By the time my husband and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary a couple of years ago, we were really just two people living together under the same roof. We loved each other deeply and we shared common goals and interests, but we didn’t exactly like each other.
That lack of admiration simmered just below the surface, barely noticeable to us. We were both self-employed and worked together a lot. We treasured each other’s families and enjoyed mutual friendships formed over a lifetime of companionship and business ventures. As two mature adults who married for love, we powered through our difficulties.
But things came to a rapid boil after my husband suffered several setbacks over a four-year period: a professional blow that threw him off-course, the death of his father after a long illness, the unexpected loss of his youngest brother, who was also his best friend and then, his mother’s rapid decline and death.
Time apart permits us to stop pushing each other’s buttons. Old quarrels seem pointless.
Add to that the natural process of aging. We both tired more easily and had physical pain that neither had experienced before. We were long on intolerance and short on kindness.
Marriages without commitment don’t usually survive. I knew this, but I couldn’t imagine either of us walking away. If only there was some way to hit a reset button.
One day, I was listening to the radio in my car when James Bay’s song, “Let It Go,” planted an idea. What if I took all that was broken about us and left it to the breeze, as the lyrics suggested? What if I just let my husband be who he was and focused on being myself? What if I quit trying to fix us?
Coloring Outside the Lines of a Traditional Marriage
Those questions led to an unusual answer, “a middle way” that restored peace in our marriage.
It began when I rented (and later bought) a one-bedroom condo in a resort community 90 minutes from our home. I made it clear that the condo would be our weekend pad, a place of rest and relaxation — not a place to brood, to quarrel or to work out our differences. Come. Be happy. That’s all that I asked of him.
Surrounded by a lake, lush forests and abundant wildlife, the condo required no yard work or maintenance. It gave us easy access to a community golf course where we could bond over a sport we both enjoyed. To my delight, my husband loved it so much that he quickly dubbed it, “The Treehouse.”
Over the past two years, this small condo has improved our relationship and helped us discover a surprising secret for staying married: we only live together part of the time. Sometimes I visit The Treehouse alone for long weekends. Other times, my husband goes alone. We occasionally enjoy it together, or, if we’re swamped with commitments, we stay together at our permanent home.
Five Perks of Living Happily-Ever-After: Separately
1. Together and apart at regular intervals. During the first few months of this alternative lifestyle, I rediscovered how much I love being alone and how easily I make new friends. I felt more productive because I wasn’t consumed with pleasing him or analyzing our relationship. Ironically, my husband was more attentive, less grumpy. Our occasional separateness somehow released us from mutual disappointment. Free from the daily obligations of marriage, my husband processed his losses and hardships in his own way. It turns out that giving him space was the most loving thing I could have done for him. He’s better, and so am I.
2. Neutral space. We both have offices in our permanent home. Despite the convenience of working at home, there is a disadvantage: our work is always with us, just steps from our living space. Home is also the stage for countless battles. When we go to The Treehouse — together or apart — we are free (or mostly so) from concerns about work, liberated from memories of past conflicts. Our second home is a sanctuary, not a battleground.
3. Less carping. The Treehouse simplifies life a few days at a time. There’s no room for bills, mail, calendars, work or other parts of ordinary life that distract and overwhelm us. I can’t speak for my husband, but when I’m at The Treehouse, maintenance and household duties back home never cross my mind. I can’t quantify how many of our disagreements were about distribution of work, but I notice less tension around “getting stuff done.” Spending time apart also makes us more appreciative of each other’s contributions.
4. Disruption of routines. Relentless conflict can wear a couple down and make them forget what drew them together in the first place. There you are again, throwing your stinky socks on the floor. There you are again, refusing to converse with me when I am right here in front of you. There you are again, talking over me, solving a problem when I need you to listen, interrupting my work with trivial questions when you can plainly see that I’m absorbed in a project. On and on it goes. Spending time away from each other interrupts destructive habits and replaces them with healthier ones. We go for walks and drop by a neighborhood bar to watch sports or listen to live music. Our relationship is more spontaneous, in part because we give each other a chance to play different roles, to be someone other than The Villain and The Nag.
5. Interacting with each other intentionally. Some couples spend time together for no other reason than — well, they’re married. Having a second home forces us to make a conscious choice to be together, to enjoy each other and to have fun. Time apart permits us to stop pushing each other’s buttons. Old quarrels seem pointless. When we reconnect in the same space, we defuse conflicts more quickly. That’s especially true when we are at The Treehouse. We don’t want to sully our happy place.
An Investment, Not an Expense
Obviously, a second home is another financial obligation, whether you rent or buy. If you’re at odds with your spouse or considering a divorce, don’t discard this option because of the expense. Think of it this way: how many divorced couples are better off financially after a divorce than they were before, especially if they were married for decades?
Divorces are expensive, both emotionally and financially. A couple’s friends and family are negatively affected by breakups, too. Many people never quite recover from their decision to make a permanent break.
I regard our second home as an investment in our marriage — not an expense. Before you call it quits, explore whether this unconventional choice could be financially viable for you. It could make you a happier person and save your marriage.
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