This summer, I decided to take a couple of weeks for a much-needed getaway in southern California. I lounged by the Manhattan Beach pier, spent some quality time with my parents and sister, and brought my two boys to the wallet-destroyer known as Disneyland.
My wife stayed home.
As I write this, she’s in Haiti, visiting her hometown in the country’s west. She’s eating local dishes like diri ak djon-djon (rice with black mushrooms), getting all the village gossip from her father, and getting respite from the summer heat in the river that snakes down from the mountains.
I’m here in Brooklyn.
There’s nothing wrong with our marriage, at least as far as I know. But the last couple of years we’ve fit in a couple of separate vacations, and it seems to be working just fine. She gets to go where she wants, I go where I want, and we both get a little head space away from the relentless demands of being full-time parents.
"I’m seeing more and more people not even batting an eye about going away alone for a couple of weeks," says Iris Krasnow, who, as author of "The Secret Lives of Wives," interviewed more than 200 women about their marriages. "In fact I get more mail and comments on that subject than about anything else in my whole book. You don’t have to be joined at the hip, in order to make your marriage endure."
Case in point: Krasnow herself. She recently got back from two and a half weeks along the California beaches, a continent away from her family home in Annapolis, Maryland. Apart from her four sons, two pets and one husband, she was able to carve out a little time just for her.
"I go to a little hideaway, shut the shades, and sip my glass of cabernet," says Krasnow, a journalism professor at American University. "The ocean’s mine, the cottage is mine. As a writer who needs solitude but never gets it, I need those getaways – and I always come back refreshed."
Of course, such thinking goes against the conventional grain, that harried husbands and wives need more time for togetherness, not less. For many couples, that may indeed be the case. But for others, the opposite can also make perfect sense: That spending time on your own, rather than only existing as one-half of a twosome, can foster long-term benefits.
It’s not as uncommon as you might think. In fact, according to a new poll by the travel website TripAdvisor, 59% of site visitors report having taken a vacation separate from their significant other.
Indeed Krasnow sees a direct link between that mindset of increasing openness, and declining divorce rates. "It’s now down to 43%, from the 50% that it’s been for decades, and I think it’s because people are marrying later and smarter," says Krasnow, who’s been married to her husband for 24 years. "People are learning that it’s OK to rewrite the rules of marriage for their own needs, and not just do what their grandparents did. It’s a gift my husband gives me, to be able to fly solo once in a while."
Of course for many, separate vacations are still somewhat of a bizarre notion, and a subject that needs to be broached with care. Some spouses might react to the idea with horror, not with understanding. A few tips:
Trust is a necessity. Presumably if you’ve gone to the trouble of choosing a lifelong partner, there’s a certain level of trust there. If that’s lacking, then spending time apart could easily lead to suspicions about what your spouse is really up to. In those cases, rather than recharging the marital battery, a solo voyage could drain it – which would defeat the whole purpose of the exercise.
Keep a lid on costs. One advantage of travelling together is that there are some natural cost savings, like piling the whole family into the same hotel room. If you’re taking two separate vacations, with two different hotel stays, the bill can add up very quickly. Try to take advantage of special discounts, or get bulk deals by travelling with buddies, so that the financial burdens of separate vacations don’t lead to undue stress when it’s time to pay off the credit-card bill.
Get ready for the jury. Even if you think separate vacations are a brilliant idea, others may not. "The biggest hassle is probably the jury of your family and friends, who might look at you and judge you," says Laurie Puhn, a couples mediator in Westchester County, New York and author of "Fight Less, Love More." "You have to be comfortable enough as a couple to withstand that criticism, and know that separate vacations are part of what makes your marriage balanced and joyful."
As for my wife, she’s about halfway through her Haitian vacation, and I’m missing her more than ever. As marriage indicators go, that’s a pretty good one.