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The Marriage Sabbatical

Seventy Thirty’s Matchmakers and Psychologists discuss the idea of the Marriage Sabbatical (Cheryl Jarvis, The Marriage Sabbatical, a Journey that Brings You Home, 2002); taking mutually agreed time apart when in a committed relationship, for a defined period of time, to truly better the relationship through bettering oneself.

Is there cause for Concern?

It is natural for there to be concern if one raises the desire to take a ‘marriage sabbatical’. It is necessary at this point, to take time together to explore and recognise the motivations for this.  If not transparent to the other partner, there is a risk that the partner will feel vulnerable and isolated.  The immediate emotional response may be of rejection and abandonment, so it is important to address these issues immediately to prevent resentment. It could take a period of time before both partners reach a mutual understanding and see the benefits of time apart from each other and all aspects, such as what each individual is allowed to do during the sabbatical, should be openly and thoroughly discussed. 

What if only one person wants a Sabbatical and the other doesn’t?

This is the likely scenario and one must really ensure their partner is fully on board and supportive of the idea.  The partner who wants the sabbatical should be completely open and fair explaining their reasons, reassuring their partner that the goal is improving the marriage and it is not a separation. They must be completely honest and empathetic, making sure that both have their needs for personal development and growth considered and met. Apart from the extrinsic rewards that marriage might bring in terms of security and support, there is a psychological contract implied by marriage and part of this is the expectation of being able to have intrinsic needs met. Get a third party, such as a counsellor, to mediate if no consensus can be reached. The third party can take the emotional heat out of any exchange, which is necessary to facilitate productive communication. 

Benefits of the Marriage Sabbatical

It is healthy, in any relationship, to maintain and develop individual identity by taking time to focus on individual needs, goals and passions. These often take a back seat to other priorities and relationship commitments. The loss of individual identity within a relationship can result in the person feeling low and resentful, it also impacts the social support system outside of the relationship creating a stronger sense of dependence on your partner. Taking time away, such as a marriage sabbatical, will allow each partner time to engage in activities they solely have interest in, allowing them to rejuvenate and allow self-development and reflection.

Time apart also allows time to recognise the connection you have as a couple. Having time to miss each other is healthy and having new topics to discuss on your return keeps the relationship fresh and alive.

If the marriage sabbatical is truly about taking time for oneself for the better of the relationship, whilst maintaining love, commitment and loyalty, then marriage sabbaticals could be a sign of the healthiest and most successful relationships.

Disadvantages of Marriage Sabbatical

It is important to understand that although time apart is beneficial, too much time apart can be damaging. Prolonged periods of time create detachment and an openness to further separation. It is important that a period of time away is defined and adhered to, creating strength in the relationship.

It is also important that the couple consider practicalities; finances, the children, putting too much pressure on one partner. Lack of consideration to these points may cause resentment.  Plus, if the whole time the partner is away, they are stressed or anxious, the relationship will not achieve benefits. Lack of discussion relating to the Sabbatical can create resentment and distrust, the best way to combat this is creating a sense of mutual decision.

Alternatives to the Marriage Sabbatical

Realistically, it is not practical for the majority of couples to have marriage sabbaticals.  Career, children and financial security for example, may not allow it and putting a strain on the family may have the adverse effect. You can gain benefits of a sabbatical without taking long periods of time away;


1. Obtain a new hobby or revisit an activity you enjoyed prior to the relationship. This must be completely separate from day to day life, taking one away from their usual role for a day or an afternoon.

2. Allow each other to occasionally have a night out or a weekend with their friends.

3. For mother’s day, father’s day, or birthdays for example, treat one’s partner to a day away by themselves at a yoga retreat, or spa. This helps with allowing the person to have time away and removes the sense of guilt.

4. Set up the spare room as a separate living space, this can be for reading, crafting or just having time alone. This space can also help you sleep separately if you would like to.

5. Carve out sabbatical moments in the everyday life. So, every day or every few days each partner will spend time alone on activities focused on being in touch with themselves.

Most couples now recognise the importance of quality time with each other and have ‘date nights’.  Now it’s time to recognise the importance of quality time with (or for) oneself. 

Every relationship is different, some couples already have a lot of independence and have to work on making sure they have more quality time, others can feel a bit lost because they have no time to themselves.  What is important is that both people in the relationship remembers and respects the importance of the individual (the person they fell in love with) and that they negotiate to make a mutual decision on taking a marriage sabbatical. 

