How taking a break could bring you closer together
It's a tough time to be married.
The monthly strain of meeting the mortgage, swiping luxury and leisure from the budget, maybe a child whose school fees seem unaffordable or an older one, back home again, job searching it's enough to test the strongest relationship. Relate reports that a quarter of families are arguing more as a direct result of this recession, and one woman in ten fears that her relationship is in danger of breaking up.
Equally, though, it's a tough time to divorce. Lawyers are currently predicting a marked drop in divorce rates simply because fewer couples can afford to do it. Indeed, according to a new report, by relationships research organisation One Plus One, women are 40 per cent more likely to enter poverty if they divorce than if they remain married. That same report has found that divorced men and women both experience higher mortality rates and poorer mental health outcomes than their married counterparts.
So is there a less drastic alternative if you're feeling the strain, if your marriage needs to decompress? Wendy, 48, thinks she has found one. Wendy's work in academic research has pandora bead charms dried up. Her husband, an IT worker, is still employed, but working longer hours with fewer staff. Last September, their youngest son started university.
'We're lucky in that we've paid off our mortgage and are in a better position than most,' says Wendy. 'But after 21 years of marriage, things haven't been good recently. We're talking less sometimes hardly at all. Geoff comes in late and I'm at home all day staring at the end of my career. Nearing 50, you think of the roads not taken and look around for someone to blame. I who sells pandora bracelets looked at Geoff and he looked at me.'
Wendy is planning to leave the marriage but not permanently. In a few weeks' time, she is flying to Madrid pandora charms new to stay with her oldest friend. 'I've booked on to a Spanish course something I've meant to do for 20 years and I intend to write,' she says.
The course is three months long and Wendy will be home again straight afterwards. 'Geoff's immediate reaction was suspicion, but now he thinks it's probably the best thing for us,' says Wendy. 'It's not a trial separation; neither of us wants to divorce. It's a breathing space, a change of scenery and a chance to miss each other. I'm so grateful to Geoff for helping facilitate this; I can already feel the goodwill growing between us.'
'It's not a trial separationit's a breathing space, a change of scenery and a chance to miss each other'
For Wendy, a 'marriage sabbatical' appears the ideal solution. 'I'd fleetingly questioned whether Geoff and I were going to make it. We're sick of the sight of each other! Half my friends feel the same about their partners. Now I feel as if a weight has been lifted. It sharply divided opinion. ('Another fine book on how to screw up a marriage,' posted one Amazon reader, while another, an Ivy League graduate struggling with marriage and motherhood, declared it, 'The hope at the bottom of Pandora's box'.)
In it, Jarvis describes her own decision to take a marriage sabbatical at the age of 48, after more than 25 years of marriage.
'The idea of a work sabbatical is that you return renewed and revived,' argues Jarvis. 'A marriage is as emotionally intense as any job, one of life's greatest challenges, but there's no annual leave, no ritual rest.'
Jarvis's time apart made her miss and appreciate her husband and fall in love with him all over again. She also discovered that many others had made a similar journey. 'Many famous married women in history have taken time away from their marriages. Artist Georgia O'Keefe spent many summers of her married life painting in New Mexico while her husband stayed in New York. American aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart spent one month each year teaching at Purdue University in Indiana while her husband remained on the East Coast.'
Yet today, 'time out' has become taboo. Relationship psychologist Susan Quilliam says that, more than ever, we expect marriage to meet all our needs which puts a lot of pressure on one relationship, especially at a time when we're all feeling more 'needy' than usual.
'The couple has become the central unit,' she says. 'Once, we were surrounded by people who knew us and comforted us. Now our parents often live at the other end of the country and we spend our days at a desk, at the school gate, with strangers and acquaintances, and return to our husband each night, expecting him to be our friend, lover, soul mate, co parent. It's an immense demand to make of one person.'
Negotiating a break requires tact, care and time. Jarvis stresses that it must never be sprung on a partner, but discussed over a long period. Though she gives no rules as to how long a sabbatical should be, she stipulates that it should have a fixed frame, a date at which it ends. 'When people take work sabbaticals, they go off to do something else and recharge. Negotiating a marriage sabbatical requires that
you show you're committed to the marriage, and your wish to do something or go somewhere will recharge it too. It's not about leaving the other person,' she says. 'Obviously, children complicate it, and the younger they are, the harder it is to facilitate.'
Both Quilliam and Smedley warn that a sabbatical will not save a marriage that's fundamentally unhappy. If your relationship is so broken that you can't bear pandora pendants to live in the same house, Smedley suggests you at least meet in a professional setting for weekly therapy. However, for a couple who are feeling the strain, a change of scenery, giving the freedom to think only of yourself, could be a tonic.
The greatest challenge is having the courage to follow a path so rarely taken. For Wendy, the reaction of others has been largely negative. 'Geoff is fine about it he's looking forward to it too and our boys think it's "cool" for me to hang out in Madrid,' she says. 'But Geoff's mum is deeply disapproving and our friends have taken the "How could you?" line.
I think they're threatened by it and jealous. It makes them look at their own marriages. They're probably thinking, "I want one of those too!" Wouldn't everyone?'.
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