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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.