Take a break, not break up a marriage
RELATIONSHIP sabbaticals suddenly seem to be in. As usual, celebrities lead the way.
Actress Emma Thompson says: "Every marriage should have a kind of a sabbatical.
"Couples should be forced to take a break from each other every so often, if just for a year or so."
Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin were probably having one for years, without anyone realising, before they consciously uncoupled.
Plenty of celebrities are doing a handbrake turn on divorces too.
Phil Collins, for example, is about to remarry his ex-wife after 10 years apart.
One recent survey, funded by lawyers, found that some 22 per cent of divorcees regret theirs. This is possibly because more couples are cohabiting first, they are slower to commit to marriage but they also seem less keen to rush to divorce.
Rates have fallen to their lowest level for 40 years (with the exception being "silver splitters", those racy over-50s).
These disparate facts point to the idea that many couples seem increasingly willing to work through other options before hitting the nuclear button.
Ask anyone who has been there: Divorce can be expensive, bitter and have a slow recovery time. Could there be an alternative? It seems so.
"We definitely reached a point where I wasn't desperately unhappy but I wasn't happy either," says Bee, 48, a writer.
"I was toying with all kinds of ideas - even finding someone to have an affair with - and I fantasised about divorce."
So she manoeuvred a situation that meant she "had" to work away from home.
When faced with a deadline with a book, she borrowed a friend's apartment in Paris to take herself out of the family home and away from her husband and teenage children for six weeks.
"I was terrified and lonely at first but then... I suppose I knew I had someone to go back to. He came for a weekend and we had fun in a way we hadn't for years.
"Getting away gave me a freedom I hadn't had before.
"I felt that if I had escaped once, I could do it again - and as a result, I felt less trapped."
The idea of a relationship sabbatical - where you absolutely have the intention of returning, as opposed to a separation, which is more ambiguous - came from American journalist Cheryl Jarvis.
She published a book about her own sabbatical and thus raised the question of how women might keep both their relationship and "themselves".
Women struggle to keep their identity in a marriage, Jarvis argues, and what she dubbed a sabbatical is one way to reclaim it.
Modern medicine and greater life expectancy mean we potentially have longer time with our partners.
Add to the mix that, as a general rule, women now have greater economic freedom and there is less stigma attached to divorce, and there's no longer the expectation that we have to stick with a relationship that isn't hitting the mark.
On the other hand, many people are unwilling to throw a hand grenade into a life they have lovingly built, especially one with children, unless it is absolutely necessary.
ASIA NEWS NETWORK