Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Marriage Sabbatical - Could Taking Time Away From Your Marriage Make It Stronger?

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Marriage sabbatical is a term coined by author Cheryl Jarvis, who wrote a book about women taking time out from their marriages to do something for themselves, something they felt being married was stopping them from doing.

The idea of pulling apart in a relationship that is meant to be all about togetherness may seem illogical, but increasing number of couples are embracing the idea of one of them, especially the wife, taking a ‘sabbatical’ from their marriage in order to make it stronger.

A marriage sabbatical is different from a trial separation and the couple are not discussing divorce in any way. There is also no room for relationships or sex with other people while the wife or husband is taking the sabbatical.

The debate surrounding 'marriage sabbaticals' was sparked recently when actress Emma Thompson revealed that she believes every married couple would benefit from such a break. And it got me thinking.

Marriage can be difficult, and it is hardest on women and their dreams and personal life goals which often get subsumed in her husband's and that of her children. Some women don't mind this but embrace it, for those who do, a marriage sabbatical to pursue those dreams for a while may be the answer to refreshing her and making her a stronger person, more comfortable in her skin, and happier to be with her family.

Do you know what this reminds me of? It reminds me of the couple of married women I had in my masters degree class. Both of them came to the UK, leaving their husbands behind in their home countries, one left him with their three children, the other left him with one child.

I also know of a married friend who recently took a sabbatical to go get her PhD in another country, she took their child along. They tried to visit each other at least once a year, and are back together now with her degree in the bag within three years and a better job for her. The PHd would have taken her upwards of six years if she had done it from home, and without it, her job would have gone downhill. She is happier with her degree and her job now, and their marriage is stronger for it.

Cheryl interviewed fifty-five women who had taken sabbaticals, and she took 3 month trip away from her own family to join a writing retreat and finish a novel she had been working on. In “The Marriage Sabbatical” Jarvis explores what some might consider a radical question: What happens when married women take some time and space away?

The Answer: Good things! Especially when the sabbatical is designed to be what Jarvis describes as, “personal time-out from daily routines for creative, professional or spiritual growth, reflection or renewal.”

If that concept sounds familiar, it’s because the marriage sabbatical is based on a similar, historically successful idea. In academia, professors take sabbaticals from their university work to travel, write, explore, and come back energized and renewed. A marriage sabbatical can be viewed in the same light. In other words, it’s not meant to be an escape from a failing relationship or a desperate retracement of singlehood. Rather, a sabbatical is driven by a sense of meaning and purpose.

When a woman returns to her nest she expects to be better for having flown away for awhile—more freshly acquainted with her own voice, more conscious of her gifts, and less likely to see home commitments as obstacles limiting her creative or intellectual expression.

What about the families of women who take sabbaticals? The same break that’s renewing to her can be refreshing for her family, too. While she’s gone, her partner and children have time to connect differently, to create new relational configurations, and discover their own strengths and power.

However, psychologist Jo Hemmings has reservations about the trend. She says if one party in the marriage is unhappy with themselves and feels marriage is constraining them, taking time away may be the wrong move.

'A sabbatical is not addressing the issues, you need to find out the root problems within the relationship, a period of time totally separate is just adding more questions. It is a bit of a last resort and it’s a bit risky. If one partner loves being apart and doesn’t want to come back then you are in trouble.'

What do you think about the idea? Have you ever taken a marriage sabbatical?

Read a review of the Marriage Sabbatical here.

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