Is Emma Bunton right, can a temporary breakup make a relationship stronger?

Emma and Jade have been together for over 20 years, getting married in 2021 alongside their four children (Picture:Getty)

Movies and romance novels may have us believe that love at first sight is the norm, grossly overinflating the number of kismet moments a person has in their life.

Looking at the couples we know, however, we see that they rarely began with magical meet-cutes and instantaneous passion, and that there’s no one way to create a successful relationship.

Emma Bunton spoke about her own love life recently on Holly Willoughby’s Light of the Moon podcast, revealing how a temporary break-up with husband Jade Jones ‘worked a treat’ to strengthen their bond.

Meeting in 1999 (when Jade was 19 and Emma was 21), the couple were initially on and off, with the Spice Girls star being linked to Justin Timberlake and Rio Ferdinand before reuniting with Jade once and for all in 2004.

They’ve gone on to become one of the longest-lasting celebrity pairings, something 45-year old Emma credits to time apart in the early days.

Although she knew R&B singer Jade was her ‘soul mate’ when they first got together, she told longtime pal Holly: ‘It hit us that we were so young and both of us haven’t done everything, we did have a break.’

She added: ‘First of all, I was on tour, he was on tour, so I think we would have both taken that time apart anyway.

‘But it gave us time to grow as people and when we came back together it was amazing.’

Our main cultural marker around temporary splits is the infamous ‘we were on a break’ line from Friends, but Emma’s revelation could put a positive spin on what’s normally seen as a catastrophe.

Psychotherapist Stina Sanders tells ‘While it may seem counterproductive, breaks can be beneficial for your relationship – especially if you or you partner are going through something and need space to work on your issues individually.

‘Using this time to deal with your issues can then help you to approach your relationship more rationally. Taking a break can also help those who need to “find themselves” again.’

Stina puts this in the context of couples who’ve been together for a long time and want to reflect on next steps, although – as in Emma and Jade’s situation – it can be beneficial at any stage in a relationship.

France, Paris, couple holding hands at river SeineRegardless of how much you love each other, a break can give you breathing space to work out what comes next (Picture: Getty Images/Westend61)

This alone time is all about prioritising your own wants and needs, ensuring you’re not simply dependent on a partner and want them rather than simply needing them.

As a byproduct of your newfound clarity and self-confidence, you should then find that things are better when you do reunite.

‘A change of scenery can be eye opening,’ says Stina. ‘For example, you may find that your partner’s annoying habits aren’t so annoying after all.’

She adds: ‘When you take a break, you step away from what you’ve been accustomed to and can see the relationship for what it is.

‘Time apart can also help put those “grass is greener” feelings into the forefront and make you realise why you stuck with someone for so long.’

Whether your relationship flourishes or flounders during a break is dependent on a number of factors. From the motivations behind the decision to what goes down while you’re apart, it really is make or break.

Stina says: ‘If you think a break is going to fix all the problems in your relationship, you are very much mistaken.

‘Communication is key to resolving any issues so, while reconnecting after some time apart may feel good to begin with, the issues that were there before will creep up again.

‘Breaks can also cause a major power imbalance if one partner wanted the break and the other person didn’t. This is likely to cause resentment further down the line, which will be hard to shake off.’

USA, New Jersey, Jersey City, Couple talking on sofaBefore you reconnect, you need an open and honest conversation about what the break entailed (Picture: Getty Images/Tetra images RF)

Among the main pitfalls of a temporary split are the ‘what ifs’ you may encounter. Did they sleep with someone else during that time? Have they made any romantic connections?

However deliberate you are in choosing a temporary absence, it can still bring up underlying feelings. If one partner has cheated in the past, for instance, insecurities that weren’t initially dealt with will be amplified.

Before you make the decision to consciously uncouple (then consciously recouple), ask yourself whether you’re using a break as a sticking plaster. In some cases, it’s simply time to end things for both of your sake.

If you feel a break is the right step, you then need to ensure it’s done in the healthiest way.

Set boundaries over what you’re comfortable with and try to use the absence for personal growth, focusing on self-fulfilment rather than worrying about the future or past issues.

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Stina says: ‘If there are feelings of resentment or abandonment that have stuck around after a reunion, the best way you can deal with this is to communicate your concerns with your partner.

‘Explain how you feel and that you need reassurance as you both navigate this new part of your relationship. It may take time to build trust again and couples counselling may help with this process.’

She also advises you have an open conversation about what happened during a break before reconnecting, along with couples therapy to help with any

‘Talk to each other about what you’ve learned from your break and how you can make things better moving forward,’ says Stina.

‘It’s also important to discuss if either of you dated someone else during your time apart. You don’t need to go into details but it’s better to mention it now, so there are no surprises down the road.’

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, but it isn’t a magic cure. Relationships take effort, and the idea of a ‘perfect’ one is just as fake as the saccharine chance encounters we see on movie screens.

Emma and Jade may have the happy ending, but their rocky start shows that the stars don’t align to create lasting love; two people choose each other, and they both give their all to keep that going.

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