky to manage: being online most of the time, you may be tempted several times a day to check up on the other person, or to give up and ask to get back together. The important thing, in either case, is not to let it get you down, and to concentrate on the goal you've set yourself.

Think about what you're looking for

Examine the reasons that led you to ask for time or, failing that, the reasons why your partner decided to do so. If something happened between the two of you that motivated this decision, like infidelity for example. The most important thing, as Chipala says, is that you don't feel obliged to convince the other person to stay with you and come back, because in the world of relationships, everyone's will must always prevail. Ultimately, understanding the root of the problem should help you evolve as a couple, but also separately if you finally decide to break up. You may also discover that you are very emotionally dependent. And, in this sense, experience how you would live your life if you were single. So the most important thing is to keep in mind that you are striving for something.

Keep track of your progress

If you've temporarily stopped, it's because you want to resolve something, which requires concrete action. Perhaps one of you has decided to see a psychologist to remedy what's wrong. Or maybe you've decided to take some time out to focus on something you've been neglecting. In this sense, you need to inform the other person of all your progress, so as not to put his or her life on hold for no reason.

See each other again to make a decision

Schedule a meeting when you think you've reached the end of the process and are ready to make a final decision. It's time to decide what you're looking for. If not, and if one of you doesn't want to get to that point, I'd recommend finding a good therapist, either personally or for both of you. The decision doesn't necessarily have to be made by one or both of you, but that doesn't mean it's a bad thing, because ultimately it's up to you to decide who you want to spend your time with.