Do You Need a Break?

Are there others like us? My wife and I talk about how we could just spend all day together every day. We love to hang out and be together. We can even work well together. Even after almost 8 years of marriage and 3 kids.

Yet we hear other married couples say how they need that occasional breaks from each other. Or that they could NEVER work with their spouse. That they would drive each other crazy. For whatever reason, we aren’t like that, and we have trouble identifying with those who are.

So what’s the difference here? Are people just wired different? Do we have a different kind of relationship? I was very excited to see a new book arrived in my mailbox today – Refrigerator Rights: Creating Connections and Restoring Relationships, by Dr. Will Miller with Glenn Sparks, Ph.D. I’ve only read the forward so far but I know this is going to touch on something I’m very interested in: our culture’s current crisis of isolationism and decline of face to face relationships.

We are definitely relationally challenged in our modern world.  I wonder how this shift is affecting our marriages.  Check out this interesting article from one of the authors of Refrigerator Rights. You can find the original blog post by Dr. Glenn Sparks here.

In America, we’ve perpetuated the strong belief that if we could just find that one “perfect” person to be our life-long mate, all of our relational and emotional needs would be met and we’d live happily ever after. Since publishing Refrigerator Rights, Will Miller and I have cautioned against blind acceptance of this myth. We’ve warned that no single person is capable of meeting the totality of another’s relational and emotional needs. Human beings are wired for close connection to a whole range of relationship types: fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers, brothers and sisters, aunts & uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, etc.  Regardless of the closeness of the marriage bond, both partners still need close friends and family-type relationships to sustain them throughout life. In fact, we believe that marriages that are characterized by a rich network of “refrigerator rights” friends are actually much healthier, more vibrant, and likely to last.

But there is also a caution on the flip-side of this equation. As we point out in the book, for decades, America’s lifestyle has drifted into one of increasing isolation due to our high mobility–and an increasing tendency to surround ourselves with screens. Now, it seems, our trend toward isolation is also beginning to permeate into the marriage relationship itself. As Sue Shellenbarger notes in her recent column in the Wall Street Journal, a team of researchers at Penn State University has studied over 4,000 married people over the last 20-years. Shellenbarger states that, “They found that the likelihood of couples spending lots of time together visiting friends, pursuing recreational activities, dining or shopping together, or teaming up on projects around the house, fell 28%.” We think there’s little doubt that if we spend less and less time together, our marriages will be less healthy. If you’re married, you might want to take a personal inventory, note the trends over the past few years–and then plan to do something together with your partner. Doing something together–but also something with other people–might be a particularly wise investment of time. It will put you together with your partner and simultaneously permit you to cultivate friends and close connections with others.

Food for thought.

What about you?  Do you need breaks from your spouse or are you inseparable?  Do you regularly spend time with friends or spend most of your time alone?

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  1. I'm a newlywed, so I'm not sure my opinion counts for too much yet, but I will say that my husband and I do need time to "do our own thing." Mostly it's personality – we both have strong personalities and need our separate spheres to be in charge of. It has been an adjustment living under the same roof because of this, but we benefit because our strengths are opposite yet compatible. For example, my husband has a degree in math, so he's in charge of finances. I enjoy errands, so I get groceries each week. I'm an organizer, he's a cleaner. But we can't actually do the same thing at the same time without dividing it into specific tasks because we would each do the task differently and that can breed conflict. Like when we cook together (which is rare) one person has to be "in charge" of the meal and delegate tasks because otherwise I'd chop the pepper and he'd want onions in the meal instead.Another consideration is our vast differences in personality. I'm a people person who flourishes in social circles and he's the type who has to have solo time to recharge. It works for us because I can go hang out with my female friends and do "women stuff" while he stays home and plays video games or reads, but we also have group time with other couples each week. In general we do spend most of our downtime together, doing things we both like, but even within that downtime we sometimes do different things while in the same room, which is our way of having "separate" time. We do make a point to have together time and do things as a couple, even when life gets busy. But I do not think we could co-exist so well in completely identical spheres. We need time to pursue our separate interests (primarily our work) and spend time with those who can more fully understand that part of our life. I don't expect my husband to have a full dialogue about the legal implications of the newest Congressional bill, and he doesn't expect me to understand the finer aspect of the newest release of whatever coding language he's programing with. Because so much of our day is spent at school or work, most of our downtime is spent just us, even if we are doing separate things because I have homework, except on Sunday where we have our two small groups with mutual friends. We also spend time with extended family a couple times a month. As a newlywed I can't imagine wanting a "break" from my spouse more than what the workday already provides. I'm generally excited to come home to someone who doesn't expect me to be the "totally-together" professional and with whom I can goof off, vent to, and overall just enjoy hanging out with, whether we're playing tennis or watching a movie. At this point I can't imagine that changing, and our goal as a couple is that it never does.

  2. Wow, thanks for the insight. You really painted a clear picture how two very different married people can still achieve a meaningful companionship. Like I said in my post, it's difficult for my wife and i to relate to that because it's not our experience. But now I see much more clearly how that works for couples such as yourself. I was also reminded that my wife and I have a lot in common as far as interests and both of us have laid back personalities. So I'm sure that helps. But that doesn't mean there isn't plenty of common ground for couples with more differing interests and personalities. You mentioned doing seperate activities in the same room – we do that too. And I sometimes chuckle when I realize we are both sitting on the couch together engaged with our own respective laptops. There's a modern marriage for you. I suppose if our marriage is ever reduced to evenings on the couch conversing on Facebook, we'll need to take a closer look at our relationship 🙂

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