Can a sabbatical save your marriage?
With Louise Redknapp reported to be on the verge of reuniting with husband Jamie, Tanya Sweeney asks if a break could be the making of your relationship
Theirs has been a split with all the ingredients of a dramatic pot-boiler - a glamorous woman hitting the tiles with her new best mate; meddlesome in-laws; a reported midlife crisis; tabloid headlines and pap shots aplenty.
But Louise and Jamie Redknapp's marriage breakdown now appears to have a third-act twist that few saw coming - a possible reconciliation.
In the last few months, Louise has looked happier - certainly, more outgoing - than ever on social media. Friends claimed the former Eternal singer was 'testing' her footballer husband and that her new lease of life was merely a ploy to show Jamie what he was missing. It had been reported that the couple had been living incompatible lives as they approached their 20th anniversary, with her taste for fun and glamour a far cry from his preference for quiet nights in.
For her part, Louise has revealed that problems had been afoot as her marriage neared breakdown. But now, Louise (43) is rethinking her split, with a source telling Now magazine: "Louise has started to wobble and really misses Jamie and her family. It's all been a hard call for her and there have been times when she's felt stronger and times she felt weaker about being apart from Jamie."
So does a relationship 'sabbatical' ever work? Dublin-based florist Stella (not her real name) split from her husband Stephen at 44 after 15 years of marriage. When they decided to reunite, everyone around them had an opinion on it: "Most of my friends thought we were fooling ourselves, that once the seal was broken it could never be repaired. Unfortunately, they were right and after a year of happiness, we did ultimately separate for good. Looking back, I think we were merely prolonging the agony.
"We missed each other and figured there was enough good stuff there to give it a second go. And being back on date nights was amazing. But just because you think something's worth another shot, doesn't mean it will necessarily work. The cracks started reappearing, worse than before. In the end, we both agreed that life was too short to be miserable with each other." And the official statistics make for unsettling reading. More second marriages end in divorce than first marriages. In the US, around six per cent of divorced couples remarry each other. Yet Psychology Today has stated that "a whopping 60pc of remarriages fail. And they do so even more quickly; after an average of 10 years, 37pc of remarriages have dissolved versus 30pc of first marriages".
In a recent study on couples who remarry, the reasons for doing so varied among different age groups: young couples might divorce on impulse and they chose to remarry and start again after careful consideration; older couples remarried because they needed to care for each other. About 70pc of the divorced couples remarried one another because of their children. And two out of five respondents had simply felt lonely after the divorce.
And so the question arises; is it sensible - or even safe - to return to the scene of the proverbial crime? A bottomless pit of clichés come to mind: people break up for a reason; once a cheater always a cheater; the grass is always greener; too much water under the bridge; absence makes the heart grow fonder (or at the very least, worry about the mortgage more).
"I don't think it's madness if the couple has resolved their reasons for breaking up," asserts marriage therapist David Kavanagh (marriagetherapy.ie). "Sometimes it's as simple as someone wanting to explore what it's like being single again, and they go on a date and realise that the person they were with is more suitable a companion than they ever gave them credit for.
"I've come across a lot of couples in my pre-marriage courses where they split after five or six years together, do their own things under the assumption they might get back together, and six months later, they're in for a pre-marriage course."
Those who make a habit of breaking and making up, meanwhile, should probably exercise caution.
"This couple lives off the drama of breaking up and reuniting," notes Kavanagh. "Something in their make-up means they don't feel comfortable when all is fine and calm in their relationship. If, for example, you grew up in a household and your parents had a difficult and stormy relationship, the chaos becomes like second nature. They're just not happy in a steady, boring relationship. They are addicted to the first flush of love, that rush of blood to the head that you get."
But how do you ensure that a patched-up marriage doesn't wander back into similar territory?
"They've experienced loss and grieving on such a big scale from the first time round, it's hard not to get coloured by that experience," says marriage counselor Lisa O'Hara. "Fear is important, normal and healthy because it stops people becoming complacent."
Adds Kavanagh: "[The chances of the marriage lasting] depends on how the break-up happened. If a lot of stuff was thrown around verbally and things got toxic, the damage done can result in an unhealthy reunion. But if a couple broke up via mutual agreement and they've grown apart, there's no reason why they can't reconnect."
Hoping to find a spark where one has been absent for a long time is a fool's errand, notes Kavanagh: "If you have no attraction to your partner, no amount of therapy will make this happen, and this is a mistake a lot of people make. That spark won't magically reappear just because you've gone to therapy and said it in front of a stranger."
"Long term partners need resilience to re-navigate through difficulties," says O'Hara. "But you can discover how strong you can be. If you see the relationship slipping back into old ways, you'll know not to brush it under the carpet. Doing that is the death knell."
Kavanagh also acknowledges that slipping back into familiar dynamics is an all-too-common habit for reuniting couples.
"There's a big danger of that after the honeymoon period," he admits. "The trick is to try and maintain a permanency to the changes you've made, and embedding them into the relationship. I suggest to couples they should have a contract when they get married - they should write down something legally binding about how they promise not to take each other for granted. It's like a mission statement. You get them in workplaces and they're there to help people stay on track."
He might be on to something. In her book The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage For Skeptics, Realists And Rebels, Vicki Larson makes the case for renewable marriage contracts. Conscious coupling, if you will.
Larson suggests couples take an 'emotional' inventory every seven years (or in some cases, before deciding whether or not to have children), checking that values and feelings on the big stuff like finance, having children and parenting styles still tally up. "If we had renewable marriage contracts, we wouldn't have years of mean, passive aggressive behaviour," says Larson. "You'd have to be held accountable. That's the problem with the idea of longevity of commitment above all else. Nothing holds people accountable for that behaviour."
On a break: the A-listers who've split then tried again
1. Sean Penn and Robin Wright reunited and split on a number of occasions. After filing for divorce in 2007, they decided against divorcing two months later. Penn then filed for legal separation in April 2009, but reunited for a short time a month later before finally calling it quits.
2. In 2013, Michael Douglas' rep confirmed that he and Catherine Zeta-Jones took a 'break' for a few months, yet the pair are now committed to making their marriage last. "I don't think there's much chance of fixing a relationship if one of you is already out the door," Douglas said in an interview with AARP magazine. "It took work on both our parts."
3. Megan Fox and Brian Austin Green had two engagements (in 2006 and 2010) before eventually marrying. Although Fox filed for divorce in 2015, the pair decided to stick it out and say their union is all the stronger.
4. Pink and Carey Hart have had a rocky personal life but after two splits (the first a year, the second 11 months), they are now rock solid. Asked how she kept her marriage with the motocross star together, Pink told Ellen DeGeneres on her TV show, "take breaks".