Yes, breaks are the worst.
They may call to mind the Ross and Rachel "Friends" scenario. But in real life a break is a very unfunny thing. It's worse than a break up, because it frustrates our craving for resolution and most often involves false hope and prolonged misery. Break ups are simple, pure exercises in loss and recovery (unless you choose to complicate them, in which case stop that). You grieve, you heal, you move forward.
Breaks are hellish nebulae that can reduce the "breakee" to nail-biting, overthinking and putting their life on hold. The breaker gets to walk away and reassess, knowing there is an option to return (or keep walking), and the breakee suffers for weeks or months, only to end up being dumped anyway.
So, why choose a break?
Truly. Why accept what is essentially a demotion from the person you love?
And, for the breaker, it seems that this is a move based on fear and control issues — made by someone who doesn't want their lover to be free to date others, but who also is unwilling to show up in a whole-assed way.
But, nevermind. It happens. So, what I have gathered is this:
A break is most likely the first stage of a break up, done in a cowardly or selfish way. It is often a passive-aggressive way out. Because even the most accepting breakee is likely to grow weary of being left on a shelf, and will make the brave but icky decision to end it (or if not accepting and increasingly desperate, will motivate the breaker to finish the job rather than endure endless weepy or shouty phone calls, emails or text barrages).
However, in rare instances a break can be survivable. So, I hope the six questions below can help with assessing yours:
1. Has the breaker given a clear sense of timing and boundaries for the break period? If yes, and if the two of you reached consensus about parameters then this is a good sign. If no, then chances of survival drop sharply. A breaker who refuses to explain what they are doing and why, is either intentionally dicking you around (using this gender-neutrally, as a vulgar verb), or is emotionally immature to the point of lacking the basic understanding that it is wrong to leave a person dangling (no vulgar verb pun intended.) Even if you do reunite, the breakee might be wise to reconsider the tiresome job of keeping it together with this high maintenance person.
2. Has the breaker been checking in? A breaker who stays in touch is someone who may honestly be conflicted and perhaps will come around. The break should include an agreement about communication: Open communication can be difficult and is not advisable. Something more structured is more fair: a weekly check-in or coffee date, an agreement to go "no contact" with the exception of emergencies or polite conversation in the case of a chance encounter, any arrangement is better than none. And, this is imperative: Allow the breaker all the space they are asking for — and more!
3. Does the break include an understanding about seeing others? If yes, then you still have a shot at surviving. Unless, that is, yours is one of those breaks that allows for dating and having sex with others. It would be a very unusual relationship that reunites and grows after that sort of thing. Bottom line: If this break is a tactic to keep a fall-back/"good enough" lover on hold while interviewing potentially "better" partners, the relationship is better off ending. If a relationship is non-exclusive in the first place, this is less of an issue. In the case of a serious relationship on a break, to not only scale back on commitment but also expand the pool of sex partners is a one-two punch.
4. Is the break truly about the breaker getting through a major life crisis or transition?
Bear in mind that strong relationships stay together no matter what people are going through. But, if a breaker insists there is something that needs to be experienced alone, some soul-searching, a walk through fire or the desert metaphorically speaking, then this is pretty much the only case in which a relationship stands a reasonable chance of survival on the other side. To revisit question #3: If you both really do use the break to focus on self-growth and reflection, that main purpose naturally excludes any reason for dating or even casual "scouting"/socializing with others who are not already-established platonic friends.
5. Are you under the age of 30?
If so, then try not to fret. Your break is likely happening because somebody is concerned about being too young to make a commitment to one person, or thinking that their life could take on a new direction which might not feasibly include this relationship. Either way, remember that your options are vast, your recovery time should be relatively quick, and the best thing you could do is to focus on yourself: your work, your hobbies, personal health, passions, spiritual life, friends and family. Let the reunion, if it happens, be a happy surprise initiated by the breaker.
6. Have you been together for a year or longer?
This could turn out to be a beneficial transition phase for an established relationship. The breaker honestly may need to step back before doubling down on commitment. Particularly for mature couples, with the additional complications that come at midlife and beyond, it might be reasonable to accept, even invest in the break as a period of self improvement and reflection. If it nevertheless ends in a break-up, then there will be peace of mind in knowing that you did the best you could, and did not let the break "break" you.
Finally, breaker beware.
A strong breakee will not only survive this trial but grow into an extra powerful version of him/herself.
...And may not settle for anything less from you.