We Were On A Break: Is "Separation" Good Enough Grounds For Seeing Other People?

By Keelia Clarkson··  6 min read
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Being separated from our spouse isn’t just emotionally confusing – there are actually logistical questions to consider.

Anyone who has ever been married knows that it isn’t always smooth sailing. As much as we love our spouse, sometimes, our relationship hits choppier waters beyond what we could’ve expected.  

We find ourselves more often in disagreement than agreement, feeling as though the “easy” days of marriage are well behind us. We know something isn’t right with our marriage, but we also don’t want to get a divorce.

We decide that it might be best to separate for a while, to give ourselves and the relationship a little space to breathe. While we don’t love the idea of spending time apart, we recognize that our issues are pressing enough that something has to change. And if figuring things out means that we need to live separately for a while, so be it. So we take the “separation” leap and one of us moves out.

Separations Can Be Really Confusing

Because in every separation there are two people with differing needs and expectations involved, this shift in our relationship’s dynamic will lead to some confusion about what our spouse wants and what kind of behavior is considered “appropriate” in the midst of separating.

During a separation, we aren’t totally sure where our relationship stands anymore. We feel like an imposter saying we’re married, but we also never agreed to get a divorce. We find our relationship in an odd gray area in-between married and not, where the rules that once applied in the context of our marriage have become fuzzy and blurred.

If no “ground rules” were set, one of us could start to wonder: are we allowed to see other people if we’re on a break? Is there ever a circumstance where going out with someone else during a separation period is okay?

It’s a Long-Debated Question That We Can’t All Agree On

One of the most memorable moments of the sitcom Friends came when Rachel, in the middle of a fight with Ross on their anniversary, said, “Maybe we should just take a break.” Ross, upset and heartbroken, storms out and sleeps with the first girl he comes across right after. It’s not long before Rachel finds out, and she’s livid. While Ross insists it technically wasn’t cheating, Rachel feels differently, countering that they were still in love.

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A similar issue popped up in Gilmore Girls, when Rory and Logan go on a break – at least, that’s how Rory saw it. After getting back together months later, Rory, in an embarrassing and painful moment, finds out that Logan actually hooked up with multiple girls on their break. He argues that he’d assumed they’d broken up because neither one had specified where their relationship stood.

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It seems there’s enough confusion surrounding whether or not it’s okay to see other people while on a break that, even on these shows, there wasn’t a clear-cut answer. So does it count as cheating if we see other people while we’re separated from our spouse or boyfriend? 

Why Ross and Logan Were Wrong

The short answer is yes, it’s cheating to see other people on a break. Going through a separation obviously changes the relationship — but not to the point where it’s okay to become intimate with other people and further muddy the already murky waters we’re in. 

Even if we’re of the opinion that we won’t be able to make the relationship work and are totally ready to move on, the fact is that we’re still technically “separated,” which isn’t synonymous with single. In order to officially break things off, we have to clearly communicate that to our spouse or boyfriend, rather than assume the other person caught on. Just like both people have to be on the same page to initiate a relationship, both people have to be aware that the relationship has actually ended.

Separated isn’t synonymous with single.

But that’s also not to say that we should trust what our heightened emotions tell us, which we’ll inevitably have while we’re going through a separation. We could change our mind, after all.

We Wouldn’t Be the First To Change Our Mind

We can’t live by our feelings in the middle of a separation, especially if we’re married; maybe we’ll feel like we’re ready to let go of the relationship one day and move on with other people, only to question if we’re actually done the next. 

Getting involved with another person during a separation makes it all the more difficult for us to admit we aren’t done with our relationship, and all the more painful for our spouse, who now feels cheated on, on top of the issues that led to a separation in the first place.

Even if we’re feeling like things will never go back to what they once were in our relationship, we don’t know exactly what our spouse wants, and feelings can change quickly in such an emotionally tumultuous time. 

It’s best that we protect ourselves and our spouse from further pain by not bringing someone else into the equation.

Actors Jason Momoa and Lisa Bonet, who’ve been married for 12 years, had announced their plans to divorce in January of this year – only for them to decide to give their marriage another shot the next month. Ben Stiller and Christine Taylor announced in 2017, after 17 years of marriage, that they would be getting a divorce – but in February of this year, the two rekindled their relationship

Pink and Carey Hart, who separated after two years of marriage in 2008, began “dating” each other again soon after. By 2010, the pair was back together – they’ve since had two children together and are still married. Pink recently opened up about their marriage’s journey on Instagram: “He and I have been at this a long time, and it is our relentless and stubborn idealism that keeps us together…[Marriage] is a lifetime of coming back to the table. People laugh at us because we’re either fighting or laughing…But I’ll tell you what. It’s worth it. All of it.”

Closing Thoughts

Separation can bring up a whirlwind of emotions that we don’t necessarily understand in the moment. It’s best that we protect ourselves and our spouse from further confusion and pain by not bringing someone else into the equation. The real purpose of a break is to reevaluate a couple of things: if the relationship can work and what we’ll need to do if we want to make it work.

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