The art of independence: Nurturing your marriage with time apart

5 min
Nicky and Sila Lee
Authors of The Marriage Book

While we often stress the need to spend time together, we also recognise that most couples will spend a certain amount of time apart.

Some friends of ours, who have been happily married for several years, recalled that the husband had to go away for a week only three weeks after their wedding. Everyone felt sympathy for his poor wife. She, however, was delighted. She slept really well for a whole week. The complexities of sharing a bed, with extra limbs kicking around, had totally exhausted her. A week’s recovery was exactly what she needed.  

Where time apart is not out of necessity, it will need to be with the genuine and freely given agreement of both husband and wife. An overdose of “stag weekends” or “hen parties” will not be helpful to a marriage, and any invitation of this kind needs to be considered carefully and jointly. It is better to disappoint a friend than to harm a marriage.  

Some friendships from our single days may deepen when the relationship is enjoyed by both husband and wife. But it will not be possible to maintain every friendship. Those that are in any way a threat to the marriage must be allowed to die, particularly if there is a danger of physical infatuation. In this way we shall be faithful to our marriage vows: “forsaking all others, be faithful to him/her as long as you both shall live”. This is part of the new start that marriage involves.  

That is not to say that we must do everything together. We are not to try to force our partner to become like us in every way. There may be social occasions, events at church or in the community, work or leisure-related invitations about which we feel differently. This may have much to do with our personality type, our ability in a certain area or our level of self-confidence. Of course, our priority is to find activities we both enjoy, but there will be some interests couples do not share.

Many couples have trouble with this aspect of marriage. They feel abandoned when their spouse wants time apart. In reality, spouses need time apart, which makes them realise the need to be back together. Spouses in healthy relationships cherish each other’s space and are champions of each other’s causes.1  

There are four questions to consider, particularly if we have young children:  

• Are both husband and wife being given some opportunities to develop their individual interests?  

• Are our separate interests causing mutual resentment or are we genuinely pleased to give each other this time?  

• Are we both seeking first to release the other rather than to grasp time for ourselves?  

• Are we willing to give up our separate interests if family circumstances require it?

If the attitude of both partners is right, pursuing interests separately can prevent a relationship from becoming one-dimensional or claustrophobic, and brings refreshment, stimulation, new thoughts and stories into the marriage. Some interests, however, will need to be curtailed or dropped if they cause a distance to come between us or put a strain on our marriage.  

“One of Nicky’s passions is sailing. When we first met in South West Ireland, I soon realised this and I was always the first to volunteer to be his crew for him during the two weeks of racing in August. Some years later we discovered that dinghy sailing and small babies are totally incompatible. After much tension, occasional resentment and some agonising, we decided that taking our family holiday with four children under the age of eight during the two weeks of racing was going to cause more conflict than it was worth.

As a result, for many years we overlapped our holiday with three or four days of racing to give Nicky the chance to compete in some of the races and then to have the rest of the time free to spend as a family.” - Sila Lee

Even when we have time apart, out of necessity or to pursue individual interests, it is important to stay connected with one another.  

The process of blending two lives into one can only happen as we develop a regular pattern of disclosing to one another our separate worlds. This may at times take great effort, but our different contributions over a lifetime establish a reservoir of shared experiences and a level of mutual understanding that draw us closer.  

Normally we start each day by talking about our plans as well as any potential areas of stress or anxiety, and we then pray for each other before we part. These few minutes have had to be fitted into the changing pattern of family life.  

There are huge long-term benefits if we stay in contact about the daily minutiae of our lives. If we are having to spend one or more nights apart, we still try to keep in touch with each other at least once a day. This enables us to be a part of each other’s ‘world’ and has an impact on our understanding of one another. It also helps us to reacclimatise ourselves to each other when we are back together.  

In the evening, the day can easily grind gradually and separately to a halt: one of us falls asleep on the sofa and the other crawls into bed alone. For the sake of our relationship, and despite our tiredness, we generally try to connect with each other at the end of the day. One wife, after twenty-five years of marriage, described the late evening in these words: “This is the cream of our marriage: this nightly turning out and sharing of the day’s pocketful of memories.”