Does Time Apart Help or Hurt A Marriage Relationship?

An interview with Coach Lee Wilson

Interviewer: I’m exploring a potentially rising phenomenon of married couples taking time apart to pursue separate activities before coming back together stronger. This might have been because the marriage was unhappy, because they wanted to do things that their spouse didn’t want to do, or because they wanted to “rediscover” their independence for a bit.

I’m interested in a few different perspectives. What does this mean as a cultural phenomenon (for example, why independent identity is more important to us than ever before) and from a marriage relationship perspective (for example, is this actually good for marriages, or just wishful thinking).

Does Time Apart Help or Hurt?

Does time apart help a marriage?

Responses from Coach Lee

Such a rise can potentially be attributed to multiple factors that can impact relationships.

1. The first is the continuing increase in the age at which people marry. 

Though I’m not only considering married couples, it is important to note that the longer people live by themselves or without having to factor in another person in their day-to-day life, it’s more likely they reach a state that my grandfather referred to as being ‘set in their ways.’ It’s when someone gets used to having certain things a specific way, at a certain time, and, perhaps, at certain places. 

Years of catering to one’s own specific routine and experiences doesn’t easily give way to being thrust into life with another person who might also be equally as “set” in conflicting ways. So in this situation, pursuing separate activities and rediscovering independence is a way of returning to the set-in ways that dominated before someone had to seriously account for another person.

2. Another reason that seeking time apart seems attractive is due to the old saying, ‘Familiarity breeds contempt.’ 

When we are with another person a lot, we build emotional intimacy with that person. When that happens, their actions, thoughts, and feelings impact us more and that can cause anger, irritation, and pain. For example, what a stranger thinks of my hair style, weight, and clothing might matter a little to me, but the way I look in the eyes of my wife holds greater importance to me as does her opinion on certain matters. Whereas a stranger’s opinion on a world issue might irritate me, I’m able to dismiss it as their right to free speech even if I disagree. My wife’s opinion, however, impacts me more because I am emotionally intimate with her. What she thinks matters and can affect me more than someone who I don’t know at all or as well.

The same is true of irritating habits like crunching ice, sighing loudly, and smacking food. I can simply walk away from a stranger who is doing those things. If the actions of someone’s partner have irritated them for long periods of time, escaping that might seem attractive and refreshing.

3. If shared hobbies and interests are nonexistent or in short supply, seeking time apart might be attractive to pursue those hobbies and interests that have been neglected due to the lack of appeal to his or her spouse.

In this case, whereas it would be rare for a couple to share all interests and hobbies, finding as many as possible that are shared can be monumental for a relationship because more time and energy can be devoted to doing those activities and pursuing interests that can be done together with equal enthusiasm.

One simple but effective way for a couple to determine what interests and hobbies they share is to have each one make a list and for the couple to find the mutual items on the list. A couple could also print out a list of hobbies and activities such as our list of hobbies for married couples here and then circle each one that they enjoy or want to try. Then the two can do those activities together or pursue the ones that they want to try together.

Some time apart isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if it is depended upon for the success of a marriage relationship, it can result in a weakened and less fulfilling partnership that contributes to the desire to spend more time apart. That is why addressing the matters I discussed can be impactful and important.

Lee Wilson is a relationship coach with 20 years of experience and the developer of the Emergency Marriage Kit, a powerful guide to save marriages from separation and divorce.

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Marie Wellmond

Marie Wellmond is a staff writer for MarriageRadio.com. She provides practical and effective tips for strong marriage relationships.

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