Time for a Marriage Break?

I’ve taken at least 30

Man and woman on hammock
Marriage year 28. Calendar year 2020.

Do you ever wish you could mute your spouse when he’s (my spouse is a “he”) telling the same “joke” he has told 137 times and which you’ve made abundantly clear is not funny AT ALL? 

Have you fantasized you can replay an event so your partner will admit it didn’t happen the way he insists?

Were you ever compelled to kick your significant other under the table or to clear your throat, loudly, to get him to stop saying something he obviously shouldn’t? Did he willfully ignore you and then you wanted to torture and kill him?

If you’ve been in a relationship for any length of time and you answered no to all four questions, then read no further. Go back to your planet. You’re not an earthling of the homo sapiens species.

Me, I’ve been married 30 years, to the same man mind you, and my answer to each question is a shrill YES! Too many times to count. 

I’ve always maintained that 40% to 50% of marriages ending in divorce is a miracle.  Marriage is so freakin hard it surprises me that as many as half of couples do NOT call it quits at some point.

I’ve never seriously considered divorce, but my marriage has seen its share of stress and moments when I’ve fantasized about turning Cesar into a Stepford husband. 

And I do marvel: How have we made it this far?

That we adore each other (still) helps. Beyond love, though, regular breaks have been instrumental in preventing an unraveling and in keeping the marriage alive. According to the American Psychological Association, two key ingredients for a fulfilling long-lasting relationship are “talking openly” and “keeping it interesting”. There’s hardly a better way to make both possible than through breaks.

Breaks From Each Other

Cesar and I are lucky that life has forced us to take many breaks from each other during our 30-year marriage.

Three and a half years into it and just a few months before Andres, our second, son was born, Cesar was hired for a year-long project in Ecuador. We lived in Venezuela and this meant he would be away about a third of the time. 

Later, when our sons were 4 and 6, we moved to the United States. Cesar kept his job in Venezuela and needed to spend half the time there at first. Over the years, his time away decreased to a third, then a quarter of the time, up until he made a career change and not only does he not travel, he works from home!

Honestly, and even though Cesar will hate to read this (and read it he will!), I kinda miss getting time to myself without having to ask for it and making anyone think that I love them any less.

Ask Cesar, and he’ll bemoan how very hard these breaks were. Me, I see them as a blessing, especially when our children were little.

Parenting young children is awesome -much of the time and in hindsight.

It’s also exhausting, confusing and frustrating, especially when one of your children has special needs -like my son Diego, now an adult, does. Our biggest marriage issues stemmed from fights over the kids. Let’s face it, kids involve not only stress but also a multitude of decisions where we must compromise, which is agonizing when the affected person is your child.

Long gone are the days when the parental division of labor was clear-cut. My father left pretty much all everyday parenting decisions about his seven children to our mom, while she left all financial decisions to our father. Everything has its tradeoffs, even egalitarian parenting arrangements. 

I did spend far more time with the kids when they were growing up than Cesar, and the way he tried to help could drive me bonkers. Ever the problem-solving engineer, he sought solutions to all the issues I brought up. How exasperating when all I wanted was to be listened to and hugged. I punched him and pulled his hair more than once.

Were it not for the breaks, we would’ve surely fought more and underappreciated each other. Technological progress being the double-edged sword that it is, I’m thankful international calls were expensive when we were raising our kids and that video chatting had not yet been invented.

Breaks From Everyone Else

Our first break from everyone else came when Diego, our first-born son, was 6 months old. We left him with his nonna and spent five days in Canaima (in the Venezuelan rainforest), trekking to places such as Angel Falls.

The first hours were physically painful. Separating from Diego felt like I was missing two limbs and a lung.

The feeling faded and Cesar and I had a great adventure. Corny as it sounds, the novelty and the break from everyone else helped us reconnect to who we were to each other independent of all other aspects of our lives.

And when I say “everyone else” and “other aspects,” I mean, especially, the kids and parenting.

From that first trip to Canaima, we made the pact that, somehow, we would spend time alone every year. And we have -all 30 years of our marriage. We may never be able to retire, but isn’t that a perfectly reasonable price to pay for the space and time to “talk openly” and to “keep it interesting”? (That’s a rhetorical question, for those of you who would answer “Hell, no!”)

One Big Commitment!

It’s possible I may have taken the breaks thing a bit too far. I actually bribed an airport official to get away one year. All told, though, it has worked for us. They’ve given us the time -that magical, impalpable dimension- to reflect, to work through our issues, to discover together, and, best of all, to be hugely excited about seeing and feeling each other again.

Many factors contribute to any lasting relationship where you’ve vowed to stay together as a couple for life, whatever “staying together as a couple” may mean for you. Cesar and I do traditional marriage, you know, the kind that’s legally binding, where you don’t cheat because you’re totally square and couldn’t handle it, and where you remain together in sickness and in health until death do you part. 

That is one big commitment.

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