Some of us may never fully understand why our marriages come to an end. We revisit the circumstances, trying to learn from our mistakes, and taking a stab at processing the usual possible reasons for divorce: growing apart, infidelity, physical or emotional abuse, and other scenarios that are harder to classify.
Sometimes, years pass before we have that lightbulb moment -- noting situations we neither predicted nor imagined -- something like separate vacations or separate activities which, taken to an extreme, may lead to separate lives.
I suppose when a spouse is spending half or more of their time away, we justify their absence any way we can, especially if careers are involved. But shouldn't we be worried? Isn't too much separateness a guarantee of marital breakdown -- or at the very least, symptomatic of serious problems?
Taking A Break From Marriage
An amusing article in Psychology Today offers advice when it comes to the benefits of time off from relationship -- explaining that we may earn "neutral disconnects" now and then.
It never occurred to me until I was divorced that my husband was regularly taking time off from marriage. But unlike the mentions in Psychology Today -- it was neither "earned" nor a reciprocal arrangement.
Now before you jump to conclusions, let me state that my husband traveled in his job, appending legitimate days off to business trips so he might visit friends. Occasionally that meant extra time for him to vacation in Europe, and he also enjoyed "buddy weekends" out of town to indulge in golf, guy talk, and no doubt some liquid refreshment.
Meanwhile, yours truly was stalwartly stationed on the domestic front. I was going to the office, caring for kids, and as the years wore on, I was increasingly cranky when Hubby was home.
I didn't find taking a break from marriage to be a bad thing per se. In fact, I had no problem with it for many years. But in retrospect I see it in another light: as one-sided, widening the gap in emotional connection, and seemingly the preferred relationship style for one party only -- my eventual ex.
Still, I take responsibility for not taking breaks of my own. We discussed it, agreed it made sense, but it never happened. Let's chalk it up to reluctance to leave little ones, and more so, to a desire to vacation as a couple or a family. Somehow, we never seemed to pull that off. I remember one exception the second year of marriage, and we also ventured overseas to see the in-laws -- certainly pleasant, but rarely restful.
Separate Vacations - Problem or Symptom?
In my experience, men give themselves breaks from marriage more readily than women. Also in my experience, women are more hesitant to take time off and when they do -- when we do -- we're guilty and worried about the consequences of our absence, especially if there are children at home.
As for my husband's time off, I was so determined never to nag or interfere with his freedom, I didn't protest. The result was separate vacations for him, and no vacations for me. Yet I have no one to blame but myself. I should have spoken up.
In hindsight, I see that our separateness extended into most activities and areas of our lives. Solo vacations were symptomatic of dramatically divergent values, goals, and expectations of marriage. I also recognize that during those years I was anything but fun to be around: I lost my sense of humor, I was stressed, and I was increasingly resentful of the disproportionate arrangement of responsibilities, which naturally made me less agreeable to be around. With a little time off of my own, I might have been a different sort of wife. With a little time off together, it may have been a different sort of life.
Dating After Divorce
It's been more than a decade since my divorce, and while dating has been intermittent, I have struggled to meet men I could enjoy and respect. And it's worth pointing out that I've had better luck with long-distance relationships. They aren't easy, but perhaps they've worked because of my specific post-divorce situation, which has included responsibility for two kids 95 percent of the time. Or, though I don't realize it, those pairings seemed comfortable because they resembled my marriage.
Long-distance dating and relationships are tricky. Then again, so are long-distance marriages or those in which a husband or wife travels extensively. I wonder how military spouses survive their lengthy separations, and my hat is off to them for managing to do so.
As for dating after divorce, I've also made it a practice to take breaks from romantic socializing, some for as long as six or nine months. At times, those breaks were about the demands of parenting or earning a buck. And dating hasn't been a walk in the proverbial park; I was accustomed to a marriage in which I was -- of necessity -- extremely independent.
Too much relationship time together? I feel like I'm suffocating.
Too much relationship time apart? It's familiar, but triggers concerns.
Marital Expectations, Relationship Echoes
I wonder if we're bound to the echoes of our imperfect marriages, although hopefully we come to terms with what works for us and what doesn't.
At this stage in my life, I need togetherness as well as space, and I offer the same. I would categorize my preferred partnership proximity as "intimacy plus" -- myself as a whole entity, loving another who is equally whole. My ideal living arrangement would consist of two of us together because we want to be, not because we have to be.
That said, if we're truly a couple, my answer is no to separate vacations.
- Did too much separateness -- or too much togetherness for that matter -- play a role in your divorce?
- Will extended periods of time apart always open the door to emotional or sexual infidelity?
- Whatever your relationship status, can planned time off alone be just what the doctor ordered?
A version of this column originally appeared at Daily Plate of Crazy.