A History of Dating…

From Antiquity to the modern day, dating has established itself as a ritual which we have long considered as the precursor to assessing the suitability of a potential life partner. Over time, our contemporary concept of dating has evolved so drastically that many of the habitual practises once associated with the idea appear rather outdated and most definitely peculiar.

From an evolutionary perspective, the notion of ‘dating’, i.e. courtship or wooing is actually a relatively recent phenomenon. Anthropological studies suggest that in the past - and also in some cultures today - this concept was neglected or disregarded completely; the focus was on sexual reproduction to produce a genetically viable offspring, therefore strengthening the family lineage.  From a historical standpoint, dating was existent only to the extent to which a couple-to-be was first introduced before, or at, their wedding ceremony…If you were one of the fortunate ones.

In past Western society, romance and love had a somewhat turbulent relationship with the institute of matrimony.  According to ancient manuscripts from as far back as pre-Renaissance, the heart’s desire was outweighed by legacy, survival, power, politics and resources. Couples over the epochs, both fictional and non-fictional were not always attracted to those whom they were betrothed to, which might have lead to secret, romantically frenzied encounters by twilight. This however, does not constitute as ‘dating’…

According to research, the first decade of the twentieth century saw the beginning of our modern interpretation of ‘dating’. During this time, it was very common for older male relatives and families with daughters, to use their networks or involve Matchmakers to find potential suitors.  Dates were then arranged with permission of the parents and in the presence of an all-divulging chaperone. The goal being to get married and the result - inevitably to procreate. The couple was seldom left unaccompanied, rendering any desire of intimacy or carnal exchange virtually obsolete.  Since the lower socio-economic bracket were unable to dedicate the assets and resources to impressing suitors in their less-than-stately dwellings, it became ceremonious to leave the protection of the home to go out to spend time together, thus, it become known to go on a ‘date’.

During this era and often in many cultures around the world today, this arrangement would most likely consequence in marriage. Over the progression of the century, the youth of the age began to grow resentful of the strict, orthodox manner of ‘dating’ imposed by their forbearers. Deciding to take a more proactive approach and selecting by themselves, rebellion was rife in the Roaring Twenties. Evidently, all that was banned - was good; forbidding sexual encounters and intoxication, prohibition resulted in the first explosion of freedom for the modern West to enjoy liberation from the shackles of chaperoned dating to acting as wildly as they wanted, shielded under the backdrop of underground speakeasies.

Fast forward a few decades and through several oscillating schools of thought of what defined dating…From the 1950s and its traditional and triumphant ‘nuclear family’ ideals to the 1960s and the fluid concept of free-love, polygamous ‘relationships’ and drug-fuelled expression - the concept was really truly radicalised in the 1970s.

This time saw several inventions empowering both sexes: changing dating forever. With the introduction of birth control - oral contraceptive pills, the legalisation of abortion and active Women’s rights movements - sexual liberation for women was at an all-time high, obviously benefiting their male counterparts at the same time. Stimulating the awakening of dating without caution and exploring without concern, the shift in liaisons became evident: validating what some Sociologists deem the end of ‘dating’ as we once knew it and taking us into the taboo realm of ‘hook-ups’. The idea of ‘going-Dutch’ or halves on a date also became prevalent at this time, women wanted equality demonstrated.  No longer a trial period as a harbinger for marriage, casual dating (…and casual sex) became ‘normalised’. 

Not to say that people no longer wanted marriage, but attitudes and relationship roles were changing.  In our modern times, marriage has become less permanent and whilst wanting a long term commitment, men and women also value their independence, their own goals and ambitions and are willing to remain single until they find the right one.  Some, whilst searching, are open to fulfilling their physical and emotional desires in the short term.

We often hear nostalgic idioms recalling the lost art of dating or the clichéd chivalry is dead aphorism.  The modern single, will date and explore a larger number of potential partners than we did historically and the technological innovations of today make ‘connecting’ easier than ever before.  For some, this has resulted in a hot mess of trial and error, quantity over quality, some frustration and a few funny stories to tell our friends.          

It seems now, we are coming full circle.  With so many people finding it difficult to find the right one, we are seeking alternatives methods, which has given rise, once again, to Matchmaking.  Dating has evolved, because we have - we want more… We want it all.  So, no longer are we passively waiting for love to drop by, we are being proactive and going after what we want.