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I love you but I don’t want to see you for the next six weeks: the case for a ‘marriage sabbatical’

Short blog on - I love you but I don’t want to see you for the next six weeks: the case for a ‘marriage sabbatical’


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Mia Lee

2 months ago | 3 min read

It’s
not a divorce, a trial separation or a chance for a guilt-free fling,
just an opportunity for husbands and wives to live apart, forget all the
little irritations and realise how much they miss each other. At least
that’s the theory …

Zoe Williams@zoesqwilliamsWed 21 Sep 2022 10.00 BSTLast modified on Wed 21 Sep 2022 21.32 BST

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    The journalist Celia Walden recently wrote about taking a six-week marriage sabbatical
    – “as in, six weeks away from my husband and marriage”. In a post-Covid
    context, there are probably many couples who could do with a breather,
    but six weeks seems a little extreme. Where would you go for six whole
    weeks? Would you have to stay in a hotel? But once you know she is
    married to Piers Morgan, the real mystery is why take a sabbatical at
    all when you could be sending out CVs.

    Walden
    traced the marriage sabbatical way back, and across the Atlantic:
    Americans have this longstanding habit of the wife going out of town for
    the summer, and the husband staying home to work and have an affair,
    hence the Seven Year Itch. My mother used to say that the happiest
    marriages were those where one person was in the navy because then you
    were off-shift longer than you were on. I have since met a few naval
    couples and they were uniformly miserable, but that is another story.
    These models from the past don’t meet the criteria because if one person
    is still looking after the kids, it is really only a sabbatical for the
    other.

    In fact, the term was coined in the book The Marriage
    Sabbatical: the Journey that Brings You Home, written by Cheryl Jarvis
    in 1999. Jarvis, who lives in St Louis, Missouri, conceived it very much
    in the style of the workplace sabbatical – taken to pursue a dream of
    your own. “It was very much connected to women’s dreams, something that
    they wanted to achieve that was personally meaningful to them. For many
    women, it was just something that they couldn’t do in their home town.
    You can open a bakery in your home town, but you can’t hike the
    Appalachian mountains.”

    We could argue about
    whether this is still true now, but it was certainly truer at the tail
    end of the last century, that a woman putting herself first was a
    disruption of the social order, almost an insult to it. The problem was
    not her absence from the home – “A woman could say: ‘I’m going to go be
    with my sick mother,’” says Jarvis, “and nobody said anything – she was a
    wonderful woman.” But not if there was a change in her priorities:
    “When she wanted to do something for herself, it was perceived very
    differently, that she was selfish.”

    When it was
    published, the book was controversial, seen as a threat to family
    values. “Which was surprising to me,” Jarvis says, deadpan, “because I
    have led quite a traditional life.” People assumed that it meant space
    to have an affair, and would inevitably end in chaos. “The irony to me
    was that not a single woman I interviewed had that in her consciousness.
    The idea for every one of them was to have
    no one in her
    life.” Realistically, distance is not the critical factor with fidelity.
    “You can have an affair with a guy in your office,” Jarvis points out.

    Celia Walden and Piers Morgan at the GQ Men of the Year Awards, September 2021. Photograph: Richard Young/Shutterstock

    Quite
    a lot has changed about marriage in the years since: people are
    marrying later, in their 30s, and may perceive the constant togetherness
    as a sacrifice, having got used to more time alone. The financial power
    balance within the household has changed, too, so it could easily
    revolve around the wife’s work, with the husband feeling that his dreams
    have been flattened under its juggernaut. “Sabbaticals were equally
    necessary for both men and women,” Jarvis says. “The only reason I wrote
    the book for women is that it’s harder for women to give themselves
    permission to leave.” Perhaps that has changed.



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