On Saturday, I moved back in with Sporty after taking a three week break from our couple.
(For the record, it was absolutely nothing like when Ross and Rachel were on a break.)
Taking regular relationship sabbaticals is one of the things we do to keep our happy marriage happy.
We also engage in weekly artist dates and we’re not averse to a little relationship counselling should the need arise (which it has in the past).
There were tears, I’m not going to lie.
While we’re being honest, our very first break was actually more ‘Ross and Rachel’ than unicorns and rainbows.
We were, how shall I say this, a little annoyed with one another. Fortunately for us, an opportunity for time apart presented itself when Sporty got a job offer in a different province.
The time apart did us good. Once we realised just how much, we started instigating these breaks on a regular basis. And now we’re happy pretty much all the time.
What is a Relationship Sabbatical?
The Cambridge English Dictionary defines a sabbatical as:
a period of time when college or university teachers are allowed to stop their usualwork in order to study or travel, usually while continuing to be paid.
For Sporty and I, a relationship sabbatical is a period of leave from our couple. It’s important to make the distinction, because we’re not trying to get away from each other.
It’s an opportunity to enjoy an extended period of time alone.
We still see each other and we still chat, heck we even miss each other, but mostly we revel in the freedom that being apart affords us. Because let’s face it, as fun as it is, being in a couple is hard work.
Not in a negative way, mind you. But if you want your relationship to thrive, you need to work at it. And that work, while rewarding, takes effort.
You need to be considerate. You need to think about more than just what you want.
Maybe you don’t feel like shopping or washing the dishes or making the bed. Perhaps all you’re in the mood for after work is a smoothie, a huge bowl of popcorn and a marathon session of Orange is the New Black.
When you’re single, no problem, but when you’re in a relationship and you’re not in the same frame of mind, things can get tricky. You need to compromise.
No relationship can succeed without give and take.
You take this as a given when you’re in a relationship. Co-habiting couples are especially attunded to the notion that living in harmony almost always beats getting your own way.
Sporty and I have no trouble compromising. We’ve put a ton of work into making sure we remain happy together, but embarking on regular relationship sabbaticals has definitely played a key role.
Why Take Regular Relationship Sabbaticals?
It might sound counterintuitive to take time off from your marriage or relationship when things are going well, but that’s precisely when it can be most beneficial.
Think about it. Taking a break when you’re angry with one another (for whatever reason) means you’ll more than likely spend that time ruminating on everything that’s wrong with your relationship.
In contrast, relationship sabbaticals that take place when life at home is all sunshine and rainbows means you’ll enjoy the time alone and think about all the great things in your relationship.
I’ve come up with three ways taking relationship sabbaticals keeps couples happy. I’m sure there are more, though. If you think of any others, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll add them to the post.
1. You Need Time Off From Your Regular Routine
Routine is important. Without it you’d never get anything done. You wouldn’t achieve any of your goals. At least, not within a reasonable timeframe.
However, as important as routine is, so too is taking a break from it every now and then. Just like you need to take a vacation from work, you ocassionally need time off from your daily routine.
It’s having the freedom to say, “Hey, I want nothing but beer and leftover pizza in my fridge and I’m going to watch Friends reruns until midnight. In my underwear.”
Unless you’re a teenager, the above scenario will get old really quick. And that’s the point really. These short breaks from routine remind us that as much as we like to think otherwise, we prefer having a set routine. Humans operate best with boundaries.
Which is why a no phone morning routine is so beneficial.
2. It’s a Chance to Remember Who You Are as an Individual
Another great reason for taking regular relationship sabbaticals is the opportunity to rediscover yourself. When you’re in a couple you tend to adapt your likes and dislikes, your habits, and even your sleep patterns, to be more in tune with your partner.
As I said earlier, compromise greases the wheels in a relationship. But every now and then it’s nice to be able to do whatever you want to do. And what makes it even nicer is knowing it’s not forever.
It’s a mini holiday just for you, an extended artist date if you will.
2. A Lightbulb Goes Off and You Have to Act
Conversely, maybe you have a big idea you want to get down on paper before it evaporates into the ether, as these things so often do when you’re caught up in this daily busy-ness called life.
Having a chunk of alone time will give you the space to do that without feeling guilty that you’re neglecting your spouse or your chores or even your health, for that matter.
I mean, so what if you live on coffee and peanut butter toast for two weeks while you hammer out the first draft of your New York Times bestseller.
When your muse comes knocking it’s best to answer immediately. To ignore her means risking losing that great idea and that’s when resentment arrives. Of course, you can tend to creative desires at home, but having the freedom and space to off by yourself for a while can potentially turn a good project into something truly awesome.
A New Take on a Not So New Concept
When Sporty and I became minimalists back in 2008 I immediately assumed we were the first to embark on this pared down lifestyle. I saw us as pioneers of a movement. Early adopters would look to us to set the bar.
Then I did some digging and discovered that if anything, we were a couple of laggards. You’d think I’d have learnt my lesson, but I yet again saw Sporty and I leading the charge.
I imagined Oprah and Ellen calling to interview us about this groundbreaking concept.
As it turns out, we’re not the first to take relationship sabbaticals either.
That being said, where our approach does differ is we don’t take these breaks because our marriage is rocky or stale or whatever other reasons people might have for taking time out.
We take them when things are great to ensure we never get to that point in the first place. Which means things are always great. Pretty clever hey?
How to Take a Marriage Sabbatical
It doesn’t matter how much you love each other or how many years you’ve been together, taking some time out for yourself is super important.
If you’re completely new to the idea of spending time apart, you can dip a toe in the water by taking weekly artists dates. In her book The Artist’s Way Julia Cameron explain why these solo sojourns are so crucial for artists.
However, it’s not only artists who benefit from me time. All humans require solitude. We need space to unpack our thoughts, to decompress and to simply be.
Once you’re both comfy with weekly blocks of time by yourself, the next step is to aim for an entire day on your own. From there, you could book a night away and then a whole weekend and so on.
When your relationship is still in its early stages this can seem hard. After all, you’re in love and want to spend every waking minute together. But time away from each other is a wonderful way to keep the relationship fresh.
In solitude, we find ourselves; we prepare ourselves to come to conversation with something to say that is authentic, ours. —Sherry Turkle
More importantly, time apart stops you from losing yourself in the couple. By embarking on relationship sabbaticals every few months you avoid the possibility of waking up a decade from now wondering what became of you.