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Despite what all the romance novels, relationship self-help books, and love gurus say, there are actually no hard and fast rules for being in a relationship.
Okay, besides the basics like maintaining communication, trust, and honesty.
The point is, you and your partner can devise any way of being together that makes sense to you both.
You can even say “I wolf you” instead of “I love you” if that makes you feel a stronger connection, not that I’m taking advice from You‘s Joe Goldberg and Love Quinn.
Taking the traditional route is cool (marrying and staying together ’til death does you part), or on the other side of the spectrum, trying open relationships, polyamory, consensual non-monogamy, or even settling in with a platonic life partner, is totally fine, too.
Somewhere in the middle might be a relationship dynamic that the BBC is suggesting is on the rise, and which might work if everyone’s heart and intentions are in the right place.
A relationship gap year, so to speak.
Some might find it to be “the death knell of a relationship” but many are leaning into the distance to make the heart grow fonder, and finding that it is leaving their relationship reinvigorated and newly appreciated.
Here’s Marisa T Cohen, a relationship scientist and psychology professor who works as a researcher at dating app Hily:
“Couples might choose to take a relationship gap-year because of job opportunities, a desire to live in a location that they have always dreamed of that is away from the home, or pursuit of personal interests,” says Cohen.
“People are most likely to take a pause in a relationship when going through a transition, such as changing jobs or becoming empty nesters.”
One person may have dreams that they can’t just let go of, so taking a relationship gap year can serve those pesky “what ifs” in the long run.
Indeed, taking time off to do that thing you’ve always wanted, without your partner, might be commendable depending on how secure and open you are.
As Marc, who explored his career working with sharks in the Bahamas while his wife Sam explored yoga at an ashram in India, says, “marriage isn’t about letting go of the things that you feel passionate about, but about finding someone you can support – and be supported by – to pursue those passions.”
Others are recognising that marriage doesn’t have to be a place where individual passions and interests die but thrive.
Rather than leaving a relationship where people feel unhappy or unfulfilled, they can instead adapt it to suit the needs of both partners.
“If both partners are on the same page, then taking a gap can lead to relationship growth,” says Cohen. “It can allow both members of the couple to further grow as individuals, which leads to personal development and fulfilment that feeds back into the relationship.”
The caveat? Of course, there’s always a caveat.
Tom Murray, a sex therapist and professor at Adler University, US, recognises that couples might take a break for the wrong reasons, “because of boredom, a desire for sexual exploration and a grass-is-always-greener belief that happiness can be found outside their current situation”.
That’s the thing – if your intentions don’t match then the relationship may well fall apart:
“The primary downside is that human beings are very fickle,” he says. “Because we are social creatures, we yearn to belong and be in community with others, therefore if jealousy and insecurity are present, then I doubt that a relationship would survive [a gap year]. And if there are unspoken agendas, such as a desire to exit gracefully from the relationship, then things can dissolve very quickly.”
Circle back to the maintaining communication, trust, and honesty thing and you should be just fine, no matter what path you choose.
But hey, that also means being honest and having chats with yourself to figure out where you’re at and what you want.
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