Sometimes when we’re in a relationship for a long time things can go from extraordinarily great to just plain ordinary. That famous metaphorical spark fades and we get a little too comfortable with each other. And then it’s only a matter of time before we find ourselves looking for ways to bring that excitement back to our love life, hopelessly flicking through relationship advice and sex tips in grocery store magazines trying to figure out what to do.

The answer of what to do depends on what the problem is in the first place. For some couples it’s the sex; they don’t have enough of it or it’s gotten boring or they have the urge to sleep with other people. For other couples, it may be much more complicated and they may feel like they need space from each other in order to resolve personal issues before they can continue functioning as a unit. Problems like these can lead couples to look toward entering into an open relationship or taking a break, but it’s important to know that these are two different things.

At first, it might seem obvious that a break and an open relationship are two completely different concepts, but I’m here to tell you that it’s not always that simple. In a previous article, I talked about asking your partner for an open relationship. Well, what happens when they really don’t want one but you do? Should you consider going on a break instead? Or what if it’s not just about the sex, but instead you want to actually date other people, is it still an open relationship or is your relationship officially on hold? Or maybe you’re just coming off a break but aren’t ready to stop sleeping with other people, is it an open relationship now? Breaks and open relationships can sometimes collide and create a grey area where the rules are no longer clear, making them hard to tell apart. But there are some characteristics that separate the two.

One thing that separates a break from an open relationship is the intentions because they are usually very different. An open relationship is intended to allow couples to experience the excitement that comes with casually seeing other people but while still remaining in a stable relationship. However, a break is intended to give both people in a relationship time apart to do whatever they need to do. In the example I gave about one person wanting an open relationship and the other person declining– intentions are important. The person wanting the open relationship has to know their intentions and figure out if it was really an open relationship they were asking for or if it was actually a break they wanted.

Another characteristic is the amount of emotional involvement. It may seem easy for an open relationship to start to feel like a break if you suddenly get emotionally invested in one of the people you were casually seeing. If you start to feel like you have to hide something from your partner, then your open relationship may need to be reevaluated. Just because you’re seeing other people doesn’t mean you are apart from your significant other, unless of course, you are actually on a break. And if you’re not sure, then you probably need to have a conversation about what’s going on. The opposite situation can happen too. Maybe you and your partner were on a break but are now trying to ease back into your relationship. You might continue to see other people casually, but you are once again only emotionally invested in each other, and if not…you may still be on your break.

Hopefully, when deciding to enter into an open relationship or a break, you won’t fall into any grey area. But in case you do have trouble deciphering whether your open relationship has turned into a break or vice versa, the best advice is to just discuss t it with your partner and together you can decide what framework would benefit both of you.