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Letters From Japan: “My Japanese Boyfriend Wants A Break — What Should I Do?”

Sudden Break

Hi Hilary. I’ve been dating my Japanese boyfriend for around a year and a half and recently we almost broke up. Instead of breaking up, however, my boyfriend wanted to “take a break” for one to two months. I feel totally lost. He struggles to come to grips with his feelings and has ignored me for over a week in the past because he couldn’t understand his own feelings.

I don’t really know what to do and even how to feel. I’m trying to be hopeful that the relationship will work out but I have a feeling it won’t and I’ll be heartbroken. One to two months of pain, confusion and feeling lost and it may result in a heartbreak all over again. How do I prepare myself for that? It feels impossible… — Impossible Waiting

Dear Impossible Waiting,

Being asked to take a break from a relationship or needing some time alone yourself is difficult, but sadly, a rather common situation all over the world — and couples dating in Japan are not an exception.  

Although you probably find yourself only thinking of him now, a good way to approach the situation is by treating this time apart like a real breakup — it will help to reset your emotions.  

You said that he struggles with his own feelings, and needs time to sort them out — are you doing the same thing while he’s gone? If he’s using this time to seriously consider your relationship, his life goals, work conditions and whatever it is that is having him worried, then I would suggest doing the same thing for yourself. Easier said than done, but ultimately this is the only thing you can do: focus on yourself.

Don’t think about your life strictly in terms of him — consider what should be in your life in order to be happy at work, in your free time, and in any future relationship(s) — with other people or with your current boyfriend if things work out well. Learn a new skill, take up a new activity, meet with friends, travel alone, do something you don’t typically do — this will help you to (at least temporarily) stop thinking of him and gain a new perspective. Focus on making yourself a priority and find ways to bring out your best self.

Remember, a healthy committed relationship is about being a team. 

When you do come back to thinking about the relationship with your current boyfriend, think about what needs to change in order for it to meet your needs. For example — is him needing this space/time away actually acceptable to you? Do you want to be dating someone that can come and go from the relationship as they please? If so, then you have no choice but to wait this out, but if not, then you might consider this less of a break, more of a breakup.

Ultimately, there are two things that can sabotage you right now. First is letting him have all the deciding power in your relationship. Relationships exist between couples, and one person should not have total veto power over the other (except in extenuating circumstances). Your current boyfriend doesn’t own you, and if he can’t be 100% committed to you, you don’t have to be to him. Second is pushing him or giving him ultimatums — not writing or contacting him for a while will give you (and him) a better perspective on the situation, and show you just what you are or not missing.

A good way of determining how you feel is to ask yourself, several times over the course of the break: “If he does come back after this and wants to date again, do I still want to be with him?”

You will need to have a serious discussion about your relationship, feelings, and the future if the answer is a wholehearted ‘yes.’ This is why it’s so important to think about your own needs, feelings, and goals now — you don’t want to be caught off guard in this sort of discussion. If it’s a ‘maybe,’ then you might need more time to think and act on your own. And if it’s a ‘no,’ then you’re already well on your way to put this relationship behind you.

And since you’re on a break, you should also consider your other dating options. I’m not saying that you need to jump into another relationship with anyone, but leave yourself open to the possibility of finding someone that will give you what you need in your life.

Remember, a healthy committed relationship is about being a team, and if he’s acting more like an opponent, it’s time to look elsewhere.

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