Monday, August 9, 2010

Marriage Sabbatical

Yesterday my wife and I made the 80-mile drive up I-91 to a college in Massachusetts, where we dropped our daughter at a week-long gymnastics camp. As we drove away from the college dormitory where Isabel will be staying we both felt lonely, but only some of that loneliness was attributable to the absence of our girl. Another big chunk of it, for me anyway, was a sort of premonitory loneliness. I was sitting in the car with Erica, listening to her read from our current out-loud book and sharing an intimate conversation, yet I was already missing her.

Back in early June Erica and I started to wonder just what we should do with a week to ourselves. It is often hard to find more than just a day or two with Isabel safely and happily in someone else’s care and we wanted to take full advantage of the week. As we were wondering, we were also spending some time talking about our marriage and what was working and what was not. Something in the “Not Working” category was the quality of our daily conversations. One of the ways we came up with for bringing some interest back to our conversations was to spend time doing interesting things apart from each other. This idea led to the proposal that we spend Isabel’s camp week as a “marriage sabbatical” week.

As soon as Erica said the words, we both felt an excitement at the prospect of a week to go someplace interesting and do something fun or challenging or new. It was like finding a whole bunch of money and getting to spend it on whatever we wanted. We set some quick ground rules to the week and both started trying to figure out where to go and what to do. The ground rules were these:

1) stay in the country in case anything happens to Isabel and we need to get to her fast,

2) don’t spend a lot of money,

3) don’t tell each other much about what we are doing so that we can share our stories when we get back together.

I made a long list of possibilities for the week and was having a very hard time settling on one destination. At the same time, I started talking with friends about the idea of a “marriage sabbatical” and getting their ideas about where to go and what to do. At some point in the process I stumbled upon the guiding idea for my week. I decided to let fate and other people decide for me where I would go and what I would do. I took suggestions and tabulated them and then I asked people to vote. The winning destination was Montreal, Quebec.

So right now I am sitting in a hotel room in Lee, Massachusetts, on my way north. At each step of the trip this week I am going to engage strangers in conversation and ask them what I should do. As I get near Montreal I will ask people where I should stay and then I will take their suggestions. I will ask someone where to go for breakfast tomorrow morning and then do as they say. I will ask my waiter or waitress what they would do if they had a day free in Montreal and then I will do what they come up with. This plan will force me to talk to lots of strangers, (which is no easy task for an introvert like me), and allow me to experience many new things I would probably otherwise not have done. I am looking at the week as an experiment and I am excited about it.

It was funny to get the reactions of our friends when Erica and I told them about our marriage sabbatical. Many people had the wrong impression right away and assumed we were both going to go fool around with other people. (Projection?) That is most certainly NOT what this week is about. Rather, it is a chance to get out in the world and do things and meet people and have experiences that we can then bring back to each other as a way to make ourselves more interesting and more complete. Nobody can be EVERYTHING for someone else and this week is a way to remind ourselves of the importance of being separate so that when we come together, there are still things to discover and learn from each other.

Some of what I experience will be posted here, but not so much as to have nothing left to tell Erica about when I get home. If you have ever been to Montreal and have something you think I should do, respond to this post or send me and e-mail and let me know. I’ll do it.

Right now, I am going to take a run before I get in the car and drive 250 miles north. I wonder what the best four-mile running route is? Think I’ll go ask at the desk and see where they send me…


  1. This is SO amazing that you are doing this. I honestly cannot remember the last time I had a solo adventure & I crave for one. Asking for advice & taking it hearkens back to Peace Corps days....

    I've never been to Montreal but all my Montreal boys I taught while in Maine would go on & on about missing poutine. So I say-- make sure you eat some poutine & let me know how those fries/cheese curds/gravy taste.

  2. Hi Chris! Right now, we're having a "marriage sabbatical" of sorts. My husband left an hour ago for a backpacking trip to the White Mountains with my stepson Dylan. I'm home and have a week to myself. I'm really excited! I love my husband but a little time apart is refreshing and rejuvenating for both of us. Then, I'm off to Abu Dhabi and he's coming over in a few months so we'll have another one of those "marriage sabbaticals" -- a little longer. I don't have a car so I'm limited in that way but I have lots of friends who are up for "road trips". I think time apart is healthy and fun -- I'm going shopping tomorrow and I'm going to buy hummus and rice crackers and pineapple and skinny cow mint ice cream sandwiches. I love your idea of "consulting with the locals". What fun! Bon voyage and keep us posted. (P.S. I just talked to Mary Lanaghan yesterday -- she said, "Chris is such a sweet guy!")

  3. What an ingenious idea! It's easy to become discouraged when marriage becomes routine, even mundane at times, but you and Erica seem to have found a solution that benefits all. No matter how strong your relationship, marriage, like any journey, has its share of dull roads and frost heaves. A solo exploration will allow you to experience new scenery and then meander your way back home, refreshed and full of good stories. Thanks for sharing, as always.