Monday 24 October 2016

Why spending time apart is the sign of a healthy relationship

Successful relationships are just about togetherness

Annable Venning

Published 12/09/2015 | 02:30

Johnny Vegas and wife Maia Dunphy only moved in together for the first time this year, after nearly four years of marriage.
Johnny Vegas and wife Maia Dunphy only moved in together for the first time this year, after nearly four years of marriage.
Newlyweds Andy Murray and Kim Sears have committed to spending more time apart once their first baby comes along next year.
Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter lived lived next door to each other

Does absence make the heart grow fonder? Andy Murray thinks so. In an interview this week, he spoke fondly about his relationship with new wife Kim Sears, who is expecting the couple's first child.

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Kim only plans to attend five tennis tournaments a year, meaning that the couple will be apart for several weeks at a time. But Murray believes that the separations, far from causing a strain, make their marriage stronger.

"I've found that spending a bit of time apart isn't actually a bad thing," he told the New York Times.

"If you spend two or three weeks apart, and then you do get to see each other, you appreciate it more. You spend six months with each other, then every single day you start arguing about little things, whatever.

"When we spend a bit more time apart, the time that we do spend together, we actually appreciate it more. We don't have to travel with each other every single week to make it work."

Andy and Kim aren't the only high-profile couple to thrive on time apart: since their wedding in 2011, Maia Dunphy, Irish television producer, broadcaster and writer, and her husband, actor and comedian Johnny Vegas, have enjoyed a somewhat unusual domestic situation, with her living in Dublin while he was based in the UK.

Late last year Maia finally made the move to London - her first time cohabiting with her husband - and they had their first child, Tom Laurence, this summer.

The singer Dolly Parton attributes the longevity of her 49-year marriage to regular absences. Barbra Streisand believes her marriage to James Brolin is successful for the same reason.

Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton lived in next-door houses, bringing up their children together yet enjoying their own space. It clearly wasn't a picture of perfect harmony, however, as they have now split up - and in any case, most of us can only afford one house rather than two.

But could giving each other physical and emotional space be the key to a happy relationship? Or can it cause an emotional disconnect?

I know many couples who barely see each other, either because they are both working long hours or one of them commutes or travels abroad, leaving the other to manage the home front.

My husband, Guy, and I have the opposite problem: we see each other all day, every day, as we both work from home.

I prefer to think that familiarity breeds content rather than contempt. Yet there are times when I find myself regaling him at supper with the same story that I told him at breakfast and realise that, however compatible we are, one can have too much of a good thing.

Which is why, when he announces that he's off on a work trip, or his annual lads' walking holiday, I try not to grumble at the inconvenience and remember that when he returns I generally feel more appreciative of him, even if only for 48 hours.

Likewise, Guy always comments that when I've had a weekend away with friends, I come back with a spring in my step. Being simply "Annabel" for a change, rather than one half of "GuynAnnabel", feels liberating and refreshing.

It's not always easy, however, for the one left behind, particularly if you have young children. I remember 10 years ago being at home with a teething toddler and a wakeful baby, while Guy had gone to Los Angeles to research a book.

Early one morning when I'd had very little sleep, and had just finished changing one nappy and was about to embark on the next, the phone rang. The kitchen was covered in spilt cereal (the toddler) and my dressing gown was spattered in regurgitated milk (the baby). Rain lashed at the windows.

"Hi, sweetheart!" Guy chirped down the line.

"Just driving down Sunset Boulevard in a convertible, heading off for cocktails. How are things with you?"

I gave him a brief sitrep.

"We are," I told him, "literally worlds apart." I put the phone down quite quickly, lest I descend into a bitter diatribe. How come he was sipping mojitos in Tinseltown while I was left to flail in effluent and envy?

By the time he came back two weeks later, my anger had evaporated. I was delighted to have adult company again, and saw him afresh as a romantic partner rather than simply a co-worker at the coalface of nappy changing and sink unblocking.

If his trips had been longer, or more regular, I'd have been less tolerant. I hope Kim manages to smile sweetly when Andy returns from being lionised abroad while she's spent three weeks up all night with Murray minor, wiping baby sick off her hair.

The long list of broken marriages among sports stars, actors and others who spend a lot of time away from home suggests that absence can, instead of making the heart grow fonder, make attention wander.

Even if there's no physical infidelity, it's easy to grow apart when you are leading very different lives, particularly when one partner has a superficially more exciting existence, even if the reality is bad nights' sleep in business class and lonely dinners in soulless hotels.

Jane Dixey, a couples counsellor, says spending some time apart is generally healthy for relationships. Distance can, ironically, make you more intimate.

"When couples come in for counselling and say, 'We haven't had a night apart in 30 years,' it rings alarm bells. It may mean that they are co-dependent on each other. It can work, but it can also make one partner feel trapped.

"Time apart gives people a degree of independence, a sense of autonomy. You have a chance to recognise your differences, which is a positive thing, it's part of the attraction."

There can be, she says, a danger that the person left at home feels like a housekeeper, dealing with children, drains and dogs, rather than an equal partner.

The key thing is for each to appreciate the sacrifices that the other makes and to ensure they spend "quality time" together rather than cramming weekends full of activities, or socialising frantically.

There is, she says, "an assumption that we have to be everything to each other, but we can't be, all the time, so it's good to go away sometimes, to cultivate your own interests and hobbies, whether it's rock climbing or painting, then come back enthused and full of energy".

Irish Independent

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