Let’s face it: marriage is hard work, and the stress of family, household, and life commitments can create friction within the marriage. When your marriage is struggling to stay alive and communication degrades into arguments, it’s important to stop what you’re doing and consider healthier options. One such option a marriage therapist might recommend is a marriage sabbatical. A marriage sabbatical differs from separation, as a separation is intended for couples on the brink of divorce. The intention of a sabbatical is to take a break from each other in order to step back and redirect your own goals rather than engaging in exhausting arguments. It allows you to experience the absence of your partner, miss their presence in your life, and begin restoring your respect and kindness towards each other. A marriage sabbatical is a reset for your marriage - not a breakup.
Important considerations if you think a marriage sabbatical could help your marriage:
1. Set up the plan with the help of a therapist. Taking a marriage sabbatical is not a DIY project. A therapist will help you set boundaries, including guidelines for frequency and type of check-ins and length of time apart. More commonly successful sabbaticals last two to three weeks.
2. Sabbaticals offer a time for self-reflection - not finding someone new. A marriage sabbatical is a time to nourish your dreams, define personal goals, and gain insight into your role in marriage conflict. It’s typical to put everyone else’s needs first when raising children, but the stress you feel is often projected onto your partner. When you are away from our partner, you gain clarity: your stress is not their fault, and it is your responsibility to manage it more effectively.
3. A marriage sabbatical is a "we" decision to improve the marriage, not a "me" decision to run away. The success of a marriage sabbatical is dependent upon both partners' commitment to improving their relationship and to begin encouraging each other to achieve their personal goals that add meaning to their life. When couples first marry, they promise to honor and cherish, but that is too often replaced with arguing as stress mounts. A sabbatical restores the meaning of marriage vows.
Sometimes couples view a break from each other as a failure. However, in the case of a marriage sabbatical, taking a break from each other can lead couples to love and cherish their partner more. Below I have listed pros and cons for initiating a marriage sabbatical. Discussing these openly with each other and your therapist can help you make a wise decision for your marriage.
● When guided by a therapist, time apart can give you clarity about your needs and desires so that you’re more capable of expressing them to your partner.
● You can more easily identify your contributions to the relationship and work on unresolved issues in your life that are being projected onto the marriage. For example, you cannot blame your partner for feeling sad if you are unwilling to seek the medical and emotional care you need. It is not your partner’s job to make you feel happy.
● If you’re overwhelmed and stressed, a marriage sabbatical can help you gain insight into your life stressors and help give you a new perspective. Blaming your partner for your stress is not helpful or emotionally mature.
● When implemented ineffectively, a marriage sabbatical can destroy trust and lead to resentment. In fact, the results can be catastrophic if one spouse opposes the idea of a sabbatical, and you take one anyway.
● If a marriage sabbatical is sought for ingenuine reasons, such as escaping marriage commitment, the marriage will ultimately suffer and destroy trust and security.
● If children are involved, couples must hammer out a plan together to help the children feel safe and secure. When children don’t understand what is happening, they blame themselves. Sometimes their behavior may regress due to feeling abandoned.
If a couple is committed to each other and the plan is designed by a licensed therapist, marriage sabbaticals can be restorative to a stressed marriage. By giving permission to each partner to take some space, sabbaticals offer an opportunity for each individual to redirect current unhealthy patterns of communication, change perspective, and work on themselves to become the partner they promised to be when they recited their wedding vows.