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Separate Vacations Don’t Have to Mean Divorce

Everybody needs a little alone time now and then. And where better to reconnect with yourself than a beach in the Caribbean? Or underneath the Eiffel Tower in France? Or on a ski slope in the Rockies? We recommend taking some time for yourself this year, but follow these rules to avoid any relationship conflicts.

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Everybody needs a little time away … Even lovers need a holiday, far away from each other. — Lyrics from “Hard to Say I’m Sorry,” by Chicago

Going separate ways as a couple is often read as a prelude to separation (which has its own pressures), but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, many experts agree that taking separate vacations as a couple, within certain guidelines, can actually help to enhance the relationship and allow each partner to keep it in perspective.

There are rules for making separate vacations work, however. Ruth Peters, who has written extensively on family dynamics and is a contributor to the Today show on NBC, believes that separate vacations should be an addition to our lives, not an escape. Remember, too, that one size does not fit all. Many couples consider separate vacations vital to their relationship’s success, whereas others wouldn’t dream of enjoying themselves apart. You and your partner might have no interest in the idea, but if taking separate vacations sounds like it might work for you, consider these tips to maximize pleasure and minimize guilt.

Keep Communication Lines Open
Agree about the ground rules for communication before you leave on your trip. Schedule a set time to check in and assure your partner that you’re okay, tell him that you miss him, and fill him in on what you’re doing while you’re away. You don’t have to give him an itemized list—this is about your individuality, after all—but you should provide just enough details to make him feel like he’s in the loop and on your mind.

If this is the first time you’re proposing to fly solo, make sure your partner understands your reasons for doing so. If he or she expresses fears of infidelity or dissatisfaction with the relationship on your part, then you might consider spending your vacation money on couples counseling instead; partnerships are built on trust and that trust should be strong enough to weather periods when you’re not in each other’s physical space.

“A successful monogamous relationship shouldn’t mean giving up who you are or your independent activities,” says Dr. Peters. “A successful marriage or monogamous relationship does entail the willingness to make some sacrifices in order to accommodate the other person.”

Tell your partner that you just need some time for yourself and encourage him to do the same. Listen to his concerns and help him understand that your decision has nothing to do with the relationship. You’re not separating yourself from him; you’re just trying to schedule some quality time with an old friend—yourself.

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In the current economic climate, most families have trouble eking out just one vacation a year, let alone one per partner. Be realistic about how you can allocate resources for your time away. Will your partner be able to do the same? Can you take money from somewhere else in your budget to help pay for your trip? Can you find some alone time in a way that is less expensive? For example, could you spend one day at a spa rather than a weeklong cruise? Also consider setting up separate savings accounts for your separate vacations. That way, you and your partner each have the responsibility of paying for your own trips and you can avoid some of the resentment that inevitably arises when one of you is sipping Mai Tais on the beach in Malibu while the other is working.

Children First
Unfortunately, there’s no vacation from being a parent. If you have children with your partner, it’s your responsibility to see that they’re cared for while you’re away, and that doesn’t mean assuming that your significant other will take on the full parenting load so that you can work on your tan. Enlist babysitters and grandparents to provide backup for your spouse and check in regularly to let the kids know that you are still involved. Dr. Peters urges parents who take separate vacations to consider whether the responsibilities placed on the parent at home are fair or burdensome, but she also reminds us that, “If it’s good for the goose, the gander will have to accept the rules!” If you’re spending all of your non-vacation time carting kids to soccer games and baking cookies for bake sales, your spouse should be somewhat willing to step up and give you a break.

Keep It Together
A friend of mine has worked out a system with her husband. They send their three sons to camp for the month of July, during which they’re able to spend time both together and apart, and then take a family vacation with the kids in August. As important as time alone is, it shouldn’t replace time with your partner and family. Relationships need variety and excitement to grow, so if you’re feeling in a rut, there’s a good chance your relationship is, too. Plan something for yourself and then plan something together, even if it’s just a weekend drive. You’ll probably be missing each other after all that time apart anyway.

Do Some Research
Once you decide to take the leap and fly solo, there are many online travel guides and services that can point you in the right direction; iExplore.com, for example, offers special packages that curb the costs of traveling alone, since doing so is almost always more expensive than group travel. Dr. Peters’ Web site also offers advice about taking separate vacations and other family issues.

Khalil Gibran wrote, “Let there be spaces in your togetherness.” Attitudes about his and hers vacations are now changing to accommodate the idea that a relationship is formed between two individuals and that maintaining that individual identity is an important part of the relationship. No longer a mere prelude to separation and divorce, separate vacations can be the perfect supplement to a rich and lasting bond.

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